LG Nitro HD

LG is an Android manufacturer that all too often goes unnoticed. But in reality, LG has been churning out devices that can compete with the best of them. One such device is the LG Nitro HD, LG's latest flagship smartphone that has found a home on AT&T's oven-fresh LTE network. LG hasn't created a million-dollar ad campaign as Samsung has for its Galaxy S II line, and it doesn't come with a trademark catchphrase like Motorola's DROIDs. Despite its low profile, though, the LG Nitro is a remarkable device that is quite possibly one of the fastest Android experiences available on AT&T today.

Keep on reading for our complete LG Nitro HD and where it stands in the scheme of things.

The Good

The 720p HD display is marvelous. The processor has yet to meet a task it can't handle. AT&T's fledgling LTE network is capable of mind-blowing speeds.

The Bad

The Nitro HD's build quality feels subpar. The camera and camcorder leave a bit to be desired, as does LG's custom skin. Oh, and the battery life is a victim of the LTE vampire.

Conclusion

If you're an AT&T customer looking for the most beefed-up Android device the carrier has to offer, you've found it. It's thin, it's light, and it's as fast as they come. It doesn't come with the pomp and circumstance of the other "4G" devices on AT&T right now, but it quite possibly might be the network's fastest device. 

Inside this review

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YouTube link for mobile viewing | Read our intial hands-on feature

 

The hardware

One of the main reasons that so many constantly and incorrectly disregard LG as a legitimate Android manufactuer is the company's tendency to skip the pomp and circumstance with hardware. Let's face it: LG produces very generic looking devices, unlike HTC and Samsung who give more attention to the small and noticeable details that they carve into every device. 

Unfortunately, LG hasn't really bucked the trend with the Nitro HD. At first glimpse you might think the Nitro is an Atrix 2. It's got a rather tired rubberized battery cover and curved edges that remind me very much of what Motorola is doing with its non-flagship models. The Nitro HD is an ugly device, but it simply doesn't have any distinguishing characteristics that make it truly unique and eye-catching.

LG Nitro HD LG Nitro HD

But when you've got a screen that is as beautiful as the Nitro's, maybe you don't need anything else to stand out. Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off of the floor: I am simply blown away by the Nitro's display. It is, without a doubt, the most beautiful smartphone display I have ever seen (note: I have yet to see the Galaxy Nexus with my own eyes.) I'm a sucker for huge screens and the Nitro HD reminds me why: the 4.5-inch footprint is perfection for me, striking a beautiful balance between functionality and style. It's not for everyone, especially those who are used to using their device with one hand. But for those who love to push the limits with screen size, the Nitro HD is stellar.

But it's not just size that the Nitro HD has going for it. Heck, it's right in its name. The Nitro HD is packing a 720p HD display, with a 1280x720 resolution that packs pixels in at 326 per inch. It's got IPS technology going for it, and LG claims that it's one of the brightest screens on the market today. I'll agree. After using the HTC Rezound for a few weeks, I assumed that Nitro HD would have a similar impression on me. And while I love the Rezound's screen, I must give a slight edge to the Nitro. Color reproduction is stellar, and it actually is remarkably bright. Even with brightness turned down, the screen still popped with vividness and clarity. And with brightness turned up, you'll have no problems seeing what you need to see in direct sunlight. Currently, the Nitro HD has the best display available on AT&T. Yes, even better than the Galaxy S II. I'll stop gushing and leave it at this: once you give the Nitro HD a spin, you won't be able to remember how you lived life before HD smartphone displays.

LG Nitro HD LG Nitro HD

The rest of the Nitro's face comes together to really let the screen stand out. The bezel is negligable, without much shine and sheen to it, an attribute that I really like. Corners are curved in a way that make the 4.5-inch display seem pocketable rather than obnoxious.

On top you've got a 3.5 mm headphone jack (duh) along with power button and a USB port, complete with an all-too-platicky cover that will most definitely be annihilated after a few months of use. I don't know how I feel about charging my phone from the top. It's unnerving at first, but I've gotten used to it. 

 LG Nitro HD LG Nitro HD

On screen left you've got a volume rocker that is placed lower than it is on most other devices, which poses a problem of accidental clicking while on a phone call. Don't fix what isn't broken, LG. Every manufactuer has figured out the perfect placement for the volume rocker. You haven't.

LG Nitro HD LG Nitro HD

And as long as I'm being cranky for a few paragraphs, let me mention LG's decision to include only three capacitive buttons rather than the standard four. I hate it, and I'm willing to say that it's the biggest problem I've had with the Nitro HD. I know that with Ice Cream Sandwich three has become the new standard, but since the Nitro HD ships with Gingerbread, it is unnecessarily jarring to reduce the buttons to three. I find myself confused all of the time. They also don't stay lit long enough, which means that it's very difficult to decipher which button is where. And no, you can't even justify this decision by saying that LG is preparing for Android 4.0, as the buttons move onto the screen and ditch the menu button. It's just a dumb move on LG's part, and the source of some serious frustration for me.

LG Nitro HD

The overall experience of holding the Nitro HD in your hand is rather pleasant, given its lightweight frame. It's only 4.5 ounces, which is by no means the lightest device on the market, but respectable for an LTE device nonetheless. And at .41 inches thick, it is negligably thicker than its closest competitor, the Galaxy S II Skyrocket, which boasts an anorexic .37 inch girth. Hooray, the hefty days of LTE (ahem Thunderbolt) are finally behind us. The Nitro is 5.27 inches long, which, like I said, is a tough pill to swallow for our small-handed friends. But for me, and most likely many many out there, the size is just perfect. Sure, there will always be room to downsize, but I currently have no complaints about the dimensions and feel of the Nitro HD. Below, you'll see how it stacks up with the HTC Rezound, a similarly-spec'd competitor.

LG Nitro HD LG Nitro HD

It's hard not to like what the Nitro HD is packing under the hood. The 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor paired with 1GB RAM and 4GB internal storage makes the Nitro HD scream. On paper, the Snapdragon isn't capable of putting up the same numbers as Exynos and OMAP, but that doesn't concern me much. What I care about is real-life performance, and I've been impressed with what I've seen with the Nitro HD. The device absolutely chews through tasks without so much as an under-the-breath burp. I've edited photos, watched HD videos, and played some pretty intensive games on the Nitro HD, and have yet to be disappointed. 

Perhaps the main culprit behind these impressions is the LTE radio lurking beneath the surface. AT&T was kind enough to flip the switch on its LTE network here in New York City in time for the Nitro HD's arrrival, and what I've seen is enough to completely blow me away. As a Verzion faithful for over ten years, I can honestly say that this is the first time I've ever been blue with envy. AT&T has put some major thought into its LTE network, and I'm downright giddy that the wait for it is now over. I saw speeds that made Verizon LTE seem downright sluggish, though to be fair, many more customers are surfing Big Red's LTE than AT&T's at the moment. I'd be naive to think that AT&T could (or would) sustain these speeds as rollout continues, but I'll enjoy it while it lasts. The Nitro HD isn't only capable of processing speed, but data speed as well. Together, the two combine to create an experience that I can chalk up as easily the fastest Android device I have ever used, in every respect of the word.

LG Nitro HD

 

Software

Blah. Have I mentioned lately how tired I am of Gingerbread? It simply doesn't take my breath away as it once did. Don't get me wrong. I love Android 2.3, and have grown rather accustomed to it. But in the world of technology, accustomed isn't always a good thing. I'm dying to get my hands on Ice Cream Sandwich. I need Android to remind me again of the envelopes it's willing to push. 

But I won't hold that against the Nitro HD. On the contrary, I think the Nitro handles Gingbread quite well in terms of speed and performance. What I cannot be kind about, however, is LG's custom skin. In the land of custom skins, this one's the outcast. It's very reminiscent of TouchWiz, without the TLC that Samsung has put into its skin over the past year. LG's version is clunky and way too busy. Widgets tend to take up too much screen real estate, and require just a bit more refinement. 

What I do enjoy about LG's custom software are the goodies thrown in for good measure, such as Smart Share. It'll take content from all your devices, whether they be phones, tablets, cameras or televisions, and aggregate everything so that it's all easily accesible. It's similar to what Motorola is offering on its devices, but it works without a glitch, and that's always what's most important. Other extras include Wi-Fi Share and some bloatware, including Polaris Office, Qik, and AT&T usual gambit of utilities.

LG Nitro HD LG Nitro HD LG Nitro HD LG Nitro HD

Battery Life

LG Nitro HD

Ahh, here's the section where I'm reminded that every rose has its thorns. Despite packing a 1830 mAh battery, the Nitro HD struggles to make it through the day on a single charge. If you're using LTE for an extended period, you're going to start hurting fast. The Nitro HD can't even make it through a streaming television episode without burning through an obscene amount of fuel. With light usage and heavy dependence on Wi-Fi, you'll probably see nightfall before having to plug in. If you're using your phone all day, though, bring a charger. 

I'd be the first person to say that this is a necessary trade off for being able to surf at the speeds that LTE is capable of, but after seeing the Galaxy S II Skyrocket squeeze a respectable day out of a single charge, I've become less forgiving. Even Verizon's Rezound and RAZR fare better than the Nitro HD, proving that manufacturers have already come a very long way in regards to 4G battery life. LG clearly needs to play a bit of catch-up in this regard.

Camera

I've come to the sad conclusion that despite how much hardware has evolved recently, smartphone cameras are stuck in a rut. This isn't to say that they are terrible; on the contrary, most smartphone cameras have decent enough quality to make you forget about packing your point-and-shoot on a daily basis. However I'm starting to feel that decent just isn't good enough. I'm ready to be blown away by smartphone cameras, like I am by the Galaxy S II's and the iPhone 4S'. Sadly, universal top-notch quality is still a way's away.

The cameras on the Nitro HD are just alright. The software LG has included doesn't allow for much creativity, and it is sorely lacking some features that I have grown to love (i.e. panorama mode). Shutter speeds and start-up times could be improved, too. On more than one occasion, I was ready to shoot another photo long before the Nitro HD was. In terms of quality, the Nitro HD is just so-so. Sure, it'll get the job done, but if you're looking for the wow factor, look elsewhere. Colors seemed muted to me, and things could have been sharper and more vibrant. You're not going to take any award-winning photos here. And that's disappointing, because like I said, I'm ready to be blown away.

LG Nitro HDLG Nitro HD

LG Nitro HD LG Nitro HD

LG Nitro HD

The Nitro HD can shoot video at 1080p resolution with 30fps. The results are respectable but again, nothing too impressive. As you'll see below the camcorder got the job done, with accurate and clear sound quality, but it certainly won't replace your full-fledged video camera. 

Call Quality

Call me a spoiled Verizon customer, but I found call quality on the Nitro HD to be spotty at best in Manhattan. I didn't run into many problems in terms of dropping calls, but overall quality wasn't as crisp and clear as I wanted it to be. It was never a major problem, but it did warrant a few "huh?" and "what?"s from the other end. The speakerphone, however, sounded nice and crisp when a strong connection was established. If you're an AT&T customer you're probably used to the occasional call quality issue. And no, that's not a dig, merely an observation.

The wrap-up

Every review I write elicits the same feeling: this is such an exciting time for Android. Devices are evolving at the speed of light and as soon as you feel like you've got the best of the best, there's something better lurking around the corner. As is the case with the Nitro HD, which currently sits on the top tier of the Android heap. It might not be the best device on the market right now (that's a debate for another time and place), but it certainly has all the makings of a king. The beautiful next-generation display, the insanely fast and powerful processor, and the LTE radio make the Nitro HD impossible to ignore. It is certainly the highest-spec'd phone on AT&T right now, and if you're not a Galaxy faithful, you'll agree that it's the best device on Ma' Bell today. 

But the room for improvement that the Nitro HD presents lead me to believe that it won't be king for very long. If you're a shutterbug, stick with what Samsung is packing on its devices. And if you're adverse to carrying around a charger or spare battery with you, the Nitro HD is a no-go. Finally, I wish LG would take a second look at their custom skin to ensure that it can compete with what HTC, Motorola, and Samsung are offering. Because right now, it simply cannot.

If want an insanely fast device with crazy LTE speeds and a display that will take your breath away, the Nitro HD is a respectable choice. But if its pure user experience that matters to you, you might be more comfortable with AT&T's more refined Galaxy S II Skyrocket and Vivid. They don't have the specs to match what the Nitro HD is packing, but they do come with the comfort and usability that HTC and Samsung are known for. 

That said, I give LG a lot of credit for putting their all into the Nitro HD. It's certainly worthy of flagship status and it's enough of a slap in the face to remind you that LG is in the Android game to win it. Don't forget about LG. Something tells me there are big things ahead.

 

Reader comments

LG Nitro HD review

25 Comments

the only thing spec wise the nitro has over the skyrocket is the display, and in person the difference isnt that noticable.. the much better battery life of the skyrocket makes it a much better device IMO.. LG still has some work to do.. but they are cutting away at the top for sure

There is no comparison as far as displays are concerned between the Vivid or the Skyrocket. I dare anyone to go into an AT&T store and put the Nitro and Skyrocket side-by-side and just run the AT&T app Explore this Phone. The sharpness and color of this display can not be ignored and is far better with text than any Amoled screen. I dare anyone to go to an AT&T store and do a true un-biased comparison and you will not be disappointed.

A nickname for the old AT&T wireline company. The current AT&T is the old Cingular - it hs nothing in common with the old AT&T except the name.

AT&T is being compared to the old Ma Bell... Not a literal translation. If ATT buys T-mobile, they would own 40% market share. Similar to the old Ma Bell...

^^ What he said. And this is what I take issue with. If you want an editorial talking about the AT&T - T-mobile merger, go ahead and make the comparison. It doesn't belong in every... single... review of an Android smartphone on AT&T.

It's about impartial/fair reporting and reviewing, which is what I understood the goal to be -- there's enough biased reviewing going on out there.

@ xx_blam_xx: Thank you, Captain Obvious. The point of my comment was saying that whatever connection people like to make with Ma Bell, the carrier's name is AT&T.

I played with it for a while in the store and it felt laggy compared to the Vivid and Skyrocket. I still the Skyrocket is the best of the three LTE AT&T phones but I'm holding out to see if the Galaxy Note comes to us with LTE.

I didn't think the Exynos chip played well with LTE so it might use snapdragon not the exynos in the global note... although the Korean version is LTE and apparently uses Exynos so i could be wrong.

Same here. The SR is the best phone available on AT&T right now, but I'm holding out for the Note, Snapdragon or not.

The Galaxy Note will not come with LTE ever now the Galaxy note 2 might but the Samsung chipset currently used in the Note is not capable of LTE. That is why the Skyrocket uses the Qualacom chipset.

How's the speaker on the back of that thing??? Looks diesel in those pics!!!! The 1st paragraph in "SOFTWARE" is my exact feelings on Android atm, so well done. Great/honest review also, wasn't just a spec rundown, it incorporated "real-world" usage/opinions in it which I prefer to read in a review.

What mind-blowing speeds? I see fairly regular numbers there for LTE except for that first test on the picture. On Verizon LTE I get between 15-35mbps consistently. Only the upload speeds seem slightly better but these displayed test numbers have a wild fluctuation especially considering this network is not stressed yet.

The lower numbers are HSPA+ when the LTE network was off due to testing? Still not officially lit up in NYC is it? Here in Texas AT&T's LTE network is indeed consistently faster both up and down than Verizon while having better battery life.

Current SR owner here and checked out the Nitro on launch day. I played with it for 15 minutes and liked it. The UI reminded me of touchwiz but a tad less refined. I really liked the screen and decided to wait on the reviews for the battery which is important to me. Every major review I have seen absolutely slams the battery on the Nitro. Game over and still waiting on a HD/LTE phone on AT&T. Maybe that combination makes a 12+ hour battery impossible?

Yea the combo of LTE and HD is like having to vampires sucking your blood out at the same time. About the only solution is an extended battery if you don't mind a little extra heft and thickness. I have had the Samsung Skyrocket for about a month now. I must have gotten a bad one because it has been nothing but junk. After the first two weeks it crashed and I had to update it to ICS to get it to restore correctly. Two weeks latter the screen goes out for no reason and I liked to never got it back working. You could hear the phone running and responding to touch but no picture. It was like the backlight went out all together. I finaly got it reset by using a remote program on computer and picture showing. Today the wifi goes out all of a sudden for no reason. I called AT&T and said this is not getting it send me the Nitro HD. I know the battery life will be less but I have already ordered an extended battery and back that really does not add to much to the phone at least it does not matter to me. I was kind of disappointed with the resolution of the skyrocket seeing it is a high end phone. The resolution was the same as my old Samsung Exhibit that was a whole inch smaller.

My brother has an LG Thrill and is complaining about it whenever I ask him about it, but I don't really understand what's wrong. He claims it's quite laggy..is that true for you too?

One of the things that really irks me in reviews such as this is when the reviewer says things like "if you're OK with an older version of Android such as this." FFS, NO OTHER phone has ICS 4.0 besides the Galaxy Nexus, and it's going to be that way for a long time. It'll probably be Q2 2012 before we see phones shipping with 4.0.

If you are going to report on call quality, you need to figure out how to test beyond an island in a far corner of the country. What's the call quality like in Tampa, Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, Denver, Phoenix, Vegas???

After owning the Nitro for a week I feel this reviewer is way off target. This phone does not feel cheap to me at all. It feels solid , no creaks and has a nice grip. To me the Samsung feels light and cheap. I also think the Nitro takes some pretty damn good pictures right up there with the rest. An while some users are experiencing poor battery life I make it easily through the day. No worse than any other android phone I have owned.

I've this one while my wife owns the HTC and my dad has the Galaxy II. For over 3 months, I have the opportunity to understand all 3. First - between the 3, HTC definitely suffers from sluggishness in comparison to the other two. Second: Display of LG is way, way better than other two. Personally, I find Samsung to be the worst. Same songs, same headphone - quality of music output is better in LG (without making any software tweaks). As a side note - I really understand music quality and can say headphone quality wise - quite up there like the COWON music players. Third - photos are same between Samsung and LG but suffer pixalation when viewed in PC. Display in LG better richer - photos come out awesome. Call quality - no difference. Network speed - no differences. All 3 of us are heavy users and Samsung beats all in battery life but in my case, have WiFi at home and in NJ mostly everywhere it's still HSPA+ and thus I can go thru the whole day with 1 charge. I have heavy discussions (office conference calls), surf the net while in NJTransit (40 min each way) and find a 30 min anytime during the day to fight regarding groceries with my wife. I think the battery life really hits below the belt if the phone's linked to LTE continuously. I feel LG might address this sometime soon via a firmwire patch maybe? It's their flagship model, right?