“In other words, the Thunderbolt has a very real opportunity to be the finest 4.3-inch device HTC has ever made — for the moment, anyway…”
At a quick glance, without any background information, your eyes might tell you that the HTC Thunderbolt is little more than a Verizon remake of Sprint’s EVO 4G and AT&T’s Inspire 4G. After all — like its contemporaries — the Thunderbolt features a spacious 4.3-inch WVGA display, 8 megapixel camera, and dual-LED flash. In reality, though, the Thunderbolt is something more: from the Inspire, it borrows a better, crisper display with a wider viewing angle and a newer-generation (though still single-core) Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. From the EVO 4G, meanwhile, it borrows a cool integrated kickstand and the addition of a second “4G” radio, making this a spec Frankenstein of sorts — the best of both worlds. Of course, instead of Sprint’s WiMAX for that 4G radio, the Thunderbolt grants you access to Verizon’s LTE network — a network so fresh, it still has that new-network smell. There’s a lot of horsepower here.
The Thunderbolt doesn’t buck the trend of packaging high-end phones in high-end boxes — put simply, it’s an elegant, sturdy, matte black cube encased in a black sleeve. Lots of black here, actually, which means you can’t see the name of the phone… but you can feel it. It’s embossed! Nice touch, the kind of thing that’ll make you want to put the packaging away in a closet or drawer somewhere rather than throwing it away. The black theme is broken in rather spectacular fashion when you crack open the box — which is split down the middle — to reveal gobs of bright Verizon red and your shiny, new purchase square in the middle. Underneath, you’ll find some literature, a slim, glossy black USB wall charger, and a micro-USB cable — sorry, no trashy earbuds here. As we’ve said in the past, that’s just fine by us; odds are good that if you’re spending $250 on a phone, you’re going to be spending a few bucks on a decent headset, anyway — the units that are bundled with phones are almost universally awful, which ends up unfairly tinting your opinion of the phone’s audio quality. In our review unit, both the battery and 32GB microSD card came pre-installed.
Pulling the phone out of its cardboard cradle, you instantly recognize that this thing is a beast — it’s just big and heavy. There’s no other way to put it. If you’re acquainted and comfortable with the EVO 4G, you’ll feel right at home — the EVO’s actually a few grams heavier, which took us by surprise when we looked it up — but if you’re coming from pretty much anything else, you’ll probably mouth the word “whoa” the first time you take it into your hand. For comparison’s sake, it’s right around 20 percent heavier than an iPhone 4. We’re not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing; in general, phones have a tendency to feel higher-quality when they’re more substantial and they’ve got a little more junk in the trunk, and that’s certainly the case with the Thunderbolt — but it’s still something to consider. We’re fairly certain there will be at least a few potential buyers who are off-put by the weight, so you should swing into a store and spend a little quality time with it before pulling the trigger.