Wednesday, March 23, 2011

HTC Thunderbolt 'Ergonomics' Review

I have been dyeing for Verizon Wireless to offer 4G (LTE) phones since late last year's announcement of their coming availability. For the past few years I have been using the Motorola Droid. Though I have seen phone's that I thought were better become available, I didn't see anything revolutionary coming up short of a phone that took advantage of the 4G network. Even 4G by itself is not revolutionary, but I considered a 10x increase in speed to be enough of an incentive.

The question I posed to myself last week was do I buy the HTC Thunderbolt just released ($250 with two year plan), or wait for Samsung's 4G entry (rumored to be available in April), or summer when Motorola's dual core monster becomes available?

Well, I eliminated Motorola out of my equation all together. The deciding factor here is that I learned that they somehow were hardcoding (locking down) the bootloader, such that I would not be able to root the phone (important to me, not necessarily to you).

Long story short, I didn't want to wait any longer, and plunked down the $250 for the HTC Thunderbolt. The following is a review of the HARDWARE/ERGONOMICS only - a the operating system is mostly what I had used on the Motorola Droid (Android).

Because I had been used to my Motorola Droid for a long time, it will likely take me some time to get used to the new form factor (in all fairness to HTC). Depending on whether or not you had previously been using one of the so called *Hummer* phones might have it feel different in your hands.

My initial reaction to the HTC Thunderbolt's feel in my hand is that the weight of the phone feels heavy, but in a good way - as not to feel cheap. Though it's size is big enough as to be slightly uncomfortable. Again, in fairness to HTC - this might simply be that I was using a smaller phone for so long...time will tell. Another, and bigger complaint that I have with the HTC Thunderbolt is their choice of placement of the locking button (this is one of only two physical buttons on the phone, located on the top, and top of right side). One of the nicest thing about a really great smartphone is the ability to use it entirely one-handed. If they had only moved this one button further to the right along the top, this would have gone a long way to making it much easier to use with one hand (I can still use the phone one-handed, but it is awkward). I know you're going to think that such a minute detail is knit-picky, but isn't the 'devil in the details'?

The same 'one-handed ability' has only come up one other time - equally annoying - if not more so. This is when I tried to use the camera with one hand. With my Motorola Droid, there was a choice for me to click the shutter. I could either 'tap' on the screen, or as I preferred to, click on a physical button located on the outside of the phone. The HTC Thunderbolt only allows for you to 'click' the camera's shutter by tapping on the screen. Again, not impossible to do one-handed, but just awkward.

The biggest form-factor (ergonomic) mistake on the HTC Thunderbolt is simply unacceptable, as it makes no sense. The HTC Thunderbolt ships with a very cool kickstand built into the back. This would be a perfect *self-dock* however, The HTC Thunderbolt has it's USB (power-input) jack on what would become the bottom surface, should you use the kickstand. This makes using the Kickstand simply not possible while powering the phone.

The first HTC Thunderbolt I received was defective. Specifically, when I held it to my ear, and people were speaking to me on te phone, their voices were coming through tin-ny / scratchy as if the speaker somehow had a small tear in it. The replacement phone fixed that issue, however it brought up something else of interest to me.

That first HTC Thunderbolt that I had for 2 days prior to returning it had really crummy battery life in my opinion. Certainly not what I had been lead to believe from other reviews, and the products own documentation. On the replacement phone, the battery goes all day, and then some!! I am not sure if I was just unlucky with my too issues, or HTC Thunderbolt has quality control issues. Time will tell.

Many have asked me if they should buy the HTC Thunderbolt. Having used it for only a week, I would suggest they at least wait one month for Samsung's 4G phone to come out. Having at least two phones to choose from makes sense considering the (few) cons I have pointed out above.

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