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HTC Thunderbolt Review: 4G LTE Storms The Airwaves

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: HTC

Battery Life and Performance

Battery Life 

If you’ve read even the slightest bit of information about the Thunderbolt, you know that it has a reputation for poor battery life. Even the Verizon associate helping me when I purchased the Thunderbolt told me as much. Of course, she was trying to sell me a car charger.

During the first two days of ownership, the Thunderbolt’s battery life did not seem unusual.  On the third day, however, the Thunderbolt suddenly began losing charge quickly. After leaving for a morning appointment at 8am, I returned just after 1pm to find that the Thunderbolt, despite minimal use including a single phone call no longer than five minutes and perhaps ten minutes of web browsing, had lost half its capacity. 

After some research, I determined that the problem was a service called PVMtServiceStart. This service, related to the pre-installed Blockbuster app, was staying active when it should not. After monitoring the battery I found this service was using more power than even the display. I resolved the problem by updating the Blockbuster app, but this goes to show that bloatware can have a significant negative impact on a phone. 

With the problem resolved, battery life proved serviceable. In a normal day’s usage I’m able to extract a full 24 hours of battery from the device. This is in what I would consider light use – around thirty minutes of talk time, thirty minutes to an hour of browsing time, and the remaining time spent in an idle state.  

Heavy use can be a different story. Using a YouTube loop with the display at 30% brightness I was able to run the battery dry within five hours. You might expect better battery life for more mundane usage, such are browsing the web – particularly if you disable Flash. Still, the fact remains that the Thunderbolt’s battery endurance may prove insufficient if you do intend to use its web connectivity and display constantly. The story becomes worse if you use the Thunderbolt as a WiFi hotspot. In my testing, the hotspot feature drained the Thunderbolt from 100% to 32% in just three hours  – and that was in an area where 4G was not available. 

Performance

The Thunderbolt is equipped with a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor. The 1 GHz Snapdragon has been powering phones for some time now, but the model stuffed into the Thunderbolt uses the MSM8655 chip, which is newer and supposedly quicker than the QSD8250 and QSD8650 chips found in devices like the original HTC Droid Incredible, HTC EVO 4G and Google Nexus One. One of the most important enhancements is the inclusion of the Adreno 205 GPU, an upgrade to the Adreno 200 that was a part of the older Snapdragons. 

What does this mean in terms of real-world performance? On to the benchmarks!

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Objectively, the performance of the Thunderbolt is great. It is considerably quicker than devices based off earlier Snapdragon processors, and also beats the Epic 4G’s 1 GHz Hummingbird in both Quadrant and MobileMark . The Epic 4G does come out swinging in NenaMark, but that’s not surprising, as smartphones equipped with PowerVR SGX 540 mobile graphics are dominating that benchmark at this time.

The speed of the Thunderbolt is apparent in day-to-day use. If you’re coming from a smartphone that uses one of the older Snapdragons you’ll likely feel the difference within a few seconds. Flipping through homescreens is butter-smooth, even when complex widgets are installed. Web browsing is also a pleasure. The stock Android browser almost never has need to display a checkerboard, even on pages that are deploying flash content. 

Of course, there’s more at work here than the processor. The Thunderbolt’s main selling point is its inclusion of 4G LTE. Although 4G LTE is not deployed in my area, I was able to test it on a trip to Seattle. The 3G results are from my apartment in Portland, as are the WiFi results.

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Damn, son. The speed of 4G LTE is incredible, outpacing 3G easily and also outpacing a connection to my 802.11 WiFi router. The Thunderbolt’s 4G LTE speeds were in fact on par with what I receive on my desktop, which is connected directly to my router, which itself is connected to Frontier FiOS. If anyone is wondering why Verizon spent so much money on Fiber Optic networking only to sell the business in a number of markets, this is probably why. Even in its initial deployment, 4 bars of Verizon 4G LTE keeps pace with my desktop’s downloads and beats it on uploads.

 

 

May 5, 2011 | 10:01 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

I'd really like to see a phone of that thickness, but with a hardware keyboard. My n900 is kind of a brink in that regard :P.

With a 4.3" display, is this someone that would only fit comfortably in a coat pocket?

On second thought, never mind. I don't want to know. I must resist phone upgrades!! :P

May 5, 2011 | 05:55 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

It's actually fine in a jeans pocket. It is big for a phone, but certainly no thicker than your average wallet.

May 6, 2011 | 01:47 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have a DroidX 4.3" phone.

It fits great in my back pocket...and a nice feature of the DroidX (IMHO) is the camera bump.

It makes pulling the phone out of the pocket a breeze.
It makes orienting the phone in my hand automatic because of it's aysmetric design.

Also, I'm 6'2" tall... the droidX is easy to use with one hand, including dialing.

I'll never go back to a sub 4" screen again.

My $.02

May 6, 2011 | 01:52 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Oh I Forgot to make a suggestion to Thunderbolt owners.

My friend has one... he took a dremel tool and cut a slot out of the kickstand.

Now the audio sounds fine when the kickstand is closed.

The slot looks natural and part of the phone also..he did a nice clean job.

May 5, 2011 | 11:25 AM - Posted by rmadball

I have a Droid X. Might not be as thick as the Thunderbolt but as for the size, you do adjust. Just takes practice. I can now dial phone with one hand but that rarely happens anymore. Between my contacts and the integrated contacts that come from my social services, I just use voice to dial. I use Vlingo.
I for one when upgrading next will be looking for another large phone. I love my Droid X but do look forward to a dual core phone. Hopefully by then the battery life will be better

As for a 4.3 screen fitting in your pocket? I have no problems putting mine in my pocket. Just takes up the whole pocket :)

May 5, 2011 | 12:30 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

heh, good point :P

I just hope that when I do eventually have the money to upgrade, I'm able to find a phone with both a hardware keyboard (I can't type on touch keyboards nearly as accurately :P) and a good display with the latest Android OS. I will miss Maemo thou lol.

May 8, 2011 | 07:18 PM - Posted by HH (not verified)

I bougt my Thunderbolt about 2 weeks ago. One week ago we drove 1,300 miles to attend and video my grandson's recital.
From only 2 rows from the stage, the video was great but the AUDIO WAS BARELY THERE AND USELESS. When I took it to the Verizon store, I was told that, "it's just one of those things that hasn't been worked out yet". Had I known that, I would have made another choice. I am extremely disappointed.

Any suggestions?

May 13, 2011 | 01:57 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Frankly, I'm not too surprised. I doubt many phones would hold up well in that situation.

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