LG Spirit 4G review

The LG Spirit 4G is the best deal you can get on an LTE smartphone for MetroPCS right now.
Photo of LG Spirit 4G

Most people look to MetroPCS for a good deal, and you’re not going to find a better one than the $199 LG Spirit 4G. It’s a fast, powerful phone, with a thin design and a killer price tag. It isn’t quite as good as the Samsung Galaxy S III, but it also costs less than half the price. It’s the best deal you can get on a MetroPCS LTE smartphone right now.

Design, Network, and Call Quality
The Spirit 4G is thin and lightweight, though the all-plastic construction doesn’t feel particularly premium. The back panel is made of textured gray plastic, with a silver ring around the display and textured panels on the top and bottom. There’s a Power button on the right, a volume rocker on the left, and three capacitive touch buttons below the display. It measures 5.08 by 2.61 by 0.37 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.3 ounces, which keeps it looking trim and sleek.

The 4.5-inch 960-by-540-pixel TFT LCD is sharp and bright, and text and images look great. The resolution isn’t as high as on the GSIII, but it also lacks the GSIII’s PenTile pixel layout, which can cause images and text to look slightly fuzzy. Typing on the on-screen keyboard felt fine in my tests.

If you’re worried about buying a MetroPCS phone because of T-Mobile’s impending purchase of the company, don’t be. After the merger with T-Mobile, MetroPCS will shift its focus to GSM and LTE, that’s true. But sources have told us that the new network will support VoLTE even after CDMA declines. That means VoLTE-capable phones, like the Spirit 4G, should work just fine.

What will happen to data plans remains to be seen, but right now, LTE service plans on MetroPCS are fantastic. You can get truly unlimited talk, text, and data for $60 per month. $50 per month gets you 2.5GB of LTE data, with throttled speeds after that, and $40 per month is good for 500GB of LTE data, with slower speeds once you’ve reached your cap.

Data speeds are excellent over LTE, though the Spirit only has average reception. Still, I saw speeds of around 6Mbps down and 4Mbps up, which is very fast. As we discovered in our Fastest Mobile Networks survey, MetroPCS’s LTE network can actually exceed 4G speeds on Verizon, though Verizon’s network is more consistent and offers far more coverage. The Spirit also connects to 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz band.

Call quality is average. Voices can sound fuzzy, harsh, and somewhat robotic at top volume, but if you turn it down a little, these problems almost completely vanish. Calls made with the phone in my tests sounded clear and natural, though noise cancellation isn’t very good. Calls sounded fine through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset and the stock Android voice dialer worked fine. The speakerphone sounded okay and is loud enough to hear outside. Battery life was solid at 10 hours and 47 minutes of talk time.

Processor, Android, and Apps
The Spirit 4G is powered by a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960L processor. It isn’t quite as fast at the 1.5GHz chip in the Galaxy S III, but the Spirit’s lower screen resolution meant it often turned in very similar benchmark scores. You’ll be able to run any of the approximately 700,000 apps in the Google Play store smoothly.

The phone is running Android 4.0.4 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” along with LG’s Optimus UI overlay. It’s a pretty light modification, but it makes the phone feel a little more accessible and user-friendly than stock Android. There’s no word on an update to Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean,” though that’s common among contract-free phones. Still, ICS is a vast improvement over Android 2.3 “Gingerbread,” which even the LG Connect 4G is still running.

You get five home screens to swipe between, and they come preloaded with some apps and widgets, and you can customize them however you see fit. There’s a good amount of bloatware preinstalled, though most of it can be deleted. There’s also the usual Android bells and whistles, including a fast Web browser, excellent email support, and voice-enabled, turn-by-turn GPS directions via Google Maps. You also get SmartShare, which allows you to share music, photos, and video on your HDTV or monitor via DLNA.

And as you can see from the hot pink text scrolled over the image of the phone at the top of this page, the Spirit supports QuickMemo. That’s LG’s system-wide note taking service which lets you annotate screenshots with handwritten notes and sketches, which you can then share.

Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
You get 4.07GB of internal storage, along with an empty microSD card slot underneath the battery cover. I was able to use 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards without issue. The phone played AAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, and WMA music test files, but not FLAC. Music sounded great through Altec Lansing Backbeat Bluetooth headphones as well as a pair of wired earphones. For video, all of our test formats played back in resolutions up to 1080p.

The 5-megapixel camera is the only major disappointment here. Shutter speeds are virtually instantaneous, and you get LG’s Cheese Shutter, which allows you to snap a photo by saying the word cheese (good for taking group shots with yourself in the photo). Unfortunately, the Spirit doesn’t take very good photos. All of the images I captured suffered from underwhelming detail and poor color reproduction. They’ll work in a pinch, but in general, they just look poor.

Videos are much better, as the camera records smooth, but somewhat grainy, 1080p video at 30 frames per second. There is also a perfectly adequate 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat.

Camera aside, the LG Spirit 4G gets you a lot of smartphone for just $200. It still isn’t as good as the Samsung Galaxy S III, which has a larger, sharper display, a faster processor, better call quality, and a much nicer camera. But the Galaxy S III costs $500, which makes it a dealbreaker for many buyers. In that case, the Spirit 4G is your next best option, by far.

The LG Connect 4G is older, but priced much higher than the Spirit, although it has a smaller display and is stuck on an old version of Android. The ZTE Avid would be a pretty good deal, if only it didn’t feature one of the worst phone displays we’ve ever seen. The LG Motion 4G is the cheapest way to get LTE on MetroPCS, though it has a tiny, low-res screen and lots of bugs. So anyway you cut it, the Spirit 4G is the best deal you can get on a capable LTE phone for MetroPCS right now.

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Specifications
Service Provider MetroPCS
High-Speed Data LTE
Bands 800, 1900
Physical Keyboard No
Operating System Android OS
Network CDMA
Form Factor Candy Bar
Megapixels 5 MP
Bluetooth Yes
Camera Yes
Battery Life (As Tested) 10 hourd 47 minutes
Camera Flash Yes
microSD Slot Yes
802.11x 802.11 b/g/n
Processor Speed 1.2 GHz
Screen Size 4.5 inches
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960L Dual-Core
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 4.07 GB
GPS Yes

Verdict
The LG Spirit 4G is the best deal you can get on an LTE smartphone for MetroPCS right now.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc