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Review: LG Spirit 4G for MetroPCS

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Feb 18, 2013, 9:34 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The LG Spirit offers a flagship experience at a mid-range price on MetroPCS's network. This Android smartphone, which boasts LTE 4G and a 4.5-inch display, is a solid piece of hardware for the prepaid network.

Form 

Is It Your Type

The LG Spirit is a mid-range smartphone for MetroPCS. It has a big screen, decent camera, and an affordable price point. If you want something with an impressive display and solid performance, the Spirit could be what you're looking for.

Body

The LG Spirit might trick people into believing it is a high-end smartphone. Rather than stick with boring blacks, LG gave the Spirit a wee bit of personality with silver and gray hues. Coupled with an impressive screen and good build quality, it delivers a good first impression.

The Spirit is a monoblock slab with average dimensions. It isn't too big, nor too small; it lands about in the middle. The front face is black, of course, but it is surrounded by a silvery plastic frame that helps define its size and shape. This frame encompasses both sides of the Spirit, but the top and bottom edges are capped off with a polished chrome surface that is reflective. It's a nice touch. The back surface is a darker gray material that has a dimpled pattern. The camera module protrudes a few hair-widths from the back surface. It has a silver ring around it that makes it stand out.

 

Body

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The Spirit isn't an ultra high-end device, but neither does it come off as a cheap piece of garbage. In fact, I was quite pleased with the feel of the materials and overall build quality. The Spirit feels solid, but is not too heavy. About the only thing I don't like is the thickness. At 9.4mm, it is hardly chubby, but dropping 0.5mm would make this thing awesome. It'll slip into any pocket you've got with ease.

As noted, the front is all black and the display panel itself is hidden in the larger black frame. There are three capacitive buttons below the screen (back, home, menu), which offer pleasing haptic feedback when pressed. About the only thing you can see on the front from a distance of more than 2 feet is the LG logo, which is emblazoned above the display, near the earpiece speaker.

As for the controls, the volume toggle is located on the left edge. It’s an excellent button. Not only is it easy to find, but the up and down are easy to tell apart and both have the perfect amount of travel and feedback. I can't give the vital screen lock key the same level of praise. It is much smaller and more difficult to locate (hint: right edge). The travel and feedback aren't as good, either. There is no dedicated camera button on the Spirit.

The headphone jack is positioned on the top of the Spirit, and the microUSB port is on the bottom.

The battery cover is a snap to remove with some help from your thumbnail. It forms the entire back panel of the Spirit. The battery, which rates 2,150mAh, can be plucked out if you so wish. It needs to be removed if you want to yank the micro SIM card. The slot for microSD memory cards is accessible without removing the battery.

In all, the LG Spirit 4G is a good piece of hardware, and one of the better devices available from MetroPCS at the moment.

Performance 

Screen

LG likes to use LCD screens for its devices and the Spirit is no different. It uses an in-plane switching display to offer a wider viewing angle. It measures 4.5-inches across the diagonal and offers 540 x 960 pixels, or qHD resolution. In general, LG's phone screens have impressed me and the Spirit continues that trend. It is bright, sharp, colorful, and simply looks great. It stops short of being awesome only because it doesn't step up to 720p HD. Considering the price of the Spirit, though, the display is great.

Signal

The Spirit is a signal hound. It outperformed every MetroPCS device I've test in the last six months when it comes to latching onto the network. It worked well in both strong and weak coverage areas, and never dropped or missed a call. The web was always available at good speeds and rarely did the device's browser come to a halt.

Sound

Despite the strong signal performance, the Spirit was not that good when it came to call quality. Calls often had scratchy noise obscuring voices. On top of the noise, there was an unpleasant harshness to the sound coming from the earpiece. The good news is that the earpiece produces excellent volume. Turned up all the way, you can probably hear (though not discern) calls without using the speakerphone. The speakerphone had the same quality issues that the earpiece did. It was loud, but could have been a bit louder. The ringers an alert tones were quite good at making sure I didn't miss incoming calls or messages. The vibrate alert was mostly good, though I noticed one missed call because I failed to feel get the vibrations.

Battery

The Spirit delivers average battery performance for an Android smartphone. It always lasted through an entire day, though the battery was dipping below 20% (what I consider to be "the danger zone") by about 11PM. I gave the battery a good workout, streaming music, firing off emails, and social networking each day that I tested it. Bottom line: charge it every night and you'll be good for a day.

Basics 

Menus

The Spirit runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich with some UI tweaks from LG similar to how it treated devices such as the Optimus G. MetroPCS's presence is also easily discerned thanks to the branded apps littered all over the home screens.

As far as the user interface is concerned, it offers a customizable lock screen with access to vital apps such as the phone, browser, messaging, and camera. I like that you can access the notification shade from the lock screen, too.

There are, by default, five home screen panels for customization and these are packed with MetroPCS apps/widgets out of the box. Of course you can rearrange them however you wish. There's a really cool 3D-like animation that occurs each time you swipe between the home screens. This is actually customizable, as there are about seven different animations from which to choose.

The main app menu is laid out in typical fashion, with apps arranged in grids. They are in alphabetical order by default, but you can arrange them however you wish, as well as drop them in folders or hide them entirely. There are plenty of widgets, and the tools for managing them work well.

In terms of customization, the Spirit lets choose from four different home screen themes, tons of animations that can be turned on/off, the different swipe effects, wallpapers, plus all of the normal adjustments you expect to be able to make on an Android 4+ device.

Performance of the Spirit was flawless. I didn't see any lagging, hiccups, or other goofiness in the operating system. Everything worked quickly and as it should.

 

Menus

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Calls and Contacts

The Spirit runs the stock version of the Android 4.0 phone and contact applications. Pressing the phone button on the home screen brings you to the dialpad. You can use tabs at the top to access the call log, and your favorite contacts.

 

Calls and Contacts

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Messaging

The Spirit comes with the same stock Android communications apps that are on all other Android devices. That means Gmail, email, SMS, Google Talk, Google+, and Google+ messenger.

The Spirit ships with the Metro Block-It app, which, as the name implies, lets subscribers block unwanted calls and text messages, block private/blocked numbers, and enable a "do not disturb" mode. The service costs $1 per month after a one-week trial. It worked better on the Spirit than it did on the Avid, which Phone Scoop reviewed earlier this year. (The Avid was not as good as at effectively blocking certain calls/messages).

 

Messaging

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The Spirit can also use MetroPCS's joyn messaging service, though the app itself isn't preinstalled. It can be downloaded from the MetroPCS-branded app store.

joyn is a standards-based app that collects and merges messaging services, such as IM and SMS, and lets users conduct threaded text conversations. It makes it easier to share photo and video content when the user is on an active phone call. It also lets MetroPCS customers make voice and video calls to other joyn users via Wi-Fi.

I found the joyn app easy to set up and use, but it is limited in that it only works with other joyn users who are MetroPCS customers.

 

BlockIt

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Extras 

Media

The Spirit includes a basic music player application, as well as the Google Play Music app. The first works as a simple playback app for whatever files may be on the device, while the second has a richer feature set (playlist support/creation) in addition to its ties to the Google Play Music Store.

The Spirit also ships with the Rhapsody music service on board, which lets you stream music to the device for a monthly fee.

As for video playback, it includes the stock YouTube app, basic video player, and the Google Play Movies app.

Lastly, in terms of sharing, there's an app on board called SmartShare that can be used to connect the Spirit to other DLNA-certified equipment (TVs, stereo receivers) via Wi-Fi. It worked well.

Music sounded very good via my favorite headphones, and the good display means video playback was rewarding, too.

 

Music

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Camera

The Spirit uses the LG's camera app. It’s simple, direct, and quick. Though there's no physical camera button, there’s a shortcut from the lock screen. It launches quickly.

The viewfinder fills about 75% of the screen and is framed by two control strips, one on either side. The left strip has all the settings and controls for things such as the flash. The right strip has the software shutter button and provides access to the video camera and photo gallery.

The settings can be used to adjust some of the basics, including location data, brightness, and white balance. There are several shooting modes: normal, HDR, continuous, and panorama. The Spirit also includes LG's time catch shot and cheese shutter control features. Other controls include setting several scenes (portrait, landscape, sports, sunset, etc.), face tracking and so on.

I found the camera to be quick all around. It launched quickly, and was able to focus and capture images in a blink.

 

Camera

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Photos

The Spirit has a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and flash. In general, I was pleased with the results. They're not astounding, but they are certainly serviceable. The images were mostly in focus, and had accurate white balance and exposure and were free of grain. Given the wide range of controls, the Spirit should give even novice users results they like.

 

Photos

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video

The video camera software mirrors that of the still camera, but offers some interesting shooting modes that make for some entertaining results. The shooting modes mostly pertain to faces, and use software to exaggerate peoples' facial features, such as enlarge their eyes, or minimize their mouth, or make their smile extra huge and shiney. The quality of the results vary, but can be fun.

That said, the Spirit captures 1080p HD video and does a good job at it. It was consistently in focus, with accurate white balance and exposure. The only problem I'd call out is the presence of grain, which was more noticeable than I'd like it to be.



Gallery

The gallery is the stock Android 4.0 application, which will connect with various online photo accounts and let you access them all from the device's drop-down albums tool.

When viewing individual photos, on-screen controls make deleting, sharing, or editing them a snap. Editing features include crop, rotate, straighten, flip, sharpen, and reduce red-eye. There are also a number of effects that can be applied to the images. The gallery connects with most social networks.

 

Gallery

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

There are two separate video editing apps on board the Spirit, as well. One is called Video Editor and the other is Video Wiz. The first is a simple tool that can be used to trim clips and paste them together. The second is a much more advanced editing tool that lets users add images, soundtracks, titles and credits, etc.

 

Video Edit

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Browser

The Spirit ships with the Google Chrome browser, as well as some MetroPCS-branded web tools (MetroWeb, etc.). Chrome works well on MetroPCS's LTE 4G network. Browsing speeds were good when compared to other MetroPCS devices. As noted in the signal section, the Spirit is one of the most consistent performers on MetroPCS's network, and that is clearly evident when browsing the web. Chrome is a solid browser that renders web sites quickly. Plenty of alternative browsers are available in the Google Play Store if you don't like Chrome.

 

Browser

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Apps

As with all MetroPCS devices, the Spirit is laden with way too many carrier-branded apps and services (at least, for my tastes). Some include: M Studio, Metro411, MetroWeb, MyMetro, MyXtras, Metro Block-It, and the Metro-branded App Store. Some of these can be deleted; some cannot. There's still plenty of enough space left on the Spirit for you to download your own applications.

Bluetooth

The Spirit supports mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets. I had no trouble pairing with either. Sound quality through mono headphones was barely acceptable, as the quality problems I saw with normal phone calls was exacerbated by the Bluetooth radio. Volume was good, though, and hearing calls in my car was no problem. Music pushed to stereo Bluetooth headphones was loud, if a bit thin and tinny sounding.

Clock

The Spirit, as with other LG devices, has a handful of different lockscreen clock options, including a large digital one that's really easy to read from several feet away. Other choices include a clock with a calendar, an analog clock, and a smaller digital clock. The flexibility of the lockscreen clock is a welcome change from what other manufacturers offer.

 

Clock

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

GPS

The Spirit includes Google Maps, but not MetroNavigation. Google Maps is a powerful set of tools when it comes to routing directions and discovering nearby points of interest. The Spirit's GPS radio performed very well, and was able to quickly pinpoint my location to within 15-25 feet most of the time.

Wrap-Up 

The LG Spirit 4G is one of the best offerings from MetroPCS in recent memory. At $199, it costs more than the bulk of MetroPCS's lineup, but the extra money goes a long, long way toward delivering an experience worth recommending.

Nearly everything about the hardware is solid, and the screen, in particular, dazzles with its bright and crisp appearance. The signal performance is among the strongest I've seen from a MetroPCS phone, though the sound quality is a bit lacking. The battery performance is on par with other devices in this clas.

What really makes the Spirit a good phone are the software customizations made by LG. Though I personally prefer stock Android, there's no doubt LG has made the Spirit a pleasing device to use thanks to the excellent customization options, fun-to-use camera, and animated home screens and menus.

Unless you really want to spend twice as much money on a phone like last year's Samsung Galaxy S III (which, at this point in time, I wouldn't recommend), the LG Spirit 4G is the best device currently available from MetroPCS.

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