Top positive review
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Almost Perfect for Under $100 Just got Patched to Jelly Bean!
on March 19, 2013
UPDATE: Last week, T-Mobile sent a patch to Android 4.1 Jellybean! I really like the subtle changes with 4.1, and the handset actually runs better with some apps. If you are on T-Mobile, be watching for it.
I have been living with the Optimus L9 for about 3 weeks, and so far I like it a lot. I have been a Samsung faithful for the last 3 handsets I've owned, so I was reluctant to give them up. I got the L9 sort of by accident (or at least unintentionally) when I was looking for a way to save money on my phone, and for when my contract was eligible for a new phone upgrade. I really wanted the Nexus 4, or Galaxy S2 or S3, but after I had gone through the different plan options and found the one that saved me the most money (you can't get a better deal for a wireless service than through T-Mobile), I found that those phones were more expensive than I could afford because I was on a Value Plan that you pay a down payment for a phone, then make payments on each bill. The rep suggested the L9 and said it was a really good phone, and I could get it basically for free with my plan, so I went for it, and now I'm glad I did.
The Optimus L9 is the upgrade to the Europe and Asia market L7 and the counterpart to the European and Asian L9 P760, which has a larger screen. The American-market L9 is the P769 only available on T-Mobile. The L9 is in a class by itself, a lot like the Exhibit 4G made by Samsung, which was also a budget mid-range device (I owned it and it's great). You could call the L9 the Optimus G's little cousin, but it has a ton of features that really don't belong on a sub-$100 phone. There are some impressive hardware specs here. Not the fastest or most cutting-edge, but good enough, and you can tell where LG cut corners to get the price down. There's no 8 megapixel camera, AMOLED high-res HD screen, quad-core processors, or exotic materials. What you get is in my opinion, the best budget phone out there. Period.
I like how it looks. It doesn't look like it's cheap. This is made by LG, and every LG handset I have owned has been top-notch in terms of build quality and ascetics. It is made entirely of plastic, but it's high quality with no creaks or gaps, looks really nice and feels very solid in the hand. The back is pretty bendy, but feels very sturdy and snaps back into place securely with no gaps. It isn't a small device, about 5" tall, 3" wide, but only .36" thick, not as thin as the GS3, but still impressively slim. It weighs under 5 ounces with the battery. It has a soft-touch battery cover with a texturing on it to make it easy to hold, and it has a chrome strip around the perimeter. The front is covered in Gorilla Glass 2 and is completely flush to the phone's frame. There are only 3 physical hardware buttons: the lock/unlock/power button, volume rocker/camera zoom, and home key, which is mounted flush with the glass. All the buttons feel very solid and don't require a lot of pressure to work, but enough so you don't accidentally push them. The large button functions as a "home" or task manager button with 2 capacitive soft keys for menus and return functions.
The software and hardware set of the L9 is impressive! It runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich v. 4.04 mixed with LG's UI and some add on's from T-Mobile, (which I didn't like). Everything is customizable and able to be personalized, menus, the lock screen, wallpapers, widgets, and home screens are all customizable, and all the menus and controls were easy to master. There will be a learning curve if you're coming from something like iOS or Android 2.2 or 2.3.6, but it's not hard to get the hang of it. The T-Mobile bloatware is extremely annoying. I was greeted by the Lookout app after every reboot and every app I downloaded. You can disable them, but you can't uninstall them. I really don't need things like T-Mobile TV, MediaHub, CMAS, Backup utilities, SmartShare, T-Mobile or LG's (I can't tell with) Smart Setup Wizard, T-Mobile Name ID (an optional paid subscription), Caller Tunes, Amazon, Bonus Apps, Chrome, Face Unlock, Contact Manager, GameBase, Google Play Music, Books, TV & Movies, Magazines, and Music, Google+, Lookout Security, More For Me, MobileLife, Social+, and Zynga. It really drove me a little crazy knowing I can't uninstall them without rooting the phone (and voiding the warranty). Messaging was a mixed bag. I am used to my Swipe keyboard and I fell in love with it, but was very disappointed with LG's version. It misspells words, grabs the wrong word, and often can't decide which word form to use, opting for a contraction other than a whole word. Very annoying when I need to text fast. Now I am back to mostly hunting-and-pecking like on my older Samsung phones.
The screen is a very nice capacitive 4.5" IPS LCD with qHD resolution of 960x540, 16 million colors, and 236 pixels per inch. Certainly not as good as the GS3, One S, or Note II, but for under $100 you won't get any better. The screen is responsive to my touches, very bright, and I was impressed with the viewing angles and how well it performed in sunlight. It is easily one of the brightest screens I've seen in a smartphone. The ppi might be a little low, but the fonts and pictures and icons looked great, nice and crisp. You could see pixels if you looked really close, but otherwise you couldn't. Inside there's a dual-core processor. It's a TI (yes, Texas Instruments) OMAP 4430 1 GHz with the ARM Cortex-A9 GPU. They are paired with 4 GB of internal memory, over half of which is preoccupied with the OS and preinstalled bloatware, so you actually get to use 1.8 GB of it for apps and things. On the plus, there's a MicroSD slot that will take a 32 GB card for expansion. The phone takes a micro-SIM card, and both the SIM and memory card are underneath the battery cover. I was really glad to see that the SD card is hot swappable (thanks T-Mobile).
For the camera you get a 5 megapixel unit with LED flash, plus a 1.3 MP front-facing camera. It records full HD 1080p video as well, not bad for a sub-$100 device! I am kind of picky about my handset cameras, and I found the camera to take pretty decent pictures overall. If you are switching from a basement 3.2 MP camera, you'll tell an immediate difference. You can definitely print these photos, and you'll be really happy with the results, but they aren't as refined as a comparable 5 MP Samsung camera on the Galaxy S line. Low light shots are very noisy and lack fine details that are present in shots in brighter conditions. The flash is a strobe-type LED that's decently bright and helps out indoor pictures, but outdoor shots in low light were still underexposed if your subject is more than 6 feet away. There is a decent assortment of photo tools and shooting modes to adjust to get the pictures how you want it, but not nearly as many as the Samsung or higher-end LG handset cameras. You can adjust things like white balance, ISO, exposure, color, image size (1, 3, 5 megapixels), image effects, shooting modes like portrait, sunset, panorama, and burst mode. There is also geo-tagging, smile shot, face detection, and a cool feature that snaps the picture when you say "cheese."
The camera has continuous auto focus, so it focuses when you pause on an object. The shooting performance is really good. From focus to preview takes about half a second. The camera definitely doesn't reflect it's price though and most everyone I know who has seen the pictures was really impressed. Video recording is also good. LG says 1080p at 24-30 FPS, and I concur that. The videos look pretty nice, way better than 720 or D1 found on cheaper handsets. You do get continuous autofocus, adjustable video resolution from VGA to full HD, and most of the same functions of the still camera like color effects, white balance, exposure, scene modes, and video effects called "live effects" like funny faces, and different backgrounds that were pretty neat. You can use the flash as a video light as well.
The battery is a 2150 MAh li-ion cell that you can remove and replace. I found to give pretty decent battery life. I got 2 days worth of using the web and calls before it was down to 10%.
Functionally, I was very impressed with the phone's performance. Even though it's "older" technology in the TI OMAP 4430 CPU and ARM Cortex-A9, it's definitely not low-end or slow. Even at 1 GHz, it's easily as fast as the 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 CPU in the Galaxy S2. I never had a problem with lagging, freezing, crashing, or choppiness when viewing web pages with Flash content, and scrolling as very smooth. I like to use my phone with mobile Bible apps like Logos, Faithlife, and YouVersion, which put stress on the phone when viewing pages full screen on a large screen, but I never experienced any issues. Google Maps and the Navigation used to really stall and trip my Exhibit up (even causing crashes), but not the L9! Web browsing with Dolphin was excellent, one of the best web experiences I've had with a phone. I was nothing short of impressed with the snappiness of this handset! The back did get warm under heavy CPU use though, but not enough to be alarming.
Call quality was excellent. Voices came in loud and clear and I never heard any complaints from callers. The audio performance was a little rough though as the speakerphone was very tinny and sharp sounding at high volume, which I will say is really loud. The same translated to movies and music as well, which hurt audio quality. Reception was also great on T-Mobile. I got good reception everywhere I went, even in dead-spots for other phones. For data connectivity, the L9 runs on T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G network. However, you don't get access to the full 42 MBPS data rates you get with the Galaxy S, S2, HTC One S, and Galaxy S3. This phone runs on the "slower" 21 MBPS modem, but that's not a huge deal as I would get about 5-7 MBPS up and 1-4 MBPS down. Not blazing fast, but good enough for most every need I had. Not really a huge concern to me because I don't have a ton of apps, but because this has ICS, you can't move or save apps to the external memory. For some, the internal storage would get filled quickly and make installing new apps impossible. A patch to Jelly Bean would rectify this, but I can't see that happening any time soon, if ever.
So that's the L9. It's about as good as you can get for the price, something no other carrier can claim. The L9 was designed to fill an extremely important spot in T-Mobile's handset hierarchy, the space between the low-end, budget phones and the high-end flagship handsets. Their first venture into the gap was the Exhibit 4G, which I thought was pretty good. All of the flagship devices will set you back a pretty penny even with a 2-year subsidized contract, and are stupid-expensive when purchased off-contract ($600 and up). The L9 can be had for $80 on contract, $369 off, and is even more manageable when on a Value Plan. I pay less than $20 for both handsets on my monthly plan, and I will be able to upgrade in 20 months. I have no reservations saying the L9 will keep me happy for a couple years!
Android ICS with un-intrusive LG UI
Dual core CPU
Hot swappable expandable MicroSD storage
1 GB RAM, 4 GB internal storage
5 MP camera with flash
1080p video recording
Nice 4.5" qHD IPS screen
Gorilla Glass 2 front
Very high quality materials
Excellent build quality
Great call quality
Over 2 GB of internal storage occupied by the OS and bloatware
Lots of annoying bloatware that can't be removed
Can't save or move apps to SD card
Camera could be better
Battery life is only average
Horrible LG "swipe" keyboard
It's not perfect, and it's obvious that LG had to cut some corners to keep the price low. There's no 8 MP camera with lots of functions, high-end processor, 8 or 16 GB internal storage, or super-high resolution screen. The camera could be better, so could the data speeds, and the loudspeaker needs some work, but for what it is, I can't find a better handset out there. I'm a Samsung faithful and have always had Samsung handsets after a poor experience with my LG Viewty KU990, but I would chose this over the Galaxy S2 on the basis of value. I can confidently say that you won't find a better value for the dollar out there.