Hands-on with Nitro HD, LG's first 4G phone with a 720p display

The next tech spec hype for smartphones is all about high definition screens — the ones with insane 1280x720 resolutions that destroy the iPhone 4S's comparatively lower 960x640 Retina Display and shatters the qHD screens in smartphones such as the Motorola Droid Razr. Meet LG's Nitro HD, a 4G Android smartphone itching for your dollar.

LG isn't the first to ship a smartphone with a 720p display in the U.S. That prize went to HTC and its Rezound. The Nitro HD will be the second of what is expected to be a wave of oversized high-resolution displays coming from nearly every major Android smartphone maker.

The most talked about smartphone with a 720p display — Samsung's Galaxy Nexus — has yet to even launch on Verizon in the U.S.

Slim, Light, Strong

The Nitro HD is a huge phone. To give you a comparison, the Nitro HD's 4.5-inch 16:9 display is nearly as large as the entire iPhone 4/4S itself. Screen size and resolution are only part of the equation to a balanced smartphone as viewing angle is equally important. Thankfully, LG's choice of display is a "True HD IPS" display with 329 pixels per inch. I really can't describe how much punch seemingly mundane videos of water ripples and sand grains get from the Nitro's display; it's just so great.

The Nitro HD also gets in on what seems to be becoming a trend: having a slightly curved screen. It's hardly noticeable, but if you feel the left and right edges of the screen while the Nitro HD is in portrait mode, it's slightly curved. I like it a lot, as it makes long swipes much more responsive.

LG's new phone is taller, wider and thicker than an iPhone 4S, but it doesn't feel like a brick because it actually weighs less than the iPhone 4 at 4.5 ounces versus 4.9 ounces. Usually, with phones so thin (it's only 10.4mm), there is some bend, but there isn't any on the Nitro HD. Despite its plastic body, the Nitro HD feels super strong, no doubt aided by its lovely texturized back (it's really nice).

All Powered Up

Getting a little technical for second, the Nitro HD has a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 768MB of RAM, 8-megapixel rear camera with LED flash (capable of recording 1920x1088 resolution — yes that's 1088 and not 1080), 1.3-megapixel front cam, 20GB of storage (4GB internal + 16GB microSD expandable to 32GB microSD cards), a 3.5mm jack and a micro USB port. Sadly, there's no mini-HDMI port for video output to an HDTV. It's not a deal-breaker, although it would have been nice for a phone with such a high-rez screen. To compensate for the missing mini-HDMI, there is Wi-Fi Direct and Wi-Fi Share — features that let the Nitro HD connect to other wireless devices without requiring a hotspot as a bridge.

The Nitro HD comes with a 1,830mAh battery and LG promises about 7.5 hours of talk time, but I suspect LG's not boasting about any data usage hours because 4G LTE is going to be a battery drainer.

Underneath the hood is Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread glossed with LG's own custom skin. The Nitro HD doesn't have the highly-rated Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but LG says it's all ready to get the update. General usage appears to be fairly fast. I didn't have any trouble opening apps, tweeting things, checking email and stalking people on Facebook. The only major issue I noticed is that pinching and zooming seems to a little laggy, which can be irritating if you're used to the butter smoothness of an iPhone.

If you know me, you know I'm going to dive for the camera and I gotta say that the Nitro HD's 8-megapixel camera impressed. The camera autofocuses and fires off photos rapidly, HD video recording is smooth and crisp, and there are some nifty effects to toy around with to give your photos and videos a little flair, which is generous. The Nitro also appeared to perform fairly decently under low-light settings. About the only thing that could make the Nitro HD better for photography is if it had a dedicated camera button.

Fast 4G Data

I was able to test the Nitro HD with a 4G LTE SIM card running on AT&T's network and I'm pleased to report that in areas that have 4G LTE (New York City just got it!) speeds, data is wicked fast. On my iPhone 4, the full desktop version of DVICE usually loads (comments and all) in about a six to seven seconds. The Nitro HD loaded it in three. It also managed to load heavy websites like The New York Times in under three seconds.

I'm not sure if its buggy software or if its because AT&T's 4G LTE literally just got flipped on here in New York, but my particular review unit seemed to have a bit of trouble connecting back to cell towers when coming out of areas (like the Subway tunnels) without cell reception.

Data might be fast, but as I said before, 4G LTE is a battery hog and it's going to kill your battery faster than on "faux-G" a.k.a. HSPA+ or WiMax. I suggest picking up a spare battery and keeping it on you at all times, if the Nitro HD becomes your new smartphone.

Pricing and Release

If you're in the market for a new smartphone, you'll be happy to know that the Nitro HD will be available in AT&T stores and online starting Dec. 4 for $250 with a two-year contract.

From what I can tell, the Nitro HD is an excellent smartphone, if only for its eyeball-pleasing display, fast responsive camera and quick 4G data speeds. It won't offer the great sound that Verizon's HTC Rezound does nor will it be the first smartphone to have Android 4.0 ICS, but it's certainly no slouch.

I've knocked smartphones with large displays in the past for treading into mini-tablet territory, but I think I'm starting to like having a larger display for viewing photos in full clarity and typing on a spacious onscreen keypad (with lovely pressure feedback). The key difference between those old smartphones (like the Infuse 4G, Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC Thunderbolt) and the new crop of HD-smartphones is that they had low resolutions. The details are in the pixels and it makes all the difference, if you're a display junkie like moi.

Via LG

All photos for DVICE by Raymond Wong

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