HTC ThunderBolt Android Smartphone Review

I’ve been using the same smartphone for 6 months now. I like the Motorola Droid X quite a bit, but we gadgeteers all know what it’s like to use the same device for more than a … month. We get bored and are ready for something new – right? I’ve reviewed a few different phones since the Droid X, but none that have caused me to seriously consider an upgrade. Verizon recently sent me the HTC ThunderBolt for a very short term loan. The first time I turned it on, I was very enamored with the gorgeous display and Sense UI. It had me thinking that this phone might be the worth ditching my Droid X for. Unfortunately, I have only been able to test this phone for about 4 days, so this is going to be more of a first look post. If we cross our fingers, Bryan Sherman might fill in any gaps I l leave with his own review in a few weeks as he’ll be getting one to test too. In the mean time, here we go…

Note: Most of the images in this review can be clicked to see a larger size with more detail.

Hardware Specs

Chipset: Qualcomm® MSM8655, 1GHz, Qualcomm MDM9600
Networks: LTE 700, CDMA EvDO revA
Operating system: Android™ 2.2 + HTC Sense
Display: 4.3” WVGA TFT capacitive touch screen
Camera: 8MP with autofocus, LED Flash (2x LED), 1.3MP front facing camera
Memory: 8GB emmc + 768 RAM Memory card, preinstalled 32 GB microSD™
WLAN: 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth: 2.1 with EDR (3.0 when available)
GPS: GPS/AGPS
Battery: 1400 mAh
Special features: Dual mics with noise cancellation, Surround sound, Compass sensor, G-Sensor, Proximity sensor, Light sensor, 3.5mm audio jack, MicroUSB, FM radio, LTE SIM slot , TI audio DSP
Dimensions: 4.75″ x 2.44″ x 0.56″ inches
Weight: 6.23oz (with standard battery)

The HTC ThunderBolt is very close in size to the Motorola Droid X. It feels slightly heavier in hand though when compared to my Droid X as shown above.

At first glance the ThunderBolt sort of reminds me of a rectangular Nexus One. It has the same gun metal grey shell with a Black bezel around the capacitive touch screen. Below the display are 4 haptic touch buttons for the Home screen, Menu, Back and Search functions. Above the display is the speaker, status LED and the front facing 1.3MP camera.

The back shell has a slightly rubberized texture that resists fingerprints. You’ll notice the 8MP camera lens and dual LED flash. The metal bar at the bottom is a handy flip out kickstand.

This stand is useful for watching hands free video, using the ThunderBolt as a desk clock, etc.

I should also mention that there’s a speaker located under that kickstand…

The Left side of the phone has the mini USB port for charging and data connection to your computer.

The top has the power/wake button, standard sized earphone jack and one of the microphones (there’s another at the bottom edge of the phone).

A large volume switch is located on the Right side of the phone.

If you pop off the back cover, you gain access to the battery and the MicroSD card slot. A 32GB card is included with the phone. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that the largest SD card ever included with a phone? Thanks HTC.

In hand, the ThunderBolt feels pretty substantial. It’s solid and does not flex or crack when squeezed. Giving it a good shake, results in a slight rattle from the power button, but that’s all. So when it comes to the feel of the hardware, I wish it were just a bit lighter weight, but other than that, I like its look and style which is more subdued than flashy.

The Display


The 4.3 inch display is very nice. It’s slightly more vivid than my Droid X, but not quite as vivid as an AMOLED display like the one used with the Samsung Fascinate.

HTC’s ever popular Sense UI adds some pretty nice eye candy features like the combination flip clock / weather widget you see above. The phone also comes with different themes and skins so that you can easily customize your phone without downloading third party stuff.

The capacitive display has just the right sensitivity and responsiveness. Scrolling through the app view is easy and quick.

The HTC ThunderBolt has a couple features I really like. If you look at the image above, you’ll see that I’m in the app view. Notice the buttons at the bottom that will allow me to go right to phone mode? That’s a nice touch. What’s also nice is that the location in the list view is remembered when you go back to the Home screen. By that I mean, that if you scroll halfway down your list of apps in the app view (shown above) and then go back to the Home screen, when you go back to the app view, you’ll be at that same location instead of the very top. I find that to be really handy.

Software

In addition to the standard set of Android apps, there are a few extras worth mentioning:

Flashlight – Uses the dual LEDs on the back with a few brightness settings and an SOS mode.
Bitbop – TV streaming app.
Let’s Golf 2 – Golfing arcade game
Rock Band – Trial version of Rock Band from EA
Peep – Twitter app
Slacker Radio – Like Pandora, only better – in my opinion
TuneWiki – Social media spiced internet radio and video playing app
Stocks – Keep up an eye on your moola
Quickoffice – The full version
Kindle – eBook reader

The Camera

In addition to the nice display and Sense UI, I’ve also been pretty impressed with the built in 8MP camera. It takes nice shots as you can see below.

The only thing missing is a dedicated shutter button. Unfortunately, you have to tap the screen to take a snapshot, which often causes you to move and blur the captured image.

My personal requirement for a good camera is the ability to take great macro shots. The ThunderBolt’s camera exceeded my expectations in that regard.

Let’s not forget that there’s a low resolution camera on the front of this phone too. For some reason Verizon didn’t include Skype so that people could do two-way video calls… I guess you can use the front camera to take pix of yourself. Whee…

Phone and Data Features

Using the ThunderBolt to make and receive phone calls is really no different (other than small graphics / interface changes) than making calls with other Android phones. I found calls to be be clear and with ample volume.

Don’t forget that the ThunderBolt is 4G LTE capable. Unfortunately, my location does not have 4G and probably won’t for a long time… But using 3G, which we do have, seemed on par with the experience I’ve had with my Droid X. No complaints.

There’s a mobile hotspot app that will let you tether the ThunderBolt with up to 8 devices to share the data connection via WiFi. You can use this hotspot feature for free until May 15, 2011. After that time, you’ll have to pay for it.

Battery Life

Unfortunately, I don’t have any data on how long the battery lasts. I haven’t had the phone long enough to really get a good grasp on that. So far it doesn’t seem much different than my Droid X, which means it’s best to carry a charging cable with you.

Overall System Performance

The HTC ThunderBolt feels just as snappy as other 1Ghz devices like the Droid X. Launching applications, scrolling through lists, etc are all quick. No complaints.

Overall Impression

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I haven’t had all that much time with this phone. But the time I’ve spent with it, I do like it a lot. At first I thought I’d want to ditch my Droid X and buy one, but the initial infatuation quickly wore off. While I do like this phone, I don’t think it’s a worthy upgrade from my current phone due to the fact that the screen size is the same, the processor is the same speed and the form factor is almost identical. However, if I were shopping for a brand new phone, the HTC ThunderBolt is the one I’d buy. But as it is, I think I’ll hold on to my Droid X till something more exciting comes along.

 

Product Information

Price:$599.99 / $249.99 with 2yr contract
Manufacturer:HTC
Retailer:Verizon Wireless
Pros:
  • 4G LTE
  • 32GB SD card included
  • Nice display
  • Kickstand
Cons:
  • Heavy
  • No Skype app
Posted in: Android related, Reviews

35 comments… add one

  • boit March 21, 2011, 11:12 am

    Nice article. Did you know this phone finally puts AT&T in the grave along with the iPhone, because you can talk and use the Internet at the same time? Also, you can call iPhone users and laugh at them on vide using Tango. It is free, and works well on 3g AND wifi. You can switch from front to back cameras.

  • thatguy March 21, 2011, 12:33 pm

    i don’t see how everyone seems to overlook that you cannot use the kickstand on its side and charge at the same time. the reason is because unlike the HTC EVO, the Thunderbolt has the micro USB connection on its side. when you turn it to landscape with the kickstand in use the micro USB is then on the bottom preventing charging. being the battery hog that this thing is that was a big mistake. i still love the phone and impressed with the 4G but wonder how this issue never seems to make it into reviews.

  • jj March 21, 2011, 1:31 pm

    i noticed in the article she had the phone four days. i also noticed she said she had no feedback as far as batterly life, but seemed the same as the droid X. i do not have a droid X, but if the battery life lasts as long as the Thunderbolt, then you must be charging it TWICE a day and barely using it. in FOUR days you could’nt tell the phone is on a charger longer then in your hand? or longer then your laptop is?

    i guess it IS possilble my phone maybe be defective, but the phones been out for four days and im seriously considering taking it back before the two week trial period and waiting for something else. charging a PHONE twice a day thats in standby most of the day and is primarily used to txt and check email is annoying and unnecessary.

    • Julie March 21, 2011, 7:30 pm

      @jj I had the ThunderBolt for 4 days but had it on and off the charger. I’ve had so much going on last week that I didn’t sit down and use it exclusively to get an idea of the battery life. My experience is that I charged it fully, played around with settings, a few apps, camera, etc and put it in my gear bag. Then I didn’t get a chance to look at it again till the next day. At that point the battery was around 50%. I had it on and off the charger for the next 2 days. It seemed that everytime I turned it on to test, use it, the batter was down to around 70% or so. For that reason, it reminded me of my Droid X with a stock battery.

  • Rafael March 21, 2011, 2:02 pm

    FYI: Amazon.com is selling the T-bolt for $179.99 and
    Let’sTalk.com has it for $174.99.

  • Strows March 21, 2011, 3:17 pm

    The fact that the USB port is belly down when its on the kickstand does kind of suck but I belive they did that in order to access that port from its docking station. Oh well still getting one

  • thatguy March 21, 2011, 4:45 pm

    @ jj your phone is not defective. i had the Sprint EVO 4G before the Thunderbolt and it was the same way as it pertains to battery life. in this instance the only difference being you could turn 4G off on the EVO to consume less power and not on the Thunderbolt. i use and love the 4G on the Thunderbolt. i have replaced my cable modem home internet because of it. speeds from 6mb/s to as high as 19mb/s. i recently ordered an external battery pack for my public transportation/no wall receptacle woes. its a 5000mAh battery that should be able to charge the Thunderbolt a few times (hopefully).

    i do agree with you about this reviewer. i find it hard to believe the battery issue was not apparent immediately. if i lightly use my phone to text for an hour on full charge my battery is at 80%. another hour 70%. its downhill quickly after that with maybe 5 hours of light use. the reviewer also stated there was no 4G. that may have made a difference but you would think the 4G radio searching would drain the battery more quickly then actually using 4g.

    @ Strows a docking station would be a nice addition but i won’t hold my breath for it. from what i’ve read about the Motorola Atrix, it’s not up to par (yet). even with a USB location similar to the EVO you could always have a cable that plugged into that location from a dock. i love my Thunderbolt phone. i just don’t see how you do a review and leave out the only two but maybe important issues with the device.

  • santo March 21, 2011, 5:07 pm

    I am getting my first smart phone from Verizon. i will use it as a phone, check email and use the internet.my area of the country will be getting 4G soon. will the thunderbolt allow me to voice text. thought about the droid x and the iphone 4. leaning to the thunderbolt. what do you think???

  • Bryan Sherman March 21, 2011, 6:34 pm

    @thatguy, first thing I noticed was the problem with the USB port at bottom when in landscape mode. Poor design, imo. You can use the kickstand to hold in portrait (for reading).

    Battery issue is likely a 4G issue. I will be using the phone as my primary, and Cincinnati is 4G, so we will see what battery life looks like here.

  • Deslock March 21, 2011, 10:50 pm

    > boit wrote on March 21, 2011 at 11:12 am
    > Nice article. Did you know this phone finally puts AT&T in
    > the grave along with the iPhone, because you can talk and
    > use the Internet at the same time?

    Nice post. Did you know that by the time LTE coverage is finally widespread, this phone will be obsolete?

  • thatguy March 21, 2011, 11:18 pm

    as soon as they make a phone with a battery that lasts all day, this phone will be obsolete. technology is expensive being at the bleeding edge. but thats how i roll! ;)

  • Rafael March 22, 2011, 12:16 am

    @Julie RE “…For some reason Verizon didn’t include Skype so that the people could do two-way video calls….” I use the app Tango wih my Incredible for two-way video calls. I’m figuring it should work even better with the Thunderbolt’s front facing camera.

  • Faisal March 22, 2011, 9:41 am

    Good phone,

    same boring HTC Sense.

  • santo March 22, 2011, 12:06 pm

    i have decided to buy the thunderbolt from Verizon. With an upgrade it is $249.99 from a corporate store , $230 from a franchise store. i went on line, lets talk.com and amazon have it for$174.99 free shipping. are there any advantages to buying it from the store as opposed to buying it on line. should i beware on line purchase of the phone??

  • Greg March 22, 2011, 9:54 pm

    I’m having trouble turning on my front camera on my thunderbolt, does anyone know how to do it? maybe I’m doing something wrong..

  • Raj March 22, 2011, 11:52 pm

    Why the hell every new smartphone launched is comapred to bloody iPhone?????

    Every now and then we hear, iPhone killer launched, iPhone will go to grave etc.
    I dont see anything like that happening!!!!

  • Scott March 23, 2011, 11:22 am

    I got mine yesterday, but am returning it today.

    It’s an awesome gadget and works well as a wall phone, but it’s like carrying a brick around in your pocket that needs to be plugged into a wall every 3 hours.

    I am astounded they would release such a useless device! For a plug in 4G hotspot it’s great, but as a phone it is completely useless. How can this phone be considered ‘mobile’ with a 3-4 hour battery life?

    I loved my first look at the Android operating system and am looking forward to the new phones that will come out this year and next. I admit it, I jumped the gun on this one. Lucky for me Verizon took it back, no questions asked. I think they’ll be getting a LOT of these back.

  • thatguy March 23, 2011, 11:43 am

    @ Greg camera>menu>switch camera

  • thatguy March 23, 2011, 11:48 am
  • Greg March 23, 2011, 11:54 am

    @thatguy, Thanks. that is what I was doing but when I switch camera to “secondary device” the screen is just black…I spent an hour on the phone with Verizon last night and they are mailing me a new phone today. My front camera appears to be broken. I will post an update once i get my new phone. As far as battery life is concerned, my blackberry seems run out of juice by mid day so I’m used to recharging my phone constantly…The new HTC phone is great, so I plan on buying a bigger battery that they sell at Verizon for it and also the charger that is mentioned above.

  • santo March 23, 2011, 1:28 pm

    so. do i get the thunderbolt. i plan to use it as a phone,email and internet, or do i get the iphone 4. i see some people have issues with the battery. are there ways to save on the battery or buy an app to help preserve the battery???? i can get the thunderbolt for $180 from a Verizon dealer in my town. iphone is $200 and not 4g capable.

  • thatguy March 23, 2011, 5:27 pm

    you’re comparing apples to androids and the real question is, do you want 4G? if no, then choose any 3G phone out there and the battery won’t be an issue. any phone can do the things you’ve listed and they are capable of so much more. you should do some more research to find a phone that suits all of your needs. Apple has supplied a new iPhone every summer since 2007. that means the new iPhone 5 “should” be coming out in a few months. if you like iPhone go with that one. unless it has 4G, then you’ll be in the same battery woe boat as the rest of us.

  • Mark Peters March 26, 2011, 8:30 pm

    I purchased the Thunderbolt and I’m very, very, concern about the battery life. Im in a 4G area and my battery is drained after 3 hours. I’m not running any applications and have Task Killer installed. I think the price will go lower than $179 based on returns. Im gonna send back and wait on Bionic.

  • Jesus March 31, 2011, 12:43 am

    This phone has been long awaited and I am just happy that it finally cam out this month. I get the Thunderbolt tomorrow and cannot wait to try it out with the Sling adapter I got from my job at DISH Network. With the Sling adapter I can stream live and recorded TV to my android phone wherever I have 3G service or Wi-Fi. I am so excited to get this phone I just wish time would go by faster.

  • mr. chau April 4, 2011, 11:57 am

    Ive had the thunderbolt over three weeks. Battery life sucks, kept on rebooting itself, camera shutter speed is slow (excellent if image is a standing still), charger port on the wrong side of the phone (in landscape mode, you cant charge), touch screen is too sensive, and gps is away off. Other than that, love the size of the phone, the design is neat (can insert the phone top or bottom into the hoster), good volume, and speaker phone is awesome. BTW, returning it today and going back to the Droid X.

  • thatguy April 4, 2011, 12:40 pm

    mr chau, did you do a review on your phone since you have had it more then most people? how did you get your phone before the release date?

  • mr. chau April 4, 2011, 1:23 pm

    thatguy, i did do the review and was very excited about it. I use my phone a lot (I do tech support on the phone, on the phone about 10 hours a day). Another thing about the charger on the bottom left side, which I did not like, when you are driving, it doesnt sit well on anyting. you have to lay it flat on the passenger seat. They should of had it on the bottom or on top. I got it from a corporate store.

  • thatguy April 4, 2011, 1:30 pm

    yeah the charging port was a screw up in my opinion. i had the EVO phone before and use to the battery life issue. i just purchased the HTC extended 2750mAh battery from http://www.mobilecityonline.com/wireless/store/productdetail.asp?productid=27413&refid=froogle&utm_source=froogle&utm_medium=organic&utm_term=35H0014901M&utm_campaign=froogle
    i should get some more use of my phone this way. the battery sucks but i am using my phone as my home internet source via (rooted) wireless tether. i can even watch netflix movies in high def on my roku box with my Thunderbolt so it serves my purposes but may not be a good fit for everyone.

  • Panagioti May 14, 2011, 2:16 am

    That’s cause u don’t have 4GLTE dummy… You have no lie whAt ur missin! Literally 10 times faster than 3G -5 bars @4G -1 bar

  • rl May 23, 2011, 4:53 pm

    I love my thunderbolt its a great smartphone. The only two problems is the battery for one, but its a smartphone so of course the battery won’t last like other phones. Second you have to be careful with what you download for the apps because it could mess your phone up and you have to replace it, and that happened to me from experience. Other then that its a great phone and i absolutely love it. :)

  • santo May 23, 2011, 6:17 pm

    rl
    what apps did you down load that gave you a problem?. i also love my phone. I am on my third phone. 1st phone had a ringer problem. no battery issue, got a full day out of it. missed soo many calls. they sent me a refurbished phone. Ringer worked but battery was dead in 6 hours. Another refurbished phone. 4 days and things are good. i have my fingers crossed.

  • Pat June 14, 2011, 9:50 pm

    What is the calendar that is being used on the droids screen? I have the thunderbolt but like the small calendar. Also, what is the app that is showing the strength on the battery and space left on the SD card? Do those just come with the droid or are they available for download?

    • Julie June 15, 2011, 9:30 pm

      @Pat They are 3rd party widgets. Do a search in the App Market for Agenda Widget and Mini Info widget. Both are free.

  • yffuns101 June 26, 2011, 12:27 am

    This phone was the biggest letdowns I have had since I found out there was no Santa, Easter bunny.The first one was posessed. Aps would start and stop all by them selves. Things would delete and add with no prompting, all this in the first 28 days (14 days is the cut off date for a walkaway from the phone… They sent me a different Thunderbolt, same crap but different problems,, battery life,ap issues etc. I have a total of 14 hours of my life dealing with Verizon some good customer relations and some lousy…bottom line they sent me an I phone…1 week and no issues..My recommendation is to steer clear of the HTC Thunderbolt….Its garbage…

  • tony June 26, 2011, 4:16 pm

    I wish I would of known this phone shuts off I would have never gotten it. It’s a pain when am talking and it shuts off. No fun!

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