Selling for just under £300 SIM-free, the Optimus L9 looks a bit feeble next to the Google Nexus 4—also made by LG—which sells SIM-free at £239 for the 8 GB version and £279 for the 16 GB model. So how does the Optimus L9 compare? Answers below.
DESIGN & HANDLING
The Optimus L9 is light but isn't especially slim. Plus, it's design doesn't exactly scream originality. It melts easily into LG's L series with its chiselled edges.
While the L9 is nice enough to hold and handle, we're not huge fans of the rear casing. It's made from a kind of flimsy-feeling grainy plastic, which doesn't seem massively sturdy. In fact, this phone doesn't feel much like a top-of-the-range handset—the metal-effect plastic trimmings are proof enough of that. We're used to seeing better from LG, notably with more sophisticated designs.
Otherwise, the finish is decent enough and it's a nice phone to handle. Note, however, that the memory card is hidden away behind the battery, which has to be removed each time you need access to the card. That's not exactly practical.
The screen has a rather limited definition of 540 x 960 pixels. Given this phone's high-end aspirations and the timing of its arrival on the market, this low-def screen isn't exactly a standout feature for the Optimus L9. But the big 4.7" display has good contrast and a decent enough brightness level (360 cd/m²), making it easy to read outdoors and in sunny conditions. For colour fidelity, the L9 isn't on par with the best, with an average Delta E of 6. Colours look a little over-exaggerated and whites have a slight blue tinge. Note that the closer the Delta E is to zero the more accurately onscreen colours are reproduced. There are currently a handful of smartphones on the market with a Delta E lower than or equal to 4.
Finally, screen viewing angles are quite tight, so contrast drops when you view the display from certain angles. When viewed from the side, the screen soon starts to look dark blue.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
The Optimus 9 runs on Android Ice Cream Sandwich. The basic Google OS has been mildly modified with an LG interface over the top.
This offers a few widgets and some handy apps (note-taking, Twitter and Facebook aggregator hub, fast access to favourite contacts, etc.). However, it's nowhere near as advanced or as deeply integrated as Samsung's TouchWiz interface or HTC's Sense, which actively improve the Android experience by making it feel more user-friendly for many.
While this handset is generally responsive, there are still a few hangs and slow-downs when scrolling down a long web page, when zooming (you get glitches), or when you've got too many apps open and multitasking. We've seen faster, smoother phones—especially among recent releases. Apps can be bit slower than usual to download too.
In our benchmark tests, the 1 GHz TI processor scores a modest two stars. This merely serves to confirm our practical experience of the phone (see above)—this isn't the smoothest, speediest handset out there. Whether for 3D graphics (GPU) or processing power (CPU), the Optimus L9 is no monster. In fact, it's been a while since we've seen benchmark scores as low as these.
This phone's camera isn't amazing. We wouldn't go as far as to say it's actually bad—it just isn't great. Since noise soon makes an appearance in pictures, everything just ends up being smoothed out. This rather heavy-handed approach to image processing ultimately just wipes out detail in the shots. Picture quality here is no match for the top cameraphones of the moment (Apple iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 920 in certain conditions, Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC 8X, etc.). It's OK as a fallback solution but it's no top-class snapper. Otherwise, the photo mode is easy enough to use and the camera focuses and takes shots quickly.
The headphones out will be good enough to suit most users, as audio is reproduced accurately. The volume level and dynamic range are decent and distortion is kept in check. The built-in speaker has a high volume level but it saturates like crazy.
Here's one front on which this otherwise relatively bog-standard smartphone could potentially have stood out thanks to its 2150 mAh battery. In reality, and from our standard lab tests (Battery BenchMark: an all-round stress-test with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, web, multimedia, variable screen brightness and more, the results of which are very often in line with our real-life experience), we found that this phone can last for about one day per charge—that's 7 hours of fairly intensive use. In the end, that's about average for a smartphone these days. In comparison, the Google Nexus 4 can power on for about ten hours.