LG Optimus L90 (T-Mobile) review: Midtier prepaid Android combines solid specs and savings
For prepaid carrier T-Mobile, reliable midrange devices that are under $300 are few and far between. Some devices are inexpensive, but don't offer a smooth and consistent user experience. Other higher-tiered handsets, however, cost around $500 or more, and can be out of range for those wanting to save money. Then there is the LG Optimus L90. Reasonably priced at $228 off-contract, the phone is a perfect combo of respectable specs and savings.
The device has its drawbacks, certainly. Though it has 4G, it doesn't have LTE, and its camera is unexceptional (especially with indoor pictures). But for its price, it certainly offers a good amount of value: solid call quality, a long-lasting battery, and Android 4.4.2 to name a few strengths.
If you're hunting for a bargain handset, but aren't willing to make too many sacrifices, the Optimus L90 has just enough hardware muscle and software features to satisfy your needs.
As the biggest member of the L-series family, the L90 features larger measurements while remaining pocketable and easy to hold. It is 5.18 inches tall, 2.60 inches wide, 0.38 inch thick, and weighs 4.37 ounces. While you can definitely feel its presence in the front pockets of your jeans, it's not big enough where the fit is too snug or too uncomfortable.
On the left edge sits a volume rocker and a shortcut key that you can assign to launch one app of your choosing. It can be the browser, camera, or your camera. Up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack and IR blaster (more on that later). The right edge houses a sleep/power button and on the very bottom is a Micro-USB port for charging.
The battery door is decorated with a subtle diamond pattern, and is coated with a slick material seen previously on LG's top-tier G Flex handset. This "self-healing" coat is slippery to hold at times, but when scratched, it works to seal up any minor scuffs that can accumulate from everyday wear and tear. This worked well when I repeatedly scratched the surface of the phone with a set of car keys. However, keep in mind that it isn't impenetrable. One flick of an X-Acto knife will scar the back easily.
Located on the back is a 5-megapixel camera lens and accompanying flash. Below that are two small slits for the audio speaker. Using the Micro-USB port, you can pry your fingers into it and remove the battery door. There, you can access the microSD card slot (which accepts cards of capacities up to 32GB), the removable 2,460mAH battery, and SIM card.
The 4.7-inch qHD touchscreen has a 960x540-pixel resolution. Despite the display's low resolution, the screen is still bright and vivid. True, I can see a bit of graininess when it comes to the default wallpapers and images, and text showed obvious aliasing if I looked closely. However, neither of these characteristics was too distracting or annoying to the eye during general use. In addition, the display is responsive to the touch and easy to view in direct sunlight. Below the screen is a physical center home button, flanked by two hotkeys for back and menu settings. To call up recent apps, long press the home key.
The L90 runs the LG Optimus 3.0 user interface, and has a number of signature software features. These include the option to customize certain app icons; QuickMemo, which lets you jot down quick notes or sketches directly over images onscreen; and QSlide 2.0, a multitasking function that you can use to view and resize apps (like the calculator and video player) while using other apps or viewing the home screen. Users will get QuickRemote too, which works with the IR blaster situated on the top edge, to turn the handset into a remote for household devices like a TV or cable box.
Considering the fact that this is a midtier handset, it's great to see the phone include a more recent version of Android (4.4.2 KitKat, to be exact). It also has your standard stock of Google apps: Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Maps, Hangouts, Drive, Photos, and YouTube. The Google Play stores for Books, Newsstand, Movies & TV, and Music are loaded as well.
Surprisingly, there are no carrier apps loaded from T-Mobile. As someone who wants as much internal memory and the least amount of bloatware as possible, I appreciate this move. But there are some other "goodie" apps such as the Amazon shopping app, a document cloud manager called Box, a translation app, and the mobile document suite, ThinkFree Viewer.
Basic task-management apps consist of an alarm clock, a calculator, a calendar, native browser and e-mail clients, a memo pad, a to-do list, a dictionary, a voice recorder, and a file manager. Lastly, you'll get Bluetooth 4.0 and 8GB of internal storage.
Camera and video
Photo quality for the 5-megapixel camera is good, especially in settings with ample enough light like outdoor scenes. In these photos, objects were in focus, and crisp outlines, and colors were true-to-life. However, there were times when light sources were too overblown. In addition, the camera struggles with indoor settings. In dimmer environments, photos had a notable amount of digital noise and artifacts. Colors also looked muted and landed on the colder, bluer side. For more on the phone's photo quality, check out the photos below. And be sure to click on each picture to see them at their full resolution.
The rear and front-facing camera offer a variety of options. Both have a brightness meter, five white-balance options, four color effects, a timer, geotagging, and four shutter tones. There's also voice shutter, which is a voice-activated shutter function that takes photos when you say certain words, such as "cheese" and "whiskey."
Understandably though, the rear camera has a few more features, including a digital 4x zoom, flash, five scene modes, including Panorama and Time Catch, three focus options, and five ISO settings. You can also save up to three photo sizes (from 1,280x960 to 2,560x1,920 pixels). Meanwhile, the front-facing camera has the option to save a photo flipped vertically, and has one picture size (640x480).
Video recording options for the two cameras include the same brightness meter, color effects, and geotagging functions mentioned beforehand. Both cameras can also pause recording and restart it again in the same video, take photos while recording, and detect faces to warp them for silly (more like creepy) effects. The 5-megapixel camera also has continuous flash and the ability to record up to four video sizes (from 176x144 all the way to full-HD 1,920x1080). The VGA camera can record in three video sizes (from 176x144 to 640x480).
I tested the quad-band (850/900/1800/1900) Optimus L90 at our San Francisco offices, and call quality was strong and stable. My calling partner's voice was clear and the volume range was adequately loud. At times I could hear a bit of muffled static, but it wasn't overly distracting and it didn't diminish the calling experience. None of my calls dropped, audio didn't clip in and out, and neither parties heard any extraneous sounds outside the call.
Audio speaker yielded similar results, but my partner's voice did sound more tinny and pinched. At maximum volume, she sounded especially thin and sharp, but I was still able to understand what was being said.
During my time with the device, I was also able to test Wi-Fi calling. In general, the call was passable in that voices were clear and easy to understand, but there were some notable issues. At times I could tell that there was a delay with the call (my partner would take a few seconds longer to start answering a question, or we would talk over one another without realizing it at first). I also lost connection twice when I went in a stairwell, and my partner said she kept hearing a beep noise from time to time. I never heard the beep myself, but I was told that it was quite irritating.
Because this is only a 4G handset, data speeds on T-Mobile's network won't be as fast as they can be on LTE. All in all, speeds were slow, but steady and consistent. It took 3 minutes and 7 seconds on average to download the 48.61MB game Temple Run 2. As for Web browsing, CNET's mobile and desktop sites took 8 and 18 seconds, respectively. The mobile site for The New York Times loaded in 11 seconds, while its full page appeared after 20 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 8 seconds, and the desktop version took 7 seconds. After several trials, Ookla's speed test app showed unimpressive averages of 2.69Mbps down and 1.22Mbps up.
LG Optimus L90 performance times
|Average 4G download speed||2.69|
|Average 4G upload speed||1.22|
|App download (Temple Run 2)||48.61MB in 3 minutes and 7 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||8 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||18 seconds|
|Restart time||29 seconds|
|Camera boot time||1.73 seconds|
The phone's 1.2GHz quad-core processor carries out simple and daily tasks readily and smoothly. Launching the keyboard, opening up the app drawer, and quitting apps to return to the home screen were a breeze. Moreover, while I've seen higher frame rates in more powerful devices while playing the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP 2, gameplay was fluid and steady, and the app never stalled or forced quit.
For benchmark testing, the L90 performed well. Its best Quadrant score was 9,025, edging out many handsets in its class like the Samsung Galaxy Light and Galaxy S3 Mini , and the Alcatel One Touch Fierce (which scored 8,499, and 5,734, and 4,880, respectively). The phone's best multithread Linpack result was 238.23MFLOPs in 0.71 seconds. On average, it took the phone 29 seconds to shutdown and restart, and 1.73 seconds to launch the camera.
Anecdotal observation for the sizeable 2,460mAh removable battery was satisfying so far. The battery charges quickly (about 15 minutes to go from 20 percent to a full charge), and drains at a good, slow pace with medium usage. It also survived the weekend on standby without a charge. The battery has a reported talk time of up to 6 hours, and lasted 16 hours and 11 minutes for continuous video playback. According to FCC radiation measurements, the phone has a SAR rating of 0.57W/kg.
Among its competitors in its price range, the LG Optimus L90 is a top choice given its price and its specs. Its 4G may be slower than LTE, but the speeds were consistent. Plus its reliable user experience and call quality means it can execute the basic smartphone tasks well.
T-Mobile's $174 Alcatel OneTouch Fierce is cheaper, true, but it's slow and takes even worse photos than the L90's middling pictures. Likewise, the Nokia Lumia 521 is a decent value at $120, but it has a lackluster screen and its Windows Phone 8 app market pales in comparison to Android.
Perhaps the only viable competitor is the $240 Samsung Galaxy Light . Though I'm not a big fan of its smaller screen and slower benchmark scores, it does have LTE and clocked in faster data speeds. And if you find yourself browsing the web often, that extra $12 may be worth it for you.