The front-facing camera offers the same brightness meter, white-balance options, color effects, timer, and geotagging feature, but no scene modes or face tracking, and only one image size (640x480 pixels). There's also a mirror image option that saves a vertically flipped version of your photo and a "beauty shot" meter that lets you adjust the brightness and blurriness of an image. This comes in handy when you're taking self-portraits and want to soften the photo.
Video-recording options consist of the same digital zoom, flash, brightness meter, geotagging, color effects, and white balances. In addition, there's audio muting and you can choose from six video sizes (ranging from full HD 1080p to QCIF). There are fewer front-facing video options; it has the same exposure meter, white balances, color effects, geotagging, and audio muting, but there are only three video sizes (ranging from VGA 480p to QCIF). In addition, you can snap pictures while recording video.
Both cameras, however, have fun "live effects" you can enable while recording video. One is "silly faces," which will alter your face in a variety of ways like squeezing it together, shrinking your mouth, or making your eyes huge. The gimmicks are fun at first, but after a while the distortions just started to look creepy. The other is a background module, where you can change your background to outer space, a sunset, a disco, or your own custom image.
Photo quality was impressive. Even in a cloudy outdoor shot, the camera took detailed images. Edges were well-defined, objects were in focus, and small details like blades of grass or running water could be distinguished. Though dark hues were hard to differentiate, colors appeared true to life for the most part, and the auto white balance was accurate. Indoor shots with dimmer lighting understandably fared a bit worse. There was a noticeable amount of digital noise and graininess, but objects were still easy to make out and colors were on the mark.
Video quality was also great. Thanks to the phone's fast internal speeds, autofocusing was a snap, and moving objects came in clear and sharp. Colors were accurate, though again, dark hues blended together, and there was no lag between my moving of the camera and the feedback. Audio was picked up well and snapping pictures while taking video didn't slow down the recording process at all.
I tested the quad-band (800/1700/1900/2100) LG Optimus L9 in San Francisco. There were no problems with signal quality -- I did not get any dropped calls, extraneous buzzing, or audio clipping in and out. Sound quality was respectable, though maximum volume could have been louder. Voices were audible and clear, and I was told that I was easy to understand as well. However, I did get comments that I sounded somewhat muffled at times.
On the other hand, speakerphone quality was poor. Calls, as well as music, sounded harsh and severe, making it unpleasantly sharp. During calls, I could especially hear the sound bouncing off the back plate of the phone. Turning the volume down helped somewhat, and I could still hear what was being said, but it was unpleasant regardless. Listening to music or watching videos on speaker yielded similar results.
The MetroPCS model yielded similar results. Call quality was consistent and steady, and voices came in clearly. During times of absolute silence, I didn't hear any additional noise. When I took a phone call outside, it was still audible, despite the traffic that was going on beside me. (However, the person I was talking to said they were able to hear the traffic coming from my end.) Speaker quality was also poor, as I heard the same sort of tinniness from my phone calls.
Listen now: LG Optimus L9 (T-Mobile) call quality sample
Listen now: LG Optimus L9 (MetroPCS) call quality sample
Using T-Mobile's 4G network (850/900/1800/1900), data speeds were decent. On average, it loaded our CNET mobile site in 6 seconds and our full desktop site in 9 seconds. The New York Times mobile and desktop sites took 5 and 10 seconds to load, respectively. ESPN's mobile site downloaded in 7 seconds and it took 11 seconds to load the full site. It took about 38 seconds on average to download the 22MB game Temple Run. And the Ookla speed-test app showed me an average of 7.73Mbps down and 0.98Mbps up.
When I conducted the same test for our MetroPCS unit, data speeds were a bit slower in general. For example, it took almost twice as long to load the Web sites I mentioned previously. The CNET mobile site took 13 seconds and our desktop site took 21 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took 11 seconds, while the full site took 25 seconds. Finally, ESPN's mobile and full site took 9 seconds and 15 seconds, respectively. On average, Temple Run took a minute and 19 seconds to download, and Ookla showed me an average 1.96Mbps down and 1.40Mbps up.
The 1GHz dual-core processor was also snappy. Powering off and restarting the handset took about 39 seconds on average, and it took about 2.35 seconds to open up the camera. Playing the graphic-intense game Riptide GP was also a breeze. I did not experience any stuttering or stalling with the app, and there was a high refresh rate with the graphics. Simple tasks like browsing through the app drawer and transitioning back to the home screen pages were also executed swiftly.
|Performance: LG Optimus L9 (T-Mobile/MetroPCS)|
|Average '4G' download speed||7.73Mpbs/1.96Mpbs|
|Average '4G' upload speed||0.98Mbps/1.4Mpbs|
|App download (Temple Run)||22MB in 38 seconds/1 minute and 19 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||6 seconds/13 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||9 seconds/21 seconds|
|Boot time||39 seconds/--|
|Camera boot time||2.35 seconds/--|
During our video playback battery drain test, it lasted 7.75 hours. Anecdotally, it had a disappointing battery life. After spending a few hours playing games, watching videos, and surfing the Internet, the battery drained by a majority of its reserves and it needed a charge about halfway through the workday. According to FCC radiation standards, both versions of the device have a digital SAR rating of 0.70W/kg.
Considering T-Mobile's offering of midrange 4G handsets, I'd recommend the LG Optimus L9. Its $240 prepaid price is reasonable and it offers ICS natively.