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LG Optimus L9 review: An affordable Android 4.0, dual-core handset

T-Mobile's LG Optimus L9 is only $80 -- but users will get Android 4.0, a dual-core processor, and 4G data speeds.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
7 min read

As the biggest and most high-end device in LG's L-series of midrange phones, the LG Optimus L9 from T-Mobile and MetroPCS, delivers just the right amount of specs and performance that make it a solid consideration without being too ambitious.


LG Optimus L9

The Good

The <b>LG Optimus L9</b> has a snappy dual-core CPU, 4G, Android 4.0, and a 1080p HD camera.

The Bad

The Optimus L9's battery drains quickly, it has a poor audio speaker, and it comes preloaded with too much bloatware.

The Bottom Line

The reasonable $80 price tag, dual-core processor, and Android 4.0, make the LG Optimus L9 a reliable midlevel handset.

It has a better camera than the Optimus L5 and a faster processor than the L7, but with its prepaid price tag, it also won't break the bank.

In addition, the handset comes with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

And while shipping with this OS version seems like a no-brainer, there are plenty of midrange devices in T-Mobile's lineup that run on the dated Android 2.3 Gingerbread instead. This makes the L9 ideal for any T-Mobile user who is looking for a zippy Android 4.0 experience on a budget.

Editors' note, July 24, 2013: This review was originally written for the T-Mobile version and has been updated to reflect the release of the Optimus L9 on MetroPCS.

Though similar to the uninspiring Optimus L7 (also known as the LG Splendor from U.S. Cellular), the LG Optimus L9 has a thin but dense build that is comfortable to handle. It measures 5.03 inches tall, 2.63 inches wide, and 0.36 inch thick. The device is light, weighing in at 4.16 ounces. Though it won't be able to fit in small jean pockets without peeking out above the seam, it can easily fit in a small shoulder bag or purse.

On the left side is a volume rocker that includes a tiny bump for easy pressing. Up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack and to the right is a sleep/power button. The bottom hosts the Micro-USB port for charging.

The back plate is made out of texturized matte plastic that feels almost like rubber. This material gives the handset a more luxurious feel, and I like how it fends off fingerprints and scratches. In the top center, you'll find the 5-megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash. A small slit on the bottom-left corner opens to the audio speaker. To access the SIM and microSD cards, as well as the 2,150mAh battery, pry the backing off using the small indentation at the bottom edge.

LG Optimus L9 (back)
The back plate of the L9 includes a matte plastic finish. Josh Miller/CNET

The phone sports a 4.5-inch qHD touch screen. Though the display isn't as impressive as the screens on other LG devices, like the more vibrantly bright LG Optimus G, the screen is decent in its own right. It was sensitive and registered my touches easily. App icons were crisp, text was sharp, and colors were vivid at maximum brightness. Although gradient patterns looked somewhat streaky, on the whole, images were rich and colorful.

Above the display in the right corner is a proximity sensor and to the left is a VGA front-facing camera. Below is a physical home button, with a back and menu hot key on either side of it that light up when in use.

Zipping by the LG Optimus L9 (pictures)

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Features and OS
The LG Optimus L9 runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich OS. With ICS, the handset gets the usual slew of Google's services, like Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Latitude, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, Search, Talk, and YouTube. The Google Play stores for Books, Magazines, Movies & TV, and Music are included as well.

T-Mobile also included a handful of its own apps, including the hotline (and for some reason, horoscope-giving) app, 411 & More; a ringtone store; a gaming portal called Game Base; and More for Me, which scouts local deals based on your interests. In addition, there's mobile hot spotting; an app to check your phone and data info; a trial subscription to the caller ID service, T-Mobile Name ID; visual voice mail, Lookout Security, which backs up and secures your data; and lastly, a 30-day trial to T-Mobile TV. This is a service where you can stream live TV from channels like Fox News and PBS Kids.

Other goodies include two file-sharing apps (SmartShare and FileShare), Amazon Kindle, an emergency system notification app, another gaming portal, Slacker Radio, and Polaris Office 4.0 mobile office suit. And, of course, there are more-basic apps, such as native a browser, navigator, and e-mail client, a calculator, music and movie players, a clock with alarm functions, an address book, a notepad, and a voice recorder.

Furthermore, as a recent LG phone, it sports the Optimus 3.0 user interface. The UI does a good job of adding some functionality without imposing too much of its own personality on top of Ice Cream Sandwich. But, it's not as sleek and elegant as Google's vision of the OS, and certain widgets look dated. At any rate, the OS doesn't get in the way of using the phone.

LG Optimus L9
Though LG's Optimus 3.0 UI is included, icons can't be customized. Josh Miller/CNET

LG's signature note-taking app, QuickMemo, comes packaged with Optimus 3.0. With this app you can use your finger or a stylus to jot down quick notes and sketches directly over screen images, which you can then save and share. You can also customize the color and style of your pen tip.

Even though I love a few choice goodies just as much as the next guy, the L9 has way too much bloatware. There are already two gaming portals, two browsers, and two navigators, and I really don't think anyone needs custom ringtone packs from T-Mobile.

Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera offers a variety of options: autofocus, touch focus, a flash, a 15x digital zoom, face tracking, geotagging, a timer, continuous shooting, and panoramic shooting. It also has a brightness meter, five image sizes (ranging from 1,280x720 pixels to 2,592x1,944 pixels), four scene modes, four ISO options, five white balances, four color effects, and the voice shutter function, which lets you operate the shutter by saying "cheese."

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.

Optimus L9 (outdoor)
Even in dim outdoor shots, the L9 took decent, well-defined photos. Lynn La/CNET
LG Optimus L9 (indoor)
In this indoor shot, objects are in focus and colors true to life. Lynn La/CNET
LG Optimus L9 SSI
In our standard studio shot, a yellow hue overlays the background. Josh Miller/CNET

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.

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Listen now: LG Optimus L9 (MetroPCS) call quality sample="" value="high">

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.

But even putting aside the updated OS and 4G capabilities, users will also get a dual-core processor and a 5-megapixel that can record 1080p HD video. With these decent specs and solid performance, the L9 is worth considering for any T-Mobile customer who wants to get the most out of his or her wallet.


LG Optimus L9

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7