Monday , August 21 2017

LG Optimus L9 — Review

LG Optimus L9 — Review

The L-Series was first introduced at Mobile World Congress last year where LG showed off the Optimus L3, L5 and L7. Fast forward to August last year when LG announced that the L9 would be arriving to join the already successful L-Series phone range that had been launched earlier that month.

The L-Series phones have been majorly successful, selling mostly as low-end pre-paid devices with the exception of the L7 which was made available on Optus plans through All Phones outlets. The L9 was a slightly higher end model than the previous top of the L-Series line, increasing both screen size and resolution to a 4.7″ qHD (960×540) resolution, while also bumping the underlying hardware specs up to a Dual-Core 1GHz CPU with 1GB of RAM.

In the L9, LG has also introduced further software tweaks to their custom Ice Cream Sandwich interface in the hope of producing something that will differentiate themselves in the mid-range phone market. The existing Q-Memo software is already a winner in terms of usefulness (from what I’ve seen on the L7) but specifically on the L9 they’ve introduced a language translation service they’ve called QTranslator, which utilises OCR to translate sentences and phrases from 44 different languages into 64 native languages.

The Optimus L9 comes delivered in an LG Branded box with the usual accoutrements such as wired handsfree, micro-USB Wall Charger (5V/1.0A) included as well as a Quick Start Guide.

LG has positioned the L-Series devices at the low to mid-end range of the market and the L9 is both the highest specced and the highest priced – currently selling through AllPhones at $339. With the other LG Phone the Nexus 4 currently selling through the Play Store for $349/$399 with 8GB/16GB storage on-board is the Optimus L9 worth a look? Read on to find out.

Pros

  • Bright Clear Screen
  • 8MP Camera
  • Ice Cream Sandwich with Jelly Bean upgrade coming

Cons

  • Uncomfortable to hold
  • Small amount of onboard storage
  • LG Custom Skin

Build Quality

The Optimus L-Series is aimed at the low to mid-range end of the market and hence the build quality on these phones is not what you’d expect from some of the higher end and therefore higher priced phones in the LG stable such as the Optimus G or the Nexus 4. The L9 is a fairly light device weighing in at 125 grams thanks mostly to the main component in its construction being plastic. The light weight feel of the device when holding it is not the only positive regarding the L9 design; it also looks quite nice. Although reminiscent of some other Korean designed phones, it is a pretty handsome looking phone.

The L9 consists of two chromed plastic pieces of trim which have a textured piece of plastic sandwiched between them, which acts as a spacer for the internals of the phone to rest behind the screen. The textured plastic does not sit flush with the chromed trim and is slightly recessed, unfortunately this indentation means that the chromed edging feels as though it has a sharp edge and when sitting in the hand makes it uncomfortable to hold at times (the Xperia Z has a similar rough feel to the edges).

In terms of build quality the rest of the phone appears to be quite solid. There is no bend or flex in the body and the textured back is quite pleasant to the touch. The screen glass is a standard piece of glass over a capacitive screen, however it appears from the GSMArena specs that LG has decided to forgo the Gorilla Glass 2 on the L9 despite including this feature on the lower end Optimus L7.

Once again LG has decided to forgo the on-screen buttons of Ice Cream Sandwich and delivered a phone with centre mounted home button with a capacitive button mounted on either side, Menu on the right and Back on the left. LG has offered the reasoning behind doing this is to offer more screen real estate at all times, which is something to consider.

LG has opted to seat the power button at the left hand side of the phone on the L9 allowing for ease of use when reaching with your thumb to turn the screen on/off. The volume rocker is located on the right hand side of the device which again allows for easy access to control the volume on the L9. The location of the 3.5mm headphone jack is a hotly debated subject, I still prefer to have the jack located on the bottom of the device but LG seems to insist that it should be located on the top of the phone.

Screen

As 1080p 5″ phones begin to proliferate at the top end of the Smartphone market, the existing 720P displays will be pushed down into the mid-range of the market but that is in the future and at this stage the L9 is gifted with quite a nice vibrant qHD resolution (960×540) display. Brightness can be a bit of a problem when looking at the phone outside, however once bumped to maximum brightness the screen is easily viewed.

The display is quite honestly is very pleasant to look at, having come from the Nexus 4 the L9 was actually quite a pleaseant surprise and to my eye looks to be very well calibrated with the colours rich and vibrant, with the blacks looking black although not as Black as some AMOLED screens can show. At 234PPI the screen shows fonts as extremely readable with very little pixelation around the edges.

The decision to stick with a qHD resolution screen means that the PowerVR SGX540 GPU doesn’t have to work as hard to push out the graphics whilst maintaining an excellent overall visual experience for the user and the IPS panel allows for some excellent viewing angles.

Performance

The Optimus L9 is quite a speedy little device, the boot time is around the 20 second mark which includes the delightful startup sound(a pet peeve of mine). When you first sign in you will encounter an update session through the LG Application Manager which you cannot skip until it’s completed, an unfortunate start to your LG experience.

When scrolling through the home screens very little lag is encountered which is a nice surprise after I encountered a large amount of lag with the L7. It appears that the upgrade to a Dual-Core CPU as well as software optimisation has indeed done wonders for the Optimus L9. There are moments of lag once you begin to download a large amount of apps to the phone and also whilst the storage is in use i.e when downloading a new app while trying to surf the web.

Games and applications are quite decent at loading although there are moments when some higher end graphics on games will slow it down completely and appear to stall completely, the phone however appears to chug along in the back ground and eventually gets the job done, once the game or app is loaded into memory though they seem to run quite fluidly with no hiccups.

One barrier to the L9 is the on-board storage, 4GB is provided although in reality when you turn your phone on for the first time you will find only 2.18GB of available space. Once you begin to fill the on-board storage you will start to experience greater lag, happily when you clear a few apps this lag seems to disappear and happily the LG Optimus L9 also includes a microSD Card slot to allow you to move apps to SD Card although you will have to provide your own microSD Card.

Cameras

The rear camera on the Optimus L9, is an 8MP sensor which seems to deliver quite a crisp shot. The LG Camera software is packed with features including their voice activated shutter, simply say Cheese, Smile, Whisky, Kimchi or LG and the shutter will take the shot. Feature wise, LG has built Face Tracking into their focus selection software. LG has given 3 different modes of shot : Normal, Panorama or Continuous shot, Continuous shot delivers a 6-shot burst mode which to be quite honest delivers a pretty sub-par performance.

Still Shot Samples :

Video mode is available in Full HD 1080P capture which is pretty decent, as is the 720P capture. There are some effects you can add to videos that are found in the Android ICS update such as Big/Small Eyes, Big Nose as well as backgrounds like Space, Sunset and Disco. Video support is good enough for your everyday phone but it will not start to win you awards for video although the resultant video is more than good enough for YouTube

720P Video Sample :

The L9 comes with a front facing camera which works well for video conferencing and really, that’s all one should be asking of a front facing camera.

Sound

Sound on the Optimus L9, will not be cause for you to start throwing away any high-end audio gear you have but it won’t make you regret your purchase either. With a slightly muted sound the music through the external speakers come through with no problems and volume will be sufficiently high so that you aren’t ruining your hearing but aren’t being accused of waking the neighbours. Through a headset the volume sounds pretty ok, there are no issues with volume.

Wireless

With all phones these days, I can pretty much guarantee that it will make phone calls, text and send the odd MMS when required. The L9 is no different, it has a good solid connection however it’s nothing to rave over, things such as the Wi-Fi hotspot work decently however I find I get faster downloads on the hotspot on my Nexus 4 than on the L9 which is more likely due to the L9 having only a HSDPA, 21 Mbps radio rather than the DC-HSDPA, 42 Mbps in the Nexus 4.

Bluetooth connects to headsets with no issues, I could quite comfortably have the L9 in my pocket with the headphones on and no drops in the link were experienced.

Wi-Fi is 802.11 b/g/n but not dual band, so no 5GHz connections here, I had no issues getting connected to and maintaining a connection with Wi-Fi routers at home or out and about at local coffee shops etc.

GPS picks up on the satellites with ease and maintains a connection, the L9 tracked my morning run very nicely and the corresponding output was pretty much in agreeance with other devices I’ve used. While you don’t have GLONASS support, A-GPS is present and I don’t think you’ll have any difficulties using the inbuilt Google Navigation either.

Unfortunately unlike other implementations of the L9 from around the world there is no NFC built into the L9 so if you’re looking for that, this is not the L9 for you.

Battery

As usual with all the phones I test, I am an above average user. I tend to sync 3 GMail accounts, a twitter feed and my screen on times are insanely demanding, but the L9 did Ok, I am generally looking for a charger on most phones by around 3pm after taking it off charge at 7am and the L9 did quite well on this account.

To fully charge the Optimus L9s 2150mAh battery you’re looking at around the 3-4 hour mark depending on if you leave the radios turned on or switch to plane mode.

Accessories

The question here is what accessories? Unfortunately there are no official accessories being offered for the Optimus L9 and this lack is disturbing. Manufacturers continue to punch out phones with no regard to the end user who would like to actually have a nice case, extra charger, car kit etc. While it’s not a show stopper it is something to consider when looking at the L9.

Software

LG has been skinning their phones as long as there have been Android based Optimus phones and the L9 is no different, as time goes by I see the value in extra add-ons in terms of software features. With the Optimus L9 the most prominent add-ons are Quick Memo and Quick Translate.

Quick Memo

I have previously used Quick Memo on the Optimus L7 and I love it, this is a feature that is worth having in your phone, third party applications such as Skitch provide some of the functionality but not all and LGs implementation is fantastic. To access Quick Memo, simply pull down the notification blind, tap the Quick Memo button and you’re instantly in a place where you can annotate whatever is on your screen or you can use it like a quick note taking application and write down whatever you need to, the resultant screen capture can either be saved or shared to social media or elsewhere as you see fit.

Quick Translator

Quick Translator is a new feature that was introduced with the L9 and will be installed on LG phones moving forward. It’s an interesting idea which mimics functionality found in Google Translate, you simply open the Quick Translator app and use the camera to show the phrase you wish translated and the phone does the rest. However, the implementation needs some work. For a feature to hit me, it has to be first pre-installed, Quick Translate and it’s required dictionaries are not, you need to install the Quick Translator application(59MB) as well as the Dictionary(20MB) application from the Application Manager before you can access the functions.

Next, I was disappointed to learn that the Dictionary app acts only as a market place whereby you select which dictionaries to install, the first dictionary you choose to install – Language 1 to Language 2 – is free, but from there, the rest require you to actually purchase them one-by-one at a cost of $3.89ea from the Google Play Store.

Once installed, Quick Translator works quite well, but by the time you have gone through setting it up, paying for the additional languages as required you really are just over it and quite frankly Google Translate works just as well with no additional costs.

Pre-Installed Apps

LG heavily invests in default apps as part of their skinning, they provide widgets such as SmartWorld – A link to their LG Marketplace for apps, widgets and downloads, Social+ – your Social networking hub, Task Manager as well as Today+ – a News aggregator and Weather widget both of which are powered by Yahoo!. They’re not bad but to have them pre-installed when there are vastly superior alternatives available in Google Play is underwhelming, they should be adding to the experience instead of offering a mediocre experience.

LG does offer some apps that provide functionality such as a complete Backup application that backs up everything from your home-screens through to settings, applications and contacts. You can arrange for this to be a scheduled backup at certain dates and times or a one off user-initiated backup. This is something that Android has been in dire need of for some time and OEMs have been doing this to some extent quite well however, this obviously only works with LG Phones, something that is not as optimal if you tend to purchase phones or devices from different manufacturers.

LG provides a version of Polaris Office to help you with your productivity. Until Google manages to get Google Drive fully merged with Quick Office which it purchased in June last year, there is definitely a need for an office suite to be offered on phones and Polaris Office is very handy to have as a free install.

LG has also included some very handy utilities such as a File Manager, File Share, Memo, Music Player, Task Manager and Voice Recorder apps. Other functions such as an FM Radio player to use the in-built FM Radio receiver has been provided as well. SmartShare, a DLNA server is also provided to help you share your media to any DLNA players present in your location

LG provides some LG specific apps like Remote Call Service which allows an LG technician to connect to and in theory help you to fix your phone remotely, whilst I didn’t use this feature it is there and could possibly help you at some stage if required.

LG also installs their LG SmartWorld app, this is a place to download Apps, Wallpapers and Ringtones. While I see value for LG in keeping this ‘feature’ I see no benefit for customers, with a number of companies dropping their own marketplace by the wayside as Googles own Google Play market place gains more and more prominence, the SmartWorld marketplace can only be a problem waiting to occur at a later date.

LG Android Skin

As a whole the LG Android skin has a number of pros and cons. In terms of look and feel the whole look is cartoonish and to my sense a little garish, icons have been seemingly changed from the stock ones for the sake of doing so. In my meeting with LG last year, they advised that many of the core countries within the Asian market that LG sells to have found that customers prefer this style and unfortunately for us in Australia they have a much larger market share and so this will remain so.

The LG Keyboard is certainly something that requires speaking about, the keyboard has been customised by LG but as I ask with all these phones, Why? The default keyboard on Android 4.0 and upwards is good, very good. LG has added some functionality in their keyboard however

I am still perplexed by the way that LG and other OEMs implement their app drawers. There are three sections provided, Apps – default apps that come pre-installed on the phone, Downloads – Apps or Games which you download after the phone is switched on and of course Widgets. I am not sure who in the OEMs decided that alphabetical order was a terrible thing but they really should not have been listened to, this setup is quite frankly the reason most people will install a third party launcher. The ability to show small icons within the app drawer is a nice touch however the ability to alphabetise would be much more appreciated.

I love some of the touches that LG has done with basic functionality within the OS that Google desperately needs to implement into Android. The basic ability to restart your phone from the Power Off menu is a must have, most OEMs have had this ability for some time and I feel it really should be making an appearance in the next Android OS update. As is the LG implementation of Quick Settings, again they are not the only OEM to provide this but the Quick Settings in stock Android 4.2 is quite frankly fairly useless, options to add or remove quick settings from the notification panel as well as their overall appearance is something that LG has done quite well here.

LG Optimus L9 (LG-P768)

  • 4.7″ IPS LCD, 540 x 960 resolution
  • TI OMAP 4430 Dual-Core 1 GHz Cortex-A9 CPU
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 4 GB internal Storage with microSD Card Slot
  • 8MP Rear Camera with LED Flash
  • Bluetooth V3.0, HS, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n +hotspot
  • 2150mAh Battery
    • Stand-by Time up to 450 hours
    • Talk Time up to 420 minutes
  • Android OS, v4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
  • 131.9×68.2×9.1mm @ 125 grams

Conclusion

LG has done a pretty good job with the L Series and the L9 in particular. There are only one downside in the hardware design which I raised but apart from that it’s a very classy phone to hold and be seen using. The L Series is certainly a well thought out and designed range of phones and LG is definitely a respected hardware manufacturer who has delivered a quality product in the Optimus L9.

Software wise, LG has an issue with a Western vs Eastern culture divide, with much of their consumer base existing in their home market of Korea and the surrounding geographical area it is hard to fault them for wanting to gain traction there. However, from my point of view the implementation could certainly be made slightly less cartoony to appeal to other markets. That said, LG has made some excellent additions to the functionality of Android with the QuickMemo and Quick Settings they’ve provided.

At present the Optimus L9 sells for around $340 outright from Allphones and Dick Smith. It’s a good solid phone with a very good manufacturer behind it who is making big waves in the Android phone market.

I do like the Optimus L9 but it currently is marketed in a price range where LG are competing against themselves with the Google Nexus 4 which at $349 with 8GB of storage and instant updates from Google is an amazing bargain. I have trouble recommending the L9 at the price tag that LG are currently asking, if LG were to sell the L9 for $270 it would be a much easier decision for a phone that has many pleasant touches and only a few flaws. Google+  

Daniel Tyson   Editor

Dan is a die-hard Android fan. Some might even call him a lunatic. He's been an Android user since Android was a thing, and if there's a phone that's run Android, chances are he owns it (his Nexus collection is second-to-none) or has used it.

Dan's dedication to Ausdroid is without question, and he has represented us at some of the biggest international events in our industry including Google I/O, Mobile World Congress, CES and IFA.

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