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After countless delays and months of rumors and leaks, Verizon's HTC ThunderBolt is finally available and is delivering some of the fastest wireless speeds we have ever seen here at PhoneDog. The ThunderBolt may be Verizon's first phone capable of accessing their LTE network, but fast speeds aren't the only thing this striking new phone has to offer.

It comes with a 4.3-inch Super LCD display, a loud Dolby Surround Sound speaker, a kickstand for hands-free viewing of media, and much more. Success will not be a walk in the park for the ThunderBolt though; several phones with more processing power are market-bound and at $249.99 with a two-year agreement, it has a pretty hefty subsidized price tag. Does the ThunderBolt have enough to attract customers, or will the more powerful phones steal attention before it has a fair chance to shine?

Design & Features

The ThunderBolt is yet another phone to pass through HTC's doors with excellent build quality. The chassis is primarily metal with a matte finish and a rubberized battery door. This, along with the distinct weight, gives it a very nice, high quality and solid feel in the hand.

The front of the device consists of a speaker grill at the top with a notification LED hidden behind. To the right is the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera and below is the 4.3-inch Super LCD display (480 by 800 pixel resolution). Below the display are the four capacitive buttons: home, menu, back, and search. Along the right edge is the volume rocker and the left edge holds the microUSB port. The power button and 3.5mm headphone jack are found on the top edge. Around back, you will find the 8-megapixel camera, dual LED flash, and kickstand. Underneath the kickstand is the Dobly Surround Sound speaker. Beneath the 1400mAh battery is the LTE SIM card and a pre-installed 32GB microSD card.

Overall, the ThunderBolt is the epitome of what we've learned to expect from HTC. It is a sexy and sturdy device that offers build quality that even rivals the highly regarded Apple.

 Usability & Performance

Since it's the most notable feature of the ThunderBolt, I will begin with LTE capabilities. For the moment, access to Verizon's LTE network is unlimited and included in the standard $29.99 data plan. After four days of use, I can honestly say that LTE speeds in the Charlotte metro area have been absolutely great and I've hit very few areas without LTE. In fact, the first time I completely lost LTE connectivity was when I drove thirty miles north of Charlotte. That is much further than I expected LTE to reach. I've been averaging 6 Mbps down and about 32 Mbps up. The speeds vary quite a bit, but I have yet to see download speeds dip below 5 Mbps. Upload speeds have remained above 22 Mbps and peaked at 45 Mbps.

It has been brought to my attention that the Speed Test application is not optimized for LTE upload speeds, so take these estimates with a grain of salt.

Call quality on the ThunderBolt has been great as well and I have yet to drop a call. I drove through a spotty Verizon area yesterday, where I typically would lose the call. The quality was poor and the person I was speaking with was cutting in and out, but we remained connected. The earpiece speaker is very loud – almost too loud at times – and there are dual microphones for background noise cancellation. Since the speakerphone feature uses the Dolby speaker, that is plenty loud, too.

Something that is new to Verizon customers with the ThunderBolt is simultaneous voice and data. I can't say that I used it a lot in my time with the device, or that I ever will, but it does work. I browsed the Internet while on call and even ran a speed test. Speeds remained blazing fast during calls.

Under the hood, the ThunderBolt packs a 1GHz Snapdragon (QSD 8655) processor. Many believe this to be a shortfall of HTC's latest devices. However, the ThunderBolt has performed pretty well so far. I experienced a little lag when I first started using the device, but that is to be expected. Since, I haven't ran into any lag whatsoever. I ran a Quadrant Standard test and the ThunderBolt did pretty well, clocking in at 1634. I have been very impressed with the performance.

The 4.3-inch display of the ThunderBolt is very bright and crisp. It is pretty difficult to see in direct sunlight though. The only complaint I have about the display is how much juice it tends to suck up. Even with the display turned as low as possible – without being too low to see – the display consistently accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the battery usage. Another thing worth noting is that when plugged up, the display sensitivity goes haywire. Sometimes a light touch won't even register, other times it will register as multiple touches. If you're typing a message while plugged up, you will have to type slowly and push the display with more pressure than normal.

Speaking of messaging, several people and I have experienced some bizarre things within the Sense Messaging application. Aaron's messages randomly disappeared from the “All Messages” list and I have had several false notifications when opening the application. For example, the icons at the bottom of the Messaging application tell me I have a one or two unread messages when they have already been read. I have also had some issues with third-party keyboards within the app. Needless to say, the Sense Messaging application has several bugs and glitches. Luckily, there are third-party SMS applications available in the Market.

Considering Android 2.3 was introduced back in December, we all were hoping that phones would start shipping with the newer version of Android versus Froyo. However, that is not the case, the ThunderBolt ships with Android 2.2. Thankfully, HTC is pretty good about pushing updates pretty quickly. To help smooth over the slow update process, the ThunderBolt comes with the newer version of Sense UI, version 2.0. This interface comes with a plethora of tweaks and mods – like skins, scenes, and high quality widgets – that truly give HTC Android users a well polished experience.

An undeniable high point of the ThunderBolt is the pair of cameras. The front-facing camera is only 1.3-megapixels and won't take breathtaking stills by any means, but it performs quite well for video calling. Stills with the rear camera though, are great. The photos I've taken have turned out excellent and colors render very well. Video records at 720p and both video and audio quality are very impressive as you can see in Aaron's HD video sample. The Sense camera application comes with several different filters and effects for both stills and videos, which is pretty fun to toy with.

The ThunderBolt is composed of high quality materials and carries some serious specifications, but at the end of the day – when your phone is on its last leg – there is one huge, gaping pitfall. Battery life on my ThunderBolt thus far has been horrendous. I've heard reports of decent battery life from some, many comparing it to that of the EVO, which isn't the best, but it's acceptable. For me, however, I have yet to exceed 6 hours – regardless of use, or lack thereof – without the phone turning off or the help of a short charge session. Making it through a whole day isn't even feasible at the moment. For moderate to heavy users, I recommend either getting an extended or spare battery or having a charger in the car or office.

For numerous reasons, I believe I have a bad battery. A dud. I have both "bump charged" my device and calibrated the battery to no avail. The drain averages at 20% or more per hour regardless of what I do with it. I'm no expert on batteries, but I've dealt with enough phones to know something isn't quite right. I can be charging the phone and the battery reading will jump from 88% to 100%, skipping 89-99% altogether. Twice, the battery has reached 100% while charging and remained charging for nearly an hour after. I went to the local Verizon store and though they didn't agree that something was wrong, they are sending me a new battery in the mail.

Lastly, the Dobly Surround Sound speaker on the back side of the ThunderBolt is very loud and sounds great for being so small. It isn't going to blow you away and it isn't jaw-dropping, but it is one of the better small speakers I've heard. Ironically, this speaker sounds better than what I can remember of the HTC Surround's Dolby speaker. The obvious negative to it is that it's hidden behind a kickstand, which means when you're not using the stand, the speaker will be muffled. Flipping open the kickstand while holding the phone isn't much of a bother.

Conclusion

Despite the ridiculously bad battery life I've experienced, the ThunderBolt is in the running for one of the top phones I've ever owned. The hardware is immaculate and reminds me of Nexus One quality. For the most part, the entire experience has been very pleasing. Sense UI really brings a lot to Android and allows users to fully customize their experience.

Though the ThunderBolt has some very serious competition approaching, I feel it will do quite well among the dual-core phones. HTC has a long track record of great devices, some with very long life spans in a market where devices are usually outdated by the time they hit shelves. If the battery issues can be sorted out soon, this device could prove to be a tough device to top for some time to come.

Wrap-Up

What's Good: Large, bright display; 32GB microSD card pre-installed; great build quality; LTE speeds are fantastic; loud, clear speaker; Sense 2.0 gives Android a very polished feel; great camera for both stills and HD video.

What's Bad: Very poor battery life; Messaging app glitches often; can't use kickstand in landscape while charging; a tad on the bulky/chunky side; high contracted price tag.

The Verdict: The ThunderBolt is a great device for both first-time smartphone buyers and veterans alike. If you can get past the less-than-stellar battery life, the ThunderBolt has numerous high points and offers one of the smoothest Android experiences to date. It is priced a little high, even for a high-end smartphone, but to be grandfathered in to Verizon's unlimited LTE data plan may be worth it in the long run.


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