March 18, 2011

HTC's Android Thunderbolt is a Mobile Pot of Gold


It wasn’t all that long ago that I loved my BlackBerry Storm, so much that I upgraded to the Storm 2 as soon as I could. And I loved that, too (everything except for the browser, which may as well have not been included on the phone).

But, over time, it started hanging with nearly every app, rebooting on its own, and I noticed regular delays with email delivery, and I started plotting for my next device.

There were a number of options, from HTC, Apple, Motorola, RIM and others. I did some research but, realizing Verizon had not long ago announced its roadmap for LTE devices, I reasoned I could wait even several months, rather than tying myself to what will soon be a legacy technology. Long ago, I had also predicted Android would overtake the market (Andy and Rich certainly recall my comments over dinner a year and a half ago).

So I waited… and waited…

Finally, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Android-based HTC Thunderbolt arrived – and though I have had only a short time to explore its features and capabilities, I’m nothing but pleased so far.

Yes, it’s big – much bigger than any phone I’ve ever used – which took some getting used to. It fits nicely into the pockets of a pair of cargo pants, but also a suit jacket or a purse. Otherwise, a holster-style case appears to be the best bet.

But enough about that – after all, size isn’t everything. The first thing I realized is something everyone realized the first time they power on their new device – it’s not familiar. Indeed, I figured it would take me some time to get used to the Android UI, layout and features. 

But, with four convenient “always-on” buttons (home, menu, back, and search) and an easily navigable interface (the home screen includes three additional buttons: show all apps, phone, and personalize), within 30 minutes I had customized my main screen, downloaded several apps, set up multiple email accounts, connected to my WiFi and sent a few Skype messages. Incidentally, the first apps I installed from the Android Market included Facebook, Twitter, American Airlines, Shazam, and Angry Birds. Now, for you iPhone-aholics out there, you’ll be annoyed that the apps scroll up and down, rather than left/right. Get used to it – if that’s your biggest complaint, you have little to worry about.

The email took a little while to update initially, but once it had, it move along nicely, with only a minimal delay between what I saw on the Thunderbolt and my Exchange server. That alone is a tremendous improvement over the Storm 2, since BlackBerry doesn’t integrate nicely with Exchange accounts unless you have invested in BES. There also was effectively no delay in updating the Inbox on the Thuderbolt, whereas I had been experiencing delays of up to 20 minutes or more with the BlackBerry lately.

The browser? Granted, I have a pathetic excuse for a mobile browser to compare to, but even compared to the iPad, the HTC Thunderbolt is fast with its 1 GHz processor on Verizon’s 3G network (its LTE service doesn’t extend to Norwalk, CT). Over WiFi, it got even better, as I could watch TechZone360 videos with absolutely no latency. In fact, I tuned into CBSSports and was able to stream March Madness contests at a reasonably high quality (the size comes in handy there, as does the kickstand, which you may recall from the HTC EVO on Sprint, the older sibling of the Thunderbolt).

My growing frustration with the BlackBerry aside, the timing of the launch of the Thunderbolt was rather fortuitous, since I’m heading to Comptel this weekend and will be able to test it on a 4G network – especially the WiFi hotspot capability, which Carl Ford says is a must-have for most smartphone buyers.

In addition to the browser, the Storm 2 also suffered from a weak camera. Not so with the Thunderbolt and its 8 megapixel camera and flash, which also comes with a handy flashlight app preinstalled. Check out the first pic with the Thunderbolt.  The full-size image is near-print quality.  I haven’t yet had a chance to use the forward facing camera during a video call – but then, there are quite a number of features I still need to check out. 

There are certain features of the BlackBerry I will miss, most notably the BlackBerry Messenger, which might be the best feature from RIM. I’ll also miss my own ringtones – but only until I figure out how to upload music to the Thunderbolt. The editorial team here has already noted it’s not the same without Margaritaville signaling an incoming call. I don’t expect to have much of a problem, considering how intuitive the Thunderbolt has been thus far. 

What could be a problem, though, is what appears to be a rapidly draining battery on the Thunderbolt. Then again, that was the biggest fault of the iPhone when it first launched. Given its performance, though, if I have to invest in a spare battery to make it through the day, it may be worth it. I plugged the phone in this morning, so I’m not 100 percent sure of battery life, but I am fairly certain I would not have made it through the day. That said, there are measures one can take, such as turning of push email, that can conserve battery.  

Ironically, I almost neglected to mention call quality. On my end, through the same Plantronics Bluetooth headset I used with the Storm 2, quality seemed much better, which was confirmed by multiple people with whom I spoke on the phone today.

I will have much more to write about soon, including the Thunderbolt’s performance on a WiFi-enabled flight as well as in an LTE environment. My initial thoughts, though – St. Patty’s Day was the right time to launch this mobile pot of gold. Stay tuned.


Erik Linask is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin



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