Those with a few years under their belts will remember the term "L7" being a name you'd call someone who was acting square, and it seems a fitting for a little black box. With the power off, the L7 looks a lot like Samsung's Galaxy S II (GS2), but flatter somehow. It has the same combination of textured plastics as the GS2, the same central home key and similar camera placement on the back — though most phones do. Not that you'll mix these phones up; the L7 has a large LG logo front and centre, above its 4.3-inch screen.
This touchscreen, in quality and size, is about right for a prepaid model under AU$300. Its WVGA resolution would have seen the L7 in good company in 2011, but it is noticeably duller than the top guns of this year. Blacks and colours are serviceable without being exceptional in any way. Blacks, in particular, could use a boost, with blacks on-screen looking grey beside the phone's thick bezel. It does display colour gradients well, though, with only very subtle colour banding evident.
As with many previous LG releases, the LG is part of a range of phones being advertised as fashion accessories, this time with brand ambassador Eric McNaught selling the link between tech and fashion. We don't see it here in person, though. Without Ms McNaught's manicured hand wrapped around it, the L7 looks remarkably unremarkable. It looks the way you might imagine a premium phone might look, but isn't one itself.
In its favour, the L7 runs on Android Ice Cream Sandwich, and, unlike Samsung and HTC, LG's custom user interface maintains a lot more of the Google-designed experience. There is a strong custom element, too; all of the icons, the apps menu layout and the home-page switching animations have been redesigned. Unfortunately, the designs here are not as pleasing to the eye as the buttons and images that you'd find on a stock Android device, like the Galaxy Nexus. LG's icons are cartoony, and they cheapen the aesthetic somewhat.
There is one UI element that we really love, though. When you pull down the navigation curtain, LG has included a row of customisable settings shortcuts, like Wi-Fi, GPS, Sounds, etc. Also, there is a button for Quick Memo, which takes a screenshot of the current window and lets you draw on it. You could, for example, capture a web page you're looking at, highlight a picture you like and make an annotation for later. Or you could create a message for friends and send the tweaked screen to them over email or a social network. Often we find the manufacturers adding features that don't have a strong everyday use, but Quick Memo is one that we could imagine using quite a bit.
This is an example of a Quick Memo, a feature that lets you draw on a screenshot and share it over a variety of media.
(Screenshot by Joe Hanlon/CNET)
To keep the costs low, LG opts for quite a low spec in the L7, starting with a single-core Qualcomm 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM and an older Adreno 200 graphics processor. This is just not enough to power this phone in a seamless and uninterrupted way, unfortunately. From the moment we turned it on and throughout our testing period, we experienced long lag spikes, even when we were performing simple, everyday tasks, like opening our address book or accessing the images in our photo gallery.
This poor performance carries over into more intensive apps, as you might expect. Ski Safari is a game we've really been getting into lately, but it isn't as much fun when the frame rate is as low as it is on the L7.
On the flipside, battery performance is decent. We saw five hours of continuous video playback in the CNET Australia labs, and while this is far from being record breaking, it is a good day's use.
The 5-megapixel camera in the L7 is, like most other aspects, quite good for the price. You get a tiny LED flash beside the lens, which helps in low light, and auto-focus is built in to the camera software. Like most touchscreen phones, you press on the screen to adjust the camera's focal point, and you can tweak a number of settings, like the exposure and whether you want to take a panoramic photo.
Our test pics turned out quite well, though the camera has obvious difficulties in working with strong light sources. Many of our test images were either blown out by bright light or lost in shadows. Colours were well represented, though, with bold colours showing up in a number of images.
What you can expect in a phone under AU$300 is a line that is shifting all the time. The LG L7 is a good example of a fully featured prepaid model, with a good basis in Android and some useful customisation from LG. The hardware and build quality could be better, though. Its plastic chassis and design are uninspiring, and the single-core 1GHz processor powering it all isn't enough to provide a smooth, seamless user experience. For that, we'd suggest checking out the Nokia Lumia 610.