A review of sorts… but of a Smartphone?
Wayne Gerdes - CleanMPG
- July 3, 2011
2011 HTC Thunderbolt - $249.95 with a 2-year Cell Phone ($70) plus Smartphone Data plan ($30) contract(s). If you WiFi hotspot/tether, add another $20 to $30 depending on the plans data limits. And finally $50 for a brick of an extended battery.
Verizon sent out a notice last week that they were going to raise the contracted rate for 3G Fivespot owners by $7 /mo for 3 GB of data (they broke the terms of the contract
). While speaking to them on the phone, they interested me in a Smartphone with Mobile WiFi Hotspot access. Namely, the HTC ThunderBolt. You know, the latest and greatest Verizon/HTC Smartphone ever offered or created?
I use the Verizon Mobile WiFi Fivespot on the road with my laptop about once month for upwards of two weeks at a time so I am really lost without it. The ThunderBolt appeared to be the magic bullet. 1x/3G/4G data rates vs. 1x/3G, unlimited data (sort of) with the data and tethering plans bundled together. And of course it is the latest and greatest real Smartphone vs. my 5-year old Motorola Razr Dumbphone which has served me well over those same 5 years.
The ThunderBolt is a great unit except...
Speaking with a Verizon salesperson, I expressed my concerns about reboot issues and shaky WiFi Hotspot app that the phone comes equipped with. He said you will not have any problems and he was using his on his desk at that very moment with no issue. He also said he owns a Droid Charge and both have served him very well including as Mobile WiFi Hotspots!
Never ever listen to a sales rep as it’s all about sales for $’s with those people…
The ThunderBolt arrived in a nicely constructed and HQ black box. After activation, I was attached to the Internet and after a single reboot; 4G was now available and locked in with 4-bars of 4 signal strength from within my home office. Damn that thing fly’s on 4G which it was literally stuck on for the entire day and a half I used it!
I loaded it up with all the best Google Apps including Task Killer, SpeedTest, Flashlight, Pandora, Gas Buddy, Weather Channel, WeatherBug, Twitter, TweetCaster, TwitterFeed and Facebook. All worked well after setting up the device and the apps to my liking. In fact, the ThunderBolt felt “quick” while multitasking from app to app. In addition, the ThunderBolt and apps were reasonably easy to setup and the phone felt like a HQ and fast mini-computer. By comparison to the fastest for their day PDA world with much lower quality and featureless apps many of us used to experience on a day by day basis in the past.
With a hot Smartphone in my hands, I went to my forums gallery and set up 3 different looped slide shows of pics via 3 built in browsers and let them run in continuous loops for hours on end. In addition, I let Pandora loose while streaming some classics through most of yesterday as well. I even went to the local mall to have my contacts copied from my Motorola Razr to the ThunderBolt. While walking indoors through the mall for over ½ mile, I had a minimum of 2 of four bars and 4G still locked at its worst. At its best, 4 of 4 bars and 4G locked. 4G goodness was the promise and it delivered here in far Northeastern IL. I left the mall and fired up Google maps for a few minutes. The internal GPS system took over 3-minutes to lock onto the birds but once it did, Google acted like Navteq maps on my portables or OEM vehicle only with more features…
A nice feature addition was a small LED that showed through a screen at the top of the phone. This LED indicated charge and would move to the left as an orange LED while the internal Li-Ion battery’s SoC was building. Once you reached a full charge, the LED was in the left most position and it turned green. I should have drained it at least once to see if it would turn red (or some other color) at 20% or less?
The 4.3”, 800x480 pixel display looked very crisp indoors.
I had no reboot issues over the 36-hours that I had this phone and I was on it hard. In fact, from the data use displayed on MyVerizon, I had downloaded over 3.8 GB’s in just 36-hours so I was not fooling around!
A lot of great attributes and action within the Smartphone.
With my contacts loaded last night, I made my first call. The internal speaker sounded a bit raspy to my ears and definitely not as high a quality sound as I am used to from my Razr or my first Motorola Cell phone prior to the Razr. I still have my first Verizon Cell phone and it still boots when I charge it up every 6-months or so just in case the 5-year old Razr would ever give up the ghost. Back to the ThunderBolt’s sound as a Cell Phone. On a 0 to 10 score, maybe a 7 out of 10 due to the raspy speaker from my perspective. From those that took my call, they said the ThunderBolt sounded fine.
Sound wise with streaming music and the kickstand open to reveal the rear speaker, maybe a 3 out of 10 scale. It is a Smartphone after all, not a home stereo system. Buy a set of ear pieces and then you can even use the built in FM radio. I did not try that feature out unfortunately
Size - It’s a bit large which is par for the course given the 4.3” capacitive touch screen but a bit bulky and heavy for a Smartphone. Add the extended batteries girth and “it’s a big sucka!”
Battery? Well, it is a small 1,400 mAh battery and if you are running WiFi, 3G/4G, GPS, the screen at 60% or more brightness and surfing like a bad boy, expect maybe 4 hours at best. I was 98% of the time plugged in either by USB to my PC (included) or through the 12V from a 12V to USB converter (not included) in the car for the short time I was driving locally. No problem with battery life or battery longevity with everything running if you are plugged in. That said, I did purchase the 2,750 mAh battery as a backup just in case but I never opened the box.
Internal camera - Outdoors with good light, it takes a really nice pic. Indoors, the flash will create hotspots and the video camera in a poorly lit room like a restaurant is not worth uploading to YouTube unless you like embarrassing yourself.
GPS - Locking onto enough Sats for a position fix for the first time took some time; a rooted phone has an app for that. A non-rooted phone has some tweaks for that. And of course if you launch every few hours, the Sat fix occurs almost immediately upon Google Navigation launch. It works out of the box, but on a very “busy” 4.3” screen, I am glad I still have a portable 4.3” TomTom and 5.0” Garmin along with a 6” OEM NAVI in the car.
With everything running, I placed the ThunderBolt into my pocket while walking through a local mall. Within a minute, the phone was uncomfortably warm so I held it in my hand for the rest of the time I was there. You are going to want to shut something down if you plan on placing this phone in your pocket for any length of time.
And finally a Blockbuster movie app and the icon that you cannot get rid of let alone it was always pinging something? Come on already? See the Specs below for other bloatware that is forced upon you and that you cannot remove without rooting.
And The Ugly
The reason I purchased the ThunderBolt was for its Mobile WiFi hotspot capability. As an auto journalist, I cannot alter exposure, rotate, crop and resize multi MB pics and upload them onto a server from a Smartphone. At least not yet. I cannot post new News or even reply with a lengthy response in a reasonable time frame on a Smartphone either as the display is too small for those uses on a continuous basis. I dislike doing this kind of work even on my laptop when on the road from within the car or truck I am reviewing but when out there, I make due.
Which brings us back to the ThunderBolt’s built in Mobile WiFi hotspot. While the debate rages online about those that root their ThunderBolt, use the recently pulled Market app called WiFi Tether (thanks to Verizon’s insistence on its removal) and stay on the less expensive $30/month plan, I signed up for not just the $30/month data plan but also the $30/mo WiFi tether plan plus the $200 upfront deal for the ThunderBolt and $37.50 for an extended battery.
The Mobile WiFi hotspot app when launched worked wonderfully when it worked. And when it did not, it was frustrating as hell!!! The phone by its lonesome would stay locked in on 4G while the gallery slide show would continue running for as long as I wanted to let it run. I think it was over 8-hours at one point before I shut it down in fact.
My PC and Laptop while connected through the built in Verizon Mobile WiFi hotspot app would go for between 1-minute most of the time and a max of approximately 30-minutes before the WiFi app would drop and re-synch while the PC and laptop’s Internet was stopped dead in their tracks. When it synched again and I reset all the browsers for automatic downloads, the data would flow like the wind and a minute or two later, it would stop dead in its tracks and I would have to do it all over again. While it did this, it even halted the Internet browser(s) within the ThunderBolt! Sometimes they would restart if it was a short duration drop out and resynch but most of the time, the built in Internet browser would stop with the partial pic or link still showing but not going anywhere without my input. This continued for hour after hour of aggravation. If I stopped the built in Mobile Hotspot WiFi app, the ThunderBolt’s internal browsers (the ThunderBolt’s Android 2.2 OS – Frodo -- only allows a maximum of 4-browsers or maybe 5 at a time in case you wanted to know) would spin through that gallery like it was nothing. Startup the WiFi app and it was again a crap shoot and you were always going to roll “Snake Eyes”.
Ok, so it is more than likely the built in HTC/Verizon Mobile WiFi app that is buggy and it really does not matter what was the culprit. If it does not work as advertised, I may as well have a $1,200 per year contract on a brick that can make ok phone calls. Nobody should be paying $1,200 for a brick that makes just ok phone calls?
Having spent hours canceling the Fivespot, transferring my Razr’s contact list to the HTC ThunderBolt through a local Verizon store and installing and setting up all the wonderful new and exciting apps, spent a lot of $’s only to find out it does not perform as advertised.
The current ThunderBolt Mobile WiFi hotspot app was a free trial with a $20/month – 2GB plan or $30/month Unlimited GB plan. Changes of these plans are supposed to occur on July 7th but nobody appears to know what the changes will be? I suppose Verizon allowed the free trial so that ThunderBolt users would to beat up on their brand new 4G lte system as a test before millions and not just 100’s of thousands of users are on it? Whatever the reason, for a very limited time, it is/was a freebie and once your free period ran out, you paid the $20 or $30 per month over and above the $30 data plan or you rooted your ThunderBolt and used the Mobile WiFi hotspot and tether illegally at just $30/month Data Plan per the Terms of Service (TOS) that Verizon has put into place.
Some background for the conclusion: My nephew purchased a ThunderBolt 2-months back, rooted it and installed most of the same apps I have (plus many more) including the verboten according to Verizon, “WiFi Tether app”. And his ThunderBolt works like a charm. He had the same WiFi problems as I did and as soon as he rooted and installed WiFi Tether, those problems disappeared. He has been enjoying his phone ever since.
Unfortunately, when you root your phone, you lose your warranty. And create other problems including inability to use the App Market properly and any OTA (over the air) updates including the next generation OS update called Gingerbread would not download and install on a rooted device from my understanding.
So what is an end user like myself who follows the rules, pays the big $’s for both the data and tether plans, big $’s for a Smartphone that only works as a Smartphone in some respects supposed to do?
In under 48-hours, the ThunderBolt was activated and deactivated, my old Motorola Razr was reactivated and I was placed back on a full two year contract with a 4-year old phone that had already run on the Verizon two year contract from four years ago!. The Fivespot is deactivated and if I want that back, pay the extra $7.00 per month over my previous contract which is not in the cards.
Below reveals a short term glitch in Verizon’s online customer phone status which fortunately was reversed on the next billing cycle.
2007 Motorola RAZR – Verizon's new 6-year contract/plan in the flesh
The RAZR was under the same TOS but no contract up until Friday afternoon for the last 2-years.
The original contract was completed in 2009 but is now magically extended until 2013
Great phone… If you do not need a 100% solid Mobile WiFi hotspot, can stand it loaded up with Verizon bloatware that you cannot remove (unless rooted) and can handle an almost $100 per month and $200 up front cost for the next two years. Unless you root of course for just 2/3 the price and with all the caveat’s that it entails.
All said and done, this “upgrade
” is behind me. If Verizon had not screwed with the original Fivespot contract to begin with, I would not have wasted the better part of two days with the one feature of a Smartphone that I really need and that simply did not work.
The new OS upgrade called Gingerbread was supposed to come out on June 30th and would have possibly fixed the Mobile WiFi hotspot app but it was delayed. The Verizon tech support rep called somebody at HTC about the Mobile WiFi hotspot app and was told the upgrade was probably not going to fix anything related to the Mobile WiFi hotspot itself. Only the reboot issue for those that are experiencing that after the last OTA upgrade that tens of thousands of users should have said no to that wrecked their own ThunderBolt. The new update should add the ability to control the front camera for Skype as well. Unless of course you rooted your ThunderBolt and installed the hacker available Smartphone Skype app, then it works fine…
All of these really smart guys running the Droid and Smartphone forums on the net appear to have softballed the ThunderBolt’s issues to the point of making the average consumer believe they were entering into a long term contract with a great smartphone. The ThunderBolt is great in some respects (speed baby speed) but in others, it was a huge waste of time, effort, $’s.
I can almost guarantee that nobody on the planet has a six
year Verizon contract on a Dumbphone they have had for 5-years and running without the need for a contract on a month to month for over 2-years and counting although that has since been fixe.)
Good Luck with your ThunderBolt but I would wait for something else if you actually need it to do work with a Mobile WiFi Hotspot, use it for Skype, and/or expect decent sound quality from the latest and greatest. It is your money after all
HTC/Verizon ThunderBolt Overview
According to HTC, this is not just your dream phone. It’s the one after that.
If you lived in the future, here is a phone that might be on your “Best of what’s new list”. It’s got lightning fast Verizon 4GLTE and a next generation 1 GHz Snapdragon processor so you can “supposedly
” do more with your phone, in more places than ever before. When setup for Quick Boot, it boots in seconds but for a real boot, it takes almost 1-minute and in some cases, you may just want to just let it do its thing. Unless of course if you are one of the poor SOB’s whose ThunderBolt sporadically reboots in the middle of a phone conversation or while surfing, gaming, reading a book or whatever else you think you may be doing on your Smartphone.
It gets better… HTC says you may even find your computer gathering dust!
If you can get your work done working off an 800x480 pixel resolution, 4.3” screen go for it! To replace my 21” monitor at 1680x1050 and an average powered desktop for a phone that does only 80% of what it is advertised to do will take some doing…
With the ThunderBolt, you can talk and surf the web at the same time. All on the fastest 4G network in America. Yes you can and while talking on the phone, the mobile WiFi hotspot app acts even worse with synch/resync’s occurring on average about every 15 to 30-seconds. The phone does not say you lose sync, it only displays and repeats Hotspot Connected… Again and again and again.
ThunderBolt by HTC. The only phone that can take on the power of 4G LTE. And share your signal with up to eight devices with Mobile WiFi hotspot that doesn’t work worth a damn.
HTC/Verizon ThunderBolt Features and Specifications
8.0 MP rear camera
Dual LED Flash
1.3 MP front camera (this does not work yet)
HD Video Capture
Image & Video Formats Supported: JPEG / GIF87/ GIF89a / PNG / WBMP MPEG4 / H.263 / H.264 / WMV9
Decent in good sunlight. In dark areas like restaurants, it is not worth the price of admission.
Create and Manage Playlists
Headset: 3.5mm Audio Jack.
Audio Formats Supported: MIDI / M4A / QCP / AMR / AAC / AAC+ / eAAC+ / WAV / WMA9 / MP3
Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL, Verizon.net, etc.
HTML Browser: Adobe Flash Player 10.2
Backup Assistant, Android Market, Google Talk, Amazon Kindle, Google Maps, Mobile IM, Visual Voice Mail and City ID.
Verizon Single Sign On, Blockbuster, Slacker, VZ Navigator, Let's Golf 2, Rock Band, TuneWiki, Vz Web Portal (Browser favorite), eReader, SSO and VCast App Store are all apps that you cannot remove and most are half baked at best… Unless rooted of course
Speakerphone that does not work so great.
Supports 18 languages
Advanced Speech Recognition
Embedded ringtones, vibrate alert and silent
Phonebook capacity dependent upon available memory
Hearing Aid Compatibility = M4/T3
Device Software Update – upgrade software over the air <-- Be careful with this guy.
Bluetooth Profiles Supported: HSP, HFP, A2DP (Stereo), PBAP, FTP, AVRCP
Dimensions: 4.75" x 2.44" x 0.56" inches
Weight: 6.23oz (with standard battery)
Operating System: Android 2.2 with HTC Sense 2.0
Display: 4.3" capacitive touch screen - 480x800 WVGA display
Orientation in portrait and landscape
Keyboard: Touch screen QWERTY Keyboard
Usage: 378 mins
Standby: 330 hours <-- Trust me, the ThunderBolt will not last that long under either scenario so just keep it plugged in and you will be fine on the stock battery.
As a relative newbie with regards to Smartphones other than what I have experienced firsthand over the past week, it certainly was an experience and one I hope you do not have to repeat