Thunderbolt Review

When you first take a look at Verizon’s new big boy in town the Thunderbolt looks like a carbon copy of Sprint’s EVO 4G and AT&T’s Inspire 4G.  I mean look at it, it sports a very delicious 4.3 inch WVGA display and a 8 megapixel camera, and DUAL-LED flash (for those extra dark ghost hunts).  Yet when you get past the basic look around you see that the Thunderbolt is something so very much more.  It borrows from other phones and improves on them.

Like the Inspire it borrows the fantastic display with wide viewing angles and a newer gen Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, however it is only a single core processor but we can look past that.  Then you see on the back of the Thunderbolt it has the kickstand that the EVO 4G has.  It also has a second 4G radio and when you see that you realize that the Thunderbolt is like a mad scientists’ wet dream.  The upside is that with all the borrowing it does from Inspire and EVO the one thing it doesn’t borrow is the network as Verizon laid down the gravel for the LTE network for the Thunderbolt to do doughnuts on.

Software

Once you get under the hood of the Thunderbolt you see the HTC Sense is running on top of Android 2.2.1 however it isn’t your typical run of the mill HTC and Android fair.  The cloud feature, which was introduced with the Desire HD and HTCSense.com last year does not show up here.  It does include HTC’s usual “Fast Boot” option.  You have to enable this feature but it is easily found in the Power menu under the settings.

The User Interface is exactly what you expect from any Sense device put out in the past year or so.  Colorful menus, soft keyboard, some home screen elements and well you get the idea.  If you have played with a Sense UI phone it is the same.  Now Verizon and HTC snuck in some non-standard apps for your enjoyment and here a few of them.

  • Adobe Reader
  • Blockbuster
  • Kindle
  • Quickoffice: A lot of Android phones have some soft of Quickoffice loaded however Thunderbolt brings full versions of Word and Excel.  Aren’t they sweet?
  • Rhapsody
  • Rock Band: Not a very good translation from console to phone.  If you have big fingers stay away and it really doesn’t bring the same fun and excitement the home game does.
  • V CAST Apps
  • V CAST Media
  • VZ Navigator

Unfortunately Verizon decided that these and some other bloatware can’t be uninstalled.  Atleast with the Atrix you can delete some of the unwantedness.  Some of the bloatware is nice but I would really like the option of what I want on there and what I don’t want on my phone.

One thing a lot of people are seeing missing are two big apps.  Skype and Netflix are not present on this phone.  You can download the regular Skype application but you are limited to its functionality and you can’t make video calls.  Netflix is different in that some people thought it would have been loaded on the phone.  It is able to handle the Netflix DRM and the big display and the kickstand make it seems as if the phone would be a shoe in for mobile video streaming.  However it is not there right now but that isn’t to say it doesn’t get a last minute reprieve before it hits the market.

Hardware

Cracking open the packaging showcases what is becoming the norm for high end phones and that is the super duper boxes that comes with the phone.  Lately I have been looking at the packaging and instead of wanting to discard it as soon as I can I look at it like pieces of art.  The Thunderbolt is much akin to that line of thinking.  Fancy packaging and some embossing on the package so you can feel the name on it not just see it.

However once you break it open more color breaks through killing the all black theme they had going here.  Per usual you got your reading material to never look at and the battery and 32GB microSD are already preinstalled to save you time.  You also get your standard wall charger and micro-USB cable but one thing is missing.  No crap quality earbuds with the phone.  No instead logic would think you already own a pair of fancy headphones you will be using with this phone.  So one less thing to worry about while unpacking the phone.

The Thunderbolt is a very fitting name for this device.  It is big, heavy and you know you are holding a phone in your hand.  It will take some getting used to the bigger phones if you have never handled one.  Now the weight issue behind us the typical HTC design is still there.  The design itself seems to be a year behind most models.  But saying last year’s model isn’t meant to be a dig at the Thunderbolt.  No sir, not in any way in fact the phone is still a damn good looking phone.  The soft cover back doesn’t go the entire length of the phone.

Only three quarters of the way then you hit the brushed metal kickstand which has Google etched into it and the kickstand hides the VERY loud speakers.  Downside of that is with the kickstand not kicked out the sound is muffled but why would you be listening to the device without the kickstand out watching movies on that amazing display?

With all that beefyness you would think the Thunderbolt has some flaws when it comes to the camera being jetted out a little from the back?  Well you would be wrong.  The camera’s rim is pretty much flush with the back and the lens is actually recessed a bit.  What does that mean to you the cellphone camera guy?  Means you won’t scratch up your 8 megapixel camera simply by laying it down on the table or pulling it from your pocket.  The dual flash is situated just like HTC’s other 4.3” devices and it to suffers from the mysterious “You cannot use Flash while Mobile Hotspot is enabled.”  I don’t get it never have never will.

Then we get to the buttons around the Thunderbolt with the power button perfectly placed and flush with the surface, the volume up and down buttons are nicely placed however feel doughy and makes you think you really aren’t pushing them or you are accidentally pushing them in without knowing it.

Then we come to the display which is phenomenal and a huge upgrade from the EVO.  The viewing angles are so much better that it doesn’t wash out or inverts.  This thing really gives you a solid viewing display for which to watch movies, YouTube clips or games.

Camera

With an 8 megapixel camera on the Thunderbolt I was hoping to see fantastic pictures with rich color and some quality video recording that doesn’t have a third world feel to it.  Thankfully the Thunderbolt delivers on both accounts.  Not sure how they did it but whatever it is HTC keep it up.  Touch focus works very quickly and gives you the sense you are really working the camera to get it just right.  Only downside is that with extremely close shots it just washes out completely just can’t get a grip on the object and focus on it.  The Thunderbolt lacks an actual shutter key but most people are used to tapping the screen to take a shot now a days however maybe they could have thrown in an extra button just for some people’s sake.

On the video side the Thunderbolt doesn’t auto focus on the fly however a few taps on the screen clears that right up and the distortion and pixilation was almost non-existent and that  is a very good thing.  Voices come through remarkably well even with background noise being somewhat loud and unnerving however your voice for narration is picked up very well.

Wrap-up

HTC came to the table with a brand new make and model of a cell phone borrowing concepts from their previous creation and they did a remarkable job in doing so.  They really produced a phone that while borrowing ideas also improved on them and set new standards for phone functionality and purpose.  I can recommend this phone without hesisitation and hope you enjoy the phone whole heartedly.  I can’t wait to see what HTC brings to the table to top this bad boy.  Remember you are flying on the Verizon LTE network so enjoy the speeds this phone really lets you enjoy it.

This phone will be available to local Verizon customers online and at your Philadelphia area Verizon stores later this week.  The Thunderbolt retails for $250 on a new 2 year agreement and of course if you search around online you can probably find a better deal for the Thunderbolt.

 

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