It's largely equivalent to the other Windows Phone mobiles we've seen so far in technical terms, but has a different design, more memory and a few other little extras. But is this phone a good investment, and what should you make of Microsoft's all-new OS, now you can see it in the flesh?
Hardware and usability
At first sight, the Optimus 7 is relatively discreet. It has a traditional, if not classic design, rather than a distinctive new look. It's pretty heavy, weighing 157 g-the Omnia 7, which has a 4'' screen weighs just 138 g-and is thick, too. We liked the brushed metal finish and the extra effort that's been made to fit the camera lens.
One small detail is that we would have rather seen the Windows Phone logo on the back of the handset a little smaller, closer to the size it is on Samsung's phones.
You can choose the background you want: light or dark
LG Optimus 7 and Samsung Omnia 7
It doesn't reproduce colours accurately, and the screen has strong blue tinge. A contrast ratio of 450:1 is very low compared to what the Retina display can manage (870:1), and is even less impressive compared to Super AMOLED screens, which produce the deepest, darkest blacks that have ever been seen on a mobile phone.
The responsiveness of the screen can be compared to an ordinary desktop monitor: fast moving text isn't rendered smoothly, with visible shadows trailing behind. It is accurate though, despite having a lower resolution than the two big rivals we've mentioned here, or the Omnia 7, for that matter, which we're still testing.
Interface and navigation
Microsoft went right back to square one to redesign its OS. Realising how far behind it is in the smartphone sector, the software developer has plumped for an interface that's different to anything else found on today's mobiles, by which we mean Apple's iOS interface and the various more-or-less faithful 'copies' found on other platforms.
And the bold approach has more than paid off: the interface, which will be the same across all Windows Phone 7 handsets-Microsoft has finally decided not to allow manufacturers to customise it any further themselves-relies on holding your phone straight up and panning from one area to the next as you were moving from one panel of a comic to another. It's not like anything we've seen anywhere else.
Navigating through the menus works well and the interface is reasonably intuitive. We loved how smooth it was, thanks to the combination of a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor and an OS that is clearly both stable and well-designed.
The look and feel is open and stripped-back, making it well-suited to use with a touch-based interface, and it feels very easy to use. Whether or not it actually inspires the 'wow factor' (we saw both), we have to admit that there's absolutely nothing in common with Windows Mobile 6.5!
At last, we can relax with a Microsoft mobile OS: it doesn't drag its feet any more, and there's no more feeling your way around the maze of old menus in the dark with tiny icons scattered all over the place. Windows Phone 7 brings something a little different to the smartphone segment-and we'd say it's about time!
You can personalise the homescreen by choosing your own wallpaper and icons, but also by selecting the apps that you use the most. They take the form of large thumbnails, that you can organise however you like. Although the big, bright, squares might look odd at first, it's a very effective system because it's easy to spot what you need.
The coloured squares, six of which are called hubs (for contacts, photos, music and so on) are dynamic and change in real time. They're associated with specific activities: e-mail, contacts, web browsing. All of the other features and apps you download from the MarketPlace are on the scond screen, which is accessible by sweeping the first homescreen away to the left, and then choose your new app and 'pin' it onto the first homescreen. You can choose what you want to pin, whether that's a photo, your favourite website or app or even your most important contact.
Let's go back to these last two features. If you click on your own contact page, you can see everything you've been up to (Facebook status updates, Twitter updates, news from your Windows Live account and so on). The Contacts hub, meanwhile, does what it says on the tin, and gives you a list of all your contacts, including photos.
To quickly jump to one contact, you just have to pick one letter of the alphabet to skip to that part of the list.
Navigating the phone's features is fast and easy, and they've clearly been designed to minimise the number of touches you need to complete each action. Once you're looking at a contact, which you can import from your Facebook profile, e-mail account or SIM card, you can see what they've been up to on social networks, or contact them in more traditional ways by sending a text, e-mail or calling them, or even comment on their latest status updates.
If you press and hold the physical key at the centre, which usually takes you straight back to the homescreen, you launch voice-activated features. They're also available in the Office OneNote app, which allows you to record voice memos.
Microsoft's new mobile OS, which is set to feature in lots of handsets in the coming months, includes version 4.7 of Zune Software, a system that's already well-known in the US because it powers the manufacturer's Zune media player. It's a key part of the system, because once you've intalled it on your PC (it isn't available for Mac), you use it to synchronise and manage all of your content, whether that's music, photos or videos. Unlike a BlackBerry or any Android handset, the Optimus 7 isn't automatically recognised as an external storage peripheral when you connect it to your computer.
Zune Software is also the way into the MarketPlace online store, where you can buy music, films and Xbox Live games. It's clear that Zune is aimed at a very wide audience, and offers entertainment content across Microsoft's range, whether on a PC, smartphone or games console.
As we've mentioned, Zune is a little bit like iTunes (which runs on both Macs and PCs), but done the Microsoft way. In fact, that means the user interface is considerably clearer, simpler and easier to use than Apple's. That's a strong argument for anybody who has a lot of content to move onto their new smartphone.
To access all of the films, music, radio stations and podcasts found in the MarketPlace, you just have to click on the relevant hub, which illustrates the last track that you played. The interface is fun to use, and once again, you scroll through the pages from left to right. Every time you listen to an artist, you can find more of their music by going to the MarketPlace.
There's a full version of Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You can view documents created using these programs, and also make new Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, but there's a only a limited selection of tools. We think it will be more than enough to convince plenty of business users that they can successfully switch to a touchscreen phone, at least in a pinch, anyway. You can take notes using OneNote, either by writing them down or recording. The Optimus 7 doesn't have a front-facing camera, so there's no video calling.
Let's have a look at one of the features that mobile Internet fans have been most waiting to hear about, Microsoft's very own browser: Internet Explorer.
It turned out to be pretty decent when we tried it, and pages are rendered quickly enough. Depending on the layout of the site, though, you often need to zoom in to see everything properly, either by using a double tap or the famous pinch-to-zoom gesture. That can also lead to plenty of twisting and turning to see where you can fit more of the page onscreen, with the phone horizontal or vertical.
Compared to the iPhone 4, where you don't need to zoom, the the default rendering on the Optimus 8 is almost entirely illegible.
You can use the browser to manage your favourites, and you can even put your most frequently-veiewed sites on the homescreen. The others are stored on a separate page, and you can open eight of them at once.
There's a nice interface in the audio player, which is shared with the Zune HD MP3 player, and the sound it produces is pretty good for a smartphone. As ever, though, the golden rule applies: change the headphones if you really want to hear what your phone can do. And forget about using the external speaker, which is quite frankly awful.
For £8.99 a month, you can get a Zune Pass, which like a Spotify subscription, allows you to stream music to your phone or computer. You can also download ten tracks a month to keep for good. It's pretty well-tought out.
Next up: the camera. Taking photos is easy and the interface attractive, and despite plenty of options, including working face-detection, it's hard to get lost. The phone focuses quickly, so you can be confident you won't miss that last-minute shot, but be warned that the noise that it makes when you take a photo is horrible.
As for the photos themselves, they're not that great: there's not much detail, and certainly less than what you'll find with an iPhone 4 or even the BlackBerry Torch, and the colours aren't accurate, with a blue tinge.
A photo library files away all your shots by date and has its own favourite page, which also lists the albums you've created on Facebook.
If you want to preserve a slice of life for posterity, then the Optimus 7 isn't bad and records video at 720p with decent results for a phone like this.
You can visit a single page to see all of the updates that are available, and we downloaded a few to take them for a quick spin. As with the Xbox, you can try an app before you buy it. Games are part of Microsoft's Xbox Live platform.
Has the Optimus 7 got stamina? We're afraid the answer is no: you can expect to charge it every day.
- Overall finish / large touchscreen
- Coherently designed, innovative user interface
- Powerful contact handling
- Generally responsive
- 16 GB of internal memory / FM radio
- No copy-and-paste / camera less impressive / detail on screen
- Tied to Zune software for multimedia: only available for the PC
- No support for Windows Live Messenger / No Flash support on the web
- No way to extend the memory
- Lightweight battery life
The Optimus 7 is a well-rounded smartphone which has an attractive list of strengths. It's easy to use, has a logical interface and the real-time access to your contact's social networking activity works well. It's a great way to try Microsoft's new OS, whose innovative new approach marks a clear change from the competition is up to. You'll want to remember your charger, though.