Name: HTC Thunderbolt
Price: $250 w/Two-year contract
The Back Story: With AT&T’s 4G network under fire for merely being a trumped up 3G and Sprint’s WiMax coverage recently testing slower than Verizon’s new 4G LTE network, all eyes are on the nation’s largest wireless network to deliver the unprecedented mobile experience speed junkies have been clamoring for. Besides the announcement of its new wireless high-speed connection, Verizon has placed the spotlight on its first-ever 4G smartphone: the HTC Thunderbolt. Considering HTC’s successful track record with the EVO series and the positive feedback behind AT&T's latest powerhouse, the Inspire, it seemed fitting that the manufacturer of the most popular high-speed 4G smartphones pop Verizon's 4G cherry. So, does HTC catch lightening in a bottle once again? And, more importantly, can Verizon’s LTE service live up to the hype?
• Lightening fast speed and powerful CPU: The Thunderbolt lives up to its moniker, but that’s mainly attributed to Verizon’s ridiculously fast LTE network. During a test run, we downloaded five apps simultaneously and all downloads completed in less than one minute, some in less than five seconds. Text messages and e-mails downloaded instantly, plus web browsing was spot-on as we zoomed through different sites. Even without a dual-core CPU at the helm, its second-gen 1GHz Snapdragon processor did a snap job of opening programs and navigating through the phone’s seven homescreens and menus.
• Enhanced multitasking and wireless features: Unavailable before on the network, now users have the ability to screen calls and access the Internet at the same time on 4G or 3G speed. The phone is DLNA-enabled and can wirelessly transfer media files (music, photos, videos) onto any compatible device, while mobile hotspot capability supports up to eight gadgets and is available for free until May 15.
• Upgraded and responsive UI: HTC’s newest Sense interface is present and packs a variety of social media widgets like Friend Stream, as well as Facebook and Twitter shortcuts, which generate speedy real-time updates. The virtual keyboard delivers accurate onscreen typing and the four haptic feedback buttons located at the bottom work well. Some have complained about the phone not having HTCSense.com integration, but the cloud service picked up our account and populated our Favorites widget with the same people stored in our Inspire device. Nice.
• Solid construction, high-minded design: Like the manufacturer’s other 4G phones, the Thunderbolt sports a jaw-dropping 4.3-inch LCD touchscreen that generates a 480x800 pixel resolution to display crisp images, videos, and text. The big difference here lies in the sturdy aluminum casing that provides better grip control and doesn’t slide all over the place. Then there’s the trademark kickstand, which is always a great addition for any media buff.
• Battery killer: Running several apps in the background and enabling wireless features like Bluetooth and wi-fi are givens for draining battery power. But the Thunderbolt’s biggest gripe comes from not having a clear-cut method of toggling between 4G and 3G (which supposedly saves 4X the juice). Mobile experts can supposedly manipulate the phone’s settings and discover a solution, while novices might either need the assistance of a Verizon clerk or just walk out of the store with an extra battery.
• Minor software bugs: At first we encountered a few hiccups, mainly error messages when trying to access some of Verizon’s bloatware apps like VCAST Apps and VZ Navigator, but nothing serious. Other than that everything ran smooth.
• Heavy price tag: It’s Verizon's most expensive smartphone. Even though it might not be as cost efficient upfront as the iPhone 4 or Droid 2, the company isn’t charging users for 4G service and has an unlimited data plan at the moment.
• Accessing the power button and internal slots: With such a peewee start-up button placed at the top, booting up might take a minute or two. And just like the Inspire, accessing the battery and memory card compartments behind the back case will require some aggressive, but delicate force.
Final Say: There’s no denying that the HTC Thunderbolt is the fastest, and arguably, one of the most powerful phones on the market. Verizon’s LTE network doesn’t disappoint and edges out Sprint’s 4G WiMax service to claim the 4G throne. The weak battery could be a deal breaker for many, but there are a number of energy saving and task killer apps available on the Android Market that can help the with energy saving cause. And with a Gingerbread update projected for June, Verizon has the clear advantage against other mobile carriers when it comes to high-speed and high-powered 4G phones. For now, the Thunderbolt is the quintessential Verizon phone.