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.
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.
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.
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'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.