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It should be pretty easy to see that LG has been on a tear with its latest Android devices this year. From its newest flagship phones like the Optimus G, and the slightly more recent Nexus 4, LG has produced some of the best high-end devices of the year. That said, LG hasn’t forgotten the mid-range market. With high success with the budget LG Optimus One, the company introduced a whole new line of new Optimus handsets this year : The L-Series.
LG’s sales of the L-Series (L3, L5, L7) line of handsets recently reached 10 million units, and the most recent entry to the L-series family is getting some love on T-Mobile, the LG Optimus L9. The Optimus L9 falls squarely into mid-range territory and comes at a great price of free. If you’re not willing to shell out the cash for something like an LG Nexus 4, is the LG Optimus L9 your best option for T-Mobile? Read on to find out!
The specs for the Optimus L9 run pretty well for a device in its range. The L9 rocks a 4.5 inch qHD display, 1GHz dual-core TI processor, 1GB of RAM, 5 megapixel camera, VGA front-facing camera, microSD card slot, and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
The face of the device is pretty much what you'd expect to see in most handsets today. Up top, you'll find the ear piece, front-facing camera, proximity and ambient light sensors, as well as LG and T-Mobile logos. Below the display, LG has taken a similar route to what you see on something like the Galaxy S III, which is adding in a dedicated home button to the device and placing two (back and menu) capacitive keys on both sides. The physical home button itself is lined with a small chrome accent that's very subtle. This chrome accent, although thicker in size, is also found along the perimeter of the device, too.
The sides of the L9 are quite bare, leaving only the necessities. On the left, you'll find the volume rocker, the bottom sports the micro USB charging port, the right has the power-lock switch, and the 3.5mm headphone jack finds home up top. The back, all done up in a nice, slightly-textured for grip, soft touch finish, is rather sparse as well. Here you'll only find the 5 megapixel camera with LED flash, LG's chromed-out logo, and speaker grill.
LG's design aesthetic has long been subtlety, which hasn't always worked out. Sometimes an understated design can read as boring to people, but I've got to say that I'm a fan of these types of designs. Clean lines and small accents go a long way, and you'll find these here in the L9.
At this point, I'd call LG the king of subtlety with its designs, and I don't think that's a bad thing at all.
Along with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the Optimus L9 is skinned with LG's Optimus UI, which is still one of the most toned-down custom user interfaces we've seen. While some may prefer stock Android ala Nexus, the Optimus UI is one of the more livable, as it doesn't throw too many unnecessary customizations at the user.
The standard homescreen layout looks like just about any Android you've seen before, with a few LG touches thrown in. Tweaked icons and a different placement for the 'all apps' icon, which is on the right side of the dock, just to name a few.
You'll also find a small selection pre-set themes for the homescreen, and a quick way to edit how many homescreen panels. Other Optimus UI tweaks include a set of notification toggles that you can edit right from the panel, allowing you access to your most frequently used toggles without having to sift through ones you don't use.
One interesting feature that we really like on the L9 is Quick Memo, which is an easy way to take a screenshot of whatever is on your screen and quickly edit or share it. Enabling the feature is as easy as pressing both the volume up and down keys at the same time from any app on the phone. From there, you can choose if you'd like to draw on the captured screen or quickly jump to a notepad-looking screen. You'll also have the option change the pen type and ink color of the memo. After you're done with the memo, you can either save it to your gallery or send it via any application that utilizes Android's sharing API, which is pretty much everything.
Like most Android phones today, the Optimus L9 is littered with bloatware, and it has little to do with LG. Most applications that you'll likely never use are from T-Mobile, but you can easily disable these applications from showing up in your app drawer in the settings menu.
There's a lot to like about the Optimus UI, and of course, there's always room for improvement. Luckily, the updated Optimus UI found on the Optimus G is pretty delightful, and we hope to see it make its way to the L9 in a future update.
The camera on the LG Optimus L9 could be better, but that's a saying you hear on just about any mid-range device. Still, that doesn't mean that the handset isn't capable of taking completely acceptable photos, which it can. Many times, the resulting pictures dramatically differed from what was showing on the viewfinder, and always for the better. Low light performance was a bit underwhelming, but the LED flash helps a lot. The flash itself isn't too bright, so you won't need to worry about washing out your subjects with a blinding light in photos.
The camera software is a nice experience, and lays out your basic features along the left side of the viewfinder, and it's easy enough to dig into the settings to go deeper. A notable feature is voice shutter, where you can say, "cheese" in order for the camera to take a photo. This can come in handy if you're trying to take a group photo while you're holding the phone away from you.
Battery life was also a pretty nice experience, and the 2150 mAh battery is responsible for that. I easily managed to squeeze out a full day of juice from the battery, but as you might have guess, results will likely vary depending on how you use your phone. With WiFi on constantly, the screen fully illuminated, and after some light gaming, the battery drain was more noticeable, but didn't have be running to my nearest charger.
There's a special place for the likes of the LG Optimus 9. It seems too easy to come out with a crappy mid-range handset, which is why it's refreshing to see a phone that does exactly what it promises to do, without an over-bloated UI or poor performance. The L9 is a solid handset for the mid-range market that performs servicably. Of course, if we could, we'd attempt to sway you to a device like the Nexus 4, but the L9 should prove to be a good first-time smartphone, or for someone who wants a smartphone and wants to do some light gaming, without breaking the bank.
At $249 off contract from T-Mobile.com, or free with a new contract, the LG Optimus L9 is a good choice for a mid-tiered handset on the carrier.