HTC Thunderbolt Android Smartphone Speed Lives Up to Its Name

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-03-26

HTC Thunderbolt Android Smartphone Speed Lives Up to Its Name

When I first flipped on the HTC Thunderbolt and heard its little signature shout-out, I laughed. The crash of thunder accompanied by the lightning bolt graphic caught me by surprise.

It's pretentious, right? The phone launches, not with a geeky Droid pronouncement, but with one of the most terrifying sounds nature can muster. Guess what? The joke was on me because the Thunderbolt is frighteningly fast for a compact, albeit hefty gadget with a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

The Thunderbolt stands on its own as king of the speed mountain. While I normally grimace at the thought of paying $249.99 for a device plus a two-year data contract, the speed of the Thunderbolt was awesome enough to make it worth it. I'll circle back to specifics on the speed later.

First, here are some noteworthy specifications. The device, powered by the familiar Android 2.2 operating system, features a comely 4.3-inch, touch-screen WVGA display with 480 by 800 resolution.

The Thunderbolt is 4.75 long by 2.44 inches wide by 0.56 inches thick; it's thicker than the normal cell phone. However, at a hefty 6.23 ounces, the gray, plastic-covered device with a glass screen will weigh a hole in all but the toughest of pockets. Blame the heavier battery used to supply the power demands of Verizon's speedy 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network.

Like its HTC predecessor, the EVO 4G has a cute little kickstand to let users watch videos and other content with others.

The call quality was fine. There was no tininess or echo. However, I'm more of a text guy, so the user interface is more important to me than the calls or even the dialer.

To that end, the more I use HTC Android phones, the more impressed I become by the HTC Sense interface; the keyboard is a delight to type on.

The device has big, beautiful buttons that are well-placed for the most part. I don't like how the voice search button is next to the comma button when I type a text message, but that's a minor quibble. Thunderbolt employs Sense 2.0, with the lovely FriendStream social-network account aggregator.

The 8MP camera yielded crisp, clean photos without the delay I experience on my Motorola Droid X. Video recorded well in HD 720p. The 1.3MP front-facing camera enabled solid video chat.

I downloaded the Qik Video application-within 10 seconds-to begin video chatting. This application worked wonderfully, with no shakiness or delays.

The Thunderbolt is all about the network. When Verizon executives touted their 4G LTE network at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, their oft-repeated refrain was that it was 10 times faster than 3G.

It was faster. I'm talking 11-plus M bps for downloads and 4-plus M bps for uploads, both at the high range of the carrier's promise for 5 to 12M bps down and 2 to 5M bps up.

Whether it was basic Google searches or multiple YouTube videos or games launching back to back to back, the software danced and sparkled on the screen, thanks to Verizon's 4G LTE. I downloaded a dozen applications, all just to watch them land from the Android Market to the Thunderbolt in 5 to 10 seconds.

HTC Thunderbolt Android Smartphone Speed Lives Up to Its Name

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As I wrote this, I received notifiers for new versions of Google Books and Facebook for Android, which I had downloaded to my Droid X. (I entered my Google Account to port everything downloaded onto to my personal phone to this Thunderbolt review unit). I clicked install and the Books and Facebook applications updated in 3 seconds.

The bad news is that, just as with the HTC Evo 4G, the Thunderbolt burns though the battery quickly. I recommend users carry a spare battery.

I turned on the phone at 8 a.m., and used it as my mobile hotspot from 9:30 to 11 a.m. EDT on the Metro North line from Connecticut to Grand Central Station. From Fairfield to Greenwich, I used the hotspot on 3G, but soon after it switched to 4G. (Verizon does not yet offer 4G in Connecticut.) By the time I arrived, the battery had burned halfway through.

As I type this at 2:30 p.m. local time, after dozens of searches, Facebook and Twitter checkups, and YouTube videos watched, the battery is at 25 percent capacity. If I use it sparingly, it should get me to 5 p.m. with no problem.

But that's the problem, isn't it? I'm taking a train home from 5:30 to 7 p.m., and I have to sweat out whether or not I'll have not only a working phone, but be able to access my laptop from the Thunderbolt's hotspot.

Fortunately, I travel with my Droid X as backup. But we shouldn't have to carry two phones. Ideally, we shouldn't have to carry two batteries. Welcome to the curmudgeon's world of technological constraint.

The good news is my phone didn't burn up in my pocket the way the Evo 4G did when I tested it last spring. So you won't fry eggs on the Thunderbolt.

Should you buy this phone? If speed is of the essence, the Thunderbolt answers the call-in addition to the mobile hotspot, a great 8 MP camera, a nice appearance and a large screen.

Here's a little tip for consumers in the hundreds of markets that Verizon doesn't offer 4G: The phone on 3G was still fast-not 4G fast-but comparable in my opinion to the speed of the dual-core processor-based Motorola Atrix 4G on AT&T's network.

But you still don't want to buy the Thunderbolt if you live in a place where Verizon's 4G network doesn't offer coverage. It would be like buying a convertible whose top didn't drop. 

Would I buy the Thunderbolt? The Thunderbolt is a touch too heavy for me (and I use a Droid X), and the battery is weak for my taste. I also wouldn't want to spend $250 for a phone. $199 is as high as I'd go for hardware.

Batteries will improve enough to the point where 4G phones won't feel like anchors or hot frying pans. I'm in my current contract for 18 more months. I feel confident that, by then, the 4G phones will be lighter, faster and cheaper.

Whether that, coupled by any fallout from the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile merger, drives up data-plan costs remains to be seen.


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