At 5 megapixels for the rear-facing camera, the Esteems' shooter may not capture the highest number of megapixels on the market, but it doesn't need to. Instead, it joins other 5-megapixel cameras (like those of the and iPhone 4) to show that competent software trumps numbers alone. Photos are crisp and colorful, with good color fidelity, auto-focus, and a well-calibrated flash that correctly didn't engage when taking well-lit indoor shots. There's very little shutter lag.
The front-facing camera surprised us most. The 1.3-megapixel shooter's reproductions were much less grainy (and much more flattering) than many other front-facing cameras, even those with 2 megapixels. Although there were predictably some issues with color reproduction, edges, and clarity (especially with video), it's one of the better front-facing cameras we've seen.
LG's interface is also intuitive and easy to use, with well-considered submenus and a handy shortcut to get to the photo gallery without leaving the camera app entirely. For the more detail-oriented photographers, there are plenty of options to tweak image size, shooting mode, ISO, white balance, color effect, and focus. One of our favorite features, the Esteem will let you edit a photo immediately after capturing, without having to leave the camera app. A plethora of tools let you crop, rotate, adjust colors and lighting levels, resize the image, add effects, and annotate, all before sharing. Kudos to LG for a really seamless effort.
Video capture and playback were also good with both front- and rear-facing cameras. Volume was loud, though quieter when we turned the camera on a subject. The image jerked when we did; some image stabilizing software wouldn't be a bad idea. Overall, playback was pretty smooth from the 720p HD-capable 5-megapixel lens.
The Esteem has a respectable 8GB of internal memory and accepts up to 32GB more in its microSD card slot.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900; LTE 1700/2100) LG Esteem in San Francisco and San Diego on MetroPCS' network. Call quality was totally OK, though not as crystal clear as we've heard elsewhere. Volume could have been higher; set to the maximum volume our friends sounded fine, but we would have liked that level at medium volume. Voices sounded a bit unnatural, digitized, and wavery, but there was absolutely no background noise. On their end, our friends said we sounded clear, loud, and good. Their only complaint was that our voice tended to distort a bit at the highest frequencies.
Speakerphone sounded great to our ears, without any background crackling or hiss, and with louder volumes than when we held it up to our ear. Not so for our callers; they noted that we sounded distant when we held the phone at waist-level. While our voice quality remained high, they said we sounded a little muffled, and that the high-frequency clipping was also more pronounced--they had to listen intently to carry on a conversation.
LG Esteem call quality sample
A 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor powers the Esteem. While it's no dual-core processor, it's still plenty fast and we were able to navigate the phone and complete all our tasks without noticing any problems.
When it comes to data speeds, the Esteem is in rockier territory. MetroPCS may technically have an LTE network, but it's never been known to move as quickly as Verizon's LTE, for instance, or even as fast as T-Mobile or AT&T's HSPA+. However, the 4G data speeds are much faster than the 2.5G data network (1x RTT) that MetroPCS has deployed as its 4G fallback, and which also serves as its standard data network. If you're a MetroPCS subscriber in a 4G market like San Francisco, the speeds are indeed noticeably faster. While in San Diego, Web sites loaded much slower, and downloads were positively pokey.
Battery life was the phone's most disappointing feature. The Esteem has a rated battery life of 3.5 hours talk time and up to 8.3 days of standby time on its 1500mAH battery. In real-time, the battery drained quickly and we often found the phone turned off when we fished it out from our bag. You'll find yourself charging at least once, probably twice a day. It's the Esteem's single most concerning feature, especially for active data users, and the one thing that gives us pause in recommending the phone.
FCC radiation tests measured a digital SAR of 0.85 watt per kilogram.
If the Samsung Galaxy Indulge was a step in the right direction for MetroPCS' 4G lineup, the LG Esteem is a leap. Sure, it's a single-core Android device, it's bulky, and there's no HD video capture, but it does have Android 2.3 Gingerbread, an impressive set of front-and-rear-facing cameras, and pretty good call quality. In short, the Esteem is a great example of a higher-end phone for a modest, contract-free carrier. The pricing is right too, for a prepaid phone. However, we wouldn't recommend pocketing the Esteem if you're outside MetroPCS' 4G LTE market, since data is molasses-slow on the 2.5G fallback network. And while we like the phone's hardware and software, the dismal battery life is a heavy black mark against it. If not for the poor battery showing, it would easily be the carrier's best phone.