So remember how the Thunderbolt is pretty thick? It’s because the PCB runs the span of the entire phone and adds thickness. You can see just how much of the board is covered with stuff if you look at the FCC disassembly photo. For comparison, most other smartphones lately use a PCB that runs perhaps half the device height, then packs the battery in beside it. 


The Thunderbolt's one monolithic PCB - Source: FCC

Whether or not simultaneous voice and data is a deal-making feature is ultimately something philosophical. For me at least, I’ve found that having data sessions pause while I send or receive SMS messages is reason enough for preferring the Thunderbolt over any other CDMA2000 based smartphone to date. The other use scenario that’s compelling is if users want to use an LTE enabled smartphone for tethering. 

Thanks to its unique relationship with Qualcomm, HTC will likely have the only simultaneous EVDO/LTE and 1x voice handset for some time. The LG Revolution for example includes MSM8655 and LG’s L2000 LTE-only chipset, the Samsung 4G LTE smartphone (the Droid Charge) uses Hummingbird and probably just an MDM9600 for voice and data, and the Droid Bionic (whatever its status) likely will have a similar single baseband architecture. Recent literature from Verizon suggests that the Droid Charge will be simultaneous voice and data, but only in LTE markets - I strongly suspect this will be how the majority of other first gen LTE phones behave. In addition, voice on the Thunderbolt is not affected at all when transacting data because it’s the same old 1x voice that Verizon always has used. It isn’t VoIP, it’s the same *real* voice connection it always was. I found that voice and data work perfectly at the same time on the Thunderbolt.

4G LTE Thunderbolt Performance Testing

So how does LTE throughput stack up on the Thunderbolt, especially compared to EVDO? A number of other testers noted that speedtest.net shows erroneous upstream speeds thanks to the Thunderbolt’s huge transmit buffer when on 4G LTE.


Sorry, there's no way it's uploading at 32.2 Mbps

What happens is that the speedtest.net app’s upstream test size is almost aligned in size with the transmit buffer, so not enough samples are taken to show the realistic speed. Run the test, watch it, and you get a very token bucket looking throughput pattern. What ends up being measured is nonsense for upstream, but nearly valid for downstream. The Android Speedtest.net app has since been updated and shows the proper upstream throughput profile and has a UI that matches the iOS version, but my testing was originally done when the old version was the only option.

All of that isn’t a huge deal however, since we can browse the real web version inside the flash enabled browser. Yay for mobile flash!

I’ve run a ton of tests on the Thunderbolt in just about every coverage scenario imaginable up in Phoenix, AZ. At interstate speeds on the I-10, 202 loop, downtown central Phoenix, inside every mall (yes, every major mall), indoors, outdoors, good and bad coverage, you name it. There’s even more testing in the LTE piece, but here I’m presenting results just from the Thunderbolt acquired from running the flash version of speedtest.net. All together this is 163 data points collected for the Thunderbolt alone.

First up is downstream. I've collected results for both 4G LTE and 3G EVDO:

Next up is upstream, again on both 4G LTE and 3G EVDO:

Finally we have latency, again on 4G LTE and 3G EVDO:

What’s interesting is that upstream speeds on the Thunderbolt are a bit more spread out than for data cards, likely due to the 1 Tx stream (as opposed to two for others). Downstream speeds are impressive, however, clustered primarily around 10 Mbps. Latency is also clustered around 90 ms. 

What really speaks to me, however, is that with 4G LTE, worst case speeds are as slow as EVDO is fast. Put another way, LTE’s slowest is about EVDO’s fastest. 

Average speeds are about an order of magnitude faster on LTE than EVDO. Latency is down from around 150 ms on EVDO to around 90 ms on LTE. 

Coupled with the WiFi hotspot feature, it’s also finally feasible to play games over cellular when on 4G LTE without having insane amounts of latency. While you can arguably survive with some consoles on EVDO or HSPA right now thanks to copious amounts of latency interpolation, nothing really beats actually having sub 100 ms latency. I found that I was able to play CS:S to a nearby server hosted in the same locale and get 70-80 ms of latency tethered over WiFi on the Thunderbolt. By comparison, using a Pantech UML290 (4G LTE datacard) netted me between 50-60 ms. It’s clear that NAT and WiFi overhead add around 20 ms to the connection, but overall the result is a totally usable experience. I've put together a video showing this all in action.

4G LTE implementational details are also important, and I found that the Thunderbolt is close to perfect. The initial handover when you enter an LTE enabled market is a little long. I drove from outside the greater Phoenix metro area into coverage multiple times and timed about 3-5 minutes before hard handover happened. That’s of course if you don’t provoke the handover to happen manually by toggling airplane mode or through *#*#4636#*#* (4636 stands for info) as I’ll show in a minute. When you’re already inside LTE coverage area and simply drop down to 3G, handing back and forth is much faster, it’s nearly instantaneous. 

I definitely noticed that Verizon’s 700 MHz spectrum (which is allocated to LTE) does have better propagation characteristics in urban environments that are traditionally very hard to get done right. Large malls and shopping centers specifically are notoriously bad, and the Thunderbolt had no issue clinging to 4G signal in all but the worst areas. In those edge cases, it’ll fall down to EVDO or 1x. I did find that sometimes the LTE to EVDO handover happens a bit more than I’d like it to, if you know you’re in an LTE coverage area, however, you can force LTE only through info.

One of the major complaints and curiosities about the Thunderbolt is that there’s no toggle for 4G LTE in the higher level user menus. If you’re in an LTE market, it makes sense to use it whenever possible, however there are measurable power savings from using EVDO only. In either scenario however the two cellular modems are both powered on. With the Thunderbolt I’m more concerned with keeping LTE always selected and never handing over to anything less. Allow me to introduce you to Phone Information.

There’s an app floating around that gets you here, or you could make a shortcut using anycut, but it’s always been accessible using a dialer code. I simply dial *#*#4636#*#* whenever I want to get here.

 

Virtually every Android phone has this menu and the same options, unless the carrier has gone to lengths to disable it. The Samsung Fascinate, for example buried this under a ton of obfuscation, and the HTC Inspire 4G disallows selection of anything less than constant HSPA, but I digress. 

Tap Phone Information, and now you get access to a lot of status information including signal strength in dBm and asu, some cell location info, network attach status, and the connection type. Here you can see CDMA - eHRPD in EVDO (enhanced High Rate Packet Data), CDMA - 1x or LTE when in appropriate coverage. Tap “set preferred network type” and you can now select between a number of options. LTE mode is unsurprisingly for an LTE-only mode, standard is CDMA + LTE/EVDO auto, EVDO and CDMA only are both self expanatory. Keep in mind that in every mode the MSM8655 modem is still on and maintaining a 1x voice or data connection. I find this menu again more useful for forcing LTE only and avoiding any annoying hard handovers if you’re absolutely certain you are in an LTE coverage area. You don’t need to use it though, everything works fine out of box. 

Dual Cellular Radios: MSM8655 and MDM9600 Battery Life Testing and Sound Quality Analysis
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  • HangFire - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    I credit this to Angry Birds. The bigger the tablet, the better the experience. Reply
  • MilwaukeeMike - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Well... it comes with a kickstand, clearly they want us to watch movies on them, which means they're not going to get any smaller. Have you ever had one though? It's not that bad. I have a double sized battery on my EVO and the extra width actually makes it easier to take out of my pocket (The ridge by the kickstand makes a little 'handle') and easier to hold sideways. Reply
  • MilwaukeeMike - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Oh... and a thicker phone means it's more likely in contact with your leg (guys) if in your pocket and increases the chance that you'll feel it when on vibrate. Reply
  • HangFire - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Brian, great in-depth review.

    The original Tbolt specs had 8GB of NAND Flash, but mine only reads 4. I've heard a rumor the that half was locked out to help deal with the battery issue, and another rumor that it might be "unlocked" some day. Do you have any info?

    Also, some mention should be made of the awful Blockbuster app that comes pre-installed, with permissions to spy on everything, running processes that constantly use data, and cannot be uninstalled short of rooting. HTC and Verizon should be made to understand that such shovelware/crapware is totally unacceptable.

    I found the 5MP T-Mobile G2 camera much better indoors/low-light than my Tbolt. Alas, T-Mobile has poor data in my area so I moved over to Verizon and the Tbolt. I think the pointless increase in Megapixels is the cause. I'd like to see better pictures, not better specs.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Interesting, I went with the HTC specifications which list 8 GB, but see what you mean about 4 GB now on this Thunderbolt. Very curious. I don't think the reason could be battery usage since it's nonvolatile, though I've heard lots of discussion about devices with 1 GB+ of RAM using more battery. I'll ask some questions and find out.

    The funny part about the crapware on the Thunderbolt is that it's actually far less than I see on the Inspire 4G. I haven't seen the Blockbuster app be persistent (though that could be because I haven't launched it), but otherwise yes you're completely right about the preload situation.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • sooper_anandtech12 - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Nice to see that the 3.7" 854x480 display on the Droid and Droid 2 still rockin' it as one of THE best displays in the mobile space. As for the push towards qHD displays. To be honest, I would like Motorola and the rest of them to hold off on these qHD displays. They all employ PenTile pixel substructures which effectively means there are less pixels than advertised. Looking at an Atrix display compared to my Droid's display and it's clear the Atrix should have been called Atrocious. The pixelation around widgets and on wallpapers was unacceptable. I haven't seen pixelation like that since AMOLED. Why release qHD PenTile LCDs when Samsung recently admitted PenTile stinks and is going with a normal RGB set up with S-AMOLED+? I'd rather see a nice IPS display like in the LG G2X, running at the antiquated 800x480 than a qHD display running 30% less pixels than the 960x540 that's advertised. Reply
  • mlosee222 - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Confirmed by threads at xda developers and other sources:
    http://www.engadget.com/2011/04/27/verizons-lte-ne...

    Maybe its just the verizon commercials, but what has me sold is the network. I could honestly care less about the phone compared to the speeds LTE offers. Voice is a secondary consideration to data throughput for me. I would buy the thunderbolt for the network alone.

    With that being said, I sincerely hope verizon's LTE isn't as overloaded and useless as T-Mobile's "3G" network is.
    Reply
  • hans007 - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    i agree. as someone who just left t-mobile for verizon, their network is terrible now at least for data. their voice isn't really spectacular either.

    in the bay area, their 3G coverage was really spotty.

    and i am also in los angeles a lot and t-mobile has a ton of dead zones. i can't believe they advertise it as 4G as it felt slower than 3G on verizon.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    It's a bitter irony really, of course the day after I post everything, eHRPD goes down and takes 4G LTE and 3G EVDO (on eHRPD) with it.

    If you go into EPST (##778#) and enter MSL (000000), you can change the modem setting under Rev.A to use just HRPD instead of eHRPD. That way, you're anchored through the old 3G data network instead of the common anchor point for EVDO and LTE that appears to be having problems right now.

    I've been having sporadic EVDO (eHRPD) connectivity all day with dips to 1x. Unfortunate, but things like this will gradually get better in time.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Thursday, April 28, 2011 - link

    Really depends on where you live, and plus you also get what you pay for. T-Mobile is considerably cheaper than Verizon.

    For slightly less service (assuming I do not buy an LTE device), Verizon charges me $30 more than T-Mobile does. From $65 to $95 for almost exactly the same service (though I lose 50 minutes of anytime minutes on Verizon).

    Considering the uncertain future of T-Mobile US, I am considering Verizon as an option, but to me the device--and more specifically, the ROM--is the most important thing as long as my network speeds are decent enough.

    For the record, my T-Mobile HSPA+ in downtown Berkeley is excellent, usually 6-7Mbps down and 2-3Mbps up. Absolutely sufficient for my purposes. At home, yeah, in the 'burbs my data speed kind of bites... but I have wifi and much faster wired broadband, why would I bother with using my data plan at home? :D
    Reply

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