REVIEW: Verizon HTC Thunderbolt – Screaming along at 4G LTE speeds (at a cost)

Verizon HTC Thunderbolt 4G LTE Android 2.2 Froyo smartphone review

There’s no doubt that “4G” networks and devices are the hotness right now, and Verizon’s first 4G LTE smartphone capable of bringing real mobile broadband speeds to the palm of your hand – the HTC Thunderbolt – is about as hot as it gets (for the moment, at least). The HTC Thunderbolt is brimming with most of the high-end features you’ll find in the baddest smartphones on market today, packaged into a refreshed version of the large-and-in-charge form factor that we’ve seen previously in the Sprint EVO 4G, HTC Desire HD, AT&T Inspire 4G, etc. But, the real highlight here is that the Thunderbolt can cruise the vast information superhighway at data speeds that will likely have your desktop computer complaining about its slow wired broadband connection.

If you’re looking for an Android phone that’s uncompromising in 4G data speeds, the HTC Thunderbolt is likely your best bet. There are some major issues with the handset (more on that below), and it also lacks the dual-core processors that other Android smartphones boast today, but the Thunderbolt is, for the most part, a power user’s dream phone. The Thunderbolt is the EVO 4G killer.

Let’s find out why.

HTC Thunderbolt
Available from Verizon for $249.99 with 2-year contract

Verizon HTC Thunderbolt 4G LTE Android 2.2 Froyo smartphone reviewSpecifications (Specs-sheet)

  • 4.3-inch Super LCD capacitive touchscreen WVGA (800 x 480)
  • 1 GHz Snapdragon processor
  • 8 Megapixel rear-facing camera with dual-LED Flash
  • 4G LTE data connection
  • Front-facing camera
  • 720p video capture
  • 8 GB of onboard memory
  • WiFi (B/G/N)
  • GPS (with compass)
  • microSD card slot (up to 32GB)
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (with A2DP)
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Proximity sensor
  • Accelerometer
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack
  • Notification light
  • Integrated kickstand
  • Android 2.2 Froyo OS with HTC Sense UI

The Good

  • Verizon 4G LTE network is incredibly fast
  • 32GB microSD card included
  • Integrated kickstand works in portrait and landscape
  • Large, bright display
  • Custom HTC keyboard is our fave
  • Solid construction (as expected from HTC)
  • Android 2.2 Froyo with Sense UI is a pleasure to use
  • Front-facing camera for video chats
  • Touch-to-focus autofocus
  • Handy notification light

The Bad

  • Battery life is some of the worst we’ve ever seen
  • No 4G LTE power toggle option
  • Kickstand in landscape orientation blocks microUSB port
  • microSD card slot is not hot-swappable (you have to remove battery to access microSD card)
  • Volume control rocker lacks tactile feedback (“soft” click)
  • $250 on-contract price is higher than the norm

Hardware

The Thunderbolt, like the other HTC smartphones boasting a 4.3-inch WVGA touchscreen, comes to the table with a good deal of heft and girth. In fact, the HTC Thunderbolt looks little different from the HTC EVO 4G, the HTC HD7, the HTC Desire HD, etc. Even the dual-core, stereoscopic 3D-capable HTC EVO 3D looks similar to the Thunderbolt. Why is that, you ask? Well, there’s really not much that you can do, in terms of handset design, when you have to design a phone that can integrate a massive 4.3-inch display while keeping it as slim and trim as possible. But, does that mean the Thunderbolt is just like the EVO 4G or the Desire HD? Hardly.

If you’re familiar with the size and general in-hand feel of the Sprint HTC EVO 4G, you’ll already have a good idea of the size and weight of the Thunderbolt. Both devices are nearly identical in size (especially in the all-important “thickness” measurement) and weight. But, it’s what’s on the inside that really makes the Thunderbolt stand out from the crowd. Inside the 13mm thick body, you’ll find a 1GHz latest-generation Snapdragon processor, and an 8-megapixel camera (with dual-LED flash), but the gem is the 4G LTE radio that connects to Verizon’s 4G LTE network. It’s because of the LTE radio that the Thunderbolt can deliver the kinds of wireless data speeds that will probably have you rethinking your monthly cable internet bill.

We’d have liked to have seen the Thunderbolt launching with a dual-core processor, like it’s distant cousin, the HTC EVO 3D. Unfortunately, that’s not in the cards. We’d also have liked to have seen a hot-swappable microSD card slot that doesn’t force you to remove the battery in order to access the microSD card, in turn forcing you to reboot the device. Still, the single-core Snapdragon processor has made some big improvements over the original Snapdragon silicon, and the Thunderbolt’s latest-generation processor does a good job of keeping up with all that Android OS and Verizon’s 4G LTE network can throw at it. We’re still categorically disappointed with the microSD card situation.

Design

Big, bold, and beautiful. Those are three words that you could use to describe the design of the Thunderbolt.

Make no mistake, this is one big-boned handset – stuffing all manner of cutting-edge technology inside a crammed mobile phone isn’t an easy task. But, that doesn’t mean it has to be ugly. With a focus on quality materials and fancy metallic trim pieces, HTC managed to keep the handset looking sleek and beautiful.

The bold, “all screen” aesthetic emphasizes the large-and-in-charge display by reducing the bezel around the screen, which allows the screen itself to dominate the front face. This design aesthetic is nothing new in the smartphone space, but HTC always manages to pull this “look” off with aplomb. Combined with the metallic trim pieces surrounding the speaker grill, the camera module, the kickstand, the receiver (phone speaker), and the HTC logo, the Thunderbolt embodies bold beauty.

The front of the device does away with any kind of physical button. Instead, you’ll find a row of capacitive (touch sensitive) Android navigation buttons line the bottom edge of the display, which light up from underneath when the device is turned on. If you’ve ever tried to use touch-sensitive buttons in the dark without any backlight, you’ll know how useful this seemingly insignificant little feature can be. The backlit capacitive buttons are nice and responsive, exhibiting no lag between the time you hit the button and the time the phone reacts to that input. As a bonus, every button press is accompanied by a vibration, letting you know that you’ve pressed a button.

And, thanks to an aggressively curved backside, the Thunderbolt feels much smaller and compact in the hand than pictures or video alone might lead you to believe. This is the same “trick” that Apple used in its iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS to give the hardware an in-hand feel that belies its actual thickness.

Unfortunately, the clean lines of the Thunderbolt are at odds with a dedicated, physical camera shutter button. The only way to snap a pic is to use the on-screen camera shutter button. This can be a hassle, but we’ll explain why the camera is actually a lot better than other shooters on the market a little later.

Lastly, let’s not forget that this handset has an integrated kickstand. The kickstand bears the “with Google” logo, letting you know that this is an official Android phone, backed by Google’s blessing. Lift up the kickstand and you’ll reveal the speaker grill, which hides underneath the kickstand when it’s in the closed position. Unlike previous HTC smartphones with kickstands, the Thunderbolt’s kickstand has been designed to support the handset in both landscape and portrait orientations. It’s little design details like this that make the Thunderbolt a sexy, cohesive device. The only downside is that you can’t access the microUSB port for charging or data transfer when the handset is propped up on the kickstand in landscape orientation (the phone rests on the microUSB port).

Yes, big can be beautiful.

Build Quality / Fit and Finish

The Thunderbolt is solid. With few moving parts – really, just the kickstand – it’s basically a solid slab of glass, metal and silicon. There are some baubles here and there, but, for the most part, the Thunderbolt lives up to HTC’s reputation for quality hardware built to exacting standards.

The soft touch backside complements a sturdy kickstand that feels more than strong enough to do the job. There’s no wiggle or play in the kickstand. Tolerances are pretty tight on this phone, which is a good thing. The one spot where fit is a bit lacking is the speaker grill that hides underneath the kickstand – our test unit was just barely misaligned. The defect is barely perceptible, and only when the kickstand is open. There’s really so little to complain about when it comes to fit and finish that this sub-1mm flaw is all we have to talk about. That should give you an idea as to the precision involved in the making of this phone.

The battery door is of the snap-on-snap-off variety that stays when you want it to but pries off with ease. It’s finished in rubbery, soft-touch coating that gives you that extra bit of grip that could make the difference between keeping the handset securely in your hand or having it accidentally slip from your grip.

Guts and Glory

What makes the Thunderbolt tick? Well, at the heart of this beast lies a Snapdragon processor, clocked at 1GHz. It’s the latest generation of Snapdragon silicon from Qualcomm, and it has plenty of horsepower to keep up with whatever you can muster. And, with plenty of RAM to back it up, the Thunderbolt is a multi-tasking machine.

Sure, a dual-core processor would be nice – especially since all the hot, new phones are boasting the two processing core setup – but we have no complaints when you get the kinds of 4G LTE data speeds that we saw.

And, speaking of LTE, Verizon’s 4G LTE network is no joke, people. It’s fast. Like, “this is the future” fast. It’s likely that the Thunderbolt can hurl megabytes at you faster than what you’re likely seeing from your cable or DSL provider. You can check the benchmarks below.

The 8-megapixel camera is good. It’s not as good as the iPhone 4’s shooter, but it still captures great photos, especially in optimal lighting conditions (more on that later).

You’ll find about 8GB worth of onboard storage waiting for you to store music, videos, photos, etc. on your phone. Should you find that you need more storage space, you can pop in a microSD card up to 32GB. That should do you just fine.

Rounding out the feature set, the GPS receiver with digital compass makes sure you’re never lost. The WiFi radio hooks up to 802.11 b, g, and n WiFi networks. Thunderbolt is packed with Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and with A2DP support, allowing you to transfer data faster over Bluetooth and use Bluetooth headphones to listen to music. There’s also a slew of sensors hidden behind the display, making sure your display turns off when you put it to your ear, dims in low light (brightens up in bright light), and rotates the screen to match your landscape or portrait orientation.

For performance testing, we put the Thunderbolt through a couple of benchmark tests. The Quadrant benchmark gives you an idea for overall system performance/speed. The Linpack benchmarks shows you how much data the processor can crunch. The Neocore benchmark tests the 3D capabilities of the GPU. Quadrant and Linpack benchmarks were each run three times, while Neocore was only run once (Neocore tends to return the same score for each run, so we thought it unnecessary to average its benchmark scores). The scores below should give you a good idea of how the Thunderbolt measures up against its competitors, most importantly the dual-core offerings that many will compare this smartphone to.

Speedtest.net (4G LTE speed test benchmark)

The kinds of wireless data speeds we’re seeing on the Thunderbolt are nothing short of amazing. We intermittently got some outlier data in our speed tests. During testing, we’d sometimes see data speeds that just don’t make any sense – like the 22Mbps download and 21Mbps upload speeds you see in the second speed test benchmark below. The anomylous result was ignored for speed test averaging. Verizon’s 4G LTE network averaged 11.245Mbps for download and 7.405Mbps for the upload. Download speeds ranged from 9Mbps to 13Mbps (which fits perfectly within Verizon’s own quoted 5-12Mbps data speed range), while upload speeds ranged from 6Mbps to 8Mbps (well above Verizon’s own quoted 2-5Mbps data speed range).

Needless to say, this one is freaky fast network!

Quadrant (system benchmark)

The Thunderbolt scored an average of 1,848 on Quadrant (across three trials). In comparison, the Motorola Atrix 4G, powered by the NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor, averaged a score of 2431. A Nexus One running Android 2.2 Froyo scores in the 1,300 range.

Linpack (processor benchmark)

Linpack showed that the single-core Snapdragon processor is no slouch in the MFLOPS department. The benchmarks averaged 39.425 MFLOPS (mega floating point operations per second). This score shows that the processor is capable of crunching 39.425 million floating point operations per second. Compare this score to the Motorola Atrix 4G, which averages 35.359.

Neocore (3D benchmark)

When it came to crunching 3D graphics, Neocore showed an impressive 59.4 FPS (frames per second) benchmark score. The Atrix hit 53.9 FPS on this benchmark.

What’s Missing

There isn’t much missing from this smartphone. We’d have liked more battery life, but that would come at the expense of processing power and/or overall size and weight. “Compromise” is the key here.

We’d also have liked a hot-swappable microSD card slot. With support for up to 32GB microSD cards, you’re probably not going to have to swap cards too often, but those few times that you do will be just that much more annoying and difficult.

Lastly, and the most obvious, the lack of a dual-core processor is probably at the top of your mind. Rightly so. But, keep in mind that the single-core Snapdragon silicon had no problems with any of the tasks we thew at it, and the benchmarks largely back that up. Would a dual-core CPU have been nice? Yes. Would the difference have made much of a, well, difference? Probably not much. Having 4G LTE connectivity pretty much trumps any complaints of the single-core Snapdragon processor.

Hardware tour:

Software

The operating system of choice here is Android OS. It’s Android 2.2.1 OS, to be more precise. The entire user interface is replaced by the HTC Sense UI, which replaces the homescreen, most menus, buttons, and adding cool new features.

Notifications bar

Verizon HTC Thunderbolt 4G Android 2.2 Froyo smartphone reviewTo start, the notifications bar has an added section for “recent apps”. Playing to Android OS’s strengths in multi-tasking (running multiple apps at once), the Thunderbolt notifications bar allows you to quickly scroll through the apps that you used most recently and switch to that app with a tap of your finger.

Sure, you could press and hold the home button to do pretty much the same thing, but it’s nice to have another (arguably quicker) method for switching to another app. It can get confusing, having multiple options to accomplish the same task, but Android users will already be comfortable with this way of life.

Homescreen

The homescreen is HTC’s standard Sense UI homescreen. You get seven homescreen panes – the center homescreen pane, flanked by three additional homescreen panes to the left and three additional panes to the right. It comes with the HTC Leap feature, which lets you quickly jump between panes with a two-fingered “pinch” gesture.

Verizon HTC Thunderbolt 4G LTE Android 2.2 Froyo smartphone reviewIn place of the stock Android launcher, you get the standard Sense launcher. The Phone button in the middle is the biggest. The left button brings up your app tray. The right button is your “Personalize” button – this button makes it easy to make your Thunderbolt feel like your own, personal device. You can choose from a variety of “Scene” options, which are basically homescreen themes that change the widgets, shortcuts, and wallpaper in preset bundles. You can also swap out your skin, wallpaper, change your notification sounds, and also customize your homescreen with widgets and app shortcuts.

Unfortunately, we had issues with the Sense UI rebooting here and there when the handset was under heavy use. When that happens, you have to wait a few seconds (3-5) until the Sense homescreen boots up – during which time you can’t use the phone. This is a minor annoyance, but definitely worth a mention.

In the end, the homescreen is standard fare for the Sense UI. This is a good thing.

Keyboard

The onscreen keyboard is your only option. To that end, you get HTC’s famed keyboard preloaded on the Thunderbolt. The HTC keyboard is, in our opinion, the most user-friendly and complete virtual keyboard available on Android today. The keys are perfectly sized on the big 4.3-inch display – wide enough to increase typing accuracy, but with enough space between them to avoid typos.

The standard keyboard includes quick-access keys for voice input/recognition, numbers/symbols, and even directional arrow keys. You can also minimize the keyboard using the “keyboard drawer” button in the lower left corner.

The context-aware keyboards offer additional typing options. When entering a URL, for example, the space bar halves itself to make room for a “.com” key. You can press and hold this key to bring up other domain suffix options (.net, .org, etc.). Likewise, you can press and hold any other key on the keyboard to type the character indicated in light gray.

Mobile HotSpot

The Thunderbolt comes with Mobile HotSpot right out of the box. This little feature basically allows you to share that oh-so-fast 4G LTE data connection with other WiFi devices around you. Simply fire up the Mobile HotSpot app and you can turn your Thunderbolt into a portable WiFi hotspot in seconds. Then, connect up to 8 WiFi-enabled devices to your Thunderbolt to give them a taste of high-speed mobile broadband.

Having Mobile HotSpot is like carrying around a WiFi router in your pocket. Better yet, because the Thunderbolt can achieve wireless data speeds on par (and probably faster) than your home broadband connection, Mobile HotSpot might just replace your need to pay your monthly cable internet bill.

Mobile HotSpot service is included for free through May 15. After that, you’ll have to pay $20/month for 2GB of Mobile HotSpot data.

Web Browsing, Multimedia, Camera

Web Browser

The web browser bundled with the Thunderbolt is basically the standard webkit-based browser that ships with all  Android OS devices. Google updated the web browser with under-the-hood upgrades in this version of Android OS (Froyo). HTC has also made some welcomed tweaks to the browser.

To be clear, the browser is fast, especially when it comes to Javascript. And, that’s fitting, because the 4G LTE data connection on the Thunderbolt requires a speedy web browser to really take full advantage of the super fast data speeds that are possible on Verizon’s burgeoning 4G network.

The browser is fully HTML-compatible. That means webpages look and work as if you’re looking at them on your desktop or laptop computer. Webpages load in fullscreen view, not zoomed into a portion of the page. A quick double-tap on any part of the screen to zoom in on a bit of text or an image. You can also pinch-zoom your way through a webpage, which is convenient, but not as smooth an experience as on the iPhone – the browser sometimes will resize text and page elements to better fit your screen and zoom level.

Verizon HTC Thunderbolt 4G LTE Android 2.2 Froyo smartphone reviewThe kicker here is that you get full support for Adobe Flash. You can set the browser to always display Flash content, never display the content, or only load Flash content when you demand it (by tapping on Flash objects on a webpage). You’ll find this option in the browser “Enable plug-ins” settings option. We prefer to load Flash content “on-demand,” as that gives you the option to view rich content while still keeping battery life in check.

HTC also tweaked the browser a bit. A tap-and-hold on a bit of text will call up a custom pop-up menu and text selection drag-bars. You drag the bars to select a portion of text. The pop-up menu offers options for copying the selected text, sharing the text (via email, Bluetooth, Google Voice, etc.), and even gives you the option to look up the text via Google, Wikipedia, Google Translate, Youtube, dictionary. The Quick Lookup feature is especially useful when you come across big words – the kind you might find on the back of an SAT Verbal section flash card – or a foreign language that you’re not especially familiar with.

Finally, the HTC Leap feature, which allows you to view all homescreen panes at once and quickly switch between them, is available in the web browser. Simply use the “pinch” gesture on the page whilst fully zoomed out (otherwise, the pinch gesture will just affect a “zoom” command), and the browser will go into window/tab mode. From here you can quickly switch between your other browser tabs/windows.

Multimedia

Music

The Thunderbolt uses a customized Android music player that fits within the Sense UI framework and boasts the added ability to stream to WiFi-connected devices in your vicinity.

The UI is fairly intuitive and works well, but still lacks a bit of the polish that the iPhone and its iOS possess. If you’re new to Android or Sense UI, you’ll have to get used to the navigation structure in the music app. Heck, even experienced Android users might have to spend some time getting intimate with the music player’s options and interface. But, in place of a more intuitive UI, the Music app pulls ahead of its iPhone-clad competition in terms of features.

The app allows you to stream music to compatible WiFi devices on your WiFi network (DLNA devices). Tap the Menu Android navigation button, and you can use the Sound Enhancer to tweak your audio settings either manually via an equalizer (only when using headphones) or automagically via the SRS WOW audio processing technology baked into the phone. You can also search for related music videos on YouTube via the integrated video search option.

Album art is displayed, when available, and can be displayed in a CoverFlow-esque manner when the phone is in landscape orientation.

Videos

Unlike with stock Android OS, the Sense UI includes a custom video player. Rather than using the generic “Gallery” app to find and play your videos, the Videos app allows you to search through your collection of videos and play them in a neatly packaged video player. You can still find and play videos via the Gallery app, but it’s nice to have a self-contained app that’s dedicated to moving pictures.

The video gallery automatically finds all video content on your phone and lists them in thumbnail fashion. The app makes it easy to switch between it and the Gallery app, which is a little confusing, but ultimately a nice option to have. You can share and delete videos directly from the Videos app, and should you need to record a new video, the camera button in the lower right corner can be used to quickly fire up the camcorder (the camera starts up in video mode, even if you last used the camera in photo mode).

The video player has simple playback controls – it’s just a Play/Pause button and a scrubbing bar (drag this bar to skipp ahead or backwards). There’s a dedicated sound enhancement button that basically toggles the SRS WOW digital sound processing feature. You probably will only notice a slight difference in audio quality via the phone speakers, but don a nice set of headphones (or earphones) and you’ll be treated to a warmer, deeper sound field than the non-sound-enhanced video could offer.

Games

The Thunderbolt comes preloaded with a couple games. You get Let’s Golf 2 and Rock Band out of the box. Otherwise, the new Snapdragon SoC (system-on-chip) handles 3D gaming as well as any other high-end Android handset we’ve tested – all thanks to the Adreno 205 GPU that lies at the heart of the handset.

The problem with 3D games on Android is that the games are only built for a certain level of performance. There’s a point where adding more 3D graphics horsepower to an Android phone won’t result in higher gaming performance. NVIDIA gets around this 3D performance “glass ceiling” by working directly with 3D game developers to create “THD” versions of games that boast higher performance graphics, made possible by the Tegra 2 SoC.

That said, gaming on the Thunderbolt is good. Games are as smooth and fluid as we’d expect. But, again, the limiting factor here is the game itself. Regardless of how well the hardware can handle 3D graphics, you’re still limited by the gaming titles in the Android Market. As it stands right now, Android Market has come a long way in terms of eye-catching 3D games the likes of which the iPhone and iPad have been playing with for quite some time. If you’re one of those casual “Angry Birds” type of gamer, then you’ll be more than happy with the games selection on the Market. Harder-core gamers will find lack of real 3D games somewhat disappointing.

Camera

HTC makes one of the best camera apps available on Android. The camera viewfinder is spacious and uncluttered, perfectly balancing just the right number of quick-access options. The highlight, though, is the touch-to-focus feature, that lets you tell the camera which object in the frame you’d like to focus on. Add in a dash of 720p HD video recording, and you’ve got a recipe for a great camera.

The camera takes great photos in good to optimal lighting conditions. Low light performance is slightly better than other 8MP cameras we’ve seen (even those on other HTC handsets), but is in no way impressive. When it comes to low-light camera performance, the Nokia N8 still reigns king (and probably will for a while). But, if you have good lighting conditions, image quality is superb, as you can see by the image samples below.

UI

The shutter button is the main attraction in the camera app UI, as it should be. The shutter button lives on the bottom edge of the viewfinder in portrait orientation, and on the right edge in landscape orientation. Flanking this button, you’ll find quick-access settings for flash, photo/video mode, photo effects, and more photo preview.

Should you find yourself needing to adjust white balance, resolution, ISO , or switch to the front-facing camera, a quick tap on the “Menu” Android navigation button will bring up a more extensive options list that will serve up the image tweaks you’re looking for.

The highlight here is that the camera offers touch-to-focus.

Camcorder

The fun doesn’t just stop at still photos, as the Thunderbolt pulls double duty as an HD camcorder. Fire up the camera and switch into video mode, and you’ll be up and recording videos in full 720p HD resolution.

Toggling between photo and video mode is as simple as tapping the toggle button located right in the viewfinder – this button is part of the quick access options displayed in the camera viewfinder. The dual-LED photo flash also doubles as a video light.

Recording videos is as easy as hitting the big, red “record” button, which replaces the shutter button. The camcorder will autofocus itself prior to hitting the record button, but once the focus is set and you’re rolling film, you can’t refocus until you stop the recording and set a new focus point in the frame.

Here are some image samples (all images taken at 8-megapixel resolution):

Verizon HTC Thunderbolt image sample

Full daylight, outdoors, no flash, auto settings

Verizon HTC Thunderbolt image sample

Full daylight, outdoors, no flash, auto settings

Verizon HTC Thunderbolt image sample

Full daylight, indoors, no flash, auto settings

Verizon HTC Thunderbolt image sample

Low-light, indoors, no flash, close-up shot, auto settings

Verizon HTC Thunderbolt image sample

Low-light, indoors, flash, close-up shot, auto settings

 

Call Quality, Signal Quality and Battery Life

Call Quality

The Verizon network is just about the best, in terms of voice quality, that we’ve tested. Even over speakerphone, voice quality was decent – quality was less than what we noticed using a wired headset or the receiver itself, but that was to be expected. It’s not clear if the speakerphone quality is attributable to the hardware or to Verizon, but given our experience with other speakerphones, we’re inclined to give Big Red the credit here.

Signal Quality

In major metro areas like the San Francisco Bay Area (San Francisco, Palo Alto) and Orlando, signal quality was top notch. The Thunderbolt exhibited impressive indoor reception, with strong 4G LTE reception in most of the aforementioned test areas.

It’s worth noting that the Thunderbolt would show a strong 4G LTE signal at times when our LG 4G LTE USB modem could only grab a hold of Verizon’s 3G network. It’s not clear why the USB modem would exhibit weaker signal strength, but it’s worth mentioning. Needless to say, we were able to hop on the Verizon’s 4G network via the Thunderbolt’s Mobile Hotspot feature in areas where we didn’t expect to have strong 4G reception.

Battery Life

Battery life, oh my. Now this is where the Thunderbolt story takes a turn for the worse. It’s not really battery life that we should be talking about, it’s more like battery death. With a ginormous 4.3-inch display, a faster-than-your-college-laptop processor, 4G LTE data connection, and whiz-bang gizmos like GPS and WiFi on board, the Thunderbolt can kill a fully charged battery before your lunch break.

Here’s how we tested the limits of the battery. We set up three push email accounts, Facebook for HTC Sense checking for new updates every hour, Twitter for HTC Sense checking hourly for updates, and Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi always enabled. Screen brightness was set to maximum. A typical day would consist of a total of about an hour of web browsing, including Flash content. Music and video were played sparingly. The end result? We basically would have needed two batteries just to barely make it through the waking day.

Put it this way. Even under light load, you will not get a full day’s worth of battery life out of the Thunderbolt. If you don’t already have one, an external power supply or extra battery pack will become your best friend. You’d also be wise to charge this lithium ion fiend at every opportunity. Seriously, every minute counts here.

You have to pay to play. You don’t get a massive display, high-powered processor, 4G LTE speeds, and a handful of always-on wireless connections all running at the same time without paying a price – the price of reduced battery life. Power users will probably read this and scoff as they pull out their spare batteries and external power supplies. But, if you’re not ready to be a slave to a power port, the Thunderbolt just may not be for you. Do not take this lightly.

How much is 4G LTE worth?

So, what’s the cost of owning a smartphone capable of 4G LTE data speeds? Sure, we know how much 4G LTE is worth in terms of money – $250 for a new Thunderbolt on 2-year contract, in addition to Verizon’s unlimited smartphone data plan and applicable rate plan costs. But, is the Thunderbolt’s 4G LTE data connection worth the extreme cost in battery life? Yes. Plain and simple.

If you’re even remotely considering a Thunderbolt, chances are good that you’re not the the average Joe Smartphone-User. In fact, if you’re savvy enough to want a Thunderbolt specifically because it boasts the speed of Verizon’s 4G LTE network, you’re probably closer to the “power user” end of the mobile consumer spectrum. For you, the short-lived battery shouldn’t be a problem. You probably already have a microUSB car charger, a microUSB cable for charging via your desktop or laptop computer, and possibly even a portable power pack for emergency recharging. In that case, you’re set.

If you’re not part of this group of people who readily carry around extra power packs, and you just can’t be bothered with the hassle of constantly plugging the phone into a charger at every opportunity, this phone is not for you. You have to pay to play, and that’s especially true for early adopters. In this case, you pay not only money, but also in battery life. Be honest, if you’re not the early adopter type, don’t get this phone.

For us, the Thunderbolt is one helluva smartphone.

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that the single-core processor is only half as fast as dual-core offerings. The Snapdragon SoC might not have a dual-core processor, but it holds its own against hardware boasting two processor cores. We never had any issue with the phone slowing down or lagging. Benchmarks tell one story, but they’re not the end all be all for real world performance.

The huge display is par for high-end smartphones these days, and the Thunderbolt’s 4.3-inch Super LCD lives up to the task of making the handset feel like every bit the high-end piece of kit that it is. Add in the revised kickstand that allows you to prop up the phone in landscape or portrait orientation, and you’ve got the makings of a multimedia powerhouse.

Finally, the icing on this cake is the 4G LTE data connection. If you’ve never experienced a smartphone capable of pulling down wireless data at wired broadband internet speeds, not to mention being able to share that connection with friends via the Mobile HotSpot feature, you really haven’t seen the future of mobile tech. And, in that vein, the Thunderbolt, though it may surely be a first-generation LTE handset, is the face of things to come. We can’t wait to see what the Thunderbolt 2 will bring.

  • Anonymous

    God I want this but I just can’t do 4.5 hours battery life.

    • Anonymous

      hmmm….buy another battery….stock….then drain it all the way…..then charge….conditioning the battery helps…
      I did this to my battery and i get near 9- 10 hors on heavy usage…3g…but really fast 3g…

      • http://www.briefmobile.com Korey Nicholson

        Verizon has slow 3G, who are you kidding lol

        • Anonymous

          Not for me, verizon here in parkland, fl is one of the best carriers…maybe not super building wise…but speed and reliability wise yes. And actually if you honestly tested them verizons network can actually, yes actually sometimes be faster than att’s which whom you seem to be refering to i would guess.

        • Anonymous

          Not for me, verizon here in parkland, fl is one of the best carriers…maybe not super building wise…but speed and reliability wise yes. And actually if you honestly tested them verizons network can actually, yes actually sometimes be faster than att’s which whom you seem to be refering to i would guess.

          • http://www.briefmobile.com Korey Nicholson

            AT&T or Sprint. Recently AT&T has been found to have much faster speeds than Verizon, and that was proven based on the iPhone and iPad reviews that were completed.

          • http://www.briefmobile.com Korey Nicholson

            AT&T or Sprint. Recently AT&T has been found to have much faster speeds than Verizon, and that was proven based on the iPhone and iPad reviews that were completed.

          • Gary harris

             Just to let you know, All of the 3g speeds are very close…i can get 1.5+ megs on 3g with my TBolt or Fascinate, and i get 16+ megs on 4g…they is not another 4g network in the US close to VZW, so the very close accross the board 3g speeds are really a moot point.

      • Ayso880

        How do you easily manage charging two batteries overnight? How long does a full charge take? Sounds like the phone will need to be docked to a power cord for at least 4-5 hours per day.

        A separate battery charger would make it easier, but we need to consider the price of a second battery, extra power cords and maybe a charger into the cost of this phone, which will be old news in three months. Which we should add the early cancellation fee to the cost as well.

        • Anonymous

          you didn’t understand me….throw out your first battery if its crap or don’t use it….if you don’t want to…i drained my battery when i first got the phone, then charged it and i easily get 7 hours on super heavy 3g/4g usage…granted i turn some things off so maybe ill just buy an extra or an extended slim battery.

        • Mike D.

          I purchased from ebay 2 batteries and charger no cords..the battery goes inside the charger and you plug that whole thing into the outlet. Got it for $35, both batteries are 1700mah which are higher than your original battery, when my battery is getting low and im not near a outlet i just swap out batteries. They give me about 7 hours of battery life each, and thats while using web, youtube, texting..everything. Look it up on ebay..

  • Alphageek

    Has anyone actually verified that Thunderbolt has A2DP support for Bluetooth headphones/listening to music? It doesn’t work for me, all the other forums says Bluetooth only works for calling, not music.

  • Anonymous

    Has anyone else noticed their wifi hotspot dropping it’s 4G connection intermittently on this thing? It’s annoying as heck when you’re trying to get work done.

  • Northernlightsnights

    Thanks for the GREAT review!

  • Northernlightsnights

    Thanks for the GREAT review!

  • sorin

    LTE, but which bands ? 800 , 1800 or 2600? Could you please mention? I would like to order it from Amazon, but in my country the  LTE technology will be implemented very soon only for 2600Mhz. Is it working in this band ?
    Thank you.

  • Hughdaman

    Thanks for the awesome review!

  • Lexieb101

    firstly i must say i have this phone and it works beautifully. but I do have 1 question please can not seem to figure out how to change the camera from storing to SD card to internal storage.

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