We have a soft spot in our heart for our first new technologies: Our first slow clunky computer that was a revelation at the time, what with its massive 20 megabyte memory. Our first VCR – we could actually record stuff off TV! And, remember how much we loved Pong?
We're going to look back at 2011 with a similar tech nostalgia as we recall how quaint the first 4G LTE smart phones were, what with their speedy Web surfing and their awful battery life. In particular, we'll ponder the wondrous but flawed LG Nitro, which just went on sale this week from AT&T for $250 with a two-year contract.
Nitro is a nearly breakthrough smart phone. Running Android 4.3 Gingerbread, it features a klieg-light bright 4.5-inch LCD screen, is powered by a robust 1.5 GHz processor, snaps sharp and colorful 8 MP digital photos a full high-definition 1920 x 1080 pixel video.
And, boy, is Nitro fast! Zip zip zip, it can usually pull in most Web pages in two or three seconds on AT&T's newly-minted 4G LTE network, which uses fresh spectrum so there's none of the lag you get on iPhone and other phones operating on the company's often clogged 3G network.
Nitro's super powers
Following on the heels of Samsung's Galaxy S II models and the Motorola Droid RAZR, Nitro is the latest Android superphone – and perhaps the most super of all so far, thanks to the combination of its 4G LTE connectivity and its high-resolution screen, the first LTE/HD display phone combination offered by AT&T.
Just as we all anticipated, 4G LTE is a revelation for data connectivity compared to HSPA Plus, the souped-up 3G technology that has passed for 4G on other AT&T and T-Mobile "4G" phones, and even to Sprint's WiMAX 4G (one reason why Sprint is launching its own LTE service).
In terms of numbers, Nitro achieved average speeds or around 15 megabits per second (Mbps) in New York City, three times faster than Sprint's WiMAX on the Samsung Galaxy S II superphone and six times faster than iPhone on AT&T's standard 3G network. In Dallas, Nitro reached Superman speeds of 25 Mbps.
In practical terms, Web pages that took 6-10 seconds to load on iPhone took 2-3 seconds pop onto Nitro's screen, although for some reason Web and YouTube app videos started playing a couple of seconds faster on iPhone. But the graphic-heavy New York Daily News site took just 10 seconds to finish loading on Nitro, compared to nearly 30 seconds on iPhone. Google Maps finds and follows you within a few feet in seconds, apps download in around five seconds – Nitro is a smart phone with nearly no waiting.
When used as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, Nitro delivered Web pages on my laptop nearly as fast as my home Wi-Fi network and just as fast as my Verizon 4G LTE MiFi.
In addition to its near-instantaneous 4G LTE connection, Nitro's LCD screen is brighter with a purer white than the blue-hued Super AMOLED screens on the varying Samsung Galaxy S II models and even than on iPhone.
Not only is Nitro's screen super bright, it also has a slightly higher resolution than even iPhone's vaunted Retina screen, packing in 329 pixels per inch vs. 326 on iPhone. While you won't see this three pixel difference, Nitro's larger screen gives you about a third more content per screen. For Web pages this extra space means less up/down scrolling, for e-book reading less frequent page turns. To show off its finely wrought rendering prowess, Nitro's type can be smaller than on other phones, sometimes a bit too small for aging eyes.
Despite its bigger screen and larger area, Nitro is actually .4 ounces lighter than iPhone. But Nitro's weight is more evenly distributed and so feels lighter and sits more comfortably in a shirt pocket.
But like all superheroes, Nitro suffers from one major weakness – battery life.
I've been playing joyfully with Nitro for a few days, but never got more than five hours of admittedly above-average use on a single charge.
But five hours on a single battery charge is actually a slight improvement for 4G LTE phones. The first 4G phones, the HTC EVO, running on Sprint's WiMAX network, managed just around four hours. Sprint has solved this battery life problem on subsequent WiMAX 4G phones by putting the 4G connection to sleep when it wasn't being used.
No, Nitro's major oh-oh is how long it takes to recharge – six hours. You read that right. Nitro takes SIX HOURS to recharge. It takes longer to charge than to discharge, a bizarre anomaly I can't remember ever running across on any battery-operated device.
By comparison, iPhone only takes a couple of hours to fully refresh its lithium-ion juices. But iPhone won't die so quick, which means it can be quickly brought back up to 100 percent in less than an hour at the end of a work day for evening use. Nitro's short usage life plus long recharge time means that once it's drained at the end of a business day, it gets anchored to its charger and is, therefore, useless for evening use.
I almost hate to mention, but I have two other minor Nitro quibbles. The first is it comes with only 4 GB of built-in user memory; most other recent Android superphones include 8 GB and are $50 less. Nitro, like other superphones, comes with a pre-installed 16 GB micro SD card.
Secondly, and perhaps most damning of all, Nitro doesn't sound as good as iPhone – you know, for actual phone calls. Voices sound hollow, with a occasional cell phone echo I thought was a problem of older phones, and its speakerphone sounded muddier than other smart phones I've tried.
What will Apple do?
All of which is a shame, because Nitro is otherwise a joy to connect through.
But Nitro's LTE battery woes beg the question about iPhone 5. All rumors indicate the next iPhone, which likely will be announced late next summer, with be Apple's first 4G LTE phone. Reportedly, the company has been furiously working with chip makers to try to solve LTE's ravenous battery issues. Apple was stung by criticism about the short battery life of the original iPhone and has no intention of revisiting this part of its past.
Apple is unlikely to provide LTE on iPhone until it can provide satisfactory battery life. LG obviously and unfortunately could not be so patient.