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Review: LG Nitro HD for AT&T

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Dec 21, 2011, 11:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The LG Nitro HD is one of the first handful of Android smartphones able to use AT&T's Long Term Evolution 4G network and packs a gorgeous high-def display. Here is Phone Scoop's full review.

Form

Is It Your Type? 

LG cranks up sex appeal of its smartphone line with the Nitro HD for AT&T. This slick handset boasts an HD screen, LTE 4G, and other goodies. The Nitro HD is a super-slab through and through, and just might be the best smartphone LG has ever assembled, except for a few little things....

Body 

The LG Nitro HD is a slab-style smartphone with a large touch screen and large dimensions to match. It’s dressed in all black, save for the reflective LG logo and the metallic camera housing on the back. It's not the sexiest smartphone ever, but its a big step up in looks (and performance) from LG's other recent smartphone efforts, the myTouch Q and DoublePlay.

The Nitro HD is thin, light, and comfortable to hold. The materials are plastic and glass - no metals - but they manage to avoid feeling and looking cheap. The back and side surfaces are covered in a textured plastic that has a really fine gradient to it. Rather than feel rough, as do some textures, it has a smooth, super-fine sandpaper feel to it. There's no creaking, no looseness; just a solid, tight piece of hardware that feels good through and through. It will fit into your pocket thanks to its thin profile, but the significant length and width means you'll always know it is there.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

LG is joining the trend of using three capacitive keys on the front instead of the usual four. The menu and search keys have been combined. A short press opens the menu; a long press opens the search tool. I found these buttons to be responsive to the touch.

The volume toggle is on the left side, and has a nice feel to it. It’s easy to tell if you're pressing the up or down side of the toggle, and the travel and feedback is outstanding. But it's ridiculously loud and produces a grating "clackety-clack" sound when pressed.

There are no controls on the right edge or the bottom. Instead, everything else is bunched up on the Nitro HD's top edge. The 3.5mm headset jack, the microUSB port (and protective hatch) and power/lock button are all packed on the smallest surface the Nitro HD has to offer. Way to go, LG. Thanks for spacing things out.

The power/lock button is really small. In fact, it’s too small. Its saving grace is that it is located right above the user-facing camera, so you have a visual cue on where to put your thumb. Travel and feedback is a bit weak, though. The hatch protecting the microUSB port is fine, though I'd rather it weren't there. It is a standard microUSB port, though it supports HDMI via a MHL adapter.

The battery cover is really the entire back surface of the Nitro HD. It comes off without a problem and leaves the Nitro HD's innards exposed. The battery is massive and provides the Nitro HD with 1830mAh of juice. The microSD slot is accessible for hot-swapping memory cards without yanking the battery.

The Three S's 

Screen

If there's one feature LG got right on the Nitro HD, it's the display. The Nitro HD sports a 4.5-inch, IPS LCD with 1280 x 720 pixels (hence the "HD" moniker). It is gorgeous. Individual pixels are hard to pick out unless you use a magnifying glass. The display is also bright, produces accurate colors, and did I mention that it's really, really bright? Trust me, you're going to love this display.

Signal

The Nitro HD is one of the first phones able to access AT&T's Long Term Evolution network. I used the Nitro HD in New York City several times this month. While AT&T's LTE network hasn't officially launched there, it is being tested and can be accessed by devices that are properly equipped. With probably 10 other people using it in the entire city, I scored some outrageously quick download speeds. I'm talking close to 20Mbps. Upload speeds didn't drag, either, peaking near 7Mbps. That's some good stuff. Of course, under real-world conditions on a network that's actually loaded with users, speeds will be dramatically slower than these peaks. Since the LTE network isn't fully live, I'm not going to rate the Nitro HD's LTE signal performance other than to say "it works."

The HSPA+ 3G radio is fair game, though. When compared to other AT&T devices, the Nitro HD did a fine job of connecting to AT&T's HSPA+ network. The signal indicator ranged from 0 to 5 bars in-step with the actual coverage available. In the time I tested the Nitro HD, it didn't drop any calls, nor did it miss any.

Sound

Phone calls made with the Nitro HD were rotten all around. Voices were distant in the earpiece and lacked presence. There was also a lot of interference and noise during calls. Neither the earpiece nor the speakerphone generate enough volume. The earpiece is far too quiet, and I had a hard time hearing callers over general household noise. Calls sent to the speakerphone were a garbled mess. The Nitro HD has a really cheesy selection of ringtones, but you can set them to bone-shaking levels. You're not going to miss any calls due to the ringers. The vibrate alert was good.

Battery

The Nitro HD does so-so in the battery life department. Considering the ginormous display, dual-core processors, and 3G/4G radio set-up, I consistently got the Nitro HD to live through a long day from 7AM to Midnight with all the radios on. It didn't have much power left by the time I went to bed, but at least it survived a whole, waking day. You're going to need to charge it every day. If you try really hard, you can kill the battery off quicker than I did if you fire up some games or spend a lot of time browsing. Those two activities, more than any other, seemed to sap battery life the quickest.

Basics

Menus 

The Nitro HD runs Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread with some light tweaks to the appearance of the icons and menus thanks to LG. There's no official word from LG or AT&T yet on whether or not it will be updated to Android 4.0.

It offers seven home screens for personalization, and the dock at the bottom of the screen has four items in it (phone, messaging, browser, apps). You can switch these out for something else if you want to, but it’s a headache to do so.

LG has its own tool for customizing the home screen with widgets and shortcuts, etc. It slides up from the bottom of the screen and give you a small selection of widgets, etc., in grid form to choose from. You can easily parse between widgets, apps, shortcuts, and folders using this tool thanks to some sorting buttons at the bottom.

The default main menu is laid out in a vertical grid, which can be separated into different views, such as the most recent apps used, downloaded apps, all, etc. The main menu can be viewed in page form (with pages arranges horizontally) or standard vertical list form. There's also a search bar in the main menu in case you want to search for the app rather than scroll for it.

The notification shade hasn't been customized in any truly unique way, but it does provide controls to toggle on/off the cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS radios, as well as the sound.

The Nitro HD has a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S3 processor, which might fool you into believing that it's the fastest smartphone out there. Sadly, you'd be wrong. It lags a lot, all over the place. It's not a severe lag, but any lag is annoying. The Nitro HD pauses between screen transitions, jumping between apps, and so on. It's not severe, but it's a shame because the lag is noticeable throughout the phone, and really drags down the overall experience.

 

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Calls/Contacts 

The LG Nitro HD uses the stock Android phone software, though it has been skinned by LG so it looks a bit different. The phone application is simple and straightforward.

The phone app includes the contact database, which is accessible via one of the tabs at the top of the screen. There aren't any nifty contacts widgets, but at least you can add shortcuts to your favorite contacts to the home screen, as well as add them to a folder of favorites that is visible from the phone application.

As with all Android 2.3 devices, it adds details from Facebook and other accounts to your contact database and keeps everything synced.

 

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Messaging 

The LG Nitro HD includes the stock set of Android communications tools, as well as a few extra social networking apps.

The standard email and Gmail clients are on board to help manage emails. Both apps work well and don't need more than an email address and password to set up. The Nitro works with Exchange, POP, and IMAP no problem, and supports multiple Gmail accounts. The latest version of the Gmail application for Android is solid, no question.

The stock SMS/MMS is at your disposal for composing depositions, if you wish, and includes some pre-fabbed text snippets, such as "In a meeting, call you later." You can also insert image, video, and audio files at will, which appear in line with other messages in the threaded conversation.

Google Talk is the only instant messaging client on board. You can snag others from the Android Market, if you wish.

It you choose to download and install Google+, you may as well grab Google Messenger. The two work together, you see. Google+ is of course Google's social network. The application for it is simple and works well. Google Messenger lets you conduct group messaging sessions with your Google+ contacts/circles. It offers a little tutorial to teach you know how it all works. It sends messages via the internet, so you're not in danger of killing your messaging plan.

The Nitro HD also comes with the native Twitter and Facebook apps.

Last, there's a generic widget called Social+, which is a catch-all status update catcher. It lets you scan the status updates your Facebook friends and Twitter friends post, and can be used to send status updates to both social network services. You can also choose to import RSS-based content into this app.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Extras

Media 

Music

Google Music is the default media player on the Nitro HD. It’s the newer player that's tied into the Google Music service. It lets users store and access their own songs from the cloud, as well as sample, download, and listen to new music by track or by album. It’s a much improved music experience compared to the old Android music app. Google Music can be used to stream your content over the network, and you can also sync playlists to the phone's storage for listening when offline.

The actual Google Music store itself is OK, but doesn't compare to the offerings of the iTunes or Amazon MP3 music stores. Apple and Amazon have far more titles available for download. Discovery could also be better in Google's Music service.

There's an app for the MOG Music service, too. This is a service that lets you download an unlimited number of real tracks for $9.99 per month. It also offers streamed radio stations. It can be accessed from the Nitro, as well as from computers and other machines.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video

The Nitro HD has the stock Android video player, which handles both recorded and side-loaded content. It also has the stock YouTube application, which continues to be really good. You can also rent movies from the Android Market. Rental prices are in-line with those of other services.

As far as sharing media is concerned, the Nitro HD ships with software called "SmartShare." This uses the DLNA protocol to push music, pictures, and videos to other DLNA devices, such as HDTVs.

 

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Camera 

Camera

The Nitro HD has an 8-megapixel camera that shares most features with other LG Android phones that we've recently reviewed.

There's no physical camera button, so you have to access it from a shortcut or the app menu. It launches in a snap. The basic shooting screen uses about 70% of the display's real estate as the viewfinder. On the right, there’s a simple control strip that includes a camcorder toggle, shutter button, and access to the gallery. Along the left 10% there’s a secondary control strip, which offers access to camera controls. Items such as metering, scene modes (panorama, etc.), ISO, white balance, color effects, shooting mode and more can be adjusted.

When you're ready to take a picture, press the on-screen shutter button. The Nitro HD takes about a second to focus, and then snaps the image. (If you want, press the subject you'd like to be the focus of the image, as the Nitro HD supports touch-to-focus.) A review screen pops up instantly. You need to tap the screen to get back to the camera.

As far as performance goes, the Nitro HD responded well to the camera controls. Changing the settings is a snap, and the lag issue wasn't a problem when changing the resolution or setting the white balance. But the time it takes the Nitro HD to focus, capture, and save images takes much longer than it should.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Gallery

The gallery is the stock Android option. Photo albums float in stacks in the main gallery view and the Nitro HD syncs with your online accounts such as Google+ and Picasa, so you'll see those photos, too.

Unfortunately, the Nitro HD includes only the most basic editing functions (crop and rotate). You can, however, easily share photos to the social network of your choice via the standard Android gallery tools.

The gallery is one app that displays noticeable lag. It is probably the slowest app on the device when it comes to performance.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Photos/Video 

Photos

The Nitro HD's sensor is capable of capturing 8 megapixels. I was generally impressed with its performance. Given the solid camera controls, you can fine-tune the Nitro HD to handle pretty much any lighting situation. Even if you don't futz with the controls, the automatic settings do a commendable job.

In the images I captured, I noticed that color always looked good and exposure was generally right. Both indoors and out, images were sharp, clear, and free of digital noise and other garbage. The Nitro HD can easily be used to replace a point-and-shoot on any vacation.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video

The Nitro HD can also capture 1080p HD video. Panning it around produced some choppiness, but otherwise HD video looked very, very good. I was pleased with the overall clarity of the video and the lack of smearing. Colors were accurate, and exposure was also good.

Browse/Customize 

Browser

The stock Android browser performs very well on the Nitro HD. When under LTE coverage, it was as fast as I've seen any browser on a mobile phone perform. Web sites appeared in a wink. When used with AT&T's HSPA+ network, the Nitro HD gave a more average performance. Web sites loaded quickly, but not LTE-fast, that's for sure. The browser itself works well and has a decent set of controls. The one issue is that the browser software lags a bit when you're messing with the settings. For example, if you jump into the bookmarks, the app might hang on you for a few seconds before doing what you want it to. Lag is a drag.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Customize

The LG Nitro HD offers the standard laundry list of customization features, but adds a few as well. Some of the new ones include the categorized main menu, and the ability to create and manage those categories. Wallpapers, ringtones, and all that stuff are laughably easy.

Extras 

Apps

The Nitro HD has plenty of applications installed out of the box. It includes the typical AT&T-branded stuff, as well as a few other odds and ends. I was able to delete most of the apps I didn't want, but a few were undeletable, such as Google Maps and Google Talk. You know the drill with the Android Market. It's there. It has apps. You can download them.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth worked without issue on the Nitro HD. Pairing with mono and stereo headsets, as well as PCs and other phones, was a snap. Sound quality of voice calls through mono headsets was godawful. Music sounded acceptable through stereo Bluetooth speakers.

Clock

The Nitro HD offers the same lockscreen clock that most Android phones do. When initially woken from sleep, it shows the time in a larger, digital read out. The time can be gleaned with but a glance. Sadly, LG didn't do anything to customize the lock screen. The Nitro HD also has the typical Android alarm/clock app.

GPS

Google Maps and TeleNav Navigator -- masquerading under the name "AT&T Navigator" -- are both installed on the Nitro HD. Google Maps is free and AT&T Navigator costs $10 per month to use. Both apps do a fine job of providing directions to and from destinations.

Wrap-Up 

The LG Nitro HD comes very close to earning a "very good" rating from me, but will have to settle for "good." The reason is mostly due to the exceedingly poor voice performance. Even though we use our smartphones more for data-centric tasks, the phone has to be at least serviceable as a telephone. The Nitro HD is not a good telephone at all. The other reason is the lag issue. As noted, the lag isn't severe, but it is enough to be noticed.

The Nitro HD does very well with every other feature. The menus are a cinch to use, the screen is amazing, and the hardware works well. It is a good size and shape, includes a great camera and video camera, and of course is one of only three smartphones that can use AT&T's speedy LTE 4G network.

If you don't care much for making voice calls, perhaps that issue can be overlooked. My guess is the lag problem will bother everyone, though. Would I recommend this phone? No, simply because life is too short for LG too stand for Lagging Gear.

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Comments

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Subject Author Date
This phone should be Lag-Free ! Tofuchong Dec 27, 2011, 7:33 PM
LG Nitro from a cell pro. reb4604 Dec 22, 2011, 9:18 PM
dear Eric, voice quality schnozejt Dec 21, 2011, 6:01 PM
Nice review-- muchdrama Dec 21, 2011, 3:00 PM
 
 
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