The HTC ThunderBolt is the first phone offered by Verizon Wireless with support for this carrier's relatively new 4G network. It features a large, roomy touchscreen, a high-resolution camera, video chat support, a web browser with Adobe Flash Player 10.1, and mobile hotspot so you can share your mobile data connection with other devices.
It's currently available from Verizon for $250 with a two-year service contract. For those that aren't new customers and don't qualify for an upgrade subsidy, they will have to pay $570.
BUILD & DESIGN
The HTC ThunderBolt is one of the largest smartphones I've reviewed so far, measuring 4.8-inches tall, 2.6-inches wide, and 0.52-inches thick. It's at the large end of what will comfortably fit in my relatively small hands. The buttons are very slim and have a low profile, so there's nothing on the edges to jab you when you grip the phone tightly, which you'll need to do since there's no texture on the back of this large device. You'll probably want a case for this device since there's a good chance you'll drop it more than once without one.
Design-wise, the ThunderBolt isn't anything terribly unique or special. The large screen dominates most of the device, so you'll see a narrow platinum-gray bezel around the screen with a silver accent on the speaker grid at the top, which also houses the charge indicator. The back of the phone is a darker gray with no real pattern to it, and gets rather warm during extended use, but not uncomfortably so.
The kickstand on the back of this device is truly awesome, however, and it has been much improved over the one on the HTC EVO 4G from last year. It now works in both portrait and landscape mode and is very sturdy, even if you jostle it.
The 4.3-inch, 480x800 (WVGA) screen is truly gorgeous, incredibly clear and sharp. It has roughly the same specs as several other phones I've reviewed recently, but there's just something about the ThunderBolt that makes it an absolute joy to watch video on. Perhaps it's the extra-speedy 4G service ensuring that I'm getting the best possible picture quality (or the kickstand I mentioned earlier), but I've found myself watching more video on this device than usual.
Photos look great, as expected, and games look phenomenal. The colors are so bright and saturated that everything just seems to come to life. There's no discernible pixelization unless you examine the screen extremely close.
There's no physical keyboard on the ThunderBolt, so you'll be tapping on the screen using a virtual keyboard. Since the screen is so large, the "keys" are also rather large, so you shouldn't have very much trouble getting used to entering data this way. My personal preference is a virtual keyboard, since physical keyboards are often too small and cramped to be easily usable, but of course, those who prefer a physical QWERTY keyboard will be disappointed with this aspect of the device.
Other Buttons & Controls
The headphone jack and power button are on the top edge of the smartphone, while the volume rocker button is on the right edge. As mentioned previously, the buttons are extremely low profile and can be rather difficult to find and activate if you're not looking at the phone.
The charge/sync port is on the bottom left edge of the phone, while the camera lens and dual LED flash are on the back cover. The microSD slot is inside the battery compartment, and exchanging it for another card requires the removal of the battery.
Part 2 of this review covers the performance of the HTC ThunderBolt, while Part 3 is the conclusion. Don't miss the Image Gallery.
This is Part 2 of a multi-page review. Part 1 of this review covers the design of the HTC ThunderBolt, while Part 3 is the conclusion. And don't miss the Image Gallery.
The HTC ThunderBolt has the standard 1GHz processor found in most modern smartphones, and runs Google's Android OS 2.2 (Froyo). With this combination, I expected the performance to be very good, and it was. I didn't have to wait for apps to load -- things just happened as soon as I tapped on the screen.
The HTC Sense alternate user interface has several extra features on the ThunderBolt, most notably theme support and sound sets which allow you to easily customize the look and sound of the device. The six included scenes help you make changes to the wallpaper, color scheme, and other visual elements in a snap. Sound sets do exactly the same thing with your ringtone, notification sound, and alarm, allowing you to create several different sound packages to suit your mood or needs.
If you'd like an even better option, you should try the new SPB Shell, which turns an already easy-to-use smartphone into an even more impressive powerhouse, with multiple floating home page tabs, floating SMS messages, and much more.
The voice quality on the ThunderBolt is exceptional, with crystal clear calls. I was definitely impressed, and a couple of my callers didn't even know that I was calling from a mobile phone. Integration with Google Voice was also flawless, and it didn't have any effect on call quality. Even better, the ThunderBolt doesn't suffer from the "you can talk or surf, but not both" problem that affects their version of the iPhone. The ThunderBolt can do both at once, which is great if you need to refer to a particular email message while you're talking to your boss.
Wireless data is excellent, especially since I'm in one of the 4G markets currently offered by Verizon. Download speeds were between 9000 and 10000 kpbs and from 26745 to 37628 kbps. Tests in Atlanta and Orlando showed similar results, with Atlanta measuring between 8778 to 16236 download and 22960 to 30557 upload, while Orlando benchmarked from 9249 to 10708 download and 25630 to 26959 upload.
The mobile hotspot feature works perfectly, though only for a maximum of five devices, not the eight devices mentioned on the Verizon web page for this phone. When you first start the hotspot service, you are warned that data charges will apply and that it's a good idea to plug in your phone since the battery will drain quickly.
Email is great on the ThunderBolt, which is exactly what I expect from an Android device -- sync multiple folders, star individual messages or report them as spam. The Web browsing experience is also very good, and the Adobe Flash support works flawlessly. I was surprised to find that there really weren't any issues when I visited Flash-enabled sites. Instead of getting that dreaded "update your browser" message, everything just worked. One of my favorites is moodstream.gettyimages.com which offers photos, video, and music to help get your creative juices flowing.
The social networking experience is a good one, thanks to Friendstream and HTC Peep. Friendstream puts all of your social networking sites into one app, letting you control what you want to see by sliding your finger along the tabs at the bottom of the screen to choose from all updates, photos & videos, links, and more. Peep is a Twitter-specific app that is sharp looking and easy to use. Tabs along the bottom show all tweets, @mentions, direct messages, and your favorite tweets.
Like most smartphones these days, the HTC ThunderBolt has plenty of power to get the job done, but it doesn't come with a lot of apps that are designed to help you do just that. Why work when you can play a few rounds of Angry Birds?
Still, if you're the dedicated type, you'll be glad to know that Quickoffice is included, so you can view your Microsoft Office files. There are also a few basic apps included to help you keep track of all the details of your life, from calendar and contacts to a calculator and a voice recorder, with many more business-releated applications in the Android Market.
Both Google Maps and VZ Navigator are included; if you want a quick and dirty experience, Google Maps is the app for you. It launches unbelievably fast and pinpoints your location to within ten meters in just a couple of seconds. You can search for nearby points of interest and get results almost instantly. If you need a more fully-featured service, VZ Navigator will fit the bill, though it is much slower. It offers turn-by-turn directions and more closely mimics the experience you would expect to find on a standalone GPS device.
If you want to be entertained. the ThunderBolt is the device for you. As mentioned previously, video looks great on the large screen, and the sound quality is also very good. If you like it loud, you can have it loud -- at the highest levels, the volume on the external speaker is more than adequate, though there is some distortion if you crank it all the way up.
The included music app works quite well if you want to load this smartphone with all of the digital music you already have. There are also the V CAST and v CAST Media apps if you want to subscribe to Verizon's services. You'll also find the Blockbuster Video app and demos for the BitBop mobile TV app, Rhapsody, and Slacker Radio.
If you're more interested in games, demos of Let's Golf 2 and Rock Band come pre-loaded on the phone and offer a good idea of what to expect from this entertainment powerhouse. And if you prefer the latest page-turner of a novel, the Amazon Kindle app is already installed. If you've already been accumulating books in the Kindle format, all you have to do is enter your email address and password and all of your books will be downloaded and/or synced automatically.
The 8-megapixel camera takes really nice photos -- so nice that unless you're attending a one-in-a-lifetime event that requires a dedicated dSLR, the camera on your ThunderBolt will be all you need. Colors are true to life, but if you want to mix things up a bit, just tap on the magic wand beside the shutter button. You'll be presented with twelve different effects, from distortion and posterize to vintage or sepia.
Even though the ThunderBolt takes photos very quickly, you can sometimes run into a problem with action shots, as you can see from the photo of the car going down the road. It's a bit blurry, though I was able to get it in the middle of the frame by timing it exactly right.
The zoom really helps you get close to the action, and the resulting images are very clear without obvious graininess or lack of detail if framed properly. I also appreciate the fact that the zoom function is controlled either by the volume buttons or by sliding your finger along the edge of the screen, so you can choose the method that works best for you.
The camera also doubles as a camcorder for video capture, and the dual LED flash does a good job of improving photos taken in low light-situations. This was good news about the flash, since some LCD flashes are either too bright or so dim, they're useless.
There's also a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video conferencing, though no app is included for that purpose. That's going to change soon though -- while Skype has not officially been released for the ThunderBolt yet, it isn't too hard to find the version that has already leaked out onto the Internet.
This is the one major downfall for the ThunderBolt: this device seemingly eats battery power, discharging at a rate of roughly 1% per minute of active use. I didn't see anywhere near the six hours of active use or almost two weeks of standby use that is cited on Verizon's web site.
Perhaps it was my higher percentage of multimedia usage rather than simple voice calls that skewed this statistic, but in consulting with other users, both locally and online, it seems that this a standard problem with this phone.
You should be able to get through a full day of use before you have to recharge, but extremely heavy users and road warriors will want to consider either a car charger or a USB battery pack, just in case.
Part 3 is the conclusion of this multi-page review of the HTC ThunderBolt. Don't miss the Image Gallery
This is Part 3 of a multi-page review. Part 1 of this review covers the design of the HTC ThunderBolt, while Part 2 covers its performance. Don't miss the Image Gallery.
The HTC ThunderBolt is one of the best Android phones currently available from Verizon Wireless. Aside from the battery life concerns, it is a true champ, performing exceptionally well in all circumstances.
Voice quality is excellent, and both performance and web downloads are incredibly fast, especially on Verizon's 4G network. There really isn't anything negative to say, aside from the concern about the relatively short battery life, though if I'm in the mood to nitpick I can say that the ThunderBolt really needs a case because there's no texture or protrusions on the back cover.
If you have to have the latest and greatest, the ThunderBolt is definitely it. You don't want your portable media powerhouse going dead in the middle of the latest YouTube video sensation, so be sure to watch that battery meter and charge appropriately; and buy that car charger, you're probably going to need it.