HTC Thunderbolt Review: 4G LTE Storms The Airwaves
Battery Life and Performance
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.
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!
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.
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.