It's the third 4G LTE smartphone in AT&T's lineup, but the LG Nitro HD is the first to sport a 720p display. This big 4.5-inch screen was designed to deliver a superior HD viewing experience on the go. Priced at $149 right now (on promotion) but listed for $249, the Nitro HD also packs a 1.5-GHz dual-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera. Is this device's beauty more than screen deep, or should you opt for another Android phone?
The Nitro HD's design is simple but fairly attractive. We like the rounded corners and black strip of aluminum that surrounds the bezel. And although it's plastic, the jet-black back has a textured finish that's easy to grip.
Despite having a large 4.5-inch display, the 5.3 x 2.7 x 0.4-inch Nitro HD weighs just 4.5 ounces, a hair lighter than the 4.6-ounce, 5.1 x 2.7 x 0.4-inch Samsung Galaxy S II SkyRocket.
A headphone jack sits adjacent to the microUSB, with the power button on the right. Two volume buttons line the left side; they were easy to reach and provided solid feedback.
We're not fans of the flap covering the microUSB port; it just gets in the way (pictured).
An 8-MP camera with an LED flash sits on the rear of the phone in a gray brushed-aluminum strip. A chrome LG insignia rests directly below with a pair of small speakers near the bottom.
Three backlit capacitive buttons--not the usual four--sit below the screen. There's a menu button that doubles as a search button (when you long-press), a home button, and a back button. We'd prefer having a dedicated search button.
The LG Nitro HD doesn't have HD in the name for nothing. This is the first Android phone on AT&T's network to sport a 1280 x 720-pixel resolution. And this is no ordinary 4.5-inch panel, either. LG boasts that the Nitro has a true HD screen with Advanced High-Performance In-Plane Switching and "unrivaled color accuracy."
We saw vibrant colors with sharp detail while watching movies and videos on the Nitro HD. However, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus's 4.7-inch Super AMOLED 1280 x 720p display offered richer color and better contrast. When we watched the HD trailer for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, both devices made the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai look like it was dipped in molten bronze, but the scene appeared muddier on the Nitro HD. We saw clearer gradients of pinks and oranges on the Galaxy Nexus, which made for a deeper visual experience.
The Nitro HD's screen has a very high brightness rating of 500 nits, so we hit it with our AEMC lightmeter to see how it stacks up. The LG's display averaged 324 lux, brighter than the Super AMOLED displays on the Samsung Galaxy S II (315 lux) and the Galaxy Nexus (316 lux). However, the HTC Vivid's qHD Super LCD display was an even brighter 381 lux.
The diminutive speaker on the back of the LG Nitro HD delivered crisp, clear audio in our tests. The smartphone was able to bring out Miguel's slinky vocals in "Girls Like You." The slick futuristic instrumentals were clear for the most part, but there was some slight bass distortion. When we played the same track on the Samsung Galaxy S II, the audio was definitely louder, but very tinny. On Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," the Nitro HD delivered more balanced and pleasant sound.
The Nitro HD comes with both the stock Android keyboard and one from LG. We generally preferred the latter because it offers larger keys in both portrait and landscape mode, as well as @ and .com shortcuts. Google's keyboard felt a bit faster, however. Each keyboard provided strong haptic feedback without slowing us down.
Software and User Interface
The Nitro HD runs Android Gingerbread 2.3.5, but the OS has been heavily skinned by LG. The lock screen is simple enough, with the time and battery status displayed nice and big. When you swipe up to unlock the device, however, you'll see an interface that looks rather crude and unattractive. The icons have a heavy box around them, and the font seems way too big. It doesn't look like LG has optimized its UI for the high-def display at all.
The pre-loaded widgets include AT&T's Featured Apps (pictured), Yahoo! Weather and News widget, and the Social+ widget, which displays Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter feeds. LG has supplied its own menu for adding widgets, which we found cluttered and confusing. Icons for Phone, Messaging, Browser and Applications are permanent fixtures at the bottom of the screen, while icons for battery life, email, and network signal adorn the top.
Swiping down from the top of the display reveals the Notifications shade, where we could adjust settings for the Ringer, Wi-Fi Share, Bluetooth, GPS, and Airplane Mode.
You'll also see real-time info in this shade for CPU and memory usage. By pressing the X to the left of the memory usage meter, you can end all active tasks, which is pretty convenient.
On the Applications page, we noticed the icons were separated into two groups: apps that are pre-loaded and ones that we downloaded. We found this layout confusing, so we switched to the Page layout, which let us swipe from left to right to see all our apps in one big group. Downloaded apps still occupied the last page, though.
The Nitro HD comes with lots of preinstalled apps, a number of which can be written off as bloatware. Thankfully, just about every app can be painlessly uninstalled. One of the most useful apps is LG SmartShare (pictured), which let us wirelessly stream files, music, and photos to DNLA-compatible devices.
The mSpot-powered Movies app lets you rent flicks for $4.99 each. The Nitro HD also comes with Zynga Poker HD. Aside from the rich colors and the daily incentive of free chips, we liked being able to go head to head with other players via our Facebook profile. However, we wish a more graphically interesting game such as Need For Speed: Shift were preinstalled. The Gameloft app offers additional HD games at $4.99 a pop.
Other apps include a 7-day free trial of the Mog music streaming app, Amazon Kindle, Facebook, Note Pad, Twitter, Qik Lite, and YPMobile. Carrier-branded apps include AT&T FamilyMap, FamilyTracker, LiveTV a MyAT&T, and Code Scanner.
The Nitro HD features a 1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm APQ8060 processor, which on paper is faster than the Samsung Galaxy S II's 1.2-GHz Exynos C210HD CPU and the HTC Vivid's 1.2-GHz Qualcomm chip. The LG was relatively zippy navigating between menus, and it launched the camera almost instantly. We also zipped through photos quickly, and pinch-to-zoom was smooth on both images and websites. However, we noticed some lag at times, especially when heading back to the home screen and when launching the app menu.
The Nitro HD scored 1,482 on the Benchmark CPU test, besting the 1,107 Android phone average. However the HTC Vivid and Samsung Galaxy S eclipsed the Nitro, scoring 2,129 and 3,341 respectively. On An3DBench, which measures 3D graphics performance, the Nitro HD notched 7,353, which is far above the 6,266 average. The Vivid scored 6,001, but the Galaxy S II clocked in at a higher 7,754.
The LG Nitro HD comes with 16GB of onboard storage, but can be expanded to 32GB via the microSD slot.
4G LTE and Web Browsing
AT&T's souped-up 4G LTE network delivered blazing-fast throughput on the Nitro HD. Coverage is available in parts of New York City, as well as in 15 other markets, which pales in comparison to Verizon Wireless' 190 markets. The Nitro HD averaged download speeds of 23.8 Mbps and a 5.7 Mbps uploads on Speedtest.net. By comparison, the HTC Vivid averaged 16.5 Mbps down and 8.7 up.
The Galaxy S II, which only gets HSPA+, averaged download and upload speeds of 4 and 1.5 Mbps, respectively, in NYC. We've yet to test the Skyrocket II with LTE in New York.
The Nitro HD continued to impress when we browsed the web, taking an average of 3.4 seconds to load the mobile versions of CNN and The New York Times in our office on 4G LTE. The mobile version of ESPN took a little longer at 4.5 seconds, while the full desktop version of Laptopmag.com took 11.3 seconds to load. All of these are great times.
The Nitro HD's Wi-Fi hotspot feature lets you share your 4G LTE connection with a maximum of eight devices.
AT&T offers three tiers of data plans with the Nitro: DataPlus gives you 200GB per month for $15, Data Pro 2GB ($25 per month), and DataPro 4GB ($45 per month), which also includes tethering. The latter two plans will cost you $10 for each additional 1GB you go over, while the DataPlus plan charges $15 for each additional 200GB of data.
Camera and Camcorder
The Nitro HD's 8-MP camera was just okay. The blues, reds, and greens in our shots of multicolored mosaic lamps and jewelry were well saturated, but when we looked at the photo on our PC and zoomed in past 50 percent, we noticed a fair amount of graininess. The shutter speed was also slower than the Galaxy S II's. On the plus side, we enjoyed being able to direct where the camera focused by holding our finger on a specific spot on the display. The various scene settings (Night, Sports, and Sunset) each came in handy for a wide variety of shooting scenarios.
Video of NYC traffic shot in 1920 x 1080p was sharp and colorful. However, we noticed mild stuttering during playback, which made the normal flow of traffic appear rather stilted.
The front-facing 1.3-MP camera records video up to 1280 x 720p in resolution. When we video chatted with our friend via Google Talk over Wi-Fi (it wouldn't work over LTE), she reported a clear image with loud audio. Although we heard her clearly, we did notice quite a bit of lag, which could have been a function of our Internet connection.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over 4G), the Nitro HD's 1830 mAh battery lasted a disappointing 3 hours and 53 minutes, almost 3 hours below the 6:38 category average. The HTC Vivid's 1620 mAh battery did marginally better, with 4:21. The Samsung Galaxy S II's 1650 mAh battery held on for a whopping 7:43, but it uses a lower-power HSPA+ radio. This lackluster endurance alone will be reason enough for most Android phone buyers to look elsewhere.
The Nitro HD provided consistently clear and loud calls to both cell phones and landlines in New York and New Jersey. There was some fading in and out when we switched over to speakerphone on both ends. The people we spoke to on landlines also reported a second or two of audio delay when they first picked up the phone.
The LG Nitro HD literally outshines the Android competition on AT&T with a brighter and sharper screen than any other handset, and it offers fantastic data speeds (when you're in an area with 4G LTE coverage). However, even at a discounted $149, this smartphone is a tough sell because of its short battery life and unattractive Android skin. If you want 4G LTE speeds, we suggest you check out the HTC Vivid, which lasts longer on a charge and has a better interface, or the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket, which packs a lower-res but richer Super AMOLED Plus screen.