Verizon HTC Thunderbolt review - really cool or overkill?

I needed to call Verizon with a very minor billing question. The nice man on the phone seemed quite knowledgeable and we started talking about 4G and the HTC Thunderbolt. It was like some sort of addiction took over and I blurted out, "Just send me one." Okay, it was after I finagled him into giving it to me for the two-year discount instead of the one-year upgrade (supposedly a fifty dollar savings to me), and he waived the $20 activation fee (I don't think I've EVER actually paid an activation fee), AND he threw in a free accessory (a $24.95 value which I could probably buy on Ebay for six bucks and free shipping). So, the impulsive part of me is saying, "Woo hoo! You just saved a bunch of money."


The sensible part of me is thinking, "WTF. You haven't even done any research on this device. You don't know anything about how well 4G is working in my market. You don't have an extra $250 to spend on the latest-and-hopefully-greatest." But, oh well. What's done is done and I had already received the email saying the equipment was shipped.


After having already made the commitment, I started doing the research on the phone that I should have done before committing to two hundred and fifty bucks and two more years of my wireless life. Luckily, the reviews were all quite good. The cons (and I have a few of my own now) were little, almost insignificant things. And the pros were really positive from a variety of sources (PC Magazine, cnet, etc.). All in all, to sum up the reviews I read: Normally, you shouldn't buy any technology when it's the first thing to come out, but in the case of the HTC Thunderbolt 4G that wasn't the case.

What I hadn't considered was the initial problem might not lie in the equipment, but instead in the network. Verizon is highly respected for their reliability, but less than a week after receiving my Thunderbolt, their entire 4G network went down and took 3G with it in most cases (only for 4G users). I was pissed, but it's back and I've gotten over it. All in all I can accept some growing pains.


Now, on to my first impressions:


Packaging: Very cool. All black box with black embossed type. Matters mostly to the design guys who conceived it, but cool nonetheless. (How come "nonetheless" can be one word when, really, it's three words just strung together?)
 Simplicity of activation: Since the Verizon people are notorious for efficient, courteous customer service, I decided to  call them and have them walk me through activation rather than reading the little Get Started booklet. After removing the SIM card from it's packaging (yep, Verizon has a mainstream phone with a SIM) and inserting it and the battery into the Thunderbolt (after some hassle getting the kind of cheap, plastic back cover off) I powered up and began the activation. The screen said that activation was in progress and that it could take up to 2 minutes. Eleven minutes later we were still waiting. That gave me the opportunity to really get to know the Verizon customer service rep. Nice guy. No pets. Favorite color is blue. He doesn't have a Thunderbolt.

Finally, I suggested we just shut it off and turn it back on (thanks Bill Gates) and see what happens. Upon powering back up, it was all good. Except trying to get the damned back cover back on and having the whole thing snap in place simultaneously. Finally got it, but Motorola wins the back cover easy removal and attach contest.


Then, I asked the nice gentleman on the phone if all of my apps will magically reappear as they did when I got a replacement for the original Droid A855 that I accidentally dropped in the toilet...um, I mean the sink. He said they wouldn't. Just my contacts. Lucky for me, he was wrong. Once I added my main Google account, all of my apps magically returned (along with the ones pre-loaded on the Thunderbolt which, much to my dismay, cannot be uninstalled). The only app I noticed that didn't automatically re-install was a silly, but fun game called Spider Man where you swing from building to building trying to land on a target. After intensive investigative research I discovered that the game name has been changed to Stick Swing (probably a violation of copyrights and Stick Swing makes more sense since it's really nothing more than a stickman swinging).

Speed: Luckily, I live in a 4G market, so I was able to fully experience the blazing speed of 4G...and the rapid rate at which it drains your battery. HTC neglected to include a toggle switch so that users can switch from auto 4G to 3G. So, out of sheer necessity, I had to find a way to turn off 4G for my day to day activities. For the most part, the only time I turn on 4G is when I want to download something rather large, to watch streaming video or to connect to my laptop with PDANet tethering.

Some minor things that I don't like about the HTC Thunderbolt:


The home button is on the left, making it difficult to do a one handed set to main screen mode unless you do a little-finger reach around.


No HDMI jack. No biggie, but I guess other 4G phones have one.

You can't just plug in your audio cord into your car radio and talk on the phone. The microphone won't work. I found lots of discussions about how to resolve this and it seems that you need to get a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm (seems redundant) with three rings (instead of the two that all of my cords have), and MAYBE it will work. I just ordered a cable on eBay, which has a microphone as part of the cord. I'll let you know how that works out on Twitter.  I'm thinking this is another oversight on the part of HTC...or they want us to be less safe while driving.


When charging it doesn't tell you the percentage charged. I need my device to hold my hand when monitoring charging levels. Sometimes the bar looks fully charged, but the yellow light hasn't turned green yet. :)


I moved some of the movies and videos from my old Droid to the new 32 gig, pre-installd SD card on the TB. (Click here for my piece about how to watch movies and TV shows on your Smartphone.) In the middle of the first movie I was watching, I got the error message that this movie can not be watched on my device (the same movie I've been watching). Opened it back up, it played for a while longer then the screen mysteriously went back to the my Gallery video menu. Opened it again and played again and all seems fine. Possibly a problem witht the movie file. Or another HTC glitch.

For the most part, the Verizon's HTC Thunderbolt is a great phone, even though 90% of the time I don't need the 4G capabilities. My main criticism is that if you want to fully utilize what this device can do (and get rid of the annoying apps that they have preloaded) you need to Root the phone. And, I don't really trust me to do that.

On a scale of one to 43.78 I'll give it a 39.764. Hey, it's my damn scale.

   

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