The LG Nitro HD is an exciting device because it has the specs to legitimately be the best phone today with its 720p screen, 1.5 GHz processor and 4G LTE support. In this review, we’ll see how the Nitro HD stacks up against the stiff competition and if this 4G LTE phone should be on your holiday wish list.
- The 720p screen is bright, bold and beautiful to look at.
- The 8-megapixel camera can produce some stunning shots.
- The fit and finish of the device are nice and it fits nicely in your hands.
- Despite a good camera, the camera software is sluggish and shot-to-shot time takes way too long.
- There's an occasional lag throughout the device even with its strong hardware.
- The battery life can be finicky.
The LG Nitro HD has nearly everything you'd want in a high-end smartphone in a tight, slim package. With a 1.5 GHz processor, 1280 x 720 4.5-inch True HD IPS Display, 8-megapixel camera and support for 4G LTE, this AT&T smartphone is packed with power and it should prove to be future proof because of that. There are some quibbles I have with the design decisions but overall, I'm impressed with what LG has done with the Nitro HD.
The design of the Nitro HD is very nice if somewhat boring - that's more of a comment on the amazing design of things like the Droid Razr than a knock on the Nitro HD. The 4.5-inch True HD IPS Display takes up most of the face of the device and it's absolutely gorgeous. A 1280 x 720 screen is seen on some other high-end devices like the Galaxy Nexus and the HTC Rezound but LG's display technology is quite a sight to behold: colors are amazingly vivid, text is extremely easy to read and it's even easy to view this brilliance in direct sunlight, which is something that Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus screens can't boast.
It's funny how quickly you get used to an amazing screen and just think that's how things should be. When I switch back to a different device, that's where the brilliance of this screen really sinks in. There are a few HD videos and photos preloaded which are truly jaw-dropping.
While it's a big screen, it's doesn't feel a wide as something like the Samsung Skyrocket, even though the devices essentially have an identical overall footprint. It's a long phone overall - check out the comparison photos versus the iPhone 4 in the gallery - but I think it's still manageable.
There's an interesting twist to the standard Android buttons, as the LG Nitro HD only has three buttons underneath the screen: back, home and a combined menu and search button. In order to search, you long-press the menu button and you can just tap it to bring up menus within apps. This setup takes a little while to get used to but it's a pleasing experience and I'd imagine that it will make this device easier to use with Ice Cream Sandwich when it finally comes to the Nitro HD. There's also a front-facing camera about the screen to go along with AT&T branding and the speaker.
On the top, there's a standard headphone jack, power/unlock button and a plastic flap for the microUSB port. I don't like this flap because it feels cheap and looks like it could snap off if you drop your phone while charging - I much prefer a sliding door port like Samsung used to do or just exposing the port. On the right spine, there's a responsive one-piece volume rocker and the left spine is smooth and clean.
The back cover of the Nitro HD is a hard, black, textured plastic which looks and feels really good. The grooves on this back cover help you grip the device and it's just a neat touch. I thought it felt nice in my hand but a friend said she didn't think it was the most comfortable due to the backing. It just shows how subjective touch and feel can be. There's also an 8-megapixel camera with a flash on the back and the module is a brushed metal which looks cool. The back cover comes off easily to expose the battery, SIM slot and microSD card.
The Nitro HD is a slim device that easily fits into your pocket and even though the screen is big, it's very simple to operate with one hand. There are some neat decisions with how it was designed and the screen itself is amazing but it's still just a full touchscreen slate. There's nothing wrong with that but you kind of hoped LG would push the envelope with design.
There is no doubt about it, the LG Nitro HD is a premium device. That screen is bright, vivid and can blow you away when you're viewing HD content - it's amazing how quickly manufacturers have raised the bar on these displays. The only thing that felt cheap on this was the microUSB flap, as everything else is responsive and feels like it belongs on a high-quality device.
Guts And Glory
Inside the Nitro HD, you'll find a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 8-megapixel camera with a flash, highly-accurate GPS, Bluetooth, 4 GB of internal storage which can be expanded with the microSD slot, 4G LTE support and HSPA+ support for non-4G areas, and an 1,830 mAh battery. Yeah, it's packed full of power and can match up with anything out there in terms of specs. This is pretty good to have because chances are you'll be using this phone for at least 18 months, so it's nice to know that this hardware won't become outdated any time soon.
While I had some issues with the software on the Nitro HD, you can rest assured that if you're buying this, you're picking up a device that is best in class when it comes to hardware.
The Nitro HD comes with Android Gingerbread and LG's custom user interface and it's mainly a good experience but there's an annoying lag in many operations. If you've never used Android before, you should know that it's a highly flexible platform that easily makes calls, texts, manages e-mails and there are hundreds of thousands of apps to add to it. It's the best operating system if you use a lot of Google services but some may be drawn to the visual appeal of iOS or Windows Phone.
Unfortunately, I experienced sporadic lagging throughout many of the operations and that shouldn't happen with the kind of hardware this thing is packing, so I have to blame LG's software layer. The lag isn't there all the time but it pops up often enough where it really gets annoying, particularly because this is such a high-end device that should deliver a high-end user experience.
With that said, the LG customization is visually pleasing and it's similar to the international version of the T-Mobile G2X. You get seven home screens to customize, long-pressing on the screen will give you access to widgets, shortcuts, folders and more, and there's a customized app tray. Hitting the menu button on the home screen will give you quick access to the settings, notification bar, wallpapers and it also includes the ability to switch the mode of your phone - you can set up customized theme like "work" and it'll put you e-mail and calendars up front. This menu button on the home screen duplicates some other functionality but it does make it easier to operate with one hand.
Once you dive into the app tray, you're greeted with app icons which are divided into customizable categories. You get the standard long press to put it on the home screen and tapping the menu button here lets you rearrange or remove apps. While there are still some preloaded apps that you can't remove, most of the AT&T stuff can be easily axed from this tray, so I guess that's progress. Other preloaded software includes MOG, Polaris Office, mSpot for video streaming and rentals, YP and a few other things.
The LG Nitro HD also sports gesture controls - first found on the Optimus Black with a dedicated gesture button - which are very interesting ways to interact with your phone. I think most of these are gimmicky (switching home screens by tilting screen) but there are some legitimate use cases for some of these controls. For example, you can mute your ringer by turning the phone over and that could come in handy often. One gesture that I'd use every day is the ability to make the alarm snooze by turning over the device.
I was a little underwhelmed by the software experience on the LG Nitro HD, as things just didn't seem completely optimized. There's nothing egregiously wrong with it but all these little nagging issues add up, especially when you're trying to decide if this is the best phone on the market today. Luckily, I do believe that many of these problems can be fixed with a software update, the hardware isn't going to get stale and we expect Ice Cream Sandwich to hit this device in early 2012.
Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera
The LG Nitro HD essentially uses the standard Android Gingerbread Webkit browser with a few tweaks and it's an above-average Internet surfing experience. That high-resolution screen really makes text clear to read and pictures pop. LG has added a few things like a Read It Later button to help you manage web pages and I found that the intelligent zooming and formatting work really well. If you don't like the stock browser, you can always just download a new one.
The browsing experience was pretty smooth on AT&T's non-LTE 4G network in San Francisco but I'm sure it will be faster and better on LTE. I'll update this post when I test this device in an appropriate market.
While there's still nothing as comprehensive for media as iTunes, Android has quickly caught up to iOS in multimedia capabilities and that really shines on the LG Nitro HD. If you have an Android phone, I suggest you sign up for Google Music right now because it will give you free access to nearly your entire home collection on your device. You'll also be able to store songs on your device, so you won't have to worry about being cut off from your tunes without an Internet connection. Throw in third-party apps like MOG, Stitcher, Spotify and Pandora and you're pretty much set when it comes to audio. I found the Nitro HD has a pretty good external speaker, although sounds can be a tad bit distorted when pumped up to a high level. Listening to music with headphones is nice even if this phone doesn't have fancy Beats Audio.
The brilliant screen makes watching videos on the Nitro HD a great experience. Of course, the better the resolution of the content, the better it will look on the screen and LG did preload a few neat HD videos which are stunning. As for other videos, the Nitro HD comes with the mSpot movie service for renting and downloading films. What's nice is that you can pay for these with carrier billing but it's still kind of a pain to have yet another video service that doesn't work across all your platforms. You can also rent movies from the Android Market and if you're a U-Verse subscriber, the Nitro HD comes with the app which will let you view your DVR content on the device.
The Nitro HD also comes with DLNA via its SmartShare app and it's easy to toss content to different devices over a WiFi network. I never tend to use these features that often but it's a great way to quickly share photos with others on your big-screen television.
The LG Nitro HD has a pretty darn good 8-megapixel camera which can produce some amazingly clear shots in a variety of settings but it's a shame that the camera software is so atrocious. The actual user experience and layout of it are fine even if I still miss a physical shutter button but the shot-to-shot lag is completely unacceptable for a phone that's trying to be the best. It can sometimes take up to three seconds for the image to capture and for the camera to be ready to take another shot. While two or three seconds sounds like nothing, that's a lifetime when you're trying to capture a magic moment. This is really disappointing when you consider how quickly devices like the iPhone 4S, Amaze 4G and Galaxy S II can take shots and be ready for another one.
The software also includes multiple shot modes (portrait, landscape, sports, sunset and night), face tracking capabilities, the ability to monkey with the ISO and other settings. You can also add a few filters like Sepia and you can also shoot panoramas and continuous shots. It's a shame that the shot-to-shot time is such hot garbage because the Nitro HD can take some awesome shots and that brilliant screen really showcases that. Even blown up, photos can be extremely clear and it properly reproduce colors. I also found that the tap-to-focus feature to be one of the best I've seen because there's a noticeable difference depending on what you choose to focus on.
Some photos can be washed out with too much direct sunlight but you can just change the modes to deal with that. The low-light shots aren't amazing but it does get better in the nightime mode. There's also a 1.2-megapixel camera which can do 720p HD video and it's solid.
As with any Android phone, it's simple to attach these pictures to e-mails, message them out or share via social networks or third-party apps. I'm hoping a software update comes soon to fix the shot-to-shot issue because this almost ruins what could be an incredible camera. As it is, the Nitro HD can still produce some knock out pictures but it's more difficult than it needs to be.
The LG Nitro HD can record 1080p HD videos with its 8-megapixel camera and as you can see from the sample below, videos looks pretty good. I found playback to be quite steady and the audio recording was pretty solid too.
Call Quality And Battery Life
We tested the Nitro HD in the San Francisco Bay Area and coverage and call quality were both pretty good. Voices sounds crisp and clear without any distortion and the people I were calling said I sounded loud and like myself. We're not in a 4G LTE market, so we're stuck with the HSPA+ "4G" and it provided solid speeds throughout San Francisco - I averaged about 3-5 Mbps down with bursts of up to 10 Mbps down. I'm heading to the Lone Star state soon, so I'll update this shortly with 4G LTE results.
As for battery life, the Nitro HD gave me some fits. When I first received the device, I powered it on around 11 a.m. and it was nearly dead by 4 p.m. with some heavy usage of data and GPS. I was ready to flip my wig but subsequent charges have led to a much better battery life experience, as I can take it off the charger in the morning and be sure that it'll be alive that night after work. It also charges pretty quickly, which is nice if you just have a few minutes near your charger.
Of course, streaming music and videos or keeping the screen on full brightness will drain the power more rapidly. I'll also update to see how much of an impact 4G LTE has on the battery life.
The Final Take
With its insane specs, the LG Nitro HD has all the pieces to be the best phone on the market but it falls short in many aspects. It has a bunch of individual great elements but it never comes together to be the amazing thing you know if could be (kind of like the Eagles). So, the Nitro HD isn't the best smartphone out there but it's still pretty darn good in its own right.
The 4.5-inch screen is vibrant and it sets the standard for what a great display should be. Seriously, this thing is pretty cool. I like the look and in-hand feel of the LG Nitro HD and because it has so much power inside, you can be confident that this will still be performing well near the end of your contract. As AT&T expands its 4G LTE footprint, the Nitro HD will only become more capable with time. On the negative side, the camera software gets in the way of you taking great shots, the battery life is less than spectacular and it just doesn't seem like the software is as snappy as it could and should be.
The Nitro HD is not perfect and competing devices like the Samsung Skyrocket provide a smoother overall experience. Still, the Nitro HD has the foundation to be an incredible smartphone with updated software and it could be the best of the first 4G LTE phones from AT&T when all is said and done.
Alright, you've heard what I had to say, now let us know what you think in the comments.