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LG Nitro HD, from AT&T, review [Video]

The LG Nitro HD reminds me a lot of the Samsung Galaxy S II, and if you've ever seen the two smartphones, I'm sure you'll agree.

The two phones could be mistaken for twins, sitting side-by-side with 4.5-inch touchscreens, and similarly designed plastic backs with 8-megapixel cameras sitting rear-center.

However, aside from the outside looks, the overall experience of using the two phones is quite different and it's on the software side where LG comes up short with the Nitro HD.

The Nitro HD is one of a new wave of smartphones (along with handsets like the HTC Rezound and upcoming Samsung Galaxy Nexus) that is upping the ante for screen resolution into high-definition territory, with a 1,280 x 720 screen resolution.

The Nitro HD's display is one of the nicest I've seen on any smartphone so far. Streaming video, websites, apps all looked detailed and worthy of being called high definition. Colors came though balanced and accurate. Images looked smooth, with pixelation hard to find due to a density of 326-pixels-per-inch, which is the same pixel density as the iPhone 4 and 4S.

LG Nitro HD from AT&TThe display also features edges that are curved to roll into the sides of the phone's body, so running your finger across the device for any swiping motion on-screen is extra satisfying. It's such a small detail, but not having a hard edge to run into makes using the touchscreen a thoughtlessly pleasant experience. Nokia has taken a similar approach with its Lumia 800 and this is a design touch I wouldn't mind seeing on more phones.

The internals of the Nitro HD are top-notch as well, with a 1.5-gigahertz dual-core processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM and 4 gigabytes of built-in storage pared with an included 16-gigabyte microSD storage card.

Photos from the rear camera looked good, but colors came out a bit oversaturated for my taste; 1080p video shot by the camera was impressive. 

But all this goodness felt a bit held back by LG's modifications to Google's Android operating system and a few other gripes.

Every handset maker out there adds their own "skin" over the top of Android in an effort to stand out in the crowd. But LG's version of Android adds app icons, widgets and even fonts used in the operating system that all feel a bit too big, as if LG is failing to take advantage of all the screen real estate the Nitro HD's display has delivered.

Battery life was poor, as is pretty much standard for just about any 4G smartphone nowadays, especially phones with 4.5-inch screens requiring so much power. In a week of testing, I found that I needed to charge the Nitro HD before my work day was done, after charging the phone each night as well -- so keep spare chargers around at home, work and in the car if you're considering buying the Nitro HD.

The Nitro HD also has a quiet, flat sounding speaker that wasn't good for talking to a friend on speakerphone, much less for video watching or music listening -- so a nice set of headphones would be a good accessory as well.

At $249.99 on a 2-year data plan from AT&T, the Nitro HD is fairly priced (though it'd be a lot nicer at about $200), but the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and HTC Vivid are worth a look if you're looking for big-screens and 4G speeds from AT&T.

Like the Vivid and the Galaxy S II Skyrocket, the Nitro HD runs on AT&T's 4G LTE network if that network is available wherever you are, which so far isn't very many places.

AT&T's 4G LTE network is up and running in Atlanta and Athens, Ga.; Baltimore; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Las Vegas; Oklahoma City; Washington D.C.; San Antonio; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, with more markets planned to launch next year. If you're outside of those markets, the Nitro HD (and other AT&T 4G LTE phones) run on the carrier's HSPA+ 4G network or its 3G network, each of which are speedy in their own right, whenever you have a strong signal.

So, taking a look at the good and the bad of the Nitro HD, the new phone sits among the nicer phones available from AT&T at this time, but there is one major hurdle I see that would make me hesitant to purchase this device: the question of Ice Cream Sandwich.

The Nitro HD runs on Android Gingerbread and LG hasn't yet said whether or not its flagship AT&T phone will be upgraded to the latest version of Android, known as Ice Cream Sandwich. It seems a no-brainer that LG would make the move to Ice Cream Sandwich eventually, but many hardware manufacturers have made a habit of leaving devices stagnant when it comes to Android. 

As great as the Nitro HD's hardware is, it's the software, both in its current form and its undefined future, that holds this phone back from living up to its potential.

  • LG Nitro HD from AT&T. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • LG Nitro HD from AT&T. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • LG Nitro HD from AT&T, the Samsung Galaxy S II from T-Mobile, and the Apple iPhone 4S. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • LG Nitro HD from AT&T, the Samsung Galaxy S II from T-Mobile, and the Apple iPhone 4S. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • LG Nitro HD from AT&T. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The 8-megapixel camera on the back of the LG Nitro HD from AT&T. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The back of the LG Nitro HD from AT&T. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The LG Nitro HD from AT&T, with the rear cover removed. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The LG Nitro HD from AT&T, with the rear cover removed. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • The mini-USB port on the LG Nitro HD from AT&T. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
  • LG Nitro HD from AT&T. (Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times)
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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: The LG Nitro HD from AT&T. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times

Twitter.com/emamd

 
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