LG Nitro HD hands-on (update: video)

AT&T stole some of LG's thunder earlier this week when it unveiled the company's LTE flagship -- the Nitro HD -- before the handset's official coming out soirée. Well, tonight LG's gone and thrown that fete anyway, introducing us (once again) to its 4.5-incher. But you have to wonder why the company's even bothering to roll out yet another Gingerbread-baked device when Samsung's Galaxy Nexus is already out of the gate and leading the Android charge with ICS -- not to mention the current availability of rival heavyweights like the Rezound and Droid RAZR. Still, the phone's packing some very respectable specs, with a "true" HD 1280 x 720 IPS display, dual 1.3 / 8 megapixel shooters, 20GB of storage (4GB internal / 16GB microSD) and a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm APQ8060 processor running the show. Is it too late in the game for LG to make its beast matter? Follow past the break as we gather our first impressions of this tardy to the party entry.

Right out of the box, you'll notice the Nitro registers as a featherweight. The handset is extremely light as its casing is constructed from a ribbed plastic, not unlike what Samsung continues to do with its Galaxy S line. Looks-wise, it's not an unimpressive device, but that's not to say it cuts a striking figure either. Mostly, the design is understated with nary a port disturbing the phone's right side, leaving the 3.5mm headphone jack, power button and covered USB port to reside up top. The only other exterior flourish is the gently grooved volume rocker that sticks out every so slightly midway on the left side. Around back, there's a rectangular metal plating surrounding the Nitro HD's 8 megapixel camera and back-illuminated sensor capable of 1080p video capture.

As we previously mentioned, LG's shipping this with Android 2.3.5 onboard -- a skinned version that appears unchanged. Certainly, this iteration of Google's mobile software puts it on equal footing with other recent Android beasties, so in terms of UI there are no surprises here. What you will immediately notice is how speedily the phone navigates through menus and apps. And that's courtesy of the dual-core 1.5GHz processor within. We did encounter an initial bit of lag when we first booted up the phone, but that quickly dissipated and gave way to a fluid experience.

Of course, the real standout here is the 4.5-inch screen, boasting a resolution of 1280 x 720 and a Retina display-like 329ppi. Colors on the IPS panel pop and images, fonts and icons appears crisp. Viewing angles were similarly excellent, giving way to no instances of wash out. Good news for fans of bloat-free phones: it appears LG and AT&T used a light hand when loading up the Nitro HD. Aside from Zynga Poker HD, MOG music and a couple of AT&T apps, there isn't much here mucking up the app drawer.

Despite AT&T having not officially launched its 700MHz LTE network in New York City, the Nitro HD did show the company's 4G LTE icon in the notification pane and a subsequent speed test yielded a max of 13.81Mbps down and a lackluster 0.38Mbps up. So, it's safe to say AT&T may very well be currently testing out its new 4G network here in the city.

All in all, it's a solid Android phone and could likely go head-to-head with the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket if you're attached to AT&T and jonesing for the carrier's newly launched 4G LTE. The Nitro HD joins the operator's lineup this Sunday, December 4th, so if you're keen on two-year contracts and have $250 to spare, this could very well be your next handset.

Update: Thanks to the genius of Francois Simond (Supercurio), we have confirmed that Carrier IQ is installed and running on the LG Nitro HD for AT&T.

[Thanks, Francois]

Dana Wollman contributed to this report.