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Post by Perry Richard Smith of Oklahoma
Business Site Builders, LLC
When Verizon Wireless launched its superswift fourth-generation,
or 4G, mobile data network late last year, a crucial piece of the puzzle was missing: a smartphone that could exploit the
That all changed on St. Patrick's Day with the arrival of the HTC ThunderBolt I've been testing, the first smartphone
compatible with Verizon's speediest network. Other 4G smartphones and tablets are in the pipeline. Previously, you could tap
into Verizon's 4G playgrounds only with a 4G laptop modem from LG or Pantech.
ThunderBolt is indeed lightning fast, at least when
you're cruising 4G coverage areas. The very capable Android handset costs $250 with the customary two-year service agreement,
or $600 without such a contract. That's not cheap, but at least Verizon is keeping the data tab in line. You pay $29.99 a
month for an unlimited data plan, same as on Verizon's 3G phones. Voice plans start at $39.99 a month for 450 minutes.
networks are where the action is, despite the fact that some of the most-popular devices — notably the iPhone —
still operate on pokey-by-comparison 3G. At this relatively early stage, 4G networks are by no means ubiquitous.
major U.S. carriers are taking divergent paths to 4G. Verizon's zippy network is built on technology called LTE, for Long
Term Evolution, which competes with a rival high-speed WiMax network technology pushed by Sprint and Clearwire. AT&T is
constructing its own LTE network, while the company it's in the process of acquiring, T-Mobile, offers faster-speed service
through a 3G variant known as HSPA+.
Since December, when Verizon kicked off LTE in 39 markets, the carrier has said
it will add 108 markets by year's end. The New York City metro area, where I conducted my tests, is already lit up. Still,
as I drove around adjacent suburbs, the phone shifted back and forth between 4G and 3G. Fortunately, the transition was seamless.
You can't turn off the 4G setting, which is too bad, because 4G can suck the life out of a battery more quickly than the slower
What's more, ThunderBolt is one bulky handset. It weighs in at a hefty 6.2-plus ounces. I could see that bothering
The device runs version 2.2 of Google's Android mobile operating system. It has a large inviting 4.3-inch touch display.
Inside is a 1-gigahertz Qualcomm chip, not one of the dual core processors starting to appear in phones. It's plenty powerful,
though. I never detected any lag. ThunderBolt also comes with a preinstalled, removable (but very hard to get at), 32-gigabyte
microSD card along with 8 GB of internal memory.
I used the 8-megapixel rear digital camera (with flash) to capture fairly decent-quality
videos of a kid's birthday party, even in dim light. Among in-camera effects: You can shoot images in sepia, black and white
or a mode that resembles a film negative. But snapping pictures is a bit awkward.
There's also a front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera you
can use for video chat. But the promised Skype mobile with video app hasn't landed on the device. Verizon says it's still
testing the app.
Other ThunderBolt niceties include a kickstand that props up the device for watching video.
Oh, and voice quality on calls
was very good.
But the reason you're mostly reading about this phone is for its wicked-fast speeds. Verizon has said 4G LTE users
should experience average downstream data rates of 5 to 12 megabits per second and average upload speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps. Speeds
bounce around because of environmental conditions, but my test phone frequently outperformed those ranges (and other 4G phones
I've tried). My downloads peeked at 26 Mbps; uploads around 6 Mbps. (I measured via a new version of Ookla's Speedtest.net
app for Android.)
What matters to the average user, of course, is what is behind the numbers: more-fluid video, rapid downloads of
apps and a surfing experience more in line with what you might expect through your home broadband connections. But even Verizon's
3G speeds on ThunderBolt were nothing to scoff at, and you can also tap into Wi-Fi.
What's more, you can you use ThunderBolt as an Internet
hot spot for up to eight separate Wi-Fi-connected devices (five devices is the default). The feature is free under a promotion
running until mid-May. Verizon hasn't said what the 4G hot spot plan will cost at that juncture, but Verizon's 3G phones with
a similar feature add $20 (for 2 GB of data) to the monthly tab.
A feeble battery was my biggest criticism of the otherwise impressive
HTC Evo 4G from Sprint that I tested last year, the first 4G phone to hit the U.S. market. The ThunderBolt battery isn't going
to threaten any longevity records either: Verizon estimates usage time at a little over six hours, which is modest —
but at least I wasn't scrambling to find an outlet within a couple of hours, as when I tested Evo. That said, you might want
to consider an optional $50 extended battery.
I haven't come across a faster cellphone yet, so if speed is of paramount concern,
and you live in a 4G territory, ThunderBolt is a solid handset. The trade-off: a big device with a fair battery.
$249.99 with a two-year contract
Verizon Wireless ThunderBolt by HTC
sturdy and extremely fast. Nice large screen. Decent 8-megapixel camera with front-facing camera, as well.
isn't ubiquitous. Battery life is fair. Large and heavy.