Cast your mind back to a profoundly great LG phone from 2011. Are you drawing a blank? Exactly. LG has released more than just a handful of Android phones in 2011, but the phone maker has never produced a carrier's alpha Android handset. The LG Nitro HD for AT&T is its first creation in a long time that comes close (very close), with high-end specs that rival and arguably best Samsung's top-of-the-line Galaxy S II Skyrocket.
First, there's the support for 4G LTE, which rides on HSPA+ if you're not in an LTE area. This is AT&T's third phone to have it, after the Skyrocket and the HTC Vivid. Then there's the huge, bright, and beautiful 4.5-inch HD screen. You also have the 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video capture, and the 1.3-megapixel camera. And, of course, there's also the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system, and a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
So does the Nitro HD have what it takes to beat LG's longtime rivals? Absolutely. However, there are some drawbacks, like a noticeable shutter lag that misses shots, a quickly drained battery, and niggles like a rougher in-hand feel and aggressive haptic feedback, that make us wish for a greater attention to detail.
The LG Nitro HD costs $249.99 with a new two-year service agreement, though I recommend checking for online and promotional discounts.
LG didn't exactly break the mold with the Nitro HD, but there are some interesting design touches to help give it some character. Like so many other superphones these days, the Nitro HD is all-black, with a rounded rectangular shape and a thick black bezel below the display. A shiny, dark-gray rim around the phone face and a few silver-colored accents around the camera housing and LG logo on the back brighten the textured black battery cover.
The backing itself is made of hard black plastic, but has a slightly softer feel to it that would have been even better if it had been even more rubberized and grippier. Thin zigzag ridges in a diagonal pattern help keep it from picking up smudges. While my colleague Roger Cheng liked the in-hand feel, I found it a little rough around the edges.
As for the size, the Nitro HD is definitely a larger phone, and on par in its dimensions with other handsets in its class. It stands 5.27 inches tall, 2.67 inches wide, and 0.41 inch thick, which makes it a hair shorter than the unlocked Galaxy Nexus, but the exact same width. It's also a smidge thicker--0.07 inch, to be exact, though Verizon's Galaxy Nexus is expected to put on a millimeter or two over the unlocked version we have in-house. It weighs 4.5 ounces.
As for the operating system, the Nitro HD runs Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread right now, but will likely update to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It uses LG's typical skin for Android phones, which includes touches like access to the system settings from the pull-down menu, an overview of all seven home screens when you pinch to zoom in, and a specific look and feel to the camera software and app tray.
Below the 4.5-inch screen are three touch-sensitive buttons to pull up the menu, go home, and go back. Above the display is the 1.3-megapixel camera for video chats. The volume rocker is on the phone's left spine, as are the power button, covered Micro-USB charging port, and 3.5mm headset jack.
Flip to the back side to find the 8-megapixel camera lens and LED flash. Below the back cover is the microSD card slot, which comes with 16GB preinstalled to complement the phone's 4GB of onboard memory.
Even though the screen size is important, LG's real point of pride is the Nitro HD's 4.5-inch "true HD AH-IPS" display with a 1,280x720-pixel resolution and a pixel density of 329 pixels per inch. What's more, LG claims its flagship phone packs 500 nits of luminance, a measure of brightness, while keeping colors looking accurate. (The LG Marquee has an extremely bright 700-nit screen, but color reproduction was slightly unnatural at times.) There's support for 16 million hues.
There's only one way I like to test screen claims, and that's to let photos do the talking. I studied a series of pre-existing HD images on the Galaxy Nexus (which also packs a 1,280x720-pixel resolution on its fancy Super AMOLED HD display) and the Nitro HD, both looking at the images on side-by-side phone screens and also comparing screenshots of the images on my computer. I should mention that I slid brightness up to the maximum setting on both phones for this test.
Most of the time, the two photos were extremely close, but the Nitro HD frequently edged out the Galaxy Nexus when it came to color reproduction, smoothness, and clarity of detail. In one screenshot, the image on the Galaxy Nexus was noticeably more pixelated, while the Nitro HD produced a nuanced image with a smooth color gradient (take a peep at the photos above and below).
As a bonus, the screen was still visible even in direct sunlight. Even though it was washed-out, I could still make out the icons and text.
Since this is an Android phone, you're looking at Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS, plus DLNA and Wi-Fi Direct support. Support for an almost limitless cast of contacts, integration with social networking buddies, and multiple inboxes is a mainstay, with now-standard features like group calling, ringtone customization, and photo ID. There is also, of course, access to all the Google services you know and love: Maps, navigation, search, chat, YouTube, and so on.