If you're in the market for a smartphone that will do it all and you don't want to commit to a lengthy contract, the LG Optimus F7 for Boost Mobile is a worthy candidate. For $299 and cheaper monthly data fees than the major carriers offer, the handsome F7 offers good performance and speedy 4G LTE browsing on a 4.7-inch HD display. You also get some of LG's handy special features, such as QuickMemo, which lets you quickly share notes, and QSlide, for multitasking. Find out if this Android device is a good deal.
The Optimus F7 is certainly sleek -- almost too sleek. The dark-metallic-gray back is made of smooth and somewhat slippery plastic, with a subtle pinstripe pattern and a glossy finish. Dark-silver chrome lines the device, giving the handset a premium look. Unfortunately, the back smudges way too easily, which cheapens the overall aesthetic.
On the front, you'll find a wide but short Home button beneath the display, flanked by a capacitive Back button on the left and a Menu button on the right.
Measuring 5.15 x 2.71 x 0.38 inches and weighing 4.7 ounces, the Optimus F7 is fairly easy to use with one hand. Those with smaller mitts will appreciate that you can move the phone dialer to one side of the screen or the other. The similarly priced HTC One SV for Boost is just slightly smaller and slimmer at 5 x 2.6 x 0.36 inches, and weighs a lighter 4.5 ounces, but that's expected, as it has a smaller 4.3-inch screen. The more expensive Galaxy S III weighs the same as the F7 but has a slimmer 0.3-inch profile.
While small, the power button on the right side of the F7 is easy to press with your thumb. The left side houses a designated QuickMemo button and a narrow volume rocker below it.
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The QuickMemo button launches LG's proprietary screen-capture and note-taking tool. It's convenient to have a designated key; we kept pressing it by accident. When in camera mode, the QuickMemo button doubles as a shutter button, so you can quickly add a note to images you take and share them. We found this feature somewhat problematic if you only wanted to take a picture with the button, and not take notes on it, but the camera also comes with a nifty voice shutter feature, so you really don't need to use the button to take a picture.
The F7's back cover is removable, and you'll find the replaceable battery and microSD card slot (placed right on top of the SIM card).
Display and Audio
Click to EnlargeThe F7's 4.7-inch IPS LCD True HD 1280 x 720 display renders vibrant colors and decent contrast. We watched a high-def trailer for the movie "Gravity" and found the F7 capable of displaying the Earth's blue and green hues in the background while still maintaining the orange glow from the sun reflecting off Sandra Bullock's space suit. We were also able to make out her eyelashes and fine lines during extreme close-ups, thanks to the F7's resolution.
Viewing angles were limited by the phone's shiny Gorilla Glass screen, which made it hard to watch the video without glaring reflections getting in the way. This issue only worsened when we brought the phone outdoors.
Click to EnlargeAt 353 lux, the F7's display is brighter than the smartphone category average of 295 lux and the Galaxy S III's 222 lux, but it was not as bright as the HTC One SV, which notched 401 lux.
The Optimus F7 comes with Dolby Mobile, which is supposed to enhance sound quality by providing cinematic surround sound and enhancing high frequencies so you can "hear every detail." Despite that claim, when we listened to Kanye West's "All of the Lights" on the phone's speaker, we found that layers of instruments meshed into a clashing jumble of sound, with tinny top notes and flat drum beats. Stick to the headphones or a Bluetooth speaker.
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As with other LG phones, like the Viper and the Optimus F3, the Optimus F7 tends to get warm after some gameplay or Web browsing. After we played "Zombie Frontier 2" for five minutes, the top-left corner on the back of the phone reached a feverish 91 degrees Fahrenheit. That's a bit toasty but not above our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Click to EnlargeThe Optimus F7 uses LG's keyboard by default but also supports Swype and Google Voice typing. A neat feature that LG includes is one-hand typing optimization, where flicking on the keyboard compresses it slightly and allows you to reposition the keyboard so it's within reach of your thumb, whether you are right- or left-handed. However, when this mode was enabled, the keys became quite small, hampering our accuracy.
Software and User Interface
Click to EnlargeThe Optimus F7 runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, with a boatload of customizations from LG. The default lock screen offers shortcuts to Phone, Messaging, Google search and Camera, which you can customize. The expanding circle unlock animation is pretty fun.
The F7 supports seven fully customizable home screens, of which four have been set up by LG out of the box. On the primary home screen sits a clock and weather widget. Shortcuts to Phone, Messaging, Apps, Contacts and Boost Mobile ID, a personalization app, are tiled along the bottom of every screen.
Long pressing on empty space on any home screen brings up an app drawer and customization options. You can also pinch in from any home screen to bring up an overview of your desktops, and select your default home page.
Click to EnlargeSwiping from the top opens a drawer that shows missed notifications and system settings. A top panel in the Notifications drawer allows you to toggle common options, like Wi-Fi, Airplane Mode, Brightness and GPS. You can also rearrange the order of these 11 options via an Edit button on the far right. Below this area is a dedicated row for QSlide apps, which is LG's floating window multitasking feature.
Long pressing the home button pulls up a thumbnail list of open apps, which you can close by swiping them sideways. Or, you can start fresh by tapping Clear All. From this screen, you can also access Task Manager or Google Now, a feature unique to LG's phones.
The App Menu is a bit confusing. While there's a Settings icon in the top-right corner of the screen, it actually lets you edit the App Menu instead of accessing the Settings menu. To quickly access settings, you're better off swiping down and then tapping the gear icon.
LG has packed a robust suite of helpful tools that boost the functionality of the phone. Quick Translator instantly translates words or sentences on the screen. Gesture Features allows you to pause video or snooze alarms by flipping your phone on its face.
QSlide allows users to overlay up to two resizable windows on the main screen. For instance, you can use a calculator while checking your email, or watch a video while you skim your Facebook feed. When the opacity of a QSlide app is below 100 percent, you can tap through it to use the app below.
QuickMemo lets you take a screenshot, and then scribble notes without having to launch a separate note-taking app. You can then share these notes via Bluetooth, Email, Gmail, Google+ and Hangouts, Message, Amazon Send, Picasa or Smart Share, which allows you to stream media over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to TV or Miracast-enabled devices. However, this feature would be much more user-friendly if LG included a stylus.
LG's Video Wiz app is pretty impressive, which makes it easy to create professional looking videos with preloaded templates. Just select the clip, the style you want (show reel, scrapbook, etc.) and your music (preloaded or your own track) and press Save.
LG also allows you to set home-button LED notifications, so your home button lights up in different colors depending on the type of notification. For instance, the button will light up in green for missed calls or messages.
Other preloaded apps include Polaris Viewer 4, an office suite app for viewing documents, spreadsheets, presentations and PDFs. Boost Mobile's Mobile ID allows you to download personalization packs to skin your phone.
Click to EnlargeThe Optimus F7 features a 1.5-GHz Qualcomm dual-core ARMv7 processor with 1GB RAM and 8GB ROM. In everyday use, the F7 proved responsive, opening and exiting apps quickly. The phone was also quick to start the camera.
On synthetic benchmark tests such as Quadrant -- which measures CPU, graphics and I/O performance -- the F7 scored 5,634. That result is significantly better than the scores for the Galaxy S III (4,888) and the HTC One SV (5,021).
The F7 lagged slightly behind its competitors on the An3DBench graphics test. Its score was just 7,079, compared with the Galaxy S III's 7,266 and the One SV's 7,243.
Though it's listed as having 8GB of internal memory, users only have 4.1GB onboard for files and apps. You'll want to invest in a microSD Card.
Click to EnlargeThe 8-MP rear camera on the F7 took sharp pictures with rich colors, but as we noticed on other LG phones, such as the Optimus F3, it seemed to have issues dealing with light.
We first snapped shots of a rainbow-colored scarf with a chair in the background. Although the deep purple and blue of the scarf rendered beautifully, corners of the picture appeared grainy.
Click to EnlargeThe camera took incredibly clear close-up shots, and captured details such as the dirt and debris trapped between the rows on our keyboard.
LG added some special features to the camera, including Panorama, Continuous Shot, Scenes and Color Effects. We like the Cheese Shutter feature, which allows voice-activated snapping of pictures when you say the words "Cheese," "Kimchi," "Whisky" or "LG." You can also define which words you want to use as triggers.
Although the F7's camera launches quickly and doesn't lag between shots, to focus, it took a little longer than we would have liked. The HTC One SV, in contrast, offers a continuous shooting feature.
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The F7 captured gorgeous 720p HD video of people and cars on the busy evening streets of Manhattan. Cabs, cars, people and buildings were sharp and were bathed in the golden hues of the setting sun. Objects in the distance succumbed to overexposure, however, as the camera was unable to accommodate extreme lighting differences.
Boost Mobile's 4G coverage is powered by Sprint, which is currently rolling out its 4G LTE network across the U.S. and reaches some 110 markets.
Sprint's 4G coverage is still spotty in New York City, but when the network was accessible, the F7 delivered fairly fast speeds. Using Speedtest.net, the F7 averaged 14.4 Mbps downloads and 5.9 Mbps uploads on the Upper West Side.
In our Lower Manhattan office, 3G speeds were sluggish, with downloads averaging 1.0 Mbps and uploads averaging 920 Kbps.
Voice-call quality on the Optimus F7 was average. We called people in New York City and Texas, and could hear our friends clearly for the most part. Although we sometimes had to get our contacts to repeat themselves, overall, we were pleased. It was also easy to hear people on Speaker from a short distance within a room, and they reported being able to hear us just fine.
Click to EnlargeLG claims that the F7's 2,540 mAh lithium-ion battery will provide up to 13 hours of talk time and 12 days and 12 hours on standby.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing with the display on 40 percent brightness, the F7 lasted 5 hours and 56 minutes. That's on a par with the smartphone category average (6:06).
Plans and Pricing
The Optimus F7 is available on Boost Mobile for $299 with either its daily or monthly unlimited no-contract plans. For $55 a month, the Android Monthly Unlimited plan gives you unlimited talk, text and data on Sprint's nationwide network.
You can also shrink your monthly payment by $5 with every six on-time payments, for up to $15 off your bill. If you make 18 on-time payments, you would pay $1,439.99 over two years. That's pretty cheap compared to what the major carriers offer. For instance, if you were to purchase the Optimus G for free on a contract with Sprint, you'd pay $80 per month for an Unlimited My Way plan that includes unlimited text, voice and data, or a total of $1,920.
Click to EnlargeThe LG Optimus F7 for Boost Mobile is a capable Android phone with robust onboard software and fast 4G LTE speeds. You also get a sharp 8-MP camera. We especially like the easy access to Settings and the QSlide multitasking feature, but QuickMemo isn't that useful without a pen. We also wish the design weren't so smudge-prone.
For $20 less, you can get the HTC One SV. It has a better design and a faster camera, but a slower processor and a smaller and lower-res 4.3-inch 800 x 480-pixel screen. For $100 more, you can get the Galaxy S III on Boost, which offers a more vibrant AMOLED display and S Beam for easy content sharing. But overall, the Optimus F7 is a solid midrange Android phone.