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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Aim Low Series - The LG Leon LTE Review

What sets smartphones apart from each other nowadays? Is it the camera? Is it the screen?  That might seem like the obvious answers to you if you’re reading this review. But for most people, its the price. People are looking for value and quality in a smartphone and for a long time it was only available in the high end models. This, of course, comes at premium. Technology is advancing to a point where innovation at the high end segment improves the experience at the low end segment. A rising tide lifts all boats as they say. Performance is improving, build quality is increasing, and, most importantly, cost is decreasing.

Over the next few weeks I will review the best budget phones T-Mobile has to offer. These phones are new, different, and less expensive than what I used you and I are used to. Forget about the iPhone and the S6 and take a look at what you can get for a fraction of the cost. You may not get the best of the best but you will get best of the rest. And who knows, it may just surprise you.

This is the LG Leon LTE Review.




The Leon might not be a looker but it is a solid phone. While it may feel a little bulky at first, you get used to the size and heftiness. It weighs about the same as the Galaxy S6 (140 grams) and just fits perfectly in the palm of your hand. It feels like I’m holding a bar of soap and that’s not a bad thing. Its light and easily controllable with just one hand. Its design takes cues from LG’s G3 and G4 opting for rear buttons and a removable back cover. In fact, it pretty much looks like a smaller version of the G3. LG has found their look and feel for their phones and I applaud them for creating some brand recognition and consistency across their portfolio of phones. In the same positions as the G3 and G4, we find the rear volume rocker and power button, USB port, with the 3.5mm headphones jack on the top. The phone is plastic and embraces it resulting in a decent looking phone just as the G3 before it. Plastic is king in this price range.

Galaxy S6, Moto G, LG Leon LTE

The phone is equipped with a 4.5 inch FWVGA IPS display at 854x480p resolution coming in at 218 pixels per inch. The display looks good enough and has great viewing angles due to the IPS panel. The resolution, though, leaves something to be desired. While the screen is fine for everyday use, I find myself wishing to fit more of my content on the screen. Android Lollipop looks fine for the most part but at times it doesn’t scale well to the lower resolution. Text isn’t quite as sharp and as clear as on other phones like the Moto G and its 720p HD panel. Everything takes up more space on the screen and the notification pane becomes crowded allowing you only to see a couple of notifications before having to scroll.  It's not a dealbreaker per say but it does hinder the experience a bit since the screen is your primary interaction with the phone. Even qHD (960x540) would have been a better experience. Brightness is on the dim side as I needed a minimum 70% for decent clarity. The lack of Gorilla Glass is puzzling but LG claims the screen is much more responsive without the layers between the screen and the touch sensor.

The phone comes with a 5 megapixel fixed focus rear camera with flash and a front facing VGA camera. Since this is a budget phone, sacrifices had to be made and the camera was one of them. The fixed focus camera just doesn’t perform well enough. In the best conditions, pictures come out looking decent and it gets the job done. The lack of autofocus really hurts here as not many smartphone are missing this feature. The VGA camera produces pictures with a lot of noise and is only helpful for video chat and snapchat. The cameras work well enough and you might be able to make it work for you but there isn’t much good to say about them. You can quickly launch the camera by holding the volume down button while the device is asleep for those impulsive shots. As they say, the best camera is the one you have with you.

Performance and Software

The Leon is powered by a Snapdragon 410 processor, 1GB of Ram, with 8GB of internal storage. 3.3GB is available to the user to begin with which is low for today's standard. Apps can only be installed on the internal storage so a memory card is necessary for your media needs. Certain apps and games can be moved to the SD card though. Candy Crush Soda Saga and Kingdom Rush moved over quickly and saved me about 200MB in internal space.

The Snapdragon 410 performed with very similar results as the 400 with small improvements across the board. Real world performance translated very well. I never had any issues with lag and everything loaded with relative quickness. Android Lollipop 5.0.2 and LG’s skin is much cleaner and leaner than I expected. The additional customizations improve on every aspect of Android. Knock on/off, quick launch camera, and custom notifications widgets just scratch the surface on what LG allows you to modify. I am very impressed with LG’s close to stock android skin. Polaris Office, QuickMemo+ and several T-Mobile apps make up the very few preinstalled apps. It makes me hopeful for quick and future Android updates for this budget phone. Strange there isn’t an option for a flashlight toggle or widget.

The 1GB of Ram is somewhat of a bottleneck in terms of performance. Everything loads quickly and multitasking is seamless but sometimes an app refreshes when you were just using it a minute ago. The app will reload fast due to the snappiness of the processor but it leaves something to be desired.  Overall, the Leon performs much better than expected although I am intrigued on what could have been if the Leon had 2GB of Ram. Call quality was good, LTE speeds hovered around 15mbps in Chicago, and WiFi/Bluetooth performed as well as expected.

For more info on performance, check out Anandtech’s review of the Moto E.

Battery Life

The Snapdragon 400 series never ceases to surprise me. Performance and longevity go hand in hand and the LG Leon is no exception. I am a relatively heavy user with long periods of music playback/streaming, 30 minutes of Crunchyroll, extended browsing/reddit sessions, and various social media accounts. The Leon has consistently gotten me from 8am to 11pm with relative ease. I have gotten an average of 4 hours 15 minutes of on screen time with heavy use. Good performance with a long lasting 1820mah battery. The low screen resolution must be in play here as well as the very efficient processor.


The Leon comes with a 0.7 amp home charger. The USB cable is not removable and charges the phone to full in about 3.5-4 hours. My Galaxy S6 charger (2 amp) charges the Leon in about 2.5 hours. The Snapdragon 410 does support Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 but I have yet to test the Leon. Will update when I get a chance to test it.


The LG Leon hits all the necessary points for a budget smartphone. The cameras, unfortunately, were an afterthought and the screen resolution could have been better, but the total package is what you should pay attention to. LG has made a great budget option for those looking to upgrade to the latest hardware and software without breaking the bank. I recommend this phone to those looking for good performance, long battery life, with less importance on taking pictures, and more focus on the day to day experience.

The LG Leon LTE costs $149.99 for T-Mobile customers or at $6.24 per month over 24 months with no interest. Prepaid customers(new and existing) can receive the Leon for $49.99 with a purchase of a $40 or higher plan(Limited time promo).

Thanks for reading my review of the LG Leon LTE. Stay tuned as my Aim Low series continues as I review the LG Optimus L90 and the Alcatel Pop Astro.