HTC Thunderbolt Review: The First Verizon 4G LTE Smartphoneby Brian Klug on April 27, 2011 12:12 AM EST
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So I have a confession to make - I’m late on this one. Way late. I managed to catch strep throat, came down with a high fever, then a sinus infection, and as a result missed my goal of having everything Verizon 4G LTE - including the HTC Thunderbolt - wrapped up and published a few weekends ago. One thing led to the other, and I promised a number of readers both in emails and on Twitter that it would be done a long time before it ended up coming to fruition. I think I’m going to add a week to all time estimations from now on, just to be safe. Apologies if I made you refresh obsessively a few times there.
Clockwise from top left: Samsung SCH-LC11, HTC Thunderbolt, Verizon USB551L, Pantech UML290
That said, it isn’t entirely a loss. Over the past month, I somehow have found myself getting slowly buried in literally every single Verizon 4G LTE device (with the exception of the LG VL600 data card) and that’s a good position to be in. The story of our LTE testing started actually before MWC with the Pantech UML290, and since then each time a new device has shown up, I’ve hopped in my car, driven two hours to Phoenix (the nearest LTE market) and spent a sleepless 48 hours testing battery life, speeds, and stability. It’s been a lot of testing, driving, and collecting data. I’ve recorded 542 speed test runs on 4G LTE as a result, and many more on EVDO for comparison. There’s a ton of stuff to go over, so to keep things manageable, I’ve split the review down the middle. This half is HTC Thunderbolt, the other is everything about Verizon 4G LTE from a cellular perspective including two data cards and a WiFi hotspot.
Without any more rambling, let’s get into this review of the first LTE-enabled smartphone on Verizon.
The first thing to say about the HTC Thunderbolt is that it’s gigantic. It’s big simply by virtue of having two transceivers inside, and four antennas. The fact that it’s huge isn’t a bad thing, rather it seems like a smartphone that unblinkingly stares back at legions of notably more superficial smartphones all battling over who is the thinnest (seriously, during CES and MWC several device categories changed thinness crowns in the span of just a few days). It’s almost as if the HTC designers laughed at the trend and boldly designed something different.
I like to think that each section on the site has some insane product that defies reality by being positively huge or defying physics in some manner. Ryan over in GPUs gets to play with his insane AMD 6990 cards and tri-SLI GTX 580s all day. Anand is buried in a house full of 240+ GB SSDs, Jarred and the notebook team does much the same with piles of notebooks, Ganesh with HTPCs, Johan with servers, and so forth. I like to think that the HTC Thunderbolt is in some way analogous to the most insane product in any of those categories, like the 6990 of smartphones, for reasons I’m going to go over in a moment. It’s an exciting smartphone purely because it’s a notable first.
So how is the HTC Thunderbolt? The story of my impressions of this device go all the way back to a Qualcomm meeting at CES when I had hands on with a working version of the phone that had everything but cellular connectivity. Back then, I think the only comment I could mutter at a crowded table surrounded by Qualcomm employees, Vivek, and Anand was - wow, this thing is huge.
Verizon's 4G LTE Phone Lineup (Left to Right): Samsung Droid Charge, LG Revolution, Motorola Droid Bionic, HTC Thunderbolt
On the last day of CES 2011 I got what would be my last couple of minutes with the Thunderbolt, this time with working cellular connectivity and alongside a crowded lineup of other 4G LTE smartphones launching this year. No speedtests were allowed, just general web browsing. Even at that point, the Thunderbolt was talked about with hushed excitement - this device is furthest along in Verizon’s testing, the rep almost whispered to me. It’ll undoubtedly be the first, if the rest of testing continues as planned. It seemed that everyone knew that the Thunderbolt would be first, and that made it special.
Verizon's 4G LTE Phone Lineup (Top to Bottom): LG Revolution, Samsung Droid Charge, Motorola Droid Bionic, HTC Thunderbolt
Top to Bottom: iPhone 4, Nexus One, HTC EVO, HTC Inspire, HTC Thunderbolt
The handset itself has a dominant full-hand feel, with good ergonomics. Thickness is where the Thunderbolt is really an outlier, at 13.2 mm, it’s considerably thicker than most of what else is launching lately. In the mass department as well, the Thunderbolt is specced at 173 grams with battery, though I measured 183.3 grams on my balance. As an aside, verifying size and mass is going to be another thing we’re doing going forward, especially after some notable specification confusion from back when I tackled the Fascinate.
Whether the Thunderbolt is simply too chunky depends on your hands and pockets, but there’s no denying that it’s large. Toss in the official double capacity battery which adds a square protrusion to the back, and it’s even larger. Again, simply by virtue of having a 4.3 inch screen, two cellular basebands and being stuffed full of antennas, the phone is going to be larger than average.
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hans007 - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linki live in the bay and bought the tbolt.
and WOW its like 10-20 mbps down. its insane fast. not to mention having used t-mobile before this (and i also used virgin mobile for about 3 weeks... which uh was pretty uneven honestly) the verizon network is bar none better than either of those (i dont use at&t but i hear it is horrible up here)
7Enigma - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linkI will second the request for a permanent post # for referencing. I know the embedded message makes this more difficult but it could simply be the start of a string gets a post number and followups a second number (or letter as rarely do comments get over 20+ replies). I know I've given up several times when I want to go back to an older article to see if the author responded to one of my comments and can't find it without reading every single one.
Hopefully something like this can be implemented in the near future as the comment system has really been the only thing lacking on Anandtech compared to other hardware review sites.
Brian Klug - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linkWe've been looking to add some features lately, I'll be sure to bring comment permalinking up. It might be a little while, but I totally agree.
CrystalBay - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linkYea , nice job Brian...
Omid.M - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linkBrian,
Does it have dual mics, i.e. for noise cancellation?
I'm surprised at how many phones don't have this or at least don't advertise it.
Brian Klug - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linkIndeed it does, there's one up at the top near the headset jack which is used for noise cancellation. I found suppression to be very good. You can see the mic port here: http://www.anandtech.com/Gallery/Album/1039#21
The problem with audio sounding strange when recording videos is still present, though HTC is going to fix this in an update soon, I'm told.
SRHelicity - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linkGreat review, Brian! As another commenter noted, this review is thorough and detailed. Good stuff!
pandemonium - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linkIt got me really thinking about the basis of why Verizon and Sprint are pushing their LTE out.
With how fast smart phones are being adopted by the general public, they better get a faster move on with their LTE coverage. I can't imagine not being able to simultaneously use data and voice being on a widely covered UMTS service compared to the lacking LTE coverage and the need for a dual transceiver device.
softdrinkviking - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linksorry to hear you were sick, brian. i know how it can be to get the double knockout, not so fun. :(
nice to see this kind of form factor in the mix as it is exactly what i'm looking for.
do you, or anyone reading know if there are any similar designs around with a better screen? (ips)
i wonder what the refresh of the Dell streak 5" will add up to, if it's ever coming out?
Stuka87 - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linkWhy is it so many (if not all) of the 4G phones out there are freaking huge?!
Is this just a way of trying to move them farther up market, or what? I know there are people that want a larger device. But really, I like the smaller form factors. I would never even consider getting this device because of its size.