Score one for the no-contract team. The $199 LG Spirit 4G for MetroPCS featuresa 1.2-GHz processor, 4G LTE speeds, and no-commitment data plans. Throw in long battery life and a bright Gorilla Glass display and you've got something to cheer for. LG's got Spirit, but should you?
Editor's Note: At the time of this review, the LG Spirit 4G is priced at $199 because of a limited time $70 rebate. Normal pricing for the Spirit 4G is $269.
The Spirit 4G uses a mix of textures that make this handset appealing despite its plastic body. The dark gray rear panel has a slightly raised dot pattern that make the device easy to grip. We also like how the left and right edges of the back curve upward. Two lighter silver textured strips straddle the 4.5-inch display, similar to an electric razor. Finally, the top and bottom of the LG Spirit have a nice mirrored finish.
Beneath the 4.5-inch screen are three capacitive buttons (Back, Home and Menu). The right side of the Spirit houses a small power button, and a medium-size volume rocker lines the left side. The headphone jack is up top, while a microUSB is on the bottom of the phone.
The Spirit 4G (4.4 ounces, 5.08 x 2.6 x 0.37 inches) is on the smaller and lighter end of the spectrum compared with the Samsung Galaxy S III (4.7 ounces, 5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches), but it also has a smaller display.
The Spirit 4G features a 4.5-inch 960 x 540 Gorilla Glass IPS screen that's scratch-resistant. Although we'd prefer 720p resolution, this phone delivered bright -- if slightly washed-out -- images.
The Spirit 4G's display is brighter than average, registering 340 lux against the category average of 298 lux. The HTC One X+, however, outshone the Spirit 4G, notching 462 lux. The Samsung Galaxy S III couldn't hold a candle to this device, maxing out at 213 lux.
When watching the high-quality trailer for "Iron Man 3," the Spirit 4G's screen gave us more details in shadows, but offered narrower viewing angles than the Galaxy S III, which also had . had better color saturation.
The Spirit 4G's speakers got plenty loud when watching the "Iron Man 3" trailer, filling a small office with sound. Just don't expect rich audio; the organ on Stevie Wonder's "Living For The City," sounded hollow while Wonder's vocal was tinny. In addition, due to the speaker placement, the sound is muffled when the phone is placed on a surface display-up.
There are four different keyboards to choose from on the Spirit 4G. There's the Shape Writer keyboard that features trace technology and a QWERTY keyboard for hunt-and-peck typists. There's also a Phone keyboard, a throwback to feature phones, and Handwriting input.
Both the phone keyboard and the QWERTY keyboard provided strong haptic feedback as we typed texts and emails.
Software and Interface
The Spirit 4G runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich with an Optimus 3.0 overlay, giving this Android device a distinctive LG feel. Swiping in any direction will unlock the device, and there are four customizable quick-launch icons at the bottom of the screen. The lock screen also shows a large digital clock along with the date. Unlocking the phone produced a nice iris wipe effect.
There are seven home screens, providing plenty of room for apps and widgets. The home row supports up to six icons or folders that remain at the bottom of the display. Using a pinch gesture on any home screen opens the home screen editor, where pages can be added (by pressing the plus button) or deleted by dragging them to the top of the screen.
You can view recent apps and switch between them by long-pressing the home button. Long-pressing on the Menu button launches a Google search.
The pull-down notification area provides shortcuts to various settings and options, such as toggling Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and Airplane mode. QuickMemo is also here, allowing users to draw and write notes on any screen, then immediately share the image or save it to the image gallery (much like the Galaxy S III's S-Memo). This feature came in handy for annotating news articles and immediately emailing the images to our laptop. You can customize the order of these icons.
The Spirit 4G also includes Wise screen, which uses the front-facing camera to scan for facial features, ensuring the display doesn't power down even if you haven't touched the phone for a period of time. Similar to other recent LG phones, users can create custom icons for apps on the Optimus G using LG's images or pictures from the gallery. The Spirit 4G also supports app folders, which can be created by dragging icons on top of each other. When expanded, these folders resemble widgets.
Courtesy mode allows users to silence alarms or pause video by flipping the phone facedown. We could also use side-to-side tilt gestures to switch between screens when moving app icons on the home screen.
Unlike higher-end LG phones such as the Optimus G, the Spirit 4G does not feature multitasking features Q Slide or Dual Screen/Dual Play.
LG and MetroPCS have preloaded a fair amount of apps onto the LG Spirit 4G. On the LG side of things, there's QuickMemo, a handy screen-capture and note-taking application, accessible through the notification bar. QuickMemo let us use our finger to write notes from any screen or app, highlighting important areas or information, and then immediately share or save it as an image.
SmartShare comes in handy for sharing multimedia content with DLNA-compatible devices. LG also included the Wi-Fi Direct-powered FileShare to transfer large documents and other files.
Backup enables users to back up and restore important files. We like that the app lets users schedule backups. MetroPCS takes things a step further with its Total Protection app, which allows users to locate, lock and restore contacts to the phone if it's lost or stolen. The Application Manager enables users to uninstall unwanted apps.
Both LG and MetroPCS have their own app stores. MetroPCS' AppStore deals primarily with its own branded apps while LG SmartWorld curates apps that you might not see in the vast Google Play store along with its own branded apps. MetroPCS also has M Studio, where users can purchase music included ringtones and ringback tones.
LG bundles the driver-friendly GPS navigation app Car Home, which makes it easy to find and navigate to local destinations and supports voice control.
Third-party apps include Facebook, Yahoo Movies, Polaris Office 4, Rhapsody, Yahoo Sportacular, YouTube and Pocket Express.
The LG Spirit 4G is a peppy performer, thanks to its 1.2-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU with 1GB of RAM. There was no sign of latency as we navigated through home pages and menus. "The Simpsons: Tapped Out" game also ran smoothly during our testing.
The Spirit 4G delivered a score of 5,328 on the CPU Benchmark, well above the 3,142 Android phone average. It also outpaced HTC One X+ (1.7-GHz Nvidia AP37 Tegra 3) and the Samsung Galaxy SIII (1.5-GHz Snapdragon S4 CPU) which notched 4,301 and 4,214, respectively.
As far as graphics, the Spirit 4G returned an impressive 7,572 on An3DBench. That's enough to beat the 7,205 category average as well as the One X+ (7,488) and the Galaxy SIII (6,994). On Quadrant, which measures CPU, graphics and I/O performance, the Spirit 4G notched 5,604. It topped the 3,398 category average and the Galaxy SIII's 4,731. However, the LG was no match for the One X+'s score of 7,568.
The LG Spirit 4G's storage can be expanded to 32GB via the microSD slot.
4G LTE and Web Browsing
MetroPCS 4G LTE coverage is available in 19 markets, including, New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit and Sacramento. Mobile sites such as CNN.com, NYTimes.com and ESPN.com took an average of 3.2, 3.4 and 4.4 seconds to load on the Spirit 4G. When we tested network speed on Speedtest.net, the Spirit delivered an average download speed of 11.6 Mbps and an average upload rate of 4.8 Mbps.
The Spirit's 5-megapixel rear camera provided lackluster photos. Many of our images had washed-out colors and lacked detail. For instance, a shot of a bouquet of red roses and white lilies looked ashy and blown out. The image was full of blurry flower petals and jagged leaves. Video delivered more of the same, with black livery cabs taking on a gray hue and fuzzy text on taxis and street signs.
Images captured by the 1.3-MP front camera were plagued with graininess. However, our skin tone appeared nice and warm, despite the fluorescent lighting.
Overall, both cameras delivered swift camera speeds, taking less than a second to snap off photos. LG has also included the "Say Cheese" feature, which automatically snaps a picture when the phrase is uttered.
During the Laptop Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE), the LG Spirit 4G lasted 7 hours and 13 minutes. That's more than an hour longer than the 6:06 Android phone average. It was more than enough to top the Samsung Galaxy SIII's time of 6:55, but the HTC One X+ edged out a win with 7:19.
The LG Spirit is available for MetroPCS for $199, but how does the carrier's data plan stack up to the competition? For $60 a month, MetroPCS customers get unlimited talk, text and data, which adds up to $1,639 over two years along with the cost of the phone.
On Verizon Wireless, a $100 Share Everything plan snags shoppers unlimited text and talk with 2GB of sharable data. Adding in the cost of a premium smartphone totals $2,599.
For a Mobile Share plan on AT&T, you would pay $110 for 4GB of data plus unlimited talk and text, totaling $2,839 when you add in a $199 smartphone.
So, over the course of two years, you could save anywhere from $960 to $1,200 by opting for MetroPCS.
The LG Spirit 4G consistently delivered clear calls when we dialed both mobile phones and landlines. However, there was some fading in and out in our home in the Bronx. The speakerphone was nice and loud, but there were a few instances of echoing on our end.
For $199, the LG Spirit 4G delivers strong performance, a bright 4.5-inch screen and long battery life. You also get some of LG's nifty software innovations, such as QuickMemo. Metro PCS customers willing to spend more up front will prefer the $499 Galaxy S III, which offers a bigger and sharper screen along with a better camera. Overall, though, the LG Spirit 4G is one of the better phones in MetroPCS' growing stable of affordable powerhouses.