So I have a confession to make - I’m late on this one. Way late. I managed to catch strep throat, came down with a high fever, then a sinus infection, and as a result missed my goal of having everything Verizon 4G LTE - including the HTC Thunderbolt - wrapped up and published a few weekends ago. One thing led to the other, and I promised a number of readers both in emails and on Twitter that it would be done a long time before it ended up coming to fruition. I think I’m going to add a week to all time estimations from now on, just to be safe. Apologies if I made you refresh obsessively a few times there.


Clockwise from top left: Samsung SCH-LC11, HTC Thunderbolt, Verizon USB551L, Pantech UML290

That said, it isn’t entirely a loss. Over the past month, I somehow have found myself getting slowly buried in literally every single Verizon 4G LTE device (with the exception of the LG VL600 data card) and that’s a good position to be in. The story of our LTE testing started actually before MWC with the Pantech UML290, and since then each time a new device has shown up, I’ve hopped in my car, driven two hours to Phoenix (the nearest LTE market) and spent a sleepless 48 hours testing battery life, speeds, and stability. It’s been a lot of testing, driving, and collecting data. I’ve recorded 542 speed test runs on 4G LTE as a result, and many more on EVDO for comparison. There’s a ton of stuff to go over, so to keep things manageable, I’ve split the review down the middle. This half is HTC Thunderbolt, the other is everything about Verizon 4G LTE from a cellular perspective including two data cards and a WiFi hotspot. 

Without any more rambling, let’s get into this review of the first LTE-enabled smartphone on Verizon.

The first thing to say about the HTC Thunderbolt is that it’s gigantic. It’s big simply by virtue of having two transceivers inside, and four antennas. The fact that it’s huge isn’t a bad thing, rather it seems like a smartphone that unblinkingly stares back at legions of notably more superficial smartphones all battling over who is the thinnest (seriously, during CES and MWC several device categories changed thinness crowns in the span of just a few days). It’s almost as if the HTC designers laughed at the trend and boldly designed something different.

I like to think that each section on the site has some insane product that defies reality by being positively huge or defying physics in some manner. Ryan over in GPUs gets to play with his insane AMD 6990 cards and tri-SLI GTX 580s all day. Anand is buried in a house full of 240+ GB SSDs, Jarred and the notebook team does much the same with piles of notebooks, Ganesh with HTPCs, Johan with servers, and so forth. I like to think that the HTC Thunderbolt is in some way analogous to the most insane product in any of those categories, like the 6990 of smartphones, for reasons I’m going to go over in a moment. It’s an exciting smartphone purely because it’s a notable first. 

So how is the HTC Thunderbolt? The story of my impressions of this device go all the way back to a Qualcomm meeting at CES when I had hands on with a working version of the phone that had everything but cellular connectivity. Back then, I think the only comment I could mutter at a crowded table surrounded by Qualcomm employees, Vivek, and Anand was - wow, this thing is huge.


Verizon's 4G LTE Phone Lineup (Left to Right): Samsung Droid Charge, LG Revolution, Motorola Droid Bionic, HTC Thunderbolt

On the last day of CES 2011 I got what would be my last couple of minutes with the Thunderbolt, this time with working cellular connectivity and alongside a crowded lineup of other 4G LTE smartphones launching this year. No speedtests were allowed, just general web browsing. Even at that point, the Thunderbolt was talked about with hushed excitement - this device is furthest along in Verizon’s testing, the rep almost whispered to me. It’ll undoubtedly be the first, if the rest of testing continues as planned. It seemed that everyone knew that the Thunderbolt would be first, and that made it special.


Verizon's 4G LTE Phone Lineup (Top to Bottom): LG Revolution, Samsung Droid Charge, Motorola Droid Bionic, HTC Thunderbolt


Top to Bottom: iPhone 4, Nexus One, HTC EVO, HTC Inspire, HTC Thunderbolt

The handset itself has a dominant full-hand feel, with good ergonomics. Thickness is where the Thunderbolt is really an outlier, at 13.2 mm, it’s considerably thicker than most of what else is launching lately. In the mass department as well, the Thunderbolt is specced at 173 grams with battery, though I measured 183.3 grams on my balance. As an aside, verifying size and mass is going to be another thing we’re doing going forward, especially after some notable specification confusion from back when I tackled the Fascinate.

Whether the Thunderbolt is simply too chunky depends on your hands and pockets, but there’s no denying that it’s large. Toss in the official double capacity battery which adds a square protrusion to the back, and it’s even larger. Again, simply by virtue of having a 4.3 inch screen, two cellular basebands and being stuffed full of antennas, the phone is going to be larger than average.

Physical Impressions: Continued
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  • kmmatney - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    One important battery test is how long the phone lasts just sitting around doing nothing, or walking around in a pocket. I can get 3 days out of iPhone 3GS, if I just use it as a phone and not much else. Reply
  • hans007 - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    this or the charge are both pretty similar.

    the bionic is delayred until at least Q3 . i'm figuring there is probably a reason there are no dual core LTE phones out and they keep getting delayed.

    i think either of them is a good choice, if you want to mod your phone, the tbolt is already rooted with several custom roms, and CM7 is already in alpha/beta stage.
    Reply
  • HangFire - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Brian,

    It's not the BB app but the background services behind it that are persistent, particularly PVWmdrmService. You can kill it but it will come back on next reboot.

    The first hit on a Google of Thunderbolt Disable Blockbuster recommends starting and updating the app, and then turning off updates from within the app. While this seems to be good advice as far as data usage goes, it does nothing for preventing the background services from starting and taking up RAM.

    Looking forward to what you find on the 8GB issue.
    Reply
  • bplewis24 - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Brian, excellent job with the review. One of my favorite aspects of the review is how you appropriately compared it to different devices in different contexts (design, function, performance, display, etc), instead of always comparing it to the iPhone4 or always comparing it to the Evo, etc.

    Very objective, informative and practical review, which I realize is a delicate balance.

    Kudos,

    Brandon
    Reply
  • HangFire - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Just a note, I work in a non-LTE area of MD, and 3G (HRPD I suppose) has been working great all day. Reply
  • pedant - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    "That’s almost exactly double the size"... Reply
  • vision33r - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Soon, all these Android phones will be 4.5"+ and pushing towards 4.7" and 5.0" Reply
  • synaesthetic - Thursday, April 28, 2011 - link

    The 4" screen size with the near-8:5 aspect ratio is absolutely my sweet spot. Software problems aside, I love love LOVED my Galaxy S's screen size. The slightly smaller one on my Glacier just feels a bit cramped. Reply
  • carte247 - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Good job Brian on the extremely thorough and interesting review. There's always a level of thought and analysis in Anandtech reviews that other sites lack. Or maybe I should be angry, as you're seriously making me consider moving away from my G2 (which up until now I was perfectly happy with...). Reply
  • mlangsottile - Thursday, April 28, 2011 - link

    Absolutely fantastic review. Anand Tech is my favorite source for detailed technical analysis of consumer electronics like this. Keep up the good work. Reply

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