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HTC Thunderbolt 4G Android Smartphone Review
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Date: Apr 18, 2011
Section:Mobile
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

HTC was the first manufacturer to provide a 4G phone though a US carrier when it shipped the HTC EVO 4G from Sprint. At the end of last year, HTC promised it would once again be the first to 4G with another carrier. And days later, the company announced the Thunderbolt smartphone with Verizon Wireless.  It's been a few months since the announcement, and although there were many rumored release dates for the phone, it only recently became available for consumers to purchase.

As the first 4G LTE device in the United States, the Thunderbolt is definitely a hot smartphone that many users can't wait to get their hands on. Not only does it boast of 4G speeds, but it also has a large 4.3-inch display, fast 1GHz Snapdragon processor, plenty of storage space, and the ability to share its fast connection with up to eight Wi-Fi enabled devices through the Mobile Hotspot feature.

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The Thunderbolt by HTC runs on Android 2.2. It is the first smartphone to take advantage of Verizon Wireless' 4G LTE network, which boasts of download speeds between 5 and 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps. When 4G coverage is unavailable, you'll still have a respectable data connection through Verizon Wireless' 3G network. The phone is currently available through Verizon Wireless stores and online for $249.99 with a new two-year customer agreement.

Verizon Wireless and HTC definitely have a phone that's attracting a lot of attention. But is it all it's cracked up to be? Read on as we take a hands-on look at the HTC Thunderbolt from Verizon Wireless.


HTC Thunderbolt
Specifications & Features

Processor and memory
Qualcomm MSM8655, 1GHz, Qualcomm MDM9600
8GB emmc + 768 RAM Memory card
preinstalled 32 GB microSD
Operating System
Android 2.2 + HTC Sense
Connectivity
LTE 700, CDMA EVDO Rev A
Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR (3.0 when available)
GPS/AGPS
802.11 b/g/n
Mobile Hotspot for up to 8 devices
microUSB
Display
4.3-inch WVGA (480x800) TFT capacitive touch screen
Size and weight
4.75 x 2.44 x 0.56 inches
6.23 ounces (with standard battery)
Cameras and multimedia
8MP with autofocus, LED Flash (2x LED)
1.3MP front facing camera
3.5mm audio jack
Additional Features
Dual mics with noise cancellation, Surround sound, Compass sensor, G-Sensor, Proximity sensor, Light sensor, FM radio, LTE SIM slot , TI audio DSP
Battery
Usage: 378 minutes
Standby: 330 hours
Carrier
Verizon Wireless
In-Box Content
Standard Lithium Ion Battery
Wall/USB charger
32GB microSD card
Product Safety & Warranty Statement
Getting Started Guide
Important Consumer Information Brochure
 
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Design

In terms of design, the HTC Thunderbolt very closely resembles another popular 4G smartphone from HTC—the EVO 4G from Sprint. In fact, many of the hardware specifications of the two phones are the same. Here's how the two phones compare side-by-side:


HTC Thunderbolt
HTC EVO 4G
CPU
Qualcomm MSM8655, 1GHz, Qualcomm MDM9600
1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8650 processor
Platform
Android 2.2 + HTC Sense
Android 2.2 + HTC Sense
Memory
8GB emmc + 768 RAM Memory card
1GB ROM/ 512MB RAM

32 GB microSD included
8GB microSD card included
Dimensions
4.75 x 2.44 x 0.56 inches
4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5 inches
Weight
6.23 ounces with battery
6 ounces with battery
Display
4.3-inch WVGA TFT capacitive touch screen
4.3-inch WVGA  capacitive touch screen
Network
LTE 700, CDMA EVDO Rev A
CDMA 800/1900 MHz EVDO Rev A, WiMAX 2. 5 to 2.7GHz; 802.16e
GPS
GPS/aGPS
GPS/aGPS
Connectivity
Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR (3.0 when available)
Bluetooth 2.1

Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g
Cameras
8MP with autofocus, LED Flash (2x LED)
8MP with autofocus, LED Flash (2x LED)

1.3MP front facing camera
1.3MP fixed focus front facing camera
Battery
Usage: 378 minutes
Up to 360 minutes continuous talk time
Carrier
Verizon Wireless
Sprint

  

  

HTC Thunderbolt (left), HTC EVO 4G (right)
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Given the success HTC and Sprint have enjoyed with the EVO 4G, we see no reason HTC needed to completely revamp things when it came to developing the Thunderbolt. As you can see from the specs above, the two phones are similar in many regards. Perhaps two of the most notable differences are the slight difference in weight (the Thunderbolt is heavier), storage differences (the Thunderbolt comes with a 32GB microSD card instead of the EVO's 8GB card), and the fact that the Thunderbolt uses LTE instead of WiMAX for 4G coverage.

One other notable difference between the EVO 4G and the Thunderbolt can be seen when you flip the phones over and examine the kickstands. The Thunderbolt's kickstand is wider, which in turn makes it more stable. This kickstand is particularly handy if you frequently watch video clips on the phone.

Like many popular Android phones today, the Thunderbolt features a 1GHz processor. It also ships with Android 2.2 and the HTC Sense user interface. We hope to see Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) on this phone soon. Although no official date has been announced, word around the streets is that the HTC Thunderbolt will get an upgrade to Android 2.3 sometime in the second quarter of this year. With Android 2.3, you can expect better speed, better battery life, a refreshed user interface, and a new and improved keyboard.

The front of the Thunderbolt is largely consumed by the large, 4.3-inch WVGA TFT capacitive touch screen. Just below the screen, you'll find the standard four backlit buttons (Home, Menu, Back, and Search). These buttons are backlit and provide haptic feedback when pressed. The Thunderbolt's 1.3MP front facing camera is just above the screen on the right side. During our review, fingerprints collected on the Thunderbolt's screen, but they didn't appear to affect performance. Additionally, fingerprinting didn't appear any worse than with other smartphones.

As we mentioned the Thunderbolt is slightly heavier than the EVO 4G. Moreover, it's one of the heaviest devices we've reviewed recently, as you can see here:

Samsung Galaxy S 4G
4.2 ounces
Samsung Captivate
4.5 ounces
Nexus S
4.55 ounces
HTC Droid Incredible
4.6 ounces
Apple iPhone 4
4.8 ounces
Motorola Droid X
5.47 ounces
Samsung Epic 4G
5.47 ounces
HTC EVO 4G
6 ounces
HTC Thunderbolt
6.23 ounces

 

While the Thunderbolt has a rectangular shape, the edges of the phone are curved and the phone fits comfortably in the palm of one's hand. The left side of the phone houses the microUSB port. On the right edge of the Thunderbolt, you'll find the volume rocker. The power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack reside on the top edge of the phone.

When you flip the Thunderbolt over, you'll immediately notice the 8MP camera and dual LED Flash as well as the kickstand. The kickstand is very sturdy and did a good job at propping the phone while resting on a desk.

On the back of the phone, you'll also notice that the battery cover stops just above the kickstand. When the cover is removed, you'll see the microSD slot as well as a SIM slot. In order to access either of these slots, you'll need to remove the phone's battery.

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User Interface

The Thunderbolt ships with Android 2.2 (Froyo) installed. At the time of this writing, no official release date for an update to Android 2.3, otherwise known as Gingerbread, had been announced, though we expect the phone to receive the update at some point. In addition to Android 2.2, HTC includes its own custom user interface known as HTC Sense.

HTC Sense provides a number of handy features, such as the ability to flip the phone over while it's ringing to silence it. Another cool feature of HTC Sense is the seven-screen 'Leap' thumbnail view, which makes is easy to switch from one of the home screens to another very quickly and easily. You can access the thumbnail view by pressing the Home button twice. If you press and hold the Home button, you'll see a list of eight most recently used applications. You can also view a list of recent applications by pulling down the notification bar.

     

There are a number of apps and links to apps preloaded on the Thunderbolt including Bitbop, Blockbuster, Friend Stream, Kindle, Lets Golf 2, Rhapsody, Rock Band, Slacker, and more. Of course, there are also a few Verizon Wireless apps such as V CAST Apps, V CAST Media, and VZ Navigator.

Bitbop is a subscription service that provides access to TV shows directly on the phone. Friend Stream consolidates status updates and other information from your various social networks into a single place. There's also an FM radio tuner and corresponding app on the phone, though you'll need a headset to use it. Lets Golf 2 is a trial version of the game. The Rock Band icon from the app screen will lead you to a download for the trial version of Rock Band.

        

The onscreen keyboard that comes with the Thunderbolt does the job, but we still prefer some of the third-party keyboards that are available such as SWYPE or SwiftKey.

The Thunderbolt offers a Mobile Hotspot feature, which will let you share your 4G connection with up to eight Wi-Fi enabled devices. The service is free through May 15. After that, the Mobile Hotspot service will cost you $20 for 2 GB of data per month.

     

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Performance

During our review, the Thunderbolt felt very zippy and responsive, thanks in large part to the phone's newest generation of the 1GHz Snapdragon processor. We also appreciated the fact that the Thunderbolt has 8GB of onboard memory as well as a preloaded 32GB microSD card. We wish the microSD card were a bit more accessible (you have to remove the battery to get to it), but in all reality, this is probably a minor issue to many users.

The 4.3-inch WVGA display found on the Thunderbolt is colorful and vibrant. Viewing angles on the phone are quite good. Viewing the screen outside under direct sunlight proved to be quite difficult, but not impossible.

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You'll find a 1.3 megapixel camera on the front of the Thunderbolt which is designed for video chat. It's important to note that the Thunderbolt does not ship with an app that can use this front-facing camera for video chat. To make matters worse, we were unable to find an app that would support video chat on this phone. Skype for Android doesn't support video chat yet, and the Qik app doesn't offer video calling for the Thunderbolt. Although we definitely like to see front-facing cameras, they aren't of much use without software.  

On the back of the phone, there's an 8 megapixel camera and dual LED flash. This rear camera is capable of HD (720p) video recording. Overall, we were pleased with the quality of images we were able to capture with the phone's 8 megapixel camera. The ability to tap the screen to select a focal point and then tap another on-screen button for the shutter was handy. The dual LED flash on the back of the phone also helps when you're attempting to capture an image indoors, though it still has limitations concerning distance the light can reach. In addition, the flash can sometimes be too bright for a particular shot.

      

      

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HTC claims you'll get 378 minutes (6.3 hours) of usage and 330 hours (13.75 days) of standby time from the Thunderbolt's battery. During our time with the phone, we used it as we normally would use a phone – surfing the Web, making calls, sending text messages, checking email, capturing a few photos, etc. Our initial impression of the battery was that it tended to drain quickly. On light usage days, we were able to make it a full day (approximately 14 hours) without having to charge the phone. Of course, battery life will vary depending on how much you use the phone and which features you use the most.

To get another perspective on battery life, we also ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics and text. The page automatically refreshed itself every three minutes. We set the Thunderbolt's display to 50% brightness and turned off Wi-Fi. For this test, the Thunderbolt managed to last 3 hours and 36 minutes before it died. After running this test and comparing it to a few other smartphones (including a well-used three year old iPhone 3), our suspicions that the Thunderbolt drained more quickly than other smartphones was confirmed. Here's how the Thunderbolt compares to other smartphones:

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Performance Testing

In addition to using the HTC Thunderbolt in a variety of everyday usage scenarios, we also conducted some formal performance testing to see how well the Thunderbolt compares to other smartphones.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

JavaScript testing
JavaScript Android and iPhone testing

The Thunderbolt took the top spot in the Linpack test, showing the phone's speed. In An3DBench, the Thunderbolt earned a respectable score, coming in behind the Nexus S, Samsung Captivate, Samsung Galaxy S 4G, and Samsung Epic 4G. In the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, the HTC Thunderbolt again took the top spot, edging out another popular HTC phone, the EVO 4G.

 

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Performance Testing - Web Browsing

Browsing the Web is certainly a key feature of any smartphone, so we also conducted some formal speed tests to see how well the HTC Thunderbolt compares to some of today's hottest smartphones.

The Thunderbolt performed well in the Xtremelabs speed test while connected to a Wi-Fi network. However, 3G scores with this test were disappointing.

When looking at the results from the BA.net speed test, we see the Thunderbolt scored very well when connected to Wi-Fi and 4G networks. It also earned a respectable score with 3G connectivity.

In the Speedtest.net test, the Thunderbolt achieved killer scores while connected to Verizon Wireless' 4G network. In fact, these scores were higher than we would have expected. Unfortunately, we were only able to run this test in one market, so we don't have a lot of reference data to compare these scores to. For this reason, we feel the Speedtest.net numbers in particular must be taken with a grain of salt since the network isn't being fully taxed yet and since we don't have additional data for comparison. Scores achieved on Verizon Wireless' 3G network and our 802.11g Wi-Fi network were respectable.

Overall, the Web browsing speed tests show that 4G really does offer speed improvements over previous cellular technologies. If you're lucky enough to be in a 4G coverage area, you should see definite speed improvements over 3G.

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Conclusion

Verizon Wireless has been steadily building its 4G network. At the time of this writing, the service is available in 39 markets and over 60 major airports. Verizon Wireless plans to offer the service in more than 145 markets by the end of this year. Prior to the launch of the HTC Thunderbolt, the only way users could take advantage of 4G speeds through Verizon Wireless was with one of the carrier's wireless modems or a Mi-Fi device. Now, thanks to the Thunderbolt, you can enjoy these speeds on a smartphone.

According to Verizon Wireless, users should enjoy download speeds between 5 and 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps when connected to the company's 4G network. In our tests, the Thunderbolt delivered very good 4G speeds, though coverage in our test area was a bit spotty.

 

 

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Price and battery life are probably the biggest downsides we see to this phone. The Thunderbolt costs $50 more than many of today's popular phones. Also, although battery life will vary depending on your usage habits, the Thunderbolt didn't have the same longevity we've seen on other handsets. All things considered, the price of the Thunderbolt isn't unreasonably high and you may be able to get additional time out of the phone's battery by adjusting a few settings.

Our overall impression of the Thunderbolt was a positive one. We felt the phone was speedy and responsive. We also like the large screen and sturdy kickstand. In many ways, the Thunderbolt is very similar to the HTC EVO 4G from Sprint. We loved this phone when it first came out, and still feel it's a great product. Given the similarities between these two handsets, it's not surprising we also liked the Thunderbolt.

 

     
  • Fast 1 GHz processor
  • Large 4.3-inch touchscreen
  • microSD expansion slot with preinstalled 32GB card
  • LTE connectivity
  • Wi-Fi sharing
  • Heavy @ 6.23 ounces
  • 4G coverage is still limited
  • 3G speeds were disappointing

 



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