The LG Optimus has a large 4.7in, qHD display and an attractive and functional design. It's only marred by a slightly sluggish user experience and a below average camera.
LG's Optimus L9 carries on the company's tradition of pre-paid handsets, but it aims to compete at a slightly higher price point than usual. Retailing for $399, the Optimus L9 sits at the top of the pre-paid price bracket. The large 4.7in, qHD display and an attractive and functional design are only marred by a slightly sluggish user experience and a below average camera.
Attractive and functional design
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The LG Optimus L9 is a very similar looking smartphone to the Optimus L7. It once again forms part of LG's "L-Style" range. It has a modern looking, square-style case with a completely flat front, a silver trim that surrounds the whole edge of the device and a rear back that tapers inwards towards the edge along the sides. In a sea of black smartphones that can often be hard to tell apart, the Optimus L9 is both distinctive and attractive.
LG's design team has clearly spent plenty of time crafting the L-Style range. The textured pattern on the rear and sides makes the Optimus L9 comfortable to grip, while the chrome speaker grille adds a touch of class that you normally don't see on pre-paid devices. Despite an all plastic construction, the Optimus L9 doesn't creak, rattle or flex when pressure is applied to its body.
The Optimus L9 has a modern looking, square-style case with a completely flat front.
The only real downside to the Optimus L9's design is the home button, which is a little thin and makes an annoyingly loud noise when pressed. We also feel that the power/lock and volume buttons could have been raised more from the edge of the phone to provide better tactility. On a positive note, the position of the power/lock button on the right side of the handset is ideal for one-handed use.
The LG Optimus L9 has just 4GB of internal memory but there's a microSD card slot for extra storage. It's accessible by removing the plastic cover on the back. The Optimus L9's battery is also removable and therefore user replaceable. Annoyingly, the position of the speaker on the back of the Optimus L9, towards the bottom left corner, seems like a poor design decision. The sound is slightly muffled when holding the phone in your right hand and audio is also hindered when the phone is placed flat on a desk or table.
The LG Optimus L9 has a large 4.7in IPS screen with a qHD resolution of 960x540, making it one of the largest screens on a pre-paid Android phone in Australia. It displays relatively crisp text at 234ppi, has reasonably impressive viewing angles and produces vibrant colours.
However, the Optimus L9 suffers from some of the poorest sunlight legibility we've ever encountered on a smartphone. The surface is very reflective even in an office environment under fluorescent lighting and there's no ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the brightness. You can add a brightness toggle (low, medium, high) in LG's quick settings menu, but the lack of an automatic brightness setting is a real downside.
The Optimus L9's screen has very poor poorest sunlight legibility we've ever encountered.
A functional Android skin
The LG Optimus L9 runs the 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich version of Google's Android platform, but is skinned with LG's own user interface. The good news is that this interface overlay adds some new features that most people will actually use. It's very similar to the one seen on the Optimus L7.
Swipe down the notification bar and you'll get quick access to up to 11 completely customisable toggles called quick settings. You can add and edit a range of toggles here including QuickMemo, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, sound profiles and screen brightness. It's a nifty inclusion and definitely adds value to the standard notification pull down.
The lock screen on the Optimus L9 is also worth mentioning. When you put your finger on the screen to swipe and unlock it, a circle appears and gradually gets larger as you swipe. The circle is translucent and reveals the screen you're swiping into. It doesn't add any real functionality, but it looks impressive. You can choose one of three different clock widgets or two calendar widgets to display on the lock screen, but you can't swipe directly into any apps.
The Optimus L9 has a redesigned keyboard that can be pushed to either side of the screen for one handed-typing and a setting can split the keyboard in half when the phone is rotated in landscape mode. There's also a pre-loaded Quick Translator app uses optical character recognition (OCR) to translate sentences and phrases into other languages by capturing a photo of text. We found it a hit and miss affair on the whole and can't see it being utilised for any serious business use.
Although LG's skin on the Optimus L9 adds plenty functionality, we aren't a fan of its look and feel. It strays away from Android's standard roboto font and dark, Tron-like colours. There's definitely evidence of the stock Ice Cream Sandwich user interface in some apps. The contacts menu, for example, looks very similar to Google's stock version, while LG's music player shows evidence of stock ICS. Most other apps are an assortment of lighter colours and cartoon-like icons that aren't particularly attractive. The icons in the main menu have also been enlarged, so they're not particularly crisp or clear as we're used to.
The LG Optimus L9 isn't a super fast phone but it's not a slug, either. Performance is about what you would expect from a phone at this price. Most basic operations, like unlocking the home screen, switching between apps and scrolling in the Browser are relatively smooth, though apps like the camera can feel a little slow to open. Thankfully, we managed to play a number of graphic intensive games, including GTA III and Shadowgun, without any major issues.
A microSD card slot for extra storage is accessible by removing the plastic cover on the back.
Average camera, decent battery life
The LG Optimus L9 has a 8-megapixel camera with single LED flash, which on paper is better than the cheaper Optimus L7. It captures reasonable photos and we were particularly impressed its tendency to naturally replicate colours but the camera does suffer from plenty of image noise and there's a lack of detail compared to the best camera phones on the market. Perhaps the most interesting feature is a "cheese shutter" setting that allows you to say one of five words to take a photo using voice activation technology. We often found this feature hit and miss, as is the norm for most voice technology.
The Optimus L9 can record full 1080p HD video, though the camera is set to record 720p HD video by default. There's also a front-facing camera, but it captures poor quality images with a ceiling of VGA (640x480) quality. It works reasonably well for video calling apps like Skype and Tango, however.
One positive of the LG Optimus L9 is the 2150mAh battery which modest users will have no problems pushing through a full day of use. LG's power saver feature also aids battery life. When switched on it can be set to turn off known battery draining features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and auto-sync, and can tone down other settings like screen brightness, screen timeout and the shortcut key lights.
The LG Optimus L9 is available now through Allphones, Crazy John's, Dodo and Dick Smith retail stores. It retails for $399 as an outright and unlocked purchase. Allphones sells the white version of the Optimus L9 exclusively, while the black model is available through other selected retailers.
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