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printed April 19, 2014
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Review: HTC Thunderbolt

Form Basics Extras Video Wrap-Up Comments  14  

Is It Your Type? Body The Three S's  

Screen

The 4.3-inch display has 480 x 800 pixels, the same as many other Android smartphones in the market. This resolution has been good on every handset we've seen, and the Thunderbolt is no different. The pixel density is good enough that most elements on the screen are smooth and don't display any ragged edges. (Still, we wonder why HTC went with 480 x 800 when the Droid Bionic will have a 540 x 960 display). In terms of brightness, it’s perfect for indoor use, but sunlight washes it out entirely when outdoors. Using it as a camera on a sunny day was problematic. One thing I like: HTC has added a brightness home-screen widget that lets you quickly cycle through three different brightness settings, though you can still jump into the main settings tools to more finely tune brightness.

Signal

The Thunderbolt's most significant feature is its ability to use Verizon's nascent LTE network. Oddly, there are no controls whatsoever for the LTE radio. It's simply on all the time. When you have LTE coverage, the Thunderbolt automatically jumps onto LTE, and when you leave LTE coverage, it drops down to 3G. Since I don't have LTE coverage where I live, I had to drive to find it. Aside from NYC, Verizon also provides LTE coverage at Newark Airport and Teterboro Airport in NJ. I chose to drive to Teterboro to test the LTE network there.

I parked my car in the Teterboro lot and noticed that the Thunderbolt had already jumped onto 4G. I did some light surfing and noticed that web pages were loading incredibly fast. I walked into the terminal and set up shop there for about an hour. The Thunderbolt showed me two bars of LTE coverage. I was probably the only person using LTE in the airport. The phone had no trouble connecting at all. Speeds were consistently awesome. Downloads ranged between 10 - 16Mbps and uploads pushed through between 3 - 6Mbps. That's some good stuff.

I activated the mobile hotspot feature, and was still able to get remarkably fast download speeds through the Thunderbolt on my laptop, too. It worked like a charm, and let me connect the three Wi-Fi devices I had on hand to Verizon's LTE network.

As for 3G, the Thunderbolt performed slightly below average when compared to other 3G phones. It had a few less bars and a few dropped/missed calls.

Sound

The Thunderbolt is a fine voice phone. The quality of voice calls was quite good, with little noise. The earpiece speaker is plenty loud, and should let users hear conversations in all but the loudest environments. Ringers and other alerts were also nice and loud, though not annoyingly so. The speakerphone worked very well. Quality and volume were both excellent. The vibrate alert was decent, but not quite as strong as I'd like.

Battery

Ah, battery, battery, battery. LTE and good battery life would appear to be mutually exclusive. When using the Thunderbolt in my 3G-soaked home, the battery life was excellent. It lasted well more than a single day, even with heavy use of email and social networks. Even though the LTE radio is on, using the Thunderbolt in 3G-only areas results in good battery life. Using LTE is an entirely different matter. First, the battery is alarmingly small at only 1400mAh. When I brought the Thunderbolt to Teterboro, it had a full charge. After using LTE intensively for a little over an hour (with mobile hotspot), the battery had 20% life remaining. In other words, heavy use of the LTE radio will destroy your battery life incredibly fast. This stinks. You can opt to carry around a second battery, or always keep the Thunderbolt plugged in when using LTE. Unfortunately, we are unable to report with authority how the battery performs when spending an entire day under LTE coverage with moderate use. We'll update this review once we can.

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