Editors’ Note: The LG Optimus L9 models on MetroPCS and T-Mobile are virtually identical, so we’re sharing a lot of material between these two reviews. That said, we’re testing each device separately, so read the review for your carrier of choice.
The Optimus L9 looks attractive, if somewhat generic. It’s a black rectangular slab with a rubbery, lightly textured back panel. There’s a plastic silver ring around the middle, and a black plastic ring around the display. It measures 5.03 by 2.63 by 0.36 inches (HWD) and weighs just 4.2 ounces. It’s large, but easier to handle than the Samsung Galaxy S III. The width of the phone is very comfortable, but I still can’t quite hold it in one hand and swipe the Notifications bar down from the top of the screen. There’s a Power button on the upper right corner, a Volume rocker on the left, a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top, and a charging port on the bottom.
The L9 has a 4.5-inch, 960-by-540-pixel IPS LCD display. It’s sharp and bright, and text and images look great. The resolution isn’t as high as it is on the GSIII, but it also lacks the GSIII’s PenTile pixel layout, which can cause images to look fuzzy on that phone. Below the display are capacitive Back and Settings buttons, on either side of the ovular physical Home key. Typing on the onscreen keyboard felt fine.
Network, Plans, and Call Quality
The Optimus L9 is one of the first MetroPCS phones to run on T-Mobile’s network. T-Mobile is GSM-based, as opposed to MetroPCS, which is CDMA. Right now you can only get this phone if you live in Boston, MA; Hartford, CT; or Las Vegas, NV. MetroPCS plans to add additional markets soon, though it makes your chance of getting on T-Mobile’s network through MetroPCS extremely limited at the moment.
But if you’re a MetroPCS user, why should you want to get on T-Mobile’s network anyway? Well, since the T-Mobile/MetroPCS merger, MetroPCS will slowly be folded into T-Mobile. MetroPCS will ultimately stop selling CDMA phones, and while they will continue to work, there will be no additional improvements made to its CDMA network. This is in stark contrast to T-Mobile’s GSM and LTE networks, which the company plans to improve considerably. On top of that, if you’re using a MetroPCS phone, and you travel outside of the native coverage area, you start to roam on Sprint’s 3G network. T-Mobile already has a wider coverage area than MetroPCS, and its 3G network is vastly superior to Sprint’s, so you’re going to see better speeds.
The Optimus L9 can be paired with any current 4G service plan. Take that with a grain of salt, as the Optimus L9 doesn’t support T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, or even HSPA+ 42, so you’re not actually getting real 4G data rates. Still, MetroPCS offers some pretty compelling contract-free rates. $40 per month gets you unlimited talk, text, and 500MB of ‘4G’ data, with throttled speeds after that. $50 ups the ante to 2.5GB of ‘4G’ data, while $60 per month gets you truly unlimited everything.
Compare those rates with T-Mobile, where each plan basically costs $10 more. Contract-free rates start at $50 per month, and that gets you all the talk and texts you want, along with 500MB of high-speed (3G or 4G) data per month, after which your speeds are throttled. $60 gets you 2GB of high-speed data, and $70 gets you unlimited high-speed data. But while T-Mobile is just a little pricier, you get a vastly larger selection of phones to choose from.
The Optimus L9 hooks into T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 21 network. I saw average speeds of 6Mbps down and just over 1Mbps up, which should be plenty fast for most users. You can also use the phone as a mobile hotspot, and it connects to 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz band.