HTC Thunderbolt review: Verizon strikes at 4G speed

April 5, 2011 - 0:0

The 4G war is heating up among smartphone providers, and Verizon's first salvo has hit store shelves in the form of the HTC Thunderbolt, a beast of a phone that is as speedy as it is beefy.

The HTC Thunderbolt is the first of many phones that will use Verizon's 4G LTE network, which currently is available in only a handful of metropolitan areas but will expand to over 100 areas by the end of the year.
Even setting aside its 4G capabilities, the Thunderbolt is worth consideration.
The overall design of the Thunderbolt is very familiar to anyone who has seen a smartphone from HTC Corp. It's a bit thicker than recent smartphones but can still slip into a pocket easily. The back is a soft touch material that feels nice in the hand, with a (blessedly) large volume rocker on one side, power button on top and micro-USB port on the other side.
This phone is also a bit heavy, even compared with HTC phones of the same size. The additional 4G hardware inside is likely to account for that (and the slightly thicker profile), but we actually like the heft of the Thunderbolt. It feels like a tool instead of a toy, and the weight — 5.78 ounces (164 grams), only an ounce heavier than Verizon's iPhone 4 — is by no means unbearable.
The front of the HTC Thunderbolt is dominated by a 4.3-inch WVGA display that's quite magnificent. The 800x480 pixel resolution isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it looks great on the Thunderbolt, and the colors are vibrant. In addition, the touch functionality is accurate and responsive, but the average user will most likely be attracted to the sheer size of the display.
The extra display area might seem trivial at first, but it makes a difference. There's more room for onscreen keyboards, and even reading Kindle books is better because the screen can pack a few extra words on each line. Given the frequent page-turning required when reading e-books on a smartphone screen, every extra word counts. HTC has included its iconic earpiece speaker grille at the top of the device, along with a 1.3-megapixel camera for making video calls. Skype video calling wasn't available at launch, contrary to early reports, but might make it into the device in a future update.
Like the touch screen, the buttons at the bottom of the screen (home, menu, back and search) are capacitive rather than physical hardware. While this is hardly unique to the Thunderbolt, many people prefer the physical buttons because the capacitive buttons are too easily bumped with a finger.
While there are many phones scheduled to launch with dual-core processors, the HTC Thunderbolt is not one of them. However, it does employ the latest generation of 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, and it feels zippy. 4G data speeds aside, just using apps and swiping through menus feels fast and responsive.
Another big reason why the Thunderbolt feels so snappy is the 768MB of RAM, which is more than the average Android phone has now. More RAM means the processor can do more and do it faster. There will be phones on the market soon with 1GB or more of RAM, but for now the Thunderbolt feels about as fast as they come.
One of the most unexpected and useful features of the HTC Thunderbolt is the 32GB microSD card that resides under the battery. Between the card and 8GB of internal storage, the HTC Thunderbolt comes with more storage than the priciest iPhone 4 or nearly any other smartphone, for that matter. You'll have to pry off the ridiculously hard-to-open battery cover to get to the card. Fortunately, users shouldn't need to do that very often.