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HTC Thunderbolt Review: 4G LTE Storms The Airwaves

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: HTC

Introduction, Design and Ergonomics

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Watching today’s smartphone market brings back memories. Right now the transition from single-core to dual-core products is being made, as is a transition from older 3G networks to the latest 4G technology. I’m reminded of the excitement of the first dual-core x86 processors, as well as the rabid arguments surrounding them. 

Many dual-core phone are still “coming soon”, however, which means that single-core flagships like the HTC Thunderbolt are still able to impress. This 4.3” smartphone is everything you’d expect a premier high-end Android handset to be. As I’ll explain, that has its positive and negatives, but the specifications look great on paper.

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The Thunderbolt’s real claim to fame is obviously the introduction of Verizon’s 4G LTE network. You’ve probably noticed the ads – the guy running up to the building in the middle of the night, lofting a lightning rod, and somehow managing to enhance to speed of the Thunderbolt rather than blowing it to smithereens. It’s a cool commercial, but 4G LTE isn’t available everywhere yet

But fixating on the hardware advancements won’t tell us if the Thunderbolt is actually a good smartphone.  A device is more than the sum of its specifications. Let’s take a close look at the device and see how it stands up against the competition.

Design and Ergonomics

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The Thunderbolt is a big boy. The 4.3” display requires a large chassis, as does the networking tech inside. The phone is 4.75” tall by 2.44” wide and just over half an inch thick – dimensions that make it among the largest phones on sale today. There are a select few laptops, like the MacBook Air, that are nearly as thin as this phone. 

Such titanic proportions are a tradeoff. The benefit is the Thunderbolt’s usability as a pocket PC. When held long-ways the phone’s keyboard is extremely easy to use, as the lack of tactile feedback is made up for by the exceedingly large virtual keys. Video content looks amazing, and the viewing experience is made better by one of the Thunderbolt’s design quirks; a kickstand that holds the phone in an upright viewing position. Games are also excellent on the Thunderbolt, although this fact owes as much to the phone’s hardware as it does to the phone’s size. 

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However, the size can at times make one-handed usage a real pain. I’m six feet tall, and have appropriately proportioned hands, but even I sometimes have trouble reaching a button or icon while I hold the device with a single paw. At no point does this become more apparent than when trying to dial a number with a single hand. The weight can also be an issue when attempting a one-handed grasp, as a single finger will likely have a hard time keeping the Thunderbolt steady.  

Opinions on the beauty of the Thunderbolt are likely to depend on where you’re coming from. The dull gray Thunderbolt’s only splash of style is the metal kickstand, but it’s not enough to class up the entire phone. Excessive use of plastic throughout the rest of the body only serves to lessen the phone’s design, and I must admit that I’m a bit puzzled as to why HTC decided to release a flagship smartphone with such a boring, low-rent exterior. 

These design quandaries aside, the functionality of the Thunderbolt remains is solid. The easily accessible volume rocker could actually be downsized and still remain readily available, while the power button on the top edge of the phone is similarly easy to access. 

The Thunderbolt is not elegant, and has plenty of junk in the trunk. Yet some users will no doubt enjoy the large display that bulk allows. In this sense I have to applaud HTC, because I think they know their audience well and have delivered a device that will fulfill their expectations. 

 

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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