In the first part of this two part, hands-on review of the HTC Thunderbolt, I discussed the general look and feel of the device and shared several of my concerns and issues with the Thunderbolt. I wrote my first impressions three days after the Thunderbolt became my main phone. This article comes after nearly two weeks of heavy HTC Thunderbolt hands-on experience.
Has my opinion of the Thunderbolt improved from 11 days ago or will this phone find itself back in the Verizon warehouse soon?
The Back Cover
Every phone that I've ever used needs an occasional battery pull or hard reset to get things working again correctly. The Thunderbolt has needed a battery pull a bit more often than other Android phones, which would be more of a nuisance than a real issue if not for the back cover. The back cover is simply ridiculously hard to remove. Its thin plastic design forces me to be very careful when trying to pry it free, for fear of snapping the cover into pieces.
My calls to Verizon support about why this phone needs a battery pull so often didn't yield any useful suggestions. The first time I called, the specialist needed to do some research on the issue, which indicated one of two things;
- She hadn't received enough training to be fully competent regarding the Thunderbolt.
- I was one of the few having issues and there was no database to consult for possible fixes.
By my third call, the specialist had some immediate suggestions to resolve the issues. This indicates that I was not alone in my challenges and that the database of issues and resolutions was building quickly.
I know that starting a review off by talking about the back cover may seem a bit trivial. But considering how often I had to pull the battery and how hard it is to get access to the battery, the back cover is the main thing that comes to my mind when thinking about the Thunderbolt.
My Incredible was shipped with a special tool used to remove the back cover. There was no included tool with the Thunderbolt which, at first, led me to believe that the back cover issue was corrected.
It wasn't corrected.
What I Love About The Thunderbolt
After getting used to the screen and adjusting some settings, I feel that the Thunderbolt's screen is wonderful. Watching videos and movies on the 4.3 inch screen is truly enjoyable. The resolution is sharp and clear and the screen is incredibly bright. Even with the brightness adjusted to the lower end of the scale, the Thunderbolt delivers a very bright viewing experience.
Both the camera and camcorder take fantastic images. When compared to my Droid 1, the Thunderbolt's camera blows the the Droid's away. The images are simply amazing especially when you consider that the pictures were taken from a camera phone.
The camcorder was also a pleasant surprise. I recorded my son's little league practice and transferred the video to a disk. When played on both my iMac and large screen TV, I could easily see that HTC put some thought and attention into the Thunderbolts camcorder. It would be nice if the Thunderbolt included an HDMI out port (like the Motorola Bionic has) but that lacking feature does not take away from the great picture and video quality of the Thunderbolt.
Lastly, I love the little things that the engineers at HTC build into their phones. The phone rings louder when its in my pocket, helping me to never miss an important call. And the ringer quiets itself when the phone is picked up. Lastly, simply turn the phone over while on a call and the speaker phone automatically is activated. All great features that HTC hit a home run with.
What I Don't Love About The Thunderbolt
Let me briefly mention the battery since it is a hot Internet topic. Most every smart phone with a large screen is going to have a shorter than desired battery life. The display is a very large battery drain. With the Thunderbolt's 4.3 inch screen, I fully expected the battery to need a charge every night and a few "booster charges" during the day.
However, another drain on a battery is having a lot of apps running in the background. And with the Thunderbolt, there are at least 10 apps running at any given time. My biggest issue with this is that 80% of the apps that are running are not apps that I want to be running or even want on my phone, but you can't turn them off.
I knew that the Thunderbolt and HTC's Sense UI would take me farther away from a true Android experience and that I would lose a lot of the control that I enjoyed with my Droid 1; rooted or not. But it seems that the only things I can control are the wallpaper, sounds, skins and desktop items. HTC removed too much of the Android open architecture, leaving me with a phone filled with apps and settings that I really have no use for.
If I could remove many of the stock apps that came with the phone and choose to run "vanilla Android" (meaning the pure, un-layered Android OS) then the Thunderbolt would be a fantastic phone. The fact that I have such little control over what is on this phone and what this phone chooses to automatically launch on start-up is, for me, a deal killer.
A small but annoying issue is that the Weather widget always shows my location as being in Portsmouth, RI.
Send It Back Or Keep It?
For the average smart phone user, I would suggest that they give the Thunderbolt a test run. The pre-installed apps that I wish I could remove may be apps that some users love. The Sense UI is clean and makes for an aesthetically pleasing and fun experience. The display is great and the snapdragon processor is quick and responsive.
For more experienced Android users, I would base my recommendation on the following questions;
- Do you need to sync with an Exchange Active Sync server?
- Do you prefer more control over what programs are installed on your phone?
- Do you want to keep as current as possible with any Android OS updates that are released?
If you answered "Yes" to two or more of these questions, my recommendation would be to wait for the Motorola Droid Bionic.
If you answered "No" to the majority of the questions and you really enjoy the HTC Sense interface, then my recommendation is to get the Thunderbolt. What I dislike about the phone may be of no consequence to you and you may find the Thunderbolt, with all of its good attributes, to be the perfect phone for you.
Lastly, if asked to recommend either the iPhone 4 or the Thunderbolt, I would still suggest the Thunderbolt. Despite the fact that HTC has put its own flavor on top of the Android OS, it is still an Android based phone. Its wonderful integration with your Google account and the open architectural nature of Android still puts Apple to shame.
My Thunderbolt will soon be boxed up and sent back to Verizon. Perhaps you will soon own my old Thunderbolt. If so, know that it was well cared for!