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CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G on the Verizon Network

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CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G on the Verizon Network
CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G on the Verizon Network
A Great Smartphone... And an inadequate WiFi Hotspot make for a rather poor solution for the road.
Published by xcel
07-03-2011
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CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G on the Verizon Network

A review of sorts… but of a Smartphone?

http://www.cleanmpg.com/photos/data/501/HTC-Verizon_ThunderBolt.jpg
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.

Background

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 Good

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.

The Bad

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.

Conclusions

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

Camera

8.0 MP rear camera
Auto Focus
Dual LED Flash
1.3 MP front camera (this does not work yet)

Video

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.

Music

Create and Manage Playlists
Headset: 3.5mm Audio Jack.
Audio Formats Supported: MIDI / M4A / QCP / AMR / AAC / AAC+ / eAAC+ / WAV / WMA9 / MP3

WebMS

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

Communication

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
GPS/AGPS E911
TTY Compatible
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

Specifications

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

Battery

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
  #1  
By WriConsult on 07-04-2011, 12:54 AM
Re: CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G lte on the Verizon Network

.... aaand how's that thing sync with iTunes and iPhoto?
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  #2  
By JusBringIt on 07-04-2011, 07:24 AM
Re: CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G lte on the Verizon Network

Wayne, as a past verizon wireless employee, I know that you should still be eligible for new every two and new two year contract pricing on a phone. If it is under 14 days, you are back to where you were before, no change. On the internet however, it wont show up. Make sure to contact them and verify that it has been changed in the system. Good luck!

Quote:
aaand how's that thing sync with iTunes and iPhoto?
Droid doesn't need iapps ;-). I have an unlimited amount of audio on my phone...at a significantly lower price and even a panoramic photo feature (among many others!) on my fascinate.
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  #3  
By Ophbalance on 07-04-2011, 07:31 AM
Re: CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G lte on the Verizon Network

Wayne... if you have the free time, and ever go down the smart phone path again, xda-developers.com will be your best friend. My understanding of the T-Bolt is it was the most locked down HTC phone to ever exist, and only recently did rooting it become a reality.

Some comments on your downsides to rooting:
  • If you root, lack of OTA updates - how can this not be a good thing? Sometimes you can choose to not accept these craptasic updates, but others will just install themselves with no warning at any time... potentially screwing your setup and apps that Verizon has chosen to break.
  • Rooting breaks warranty - yes, yes it can. HOWEVER, for every root access process out there, someone almost always creates a "return to stock" option for returning the phone/device back to the mothership. If your phone is easily "bricked", then I'd be concerned.
  • Miss OS updates - that's not really an issue, is it? You may miss the "latest" release by a month or two, but surely a group like Cyanogenmod is porting OS 2.3 to this? Update: CM7.1 (Android OS 2.3 - gingerbread) has been ported to the T-Bolt.

I dunno, maybe it's just me. But. If I buy ANY piece of kit (phone/computer/toaster/microwave), I expect to be able to do with it whatever I please... but most especially it must work for its primary function. If the company that sold it under that premise cannot deliver, and running a community built OS solves the problem, then the corporation can kiss my hind end. Especially if you're forking out gobs of cash! Me? They'll pry my SERO sprint account from my cold dead hands... I'm keeping that plan for life.
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  #4  
By ItsNotAboutTheMoney on 07-04-2011, 07:47 AM
Re: CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G lte on the Verizon Network

IANAL and I don't know if it's ever been challenged in court, but Magnusson-Moss bars "tie-in", so while they might refuse software support if you've rooted it, unless they can prove that a hardware failure was the result of software, wouldn't they have to provide a warranty?
Last edited by ItsNotAboutTheMoney : 07-04-2011 at 07:53 AM.
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  #5  
By msantos on 07-04-2011, 08:01 AM
Re: CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G lte on the Verizon Network

I completely second Matthews suggestion regarding xda-developers.com. It is the absolute best site to make the most these phones have to offer. These phones are absolute powerhouses and it is a pity not to take advantage of it.

Come to think of it, the thunderbolt almost resembles my T-Mobile HD2 (except for the camera specs) and it is a phenomenal experience while running Android 2.3.3 with Sense UI. The odd thing I like about my phone is that I am just a couple of minutes reboot away from running Windows Mobile, Windows Phone or Android. But of all three OS's the Android OS is in my experience, the most polished and competent.

Anyway, may I suggest you look into Navigon GPS software for this unit? Don't bother with the other entries (like Co-Pilot Live 8 or 9).

Cheers;


MSantos
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  #6  
By msirach on 07-04-2011, 08:09 AM
Re: CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G lte on the Verizon Network

Don't give up! Call *611 and tell them you did NOT extend your contract. Threaten to change carriers if you have to. Ask to speak to a supervisor. The frontline people would have to get approval from a supervisor anyway. Be persistent and you should get some resolution. Tweet @VerizonWireless also.
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  #7  
By wick1ert on 07-04-2011, 08:11 AM
Re: CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G lte on the Verizon Network

I have had the TBolt since the first couple weeks after its release. I went through some struggles, and it does have some cons still with it, but overall I have definitely been pleased with it. The fact it comes with Google Maps and can give you live Navigation information, directions, etc. is fantastic.

I agree that the battery life sucks, but I've made a few changes to make it last most of the day unless I'm playing with it all the time. In which case, any smartphone would need charged or a larger battery. I turned off GPS, WIFI, and screen is at like 30% which is all I need anyway. I also updated all the sync that I could, and that made a drastic change in battery life. It's all the crap that runs in the background that helps kill the battery. I also updated the email refreshing cycle to hourly from every 30 minutes. You can always manually do this anyway, so it's not a big deal. I do keep a charger at my desk at work, because I do have days where I'm on my phone quite a bit.

I went from a crapberry to the TBolt, so for me it was a night & day change. I hate, and have always hated, virtual keyboards, but since the trend is going that direction it'll be inevitable that I will have to deal with it anyway.

The camera and video that it takes is amazing! The other thing, is to download an app that'll let you force to 3G if you want to. 4G is a killer on the battery, but it's still a limited rollout so the continual search if you have 3G/4G going also is a drain on the battery. I find 3G to be fine for what I typically do, and if I need a boost in speed then I'll use 4G in spurts. 4G did great with the WiFi Hot Spot though when my home internet went down a couple weekends ago.
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  #8  
By brick on 07-04-2011, 08:14 AM
Re: CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G lte on the Verizon Network

Too bad. I'm tapping this out on what is essentially ATT's version of the T-bolt, except no tethering and ony a watered down take on 4G, and for $99 with 2-year contract. A very good phone for my needs. Battery life would be awful except that I turn off features that I'm not using and do get through an average day OK.
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  #9  
By cswee1932 on 07-04-2011, 11:27 AM
Re: CleanMPG Reviews the HTC Thunderbolt 4G lte on the Verizon Network

I'm going to chime in about XDA as well, AWESOME site, and tons of help for almost any issue your having with any device. Simply the best!

Chris
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