[Update] Review: HTC Thunderbolt

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The HTC Thunderbolt is one of the most important phones to launch in recent memory. With a second generation Snapdragon processor clocked at 1GHz, a 4.3″ 400 x 800 display, and LTE support, the Thunderbolt is meant to turn heads. And turn heads it did when it arrived at Gadgetsteria HQ. The HTC Thunderbolt is an amazing piece of gadgetry, despite the lack of a dual-core processor. But take our word, the lack of a dual-core processor is not a reason to pass on the Thunderbolt. Take Android, toss in LTE, and add in a nice big screen and you’ve got the start of something awesome. Hop inside for the full review…


**Update — Battery Life

Hardware

The first thing you’ll notice upon cracking open the loud, red box that encases the Thunderbolt is that it’s big. At least it looks big. Though a quick comparison to our in-house iPhone 4 and Samsung Captivate does in fact show a much fatter phone, though it’s not as bad as it looks. The Thunderbolt is a very rounded phone — there isn’t a sharp edge to be found. That in turn makes the phone look and feel fatter. But it also makes the phone a joy to hold in the hand. Out of every single Android phone available currently, we have to say that the HTC Thunderbolt is hands down our favorite based on feel alone.

Starting at the top and working clockwise: A power switch adorn the top while the volume up/down buttons hang out on the right. The bottom of the Thunderbolt is actually void of any physical or touch input, with the left side offering up a sole microUSB port for charging and syncing.

Besides Apple, HTC has got the whole “minimalistic” thing down pat. Out back you’ll find an 8-megapixel camera and dual LED flash. Finally, a 1.3-megapixel, front-facing camera calls the top right corner above the 4.3″ display home.

The comfortable grip mentioned previously gives way to extended use of other features such as the spacious (and now standard) 4.3″ 400 x 800 display. To our eyes, it’s not quite as crisp or colorful as the Captivates AMOLED, but it is worth staring at nonetheless.

The second generation Snapdragon processor powered through HTC’s Sense’d Android interface with ease, offering buttery smooth interaction without so much as a single stutter or slowdown. Other manufacturers take note: This is how you optimize a handset. Out of all the other Android phones we’ve tested from competing manufacturers, HTC’s own line of uber phones all feel smoother. That’s a big deal in our book.

Much like the effortless user interface, gaming was fun yet more of the same. The 1GHz Snapdragon processor doesn’t show any signs of struggling with our relentless pig assaults on those little, green, grunting blobs. Video playback (both locally stored and streamed) was just as uneventful. The Thunderbolt acted just as you’d expect — calm, cool, and without fuss.

Performance

Using the defacto standard Android benchmarking tool, Quadrant, we can get a feel for the second-gen Snapdragon (and Thunderbolt’s) power.

Yeah, the Thunderbolt is fast.

Camera & Video

The 8-megapixel camera is in short: pretty awesome. Pictures were colorful and full of life, more-so than an iPhone which as you see below, comes away looking washed out and dull. The Thunderbolt’s auto-focus was also rather intelligent and fast, taking a mere 1-2 seconds at most to find the subject of a picture and focus on it appropriately. But in those instances when the phone is having trouble focusing, you can always tap to focus on the Thunderbolt’s display.
**The thunderbolt and iPhone 4 were held at the exact same position when taking pictures, the Thunderbolt wouldn’t focus as close as the iPhone 4, however, even after trying manually zooming into images.

Sample photos: HTC Thunderbolt on left, iPhone 4 on right



Sample Video: HTC Thunderbolt on top, iPhone 4 on bottom

To our eyes, the iPhone 4 looks to be able to adjust to lighting changes a bit faster and with better results.

Software

The HTC Thunderbolt officially runs Android 2.2. And like all other HTC Android phones, HTC Sense comes standard as does a host of HTC and Verizon-specific apps such as Blockbuster, City ID, Friend Stream, Peep, Rock Band, Vcast Services, and plenty of other icons present in the settings drawer leading to Android Market downloads. In our opinion, Verizon and HTC could both cut back on the added fluff. On the flipside, many of the listed services are paid services meaning increased revenue. Business is business.

3G and LTE


Is LTE really worth all the hype? You bet! Just look at the picture above — VZW LTE/4G on left, AT&T “4G” (HSPA) on right. Anything and everything that relied on a web connection was many times faster over LTE than both Verizon’s own 3G or AT&T’s 4G service. We could sit here all day and tell you how awesome it is to whisk around the web at 10+Mbps down and ~15+Mbps up, but you’d be much better off experiencing said awesomeness for yourself. Even in our hometown where AT&T has fast and reliable 3G/4G service, it feels downright pokey and archaic to LTE overall. Put simply: LTE rocks!

Battery Life

Speed kills as they say. While we observed normal battery drain (medium to light-heavy data/calling/texting) in the range of 10-15 hours over 3G, flipping to 4G/LTE was another story. The meager 1400mAh battery is good for 3-4 hours at most of hard hitting data action. While using the mobile hotspur feature over LTE, we saw our battery drop from 94% to 17% in just under two hours. If you’re going to be an LTE junkie, it’s best to get three extra batteries. One thing that could help in instances where you need to favor battery life over LTE would be a 3G/4G switch. Unfortunately, such a switch doesn’t exist on the Thunderbolt as of writing meaning LTE/4G is always on.

**Update: A 3G/4G switch does exist — it’s just hidden. Simply enter *#*#4636#*#* on your Thunderbolt’s dialer screen and hit the call button. More info here.

**Update 2: Check out this widget to enable/disable 4G. All it does is automate the number dialing listed above. There is also a larger 2750mAh extended battery that Verizon will sell in the coming weeks costing $49.99 and coming with it’s own slightly humped back cover. On top of that, Verizon will start selling a Qi-compatible back cover + charging pad for the HTC Thunderbolt, further maximizing run time for true power users on the go.

While we’re on the topic of battery life, we’d also like to point out that while charging, using Google Navigation, and running on LTE caused our Thunderbolt to get quite hot. Obviously power products heat. Still, it was a bit unsettling.

Conclusion & Final Thoughts

Would we recommend the Thunderbolt as our daily driver? Whole heartedly. It is without a doubt the best Android phone on Verizon, and in our eyes, in the same league as the Atrix despite being down one core. The phone itself is incredibly easy and comfortable to hold, allowing the minutes turn into hours. And HTC’s Sense UI is much nicer (our opinion) both in the looks and performance department compared to Motorola’s MOTOBLUR, Samsung’s Touch Whiz, and pretty much any other skin a carrier or manufacturer could slap on top of Android. Of course, in a perfect world we’d be able to enjoy Android the way it was meant to be — naked.

After signing a 2-year contract, the Thunderbolt can be had for a mere $200. Considering it just became the fastest smartphone in the U.S. by a large margin, has a large enviting screen, and features a fast processor powered by HTC’s tried and true Sense UI, we really can’t find much of anything to talk bad about. Trust us when we say that you can’t go wrong with the Thunderbolt. It is a GS recommended buy.

**Added battery life section

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Rating

  • Design/Construction: 9
  • Performance: 8
  • Value: 8
  • Overall Rating: 8.5 (Not cumulative)

Like

  • Rounded, easy to hold form factor
  • Longer battery life
  • 4.3″ screen and second-gen Snapdragon processor

Don’t Like

  • 480 x 800 is getting old.
  • No dual-core
  • Thunderbolt gets hot when pushed and multiple features (GPS/LTE, etc.) turned on
  • No easily accessible 3G/4G switch

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  • Billh55

    I heard there are battery use/standby issues. anything to say

  • Mike

    No standby issues observed. Battery life tanked when LTE was active, but that was expected.

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Author: Mike

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Gadget lover, smartphone collector, and beer connoisseur. I've been writing about gadgets for three years now and loving every minute of it. Outside of the digital landscape, I enjoy being active outdoors. I'm always up for a good conversation, so feel free to drop me a line!