LTE 4G is, as they say in Boston, wicked fast. And AT&T’s shiny new LTE version is magnificently showcased on the new LG Nitro HD, which also features an exquisite “HD” 1280 x 720 4.5-inch display.
But there’s an equally wicked price to pay for this wicked LTE 4G speed, and the Nitro HD is Exhibit A as to why Apple has thus far eschewed LTE for the iPhone: battery. But it’s not exactly usage life that plagues the Nitro HD’s battery and ultimately dooms it. A quick caveat, however: I’ve been playing with Nitro HD for only two days, so I haven’t been able to run it through as many paces as I would like.
Nitro and the Samsung’s Sprint Galaxy S II are nearly doppelgangers physically – Nitro is a hair taller, the Galaxy S II a hair wider, and both are a hair thicker than iPhone.
But Nitro HD (like other recent 4.5-inch Android models) nearly swallows iPhone 4 – its screen real estate is nearly as spacious as iPhone’s entire area. With its weight more widely distributed, Nitro HD doesn’t drag down a front shirt pocket as drastically as iPhone does.
Even though it’s more expansive, Nitro HD is – and feels – lighter than iPhone, .4 ounces to be exact. With its herringbone textured plastic rear, Nitro HD also is not as slippery as iPhone.
Nitro HD is just one of the latest Android 4.3 “superphones”: dual core 1.5 GHz engine, 4.5-inch IPS (rather than Super AMOLED) LCD screen, 8 MP rear camera/1.3 MP front camera, Wi-Fi hotspot – the suddenly usual spec suspects. Oddly, Nitro HD is equipped with only 4 GB of built in memory – most other Android superphones include 8 GB – supplemented by a pre-installed 16 GB micro SD card.
Other than its swift LTE connectivity, Nitro HD’s primary selling point and primary differentiation from other superphones and iPhone is its pristine 1280 x 720 display. Nitro HD packs in 329 pixels per inch, a meaningless (other than for bragging rights) three more than iPhone 4’s vaunted Retina display, a slightly more noticeable 111 more than the Samsung Galaxy S II.
More pixels per inch means a finer and smoother reading experience. Combined with the 4.5-inch screen area, more ppi also means more text and lines per screen. For instance, you get around a half dozen more lines on a Kindle book page – who needs a Fire? – than you do on iPhone, and around 10 more lines on Wikipedia’s Featured Article.
But smaller type is not always a good thing. Text on the Nitro HD often gets so squinty small that it becomes deuce difficult to discern, especially if your eyes are aging as inelegantly as the rest of your body. Baby boomers beware.
Externally loaded and YouTube app videos look breathtakingly looking-through-a-window crisp and colorful on Nitro HD. Web video, however, suffers. Colors are overblown and unnatural – golf course grass look like a sheet of green neon, for instance – and streaming is often grainy and suffers from buffering breakup; Web videos on iPhone stream far more stolidly and colors are far more natural.
Nitro’s TFT LCD display suffers from the same automatic brightness sensor deficiency as Galaxy’s AMOLED screens. In order to bring its brightness up to par with iPhone’s, I had to turn off Nitro HD ‘s auto brightness.
But once so adjusted, Nitro HD displays pure white backgrounds compared to iPhone’s slightly yellow/green tint and Galaxy S II’s downright annoying shadowy blue-ish gray hue. Nitro’s whiter whites along, along with its IPS LCD technology, allows details to better cut through direct sunlight than Galaxy S II, although still not as distinctly as iPhone.
Nearly all these superphones capture good-to-great snaps in bright sunlight; the real test of a smartphone camera is indoor and night shots. And look no further than the two photos of the neon-lit Brooklyn Diner, down the street from Carnegie Hall on 57th Street in Manhattan, to glean typical smartphone camera night shot issues.
As you can see, while Nitro HD offers slightly deeper contrasts and poppier colors, the neon didn’t blow out as much as on iPhone. But once run through iOS 5’s auto enhancement, voila – a nearly perfect image.
Indoor shots on the Nitro HD similarly maximize their color and minimize the grain marginally better than any of the Galaxys I’ve tried and have a much faster shutter, although not as fast as iPhone’s. Nitro also offers a wider viewing angle, which means you get more in your shot than iPhone.
Nitro’s full HD 1920 x 1080p videos also look smoother with less grain than Galaxy’s – none of the digital herky jerky one often sees from smartphone video – nearly as smooth and grain free as iPhone’s HD footage.
Web speed (wow!)
Wow. 4G LTE lives up to its hype, with Web-optimized pages popping into view within 2-3 seconds, putting both Sprint’s WiMAX and iPhone’s 3G connections to shame. The decidedly un-optimized New York Daily News site finished loading in around 10 seconds on Nitro HD, around half a minute on iPhone.
Although, oddly, iPhone consistently loaded both YouTube app and Web videos 3-5 seconds faster than Nitro HD. Given Nitro’s more powerful processor and faster connection, this makes no logical sense – I’m as surprised as you are.
In speed tests in Manhattan, Nitro HD averaged 15 Mbps on AT&T’s LTE 4G network, three times faster than the Samsung Galaxy S II on Sprint’s WiMAX 4G network, which in turn was twice as fast as iPhone on AT&T 3G.
Hotspotting with Nitro HD also is the fastest I’ve experienced via smartphone Wi-Fi tethering, with pages loading on my laptop nearly as fast as my home Wi-Fi connection or via my Verizon 4G LTE MiFi.
One problem: Nitro HD ‘s connection often petered out, requiring a phone re-boot to re-start it.
By the way, if you find 4G Networks to be confusing, it’s because they are. Multiple carriers using different technologies with widely different performance call their networks “4G”. If you want to brush up on what 4G actually is, read our 4G Networks Where Are We? story.
Voice quality (Disappointing)
Acoustics are inconsistent, with the hollow tunnel echo effect fading in and out. Speakerphone quality is equally uneven, leaning more toward the muddy side than not.
As you’d expect with an LTE phone, Nitro HD doesn’t last long – a little more than five hours on what I consider to be above average usage of voice calls, Web surfing, video viewing, music listening, app downloading, and e-book reading.
Sprint’s WiMAX phones largely avoid this short shelf life by putting its 4G connection to sleep when it’s not being used.
What’s shocking is not Nitro HD’s relatively short battery life – disappointing but understandable given LTE’s inherent power issues – but the recharge time.
It took SIX HOURS to completely recharge Nitro HD. That’s right, it takes longer to refill Nitro’s battery than it does to drain it. I don’t recall ever encountering this battery anomaly on any gadget I’ve ever used.
In practical terms, with a six-hour recharge time, Nitro HD becomes essentially useless at the end of a work day (unless you’ve kept it plugged in all day, which defeats its purpose). This, to me, is a crippling deficiency, the proverbial deal-breaker.
I could live with Nitro HD’s picayune peccadilloes – too bright Web video colors, too-tiny type, lower-than-average vocal quality, five-hour battery life – given its revelatory LTE 4G connection speed. But that six-hour recharge time is too tough to take.