MetroPCS will forever hold the distinction of being the first to offer the U.S. an LTE market and phone 11 months ago, but it's also been the slowest in developing a 4G portfolio. The LG Esteem represents the carrier's second LTE smartphone since MetroPCS first launched the Samsung Galaxy Indulge.
Unlike the Galaxy Indulge, the Esteem has no slide-out keyboard to accompany its all-touch screen. It's thick, solid, and square as a brick, but it's also MetroPCS' best smartphone to date. The large, vibrant touch screen, the dual cameras, and the faster processor all add to the appeal, but there's a major sticking point that keeps the Esteem from reaching its potential: its abysmal battery life.
There are some other perks as well: the HDMI-out port, for one, and the 720p HD video capture for another. In addition, MetroPCS will offer a 90-day free subscription to Rhapsody. The LG Esteem costs $249 after a $100 mail-in rebate, without a contract.
The nice way to describe it is that the LG Esteem is a brick with racing stripes. It's a thick black square with sharp edges and thin silver metal accents down the spines (the square edges on the phone's face take some getting used to.) It's a hefty 6-ouncer, which we usually see when a phone is brimming with metal accents and a thick keyboard. There's no keyboard here, but the upside is that the phone is sturdy-strong and likely to take a little abuse before cracking (not that we'd recommend it, mind you.)
Beaming up at you is a 4.3-inch WVGA touch screen (480x800-pixel resolution) with a Corning Gorilla Glass topper and support for 262,000 colors. The result is a bright, colorful, and sharp screen. The Esteem runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, with a subtle custom interface that adds just a few touches, like access to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, airplane mode, and so on from the pull-down notification bar. Swype comes preinstalled on the Esteem, but you can always switch to the standard Android keyboard if you'd prefer.
The Esteem, as we said, is a thick phone, and the dimensions match--5 inches tall, 2.6 inches wide, and 0.5-inch thick. It's a bit bulky for most pockets and the weight is significant--just know what you're getting into.
Below the screen are four touch-sensitive buttons: Menu, Home, Back, and Search. On the right side there's a covered Micro-HDMI adapter port and the volume rocker. On the left, you'll find the covered Micro-USB slot. Up top are the lock/power button and the 3.5-millimeter headset jack. The 5-megapixel camera lens is on the back, along with a flash (it does 720p HD video capture, too). Beneath the soft-touch back cover is the microSD card slot.
In addition to the rear-facing camera, there's a 1.3-megapixel lens above the display that's well-suited for self-portraits and video calls.
With Android, you know where you stand. As with the rest of the Gingerbread men, the Esteem has all the Google goodies--Google Maps, Gmail, turn-by-turn navigation, Google Places, YouTube, the works.
That subtle custom experience we mentioned also finds its way into other aspects of the phone, for instance the deep integration of several social networks. For example, when you begin adding accounts, you can sign into Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace apps that have been customized by LG to work on the phone. LG has also made Yahoo and Windows Live Hotmail accounts easy to sign into from the Accounts menu.
Back in the land of apps, LG and MetroPCS have laid down a thick welcome mat. The upside is that the phone looks less empty and more populated than it might otherwise. The downside is, if you don't like the selections, the prepopulated app tray may smack of uninstallable bloatware. For starters, there's Astro file manager, an application manager, Yahoo finance, Guided Tours, Loopt, Pocket Express, Polaris Office, and the Rhapsody music service.
There's also the SmartShare home networking app (the Esteem supports DLNA), and essentials like a clock, a calendar, a calculator, a newsreader, and a memo pad. MetroPCS has also added its regular complement of apps, including a browser, a navigator, a backup app, an online storefront for purchasing more ringtones and music, a 411 service, and a Wi-Fi sniffer. There's also the MasterCard-backed VCPay mobile app for MetroPCS customers to use for purchases--it's designed to be used as a debit card for those who don't have a credit card, and it requires a $1.49 monthly fee.