HTC’s Thunderbolt is the first Android device to take advantage of Verizon’s new 4G LTE network. Similar in design to the HTC Evo, the Thunderbolt sports a 4.3-inch display, 1GHz processor, dual cameras and Wi-Fi hotspot capability. Weighing in at nearly six ounces, the Thunderbolt will not go unnoticed in your pocket, but with its size comes plenty of functionality. Features such as active noise cancellation, Dolby mobile sound and HD video recording position Thunderbolt on the cutting edge, but its massive screen and super-fast network connection cause significant strain on its lithium battery. Do the features and download speeds outweigh the limited run time? Read on to find out.
Main Features and specifications:
- 4G LTE network; 3G capable
- Android 2.2 (Froyo) with HTC Sense
- 4.3” WVGA TFT capacitive touch screen
- 1GHz Snapdragon Processor
- 8GB internal memory; 32GB storage via included microSD card
- 8MP camera with dual LED flash; 1.3MP front facing camera; 720p HD video recording
- 4G mobile Wi-Fi hotspot
- Dual microphones; noise cancellation
- Surround sound
- Adobe® Flash® Player
What We Liked
4G LTE: This needs no explaining. The speeds the Thunderbolt can achieve while inside Verizon’s LTE network are mind-bending. At times, we were able to see 20Mbs down and 5Mbs up – both in-phone and via wireless tether. This is far beyond what Verizon claims the network is capable of (5-8Mbs down/2-3Mbs up) and left us both awestruck and giddy.
Design: The Thunderbolt is an attractive handset. The case backing is made of soft grey plastic and the front features a reflective black bezel that runs around the perimeter of the Gorilla Glass covered touchscreen. On the front of the handset you’ll find a thin speaker grill running across more than half of the width of the phone; a 1.3 megapixel camera sits to the right. Beneath the speaker grill sits a multicolor LED indicator light that shows standby and charge status. The bottom navigation buttons (Home/Menu/Back/Search) are touch sensitive and backlit. The only physical buttons found on the Thunderbolt are the lock/unlock and volume rocker switch. A kickstand, branded with Google’s trademark props the phone up in landscape orientation; a “surround sound” speaker sits behind the kickstand.
Call quality: Verizon-backed handsets rarely fail in the call quality/signal strength departments. The Thunderbolt is no exception. During testing we experienced no dropped calls, and overall fidelity was outstanding.
Display: The over-sized 4.3-inch touchscreen makes surfing the web, watching video and flipping through photos a very enjoyable experience. It’s viewable outside, but does suffer a bit under direct sunlight. The viewing angle is wide, and the color reproduction is accurate.
On-board storage: We like phones that don’t skimp on the memory. The Thunderbolt contains 8GB of internal memory and a pre-installed 32GB microSD card - plenty of space for music and movies.
What We Didn’t Like
Battery life: The combination of a large display and 4G radio wreaked havoc on the Thunderbolt’s 1400 mAh lithium battery pack. With light use, it had no problem making it through a full day and then some, but incorporate watching a few YouTube videos and gaming for 20 to 30 minutes and battery life diminishes at a much more rapid pace. There is an available extended life battery (for about $50) but it’s larger than the stock pack, and forms a tidy bulge off the back of the handset. While it is nice that such a battery is available, most users will not take kindly to the added size and weight.
Network switching: When the Thunderbolt loses the LTE connection, it falls back to 3G. This is a good thing. While it is somewhat of a rude awakening, the limited 4G coverage is a known reality. However, even when the 4G signal comes back, if there is an active connection (streaming Internet radio or using the Wi-Fi hotspot) the phone appeared as if it were unable to switch back to the LTE network. This is more of an inconvenience than a con, but it was a minor annoyance worth noting.
Our Verdict: Even though the Thunderbolt is one of the first attempts at a LTE smartphone for Verizon, it feels nothing like a first-generation product. While blanketed inside of the Boston area 4G network, speeds were simply out of this world. Use the Thunderbolt as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and you’ve got yourself a high-end broadband connection – in your pocket. The display quality is very good and the touch responsiveness is excellent. We would have liked to see the latest version of Android OS (Gingerbread) loaded on our review unit, but this will most likely be deployed via an over-the-air update sometime in the near future. The battery life using the included lithium pack is not great, but given the size of the screen, power of the processor, and combo 3G/4G cell radio - it came as no surprise to us. At just under five inches tall and three inches wide this is far from a “compact” mobile phone. But if power, speed and versatility are what you’re after, there isn’t much out there that will offer more.