It's been a long time between drinks for LG, especially when you look at the company's smartphone range across the last two years. Like HTC, Samsung and Motorola, LG's previous attempts at smartphones were held back by a very cumbersome piece of software, Windows Mobile 6.5. Despite this, LG has backed the latest mobile OS from Microsoft and is among the first to launch a Windows Phone 7 (WP7) handset. Will this gamble pay off?
As soon as we got the Optimus 7Q in our hands we were surprised by its weight. Its matte black finish and 3.5-inch screen tricked us into assuming this smartphone would feel the same in the hand as a multitude of other phones we've reviewed, but it's considerably heavier. At 176 grams the 7Q is almost 50 per cent heavier than the (admittedly lightweight) Samsung Galaxy S.
The extra weight goes into the partial metal body of this phone. There's a soft-touch plastic surrounding the screen, but the battery cover and the sections of the phone concealed by the slider are all made from a lightweight metal. The weight and materials give this handset a premium finish missing from so many LG phones of recent memory.
With five Windows Phone 7 handsets launching in Australia over the next six weeks, comparisons are inevitable, and one area where both the Optimus 7Q and its companion device, the Optimus 7, will struggle against is in the quality of HTC and Samsung's displays. LG has opted for TFT LCD panels, presumably to save on costs, and the results are far less impressive than the 4-inch AMOLED screen on the Omnia 7 or the Super LCD displays used by HTC.
In its favour, the 7Q sports a full QWERTY keyboard. This pad has four rows of keys, with the top row of letters sharing their place with numerals, and a very handy collection of directional cursor keys at the bottom right. The keyboard is larger than you might expect, with each key afforded a generous horizontal spacing, but the keys are also quite shapeless which can be troublesome if you're used to typing quickly. The size, shape and position of the Shift and Function keys are also a miss for LG, as the two steel studs on the left-hand side of the keyboard are far from our ideal for buttons that you'll likely use frequently each day.
On the back of the 7Q is a 5-megapixel camera and flash, and below the tin is a 1500mAh battery pack, but no microSD card or slot is to be found thanks to restrictions from Microsoft.
Hardware-wise, LG is restricted by the minimum specifications outlined by Microsoft to all of its manufacturing partners. LG just meets the minimum spec for WP7, packing a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 512MB RAM, and going a little beyond the call of duty with 16GB of storage (where the minimum spec is 8GB).
There's also the standard suite of smartphone connectivity on offer; HSPA for fast uploads and downloads, wireless N compatible Wi-Fi with one-way DLNA streaming, and Bluetooth for connecting wireless headsets. Charging the phone and data transfers are both performed through the handset's micro-USB port, and you can connect your favourite headphones at the 3.5mm headphone socket on top of the 7Q.
Because of the commonality of Windows Phone 7 across the various supported devices, we'll refrain from repeating our review of the comments we make about each of these products. If you want to know more about Windows Phone 7 refer to our full review or to our Guide to Windows Phone 7.
There's no accurate way to benchmark the performance of WP7 on the Optimus 7Q (though we're sure those apps are being compiled as we speak), so you'll have to trust us when we say it's fast, very fast. Navigating through the core apps is first class, the main menus are completely stutter-free, with movement of the menus corresponding precisely with the movement of your finger. Launching apps is also fast, though some third-party apps don't run as smoothly as the first-party apps, but then this is to be expected.
Microsoft's controversial lack of multitasking in this first release of WP7 pays off in its superior performance. This means that the limited multitasking available, like playing music in the background, doesn't affect performance across the rest of the platform at all.
The Optimus 7Q's 1500mAh battery pack is an essential element of this smartphone package, providing roughly a day and a half of power between charges with moderate use and our work email set to deliver every 15 minutes. We began our tests using the push email option, but this cut the battery life in half and made it difficult to finish a working day.
The Optimus 7Q is the best smartphone we've seen from LG in a long time, but side by side with the HTC and Samsung handsets running WP7, and even beside its sibling, the Optimus 7, the 7Q trades off quite a bit to accommodate its keyboard. It has the smallest screen of the bunch, it's thicker and heavier, and we're not entirely sold on the keyboard design. Windows Phone 7 absolutely delivers, and this smartphone benefits from using this new system enormously. If you're in the market and you really need a physical keyboard, the 7Q is a fine phone, but if you're not sold on the design, take a peek at the Samsung Omnia 7, the HTC Trophy or the LG Optimus 7 before you sign on the dotted line.