With a 4.5-inch qHD Gorilla Glass 2 display and long battery life, the LG Optimus L9 is sure to get some attention, as will its $79.99 price. Add to that some clever interface tweaks and apps, and this T-Mobile Android smartphone seems like a great deal. Find out why the L9 is one of the better smartphone bargains.
LG is known for its boxy smartphones, and the Optimus L9, while featuring some pleasing variations, don't stray far from that path. The front of the device is a rectangle with slightly rounded corners and a 4.5-inch Gorilla Glass display framed by a metal trim. A long physical home button is at the bottom center.
The back of the device curves in at the edges, and the black plastic backing has a subtle texture that's pleasing to the touch. The 5-megapixel camera is located in the center of the top of the back of this device, with a smaller square flash below. Underneath is the LG logo and the speaker is a horizontal strip, about three quarters of an inch wide, in the bottom left.
On the left side of the Optimus L9 are the volume control buttons and on the right is the power/lock button. The only thing on the top of the device is a 3.5mm headphone jack and the bottom side holds the microUSB port.
The Optimus L9 measures 5.2 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches and fit comfortably into our pants pocket. Weighing 4.3 ounces, the L9 is lighter and thinner than the Galaxy Blaze 4G (5 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches, 5 ounces). This is a pretty sleek handset given the budget price.
The back cover of the device is easily removable, allowing access to the battery, the SIM card and a microSD card slot. The latter is practically a must with the L9, as the phone only has 4 GB of internal storage. The Optimus L9 supports microSD cards up to 32GB.
Display and Audio
The Optimus L9 has a 4.5-inch 960 x 540 Gorilla Glass 2 display that's scratch-resistant and delivers crisp and bright images. We had no problem reading text on websites such as CNN.com and NYTimes.com, as letters were sharp and clear. Viewing angles were good when we watched the trailer for "Django Unchained." Colors remained true up to the sharpest angles.
The display was brighter than average, measuring 367 lux against the category average of 300 lux. The HTC One S, however, outshone the L9, measuring 451 lux. The Samsung Galaxy S III couldn't hold a candle to this device, maxing out at 249 lux.
Audio performance on the Optimus L9 left us wanting. The max volume just barely filled our testing room when we played Queen's "Having a Good Time," and high notes were tinny and low notes fell flat. In addition, due to the the speaker placement, the sound is muffled when the phone is placed on a surface display-up.
There are four different keyboard options on the Optimus L9. First is a standard QWERTY, followed by a Phone keyboard, a handwriting keyboard, and a Shape writer keyboard. The latter of the group is a traditional QWERTY keyboard but supports finger swiping to spell words.
All keyboards, except for the handwriting keyboard, provided strong haptic feedback, making typing a natural experience.
Software and User Interface
The LG Optimus L9 runs Android 4.0 with an Optimus 3.0 overlay, providing plenty of LG-supplied extras. The lock screen shows the date and time and can be unlocked by swiping in any direction. At the bottom of the lock screen are four customizable app slots.
The L9 supports up to seven home screens, which can be added, removed and arranged by a zoom-out pinch on the home screen. You can easily group apps into folders by a long-press and drag, and folders can be customized to display as one of 10 different colors. The home row supports up to six icons or folders, allowing for quick access to most-used applications.
Long-pressing the home button brings up a list of recently accessed applications and provides easy access to the Task Manager or simply stopping all background apps. Long-pressing on an application gives the option to either remove it from the list individually or to get app info.
Pull down on the status bar to access QuickMemo, settings for options such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and screen rotation lock. There's also a list of app and system alerts and notifications.
Along with all the standard Android apps, the Optimus L9 comes with a few extra applications from both LG and T-Mobile. QuickMemo, a handy screen-capture and note taking application, is easily 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. We easily wrote a comment on NYTimes.com story and send it to a coworker.
SmartShare allows users to send photos, videos and audio to any DLNA-capable display. FileShare is a utility that lets you share multimedia files and documents with other LG devices through direct Wi-Fi connection. We connected our Optimus L9 to an LG Optimus G and were able to send large image files between the devices in mere seconds. It took around a minute, however, for the two devices to discover each other to establish the initial connection.
Included from T-Mobile is Game Base, T-Mobile TV, which allows users to watch live TV for a monthly fee, and T-Mobile Name ID, a caller ID service that costs $3.99 per month.
The LG Optimus L9 is powered by a dual-core 1-GHz TI Cortex A9 Processor with 1GB of RAM running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Our real-world testing showed zippy performance; there was no lag when navigating through home screens and opening applications. We tried "Bad Piggies" and gameplay was smooth.
The Optimus L9 returned a score of 2,835 on the CPU Benchmark, almost on a par with the average of 2,881. The $99 Samsung Galaxy Blaze 4G (1.5-GHz Qualcomm S3, 1GB RAM) notched 2,576.
The pricier Samsung Galaxy S III, with a 1.5-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 and 2GB of RAM, scored 4,536 on the same test. The HTC One S, also powered by a 1.5-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 and 1GB of RAM scored 4,994.3.
The graphics performance on the L9 was better, with the device scoring 7,067 on the An3DBench benchmark test. That's just above the category average of 6,954 and the Galaxy Blaze 4G (7,017). The Samsung Galaxy S III scored 7,272 and the HTC One S registered 7,314.
4G and Web Browsing
T-Mobile's HSPA+42 network provides fast 4G download and upload speeds, but it's still not as fast of AT&T's 4G LTE network. We were able to load NYTimes.com in 5.6 seconds and CNN.com in 4.9 seconds. The desktop version of our site, laptopmag.com, loaded in 6.3 seconds.
We ran the Speedtest.net test on the streets of Manhattan and averaged 5.7 Mbps downloads and 1.6 Mbps uploads over T-Mobile's 4G network. 4G LTE phones are about three times as fast.
The Optimus L9 features a 5-megapixel camera that took good, but not great, photos. The phone captured bright skies and passing cars from a Manhattan street, but landmarks drenched in sunlight were washed out and colors lacked vividness.
LG includes the Voice shutter feature, which allows users to snap the camera by saying the phrase "cheese." This worked as advertised, and was handy for avoiding camera-shake when pressing the shutter button or tapping the screen.
We were impressed by the 1080p HD footage captured by the L9's camcorder. Video of passing traffic was smooth and images were clear. However, the camera took a few seconds to adjust to the light changes when we moved out of the shade of the buildings.]
The 1.3 MP front-facing camera captured images with noticeable noise, and colors looked washed out. Our plaid shirt lacked anyy pop.
Voice calls came through clear as we called both landlines and other mobile phones, in both Arizona and New York. Volume in the earpiece as well as the speakerphone was sufficiently loud. People on the other end of calls said they had no problem making out our voice.
When LG says that the Optimus L9 has a "long-lasting 2,150 mAh battery," they're not kidding around. We ran the LAPTOP battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over 4G, and the L9 lasted 7 hours and 20 minutes. That runtime is better than the Blaze 4G (7:11 and well above the smartphone average (5:51).
This endurance also surpassed the HTC One S, which lasted only 5:26 and the S III (6:43).
For $79.99, the LG Optimus L9 delivers solid performance, a bright 4.5-inch screen and long battery life. You also get some of the software innovations inside the pricier Optimus G, such as QuickMemo. We prefer this smartphone to the Galaxy Blaze 4G because you get a bigger screen in design that's lighter and thinner. While the camera doesn't wow, those looking for a bargain Android phone will really like what the L9 has to offer.