Price (RRP): $399
LG hasn’t been terribly active in the high-end smartphone market this year, but it has been cooking up a storm with its budget brigade of Optimus handsets, badged under the “L” series. Now it’s the end of the year, and LG has one last L-series it would like to show you, the dual-core $399 L9.
Likely the last phone we’ll see from LG until 2013, the Optimus L9 looks to help start that new year with a bang, or in the case of this handset, a bang for your buck.
Starting with the screen, you’ll find a 4.7 inch screen supporting 960×540, and featuring a pixel density of 234ppi, not quite the Retina-comparable 318ppi found on LG’s other end-of-year handset, the Google-branded Nexus 4.
As is the norm for most smartphones we see, the screen is covered in Corning’s scratch-resistant glass, although the second generation of the technology makes an appearance here, with Gorilla Glass 2 included on the Optimus L9.
Inside the phone, you’ll find a dual-core 1GHz processor, 1GB RAM, Google’s Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” and 4GB of internal storage, though there is a microSD slot in case you feel like adding more for music, photos, videos, apps, and games.
Connections include WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, DLNA, GPS, Bluetooth 3.0, and microUSB, but there’s no Near-Field Communication technology included here.
The rear camera is an 8 megapixel shooter with auto-focus and LED flash, capable of grabbing 1080p Full HD video, while the front camera is a small VGA model.
Powering this handset is a 2150mAh battery, 50mAh higher than what Samsung uses in its Galaxy S3 handset.
There aren’t many buttons here to speak of either, something that is becoming all too common on Android smartphones. You’ll find a main home button sitting dead centre at the bottom of the handset, flanked on each side by soft buttons working for back (left) and menu (right). The power button sits on the right edge, while the volume rocker is on the left edge.
Ports are also equally limited, with the microUSB port on the very bottom and a 3.5mm headset jack up top.
Like taking a page from yesterday but sprucing it up to be better today, the Optimus L9 gives us LG’s spin on what can be a premium phone in the middle range.
Design wise, LG has taken the semi-professional squared off look it has been using across the L series all year and elongated it a little, keeping the plastic bodies and using a 4.7 inch LCD screen instead of the smaller ones used in the range.
In the hands, the L9 is comfortable to hold, even with the slightly softened hard angles, but they are very plasticky, although we’re appreciative of the textured back on offer for the L9, bringing to mind the feel Samsung produced with its textured back on the original Galaxy Note.
This back helps to make the entire phone instantly more gripable, something that touchscreen phones have been known to have problems with, thanks to the slick glass or plastic surface areas dominating the front and back.
For the most part, the screen is bright and colourful, and though we have some reservations about how reflective the entire thing is – we’ll get to that in a minute – it’s a nice screen for a mid-range phone, especially since it’s almost as big as the one found in premium phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X.
Using Android is a little different under LG, too with the company making some very nifty customisations of Android for the L9, including the way it looks, how modifiable it is, and the inclusion of QuickMemo.
Running on Android 4.0 or “Ice Cream Sandwich” as most of us call it, LG has included more ways to decorate and customise how it looks, including themes that change the look of your homescreen, menus, and even icons. In fact, every icon in LG’s Android overlay can be changed, replaced with a piece of graphic art – another icon – or even a photo, simply by holding down on the icon and selecting the paintbrush that will appear in the top corner of the icon after a second.
The dock can take a maximum of six shortcuts, a nice enough feature, but even the applications menu shortcut can be moved, something we’re constantly wishing for on Samsung’s smartphones.
LG has even provided more choices for clocks and calendars on the lockscreen, with six different options, catering for digital and analogue clocks, as well as some more modern interpretations.
Oh, and there is a neat ability to edit the quick settings power control available in the top drop-down for Android, which we haven’t seen in a phone prior. You can select what you want to be shown, move it around, and generally make your menu controllers show up to eleven different items, or just the few you want to quickly switching things on and off.
There’s also a “QuickMemo” function, which allows you to jump into an overlay of the screen you’re sitting on, and scribble notes on top of it. For instance, if you’re in the middle of a phone call, you can start QuickMemo, jot down a phone number, save it, and refer to it later on.
The rest of the Android functionality is pretty standard, with a reasonably large dial-pad for making phone calls, messaging, several homescreens, multiple widgets, and simple left to right swiping menu, although the colour scheme takes the opposite of Android’s typical black interface and makes it use a lighter white look, which makes a nice change.
Performance isn’t amazing for the phone, though with a $399 price for the handset, we’re hardly surprised.
Our synthetic benchmarks show the dual-core processor on offer here is a touch faster than last year’s Galaxy Nexus, but most people probably won’t notice or care that it’s not a huge leap, and for the most part, we didn’t experience any noticeable slowdowns.
Battery life on the the L9 is reasonably impressive, though, managing two days for us while we did our regular thing, including social networking, Bluetooth audio, phone calls, email, text messaging, web surfing, and so on.
You could possibly manage a little more, but two full days on a dual-core handset with regular activity is very good, and something we can’t even get from a lot of the dual-core phones we’ve played with this year.
There are a few issues with the phone, and we found the download speeds, front facing camera, and screen build to be among the weaker points of this handset.
Over on the connection side of things, we didn’t have the most fantastic download speeds. At most, we managed 10Mbps down, but generally our connection hovered around 3 to 6Mbps. Not the best connection by a long shot, and certainly not suitable if you demand the speediest web connection.
While the screen has solid colours and viewing angles, it is insanely reflective, resulting in near impossible viewing in direct sunlight, and distractions when you’re near outside light at all.
We’re also not big fans of the front-camera, managing a meagre VGA resolution of 640×480, which takes blotchy low resolution self-portraits and would only barely be usable for video conferencing or Skyping, if anyone plans to use it for that.
At a hundred under $500, LG has made the L9 into a capable mid-range device, improving slightly upon a framework from the 2011 style of flagship handsets and making it priced better for today.
We’re fans of a battery that goes beyond a day, and the L9 certainly pulls that off, so if you’re looking for decent battery life, an easy to use and customisable Android experience, but don’t care too much about fast download speeds and paying for a high-end phone, we’d look here.