LG Optimus L9 review: A modest mid-range smartphone
At a Glance
Mid-level smartphones are a tough nut to crack. They might not command the same stage presence or premium feature set as a Samsung Galaxy S III or iPhone 5, but midrange hardware begets midrange price tags, which could make all the difference for folks on a budget. Consider the T-Mobile LG Optimus L9 ($80; price as of 11/27/2012): Its dual-core processor and 5 megapixel camera don’t inspire much in the way of confidence, but lurking behind this blocky facade is a fairly competent device.
The LG Optimus L9 is a scant 0.36 inches thin, and weighs a meager 4.2 ounces, disappearing into pockets and purses without complaint. The plastic body has a soft, textured back plate and is sturdy, exhibiting little bend or flex.The 4.5-inch IPS display sports a 960 by 540 pixel resolution, which is fairly standard for phones at this price point. Viewing angles are generous and the screen is appreciably bright, though even modest sunlight can be problematic. Higher-end smartphones will offer screens with higher resolutions and greater pixel densities, but text on the Optimus L9 is crisp and clear, and I had no problem parsing emails or long articles. The phone’s narrow, tall body is comfortable enough to wield in my fairly large hands, though I did find the boxy edges kind of dug into my hands uncomfortably when I held it for long periods of time.
The phone serves up a standard button layout: the volume rocker sits on the left, the power button is on the right, a microUSB port underneath, and the headphone jack up top. The capacitive back and menu buttons sit on opposite sides of the physical oval that serves as the home button. The buttons are all but flush with the sides of the chassis, which can make them a bit of a bother to find, but nevertheless prone to accidental button presses. I’d occasionally jostle the volume buttons while reaching into my pockets—occasionally annoying, but hardly much of a mark against the phone.
It’s functional. And plain, and uninspired. There’s nothing actually wrong with the L9’s design, but the boxy black shell with an aluminum band running around the rim is a bit, well, boring. That’s likely going to boil down to personal preference, but this isn’t a device I was ever especially excited to tote about.
The L9’s 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor won’t scream through many benchmarks, but it handles itself gracefully, sliding through plenty of apps and casual games like Temple Run and Jetpack Joyride with ease. Hardware-intensive games like Dead Trigger performed a bit less amicably, slowing down noticeably once the activity onscreen picked up. The phone offers 4GB of internal memory, but that’s expandable to 32GB care of the microSD card slot tucked under the battery. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ connectivity failed to impress—I saw an average of 2.8 megabits per second (mbps) download speeds and 2.4 mbps upload speeds in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. That said, the actual call quality on the L9 was fine: I had no trouble being heard or understood during phone conversations. The L9’s 2150 mAH battery is quoted at well over 12 hours of normal use, with just under a month of standby time. While I didn’t get quite as much use out of it, I spent a considerable amount of time browsing the web, watching YouTube videos and playing games, and could get through an entire work day (about 8 hours) before needing to track down a charger.
The Optimus L9 is powered by Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), though LG’s Optimus UI has baked in a number of functional and cosmetic changes. Of particular interest are the four shortcuts that sit on the lock screen, giving you speedy access to four apps. The Optimus UI also offers Quick Memo, which captures a screenshot that you can annotate. It’s a bit of a niche app, but could come in handy.
You’ll need to wade through an inconvenient amount of T-Mobile branded bloatware when you first fire up the Optimus L9—an unfortunate but expected reality on such a (relatively) inexpensive smartphone. Many of the apps can’t be uninstalled, but you can disable them, ostensibly hiding them from view (though they’ll remain on the phone, soaking up precious megabytes). T-Mobile has also packaged the free Lookout Security app, which set to work scanning every app I installed for malware—an annoying process, particularly if you’re only getting your apps from trusted locations. Fortunately, it’s simple enough to disable and ignore.
The Optimus L9 sports a 5-megapixel rear camera, but image quality falls flat. Colors are reproduced accurately, but I noticed a distinct loss of detail in every shot, a sort of fuzziness settling over every image I captured. It’ll work in a pinch if you’re just trying to send images of weekend revelry to your social network of choice, but I wouldn’t recommend relying on the L9 for capturing more treasured memories. The phone is capable of recording 1080p video, but it suffers from the same general limitations as the still camera. Details are lost to that same general fuzziness that plauged my photos, and the phone had a bit of trouble maintaining focus on my subjects if I wasn’t standing very still. The L9 also offers a VGA front-facing camera, but the low resolution snaps and grainy video capture makes it largely worthless. The camera’s software serves up a few tricks, but most are fairly common Android camera accoutrements. LG’s custom Optimus overlay offers a voice shutter option that takes a photo every whenever you say "Cheese," which is cute. There’s also a panorama option, but it doesn’t take height variations into account so you’ll need to keep a steady hand. You’ll also find basic white balance and ISO controls.
The LG Optimus L9 isn’t exactly a heavy-hitting Android device—but at $80, it doesn’t need to be. The camera is merely passable and I wasn’t blown away by T-Mobile’s 4G connection speeds, but if you live in an area that gets better T-Mobile connectivity and are on a strict budget, there’s a lot to like here.