LG Leon (T-Mobile) review: Cheap and portable, but still not worth the buy

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The Good The LG Leon is competitively priced, has expandable memory, and for T-Mobile customers, it makes reliable calls over both cellular and Wi-Fi.

The Bad The handset's camera takes mediocre photos and lacks touch-focus, and its performance is sluggish.

The Bottom Line The LG Leon is a passable budget smartphone, but it's worth spending a little more for the Motorola Moto G or the 4.7-inch Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3.

6.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6
  • Camera 5
  • Battery 6

The extremely affordable LG Leon serves up midlevel specs like a 5-megapixel camera, a 1.2GHz processor and a low 480-pixel resolution. And while nothing is wrong with budget handsets, the Leon's altogether lackluster performance makes it an unsavory device -- especially since there are so many other alternatives that perform more reliably, have better specs and are priced about the same.

If cost is your main motivation, the Leon's price tag is attractive -- $140 prepaid with US carrier T-Mobile, around £65 in the UK and roughly AU$149. However, it underperforms the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime , the Motorola Moto G and the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 (4.7-inch variant) -- the last two of which are $40 more and are some of our favorite budget phones of the year so far.

Design and build

  • 4.5-inch display with 854x480-pixel resolution
  • 218 pixel per inch
  • 5.11 by 2.55 by 0.42 inches (129.79 by 64.77 by 10.67mm)
  • 4.89 ounces (138.63 grams)

Compact and lightweight, the Leon is an ultra-pocketable device that fits easily in your front jeans pocket and is comfortable to maneuver with one hand. The back curves slightly outward, making it more pleasant to grip, and I like the faux-metal sheen on the back plate, which adds just a bit of luxury to the handset. However, the control buttons on the rear bulge out, making it thicker around that area, and I don't like the fact that the phone's chin is so deep, leaving more than enough for an unsightly company logo (in this case, LG's).

On the top and bottom edges are a 3.5mm headphone jack and Micro-USB port for charging, respectively. The back houses the camera with flash, the control buttons including the sleep/power button and the volume rocker, and the speaker grille for audio.

With its 4.5-inch display, the Leon is pocket-friendly. Josh Miller/CNET

To remove the back cover, you'll need to pry it off from the Micro-USB opening. There you can access the battery, the microSD port that sits underneath the battery, and the SIM card, which is on the right edge.

Though the 4.5-inch display has a low resolution at 480p, it's still quite decent. It's bright enough to view comfortably indoors, though it does wash out a bit when you take it outdoors in direct sunlight. Images and graphics can look pixelated, however, and you can see aliasing on the edges of text. But for your casual phone needs, you'll be able to view and read the screen without any eye strain.

Software and other features

  • Google Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
  • Includes LG's signature QuickMemo+ note app
  • Preloaded T-Mobile apps

The Leon runs Google's mobile operating system Android Lollipop and features a number of apps from the company like Gmail, the Chrome Web browser, Drive, Maps and Hangouts.

The carrier loaded a few of its apps as well, like T-Mobile My Account, which gives you information about your phone and data plan; apps that help set up your visual voice mail and mobile hotspot; and a 30-day trial offer to the media streaming service T-Mobile TV, which streams channels like Fox News and ESPN. There is also the security service Lookout, Device Unlock and T-Mobile's digital payment service, Mobile Money.

Other apps include a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, the Polaris Office office suite, a voice recorder, a flashlight and more. LG threw in its note-taking app as well. Known as QuickMemo+, the app enables users to jot down quick notes and doodles.

The handset features apps from T-Mobile and LG's QuickMemo app. Josh Miller/CNET

Cameras and video

  • 5-megapixel rear-facing camera
  • 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Can record 1,080p (rear) and 480p video (front)

Photo quality on the 5-megapixel camera was mediocre. But given that this is a midlevel device, I expected there to be some compromises with the camera. Objects were out of focus and when they moved even the slightest, you can see noticeable amount of motion blur. Colors were faded and skin tones were muted. Photos also appeared fuzzier around the outer edges of the frame and the flash can leave a harsh blue tone over the images. The front-facing camera didn't fare any better either. The selfies I took were pixelated and blurry, and my skin tone looked washed out.

In addition, though the front-facing camera has touch-focus (which, in the end, didn't help much with focus anyway), the rear shooter does not. That means you cannot change your picture's focus point, making it harder to take a sharper picture, especially if you're up close. For more about photo quality, check out the pictures below. And be sure to click on each image to see them at their full resolutions.

Though this indoor picture is decent, you can see the lack of focus around the edges of the frame. Lynn La/CNET
In this well-lit outdoor scene, people are blurry and colors lack vibrancy. You can also see how skin tones look muted. Lynn La/CNET
In our standard studio photo, you can see how the flash casts a blue tone against the white background. Lynn La/CNET

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