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LG Spirit 4G (MetroPCS) review: Zippy LTE with Android 4.0 at a reasonable price

Equipped with a 4.5-inch screen, a 5-megapixel camera, and a dual-core processor, the LG Spirit 4G from MetroPCS is a prepaid mid-level handset that might just move you.

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Lynn La
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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.

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6 min read

Save for one handset (the LG Motion 4G), all of MetroPCS' LG handsets have been stuck on Gingerbread.

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7.3

LG Spirit 4G (MetroPCS)

The Good

The <b>LG Spirit 4G</b> has a big, vibrant screen and 4G LTE, and is one of the few Android 4.0 ICS handsets on MetroPCS.

The Bad

The Spirit 4G's audio speaker is poor and I heard my voice echoing at times during calls.

The Bottom Line

Despite its ho-hum call quality, the LG Spirit 4G is an affordable smartphone that performs reliably and runs Android 4.0.

So when the LG Spirit 4G was released on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (yes, it's not the latest Jelly Bean version, but I'll take what I can get), I was pleased. Not only was the update refreshing, the phone will also be the only other LG device to feature LG's Optimus 3.0 user interface.

On top of that, its current $199 price tag renders it oddly less expensive than some of MetroPCS' midrange Gingerbread phones (like the $349 LG Connect 4G or the $379 LG Esteem), making the Spirit a smart and economical choice for MetroPCS.

Design
Compared to other mid-range LG devices, the Spirit 4G's look is more deliberate and thought out. Its frosty silver construction gives the handset a more luxurious feel, and its matte plastic back plate keeps off fingerprints.

The phone measures 5.08 inches tall, 2.61 inches wide, and is 0.37 inch thick, so expect a snug fit inside your pockets. It feels dense to hold, but at 4.3 ounces, it retains a relatively light weight. On the left edge is a small, narrow volume rocker. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits up top, and a sleep/power button is located on the right edge. You'll find a Micro-USB port for charging on the bottom.

LG Spirit 4G
The handset has a vibrant 4.5-inch touch screen and features LG's Optimus 3.0 user interface. Josh Miller/CNET

The back houses a 5-megapixel camera with flash. Below those are two small slits for an audio speaker. Using a small indentation on the left, you can pry the back plate off and get access to the 2,150mAh battery, microSD card slot that's expandable up to 32GB, and the SIM card slot.

The 4.5-inch Gorilla Glass IPS display has a 960x540-pixel resolution. This is slightly higher than your standard 800x480, though it's hard to discern with the naked eye. The touch screen is very bright and responsive, text and app icons are crisp, and whites are true to life. Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel camera, and below it are three hot keys (back, home, and menu) that light up when in use.

Getting into the LG Spirit 4G (pictures)

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Software and OS
The LG Spirit 4G ships with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and comes with a bunch of Google goodies: Gmail; Search; Plus; portals to Play, Books, Magazines, Movies and TV, Music, and Store; Messenger, Maps with Navigation and Latitude, Talk, and YouTube. Other preloaded content from Google includes Chrome (in addition to a native browser, MetroWeb), Car Home, which lets users access phone features while driving, and Local, which scans the nearby area for popular restaurants and attractions.

Also included is a handful of MetroPCS apps, such as its 4G hot-spot app; an app portal; M Studio, which stores media files such as ringtones; a privacy app called Metro Block-it; MetroPCS Easy Wi-Fi, a Wi-Fi hot-spot app; Metro411, which searches for and locates nearby businesses and restaurants; MyExtras, an entertainment and media app; and MyMetro, which lets you check your account balance and plan.

In addition, the device is equipped with several basics like a clock with alarm features, a calculator, Bluetooth, a calendar, a memo pad, text messaging (with Swype), a native e-mail client, music, and movie players, two video editors, a to-do list, a voice recorder, a voice dialer, and a news and weather app.

Uncommon apps include Yahoo Sportacular for sport news; Yahoo movies; Facebook; two file sharing apps (FileShare and SmartShare); Twitter; a mobile media suite called Pocket Express; LG Smartworld, which lets you download LG apps and ringtones; and the mobile office suite, Polaris Office.

LG Spirit 4G
On the back of the device is a 5-megapixel camera, which features numerous photo editing options. Josh Miller/CNET

The handset comes preloaded with Rhapsody's music subscription service. For an extra $5 a month, you can search through and download thousands of albums and artists on major U.S. record labels. Despite the fact that you can't play songs offline unless you add them to a playlist, the service is intuitive and easy to use.

It's also equipped with LG's user interface, the Optimus UI 3.0, which isn't as stylishly simplistic as the vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich skin. The default icons are boxy (but are thankfully customizable through four different themes), and the widgets look clunky, especially the unattractive weather widget. Still, there are some things I'm fond of. For example, I like that you can access up to four apps of your choosing from the lock screen by simply swiping over their icons, and you can preview what your phone will open up to after unlocking.

Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera offers a variety of options: touch focus, a flash, a 15x digital zoom, face tracking, geotagging, and a timer, as well as continuous, HDR, and panoramic shooting. It also has a brightness meter (-2 to +2); five image sizes (ranging from 2,560x1,920 pixels to 1,536x864 pixels); seven scene modes; four ISO options; five white balances; and four color effects. Two novel features are the "Time catch" shot mode that lets users choose and save the best shot from before the shutter was pressed, and a voice command feature called Cheese Shot.

The front-facing camera offers the same brightness meter, white balances, color effects, timer, and geotagging feature, but only two scene modes as well as the Cheese Shot command and three photo sizes (from 1,280x960 to 640x480p). There's also 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.

Recording options consist of the same digital zoom, flash, brightness meter, geotagging, color effects, and white balance. In addition, there's audio muting and you can choose from five video sizes (ranging from full HD 1080p to MMS). Two more features are the "silly faces" mode, which will distort your face while the video records, and a background module, so you can change your background to outer space, a sunset, a disco, or your own custom image.

Though front-facing video recording has fewer options, it still retains a good number of features. There are still the brightness meter, silly faces and background options, white balances, color effects, geotagging, and audio muting feature. There are also five video sizes (ranging from 720p to MMS).

Photo quality for the 5-megapixel camera was respectable. Even in cloudy outdoor lighting, colors were true to life and popped with a certain amount of vibrancy. Objects did tend to blur outside the focal range, but for the most part, outlines were sharp and distinct. Pictures taken in dimmer indoor lighting understandably fared a bit worse. There was a noticeable amount of digital noise and graininess, and objects looked a lot more blurry.

LG Spirit 4G-outdoor
Even on a cloudy day, this outdoor shot still has colors that pop. Lynn La/CNET
LG Spirit 4G-indoor
In this indoor shot, objects appear blurry and there is a noticeable amount of digital noise. Lynn La/CNET
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The white background in our standard studio shot has a slight yellow hue on the edges, and only a few objects remain in focus in the foreground. Josh Miller/CNET

Video quality was also good. There was no lag between my moving of the camera and the video feedback, audio picked up well, and images (both moving and still) remained crisp and in focus. Colors were accurate, and the focus adjusted quickly.

Performance
I tested the tri-band (1900/800/850) Spirit 4G in San Francisco. Call quality was adequate, though there were a few times when I heard my own voice echoing in the background. Other than that disturbance, however, none of my calls dropped and audio didn't cut in and out. I heard my friends easily and clearly, though maximum volume could have been louder.

Voices on audio speaker, aside from already sounding harsh and tinny, could have been louder as well. My friends reported to me that I sounded fine. They were not able to hear the echoing that I heard, and they said that in moments of complete silence, they could hear a subtle static noise.

LG Spirit 4G call quality sample

Listen now:

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MetroPCS' 4G LTE network isn't the most robust, but data speeds were respectable and remained consistently fast and stable throughout testing. Loading the CNET mobile and desktop sites, for example, took an average of 8 and 10 seconds, respectively. The New York Times' desktop site clocked in at 13 seconds, and its mobile site also took 5 seconds to load. Altogether, ESPN took a faster time to load, with its mobile site taking 5 seconds on average, and its full site loading in 9 seconds. The 32.41MB game Temple Run 2 downloaded and installed in an average of one minute and 18 seconds, and Ookla showed me an average of 4.59Mbps down and 3.90Mbps up.

LG Spirit 4G Performance testing
Average 4G LTE download speed 4.59Mpbs
Average 4G LTE upload speed 3.90Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 32.41MB in 1 minute and 18 seconds
CNET mobile site load 8 seconds
CNET desktop site load 10 seconds
Restart time 32 seconds
Camera boot time 2.22 seconds

Powered by a zippy dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor, the device runs very smoothly. Not only did it show no problem executing simple tasks, like scrolling through its five home screen pages and the app drawer, it also took care of more complicated tasks in a timely manner. Opening the camera took, on average, 2.22 seconds, while restarting the handset took 32 seconds. I also didn't experience any stuttering or stalling when I played the graphic-intense game Riptide GP. Though I've seen higher frame-rates and smoother game-play on other top-tier phones (like the Nexus 4), the Spirit still handled the animations speedily.

The handset has 4.3GB of internal memory and a 2,150mAh battery, which has a reported talk time of up to seven hours. During our battery drain test, it lasted 8.08 hours of video playback. According to FCC radiation standards, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 1.05W/kg.

Conclusion
If $200 is way out of your budget, I suggest going for the $50 LG Motion 4G. You won't get the Spirit's big, bright screen, but for one-fourth of its price, you'll get a decent camera, the dual-core CPU, and Android 4.0.

But, if you're looking to spend $200 anyway, the Spirit 4G is an excellent choice. As one of the few MetroPCS handsets that ship with Android 4.0, it's still a reasonably priced phone that I'd recommend over its like-priced rival, the ZTE Anthem 4G due to the faster processor and updated OS. And as I previously mentioned, the Spirit is an obvious choice over the next few smartphones that are just as behind as the Anthem 4G, but way more expensive.

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7.3

LG Spirit 4G (MetroPCS)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7