Two months ago I said I would write something about the Thunderbolt..it was only supposed to be about two weeks but life happens I suppose. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to cave-in and buy the thing but I found a coupon for $50 off and thought, “well, this might be good!” I bought the phone only a few weeks after I decided to root my original DROID (which from now on will be referred to as OG, Original Gangsta) and install cyanogenmod 7. Being the happy owner of one of the best Android phones to ever come out I had high hopes for what was supposed to be Verizon’s new super flagship phone as well as the first phone to use their 4G LTE network. What I got from it was a mixed set of feelings that make me miss my OG sometimes.
Let me get this out of the way first, I like this phone a lot. It’s a great device, it’s fast, it’s sexy, it’s big..but it’s not perfect…far from it, and most of the reason is due to the crap software that is on it…let me explain.
The UI and Software
My OG ran stock vanilla Android (what devs call AOSP: Android Open Source Project). This basically means it’s the bare Android OS with no added UI tweaks and no added bloatware crap (with exception to some Verizon apps). This is the best way to run Android for the most part because it’s not using the CPU or RAM to run some fancy/ugly user interface over top of it, it’s not going to have built-in apps syncing crap in the background, it’s just plain ol’ vanilla ice cream (and I like vanilla ice cream). And it works! It doesn’t waste CPU (meaning it’s faster) and it doesn’t background sync unnecessary apps constantly (meaning battery savings) unless you install them. But of course, HTC and other companies want to change it to suit their own phones and needs.
Now, the Thunderbolt (as with many HTC phones) doesn’t do AOSP Android, they use Sense UI, it’s their own user interface which they designed to put on mobile devices for a “sleek” and “unified” look.
While some people like the look (which I don’t think is terrible mind you) and the feel, I don’t like it, I hate it. There are several reasons I hate it actually the first and most important being that it’s clunky and slow to respond VERY often; it feels like my OG before I rooted it…this shouldn’t happen on a 1Ghz phone with 700+MB or RAM. So what I did to “fix” this was install ADW.Launcher and use that as my home app. It’s faster, and it looks and feels more like a stock phone now. Second, they package a whole mess of crap in with it; they have a “friendsteam” which gathers your Twitter and Facebook and whatnot into a widget on your screen and displays it and updates it for you; a weather widget (which is actually nice, but i should have a choice to remove it); and their own Facebook and Twitter syncing built in. This is stuff I’d like to install on my own and not have running in the background constantly asking me to log in and sync; if I want Twitter and FB, let me install them myself. They also use their own MMS app which is very slow compared to the AOSP app.
You might be thinking, “man, this is cool that it’s all built-in, why are you hating on this?” Because I like to be able to choose what to have installed on my device. Because of these built in apps (which mind you, aren’t really apps, they’re more like utilities) I have two Facebook apps, and two Twitter apps and it’s kinda dumb to waste space on stuff like that. I also find it annoying that they START UP WITH THE DEVICE…even when I DON’T USE THEM. What a waste of CPU and battery. Once CM7 is released for the phone (not Alpha-builds) that will be my savior. Verizon is also guilty of bundling tons of bloatware with this device. When I received the phone it was PACKED with tons and tons of useless crap..and you can’t remove this stuff! I’ve written about carriers loading bloatware onto phones before, this shit needs to stop with Android.
Smartphones are notorious for having crummy batteries. My OG was actually pretty great before the last few months of using it. I used to get over a day with it and I was happy. When deciding on a new phone every review I read had the same complaint with regard to the Thunderbolt: The battery is terrible. Now, I’m never far from a power source, and I have around 4 or 5 micro-USB chargers from my older devices and ones that I found around the lab, so this wasn’t too much of an issue for me. My first day on the phone I got through the entire day of heavy use and texting without it dying, it got to about 5% by midnight (from 8am or so). The second day, same thing. On the third day that’s when it ended. Without using it too much I made it to about 2pm before it started dying on me, I charged it and it was low again by 9pm. Now I see what the complaints were about. I tried using task killers to kill unwanted tasks, I synced data less, I lowered brightness, nothing helped. I read around online and found the best way to get more mileage was to turn off 4G. I figured, I don’t need 4G all the time, so it’s fine, if I get more battery time out of it this is what needs to be done. After turning off 4G, I get through the day again. A few weeks ago an update was released that helped the 4G radio consume less power, so since then I’ve actually been able to leave 4G on and get through most of my day with it…so good on them for fixing that.
The Hardware Itself
This is where the phone really does come out. This phone has some weight to it (it’s heavier than my OG which was a brick) and it’s got that big bright screen. The screen makes it so easy to read things on and to watch videos, the rubberized back makes it easy to hold, the weight makes it feel like you’re not going to crush it in your hands. It is a nice, solid phone. It’s also fast when you need it to be. Playing games, running apps, downloading, it just runs fast (especially with ADW.Launcher). Of course Verizon’s network helps too, I get 4G everywhere in NYC, and the 4G speeds are really good (EVEN INDOORS! Take that WiMax!). I have plenty of space on the 32GB MicroSD card they give you and on the internal storage (8GB but only about 2.5 are available). The only complaints I have about the hardware and design: no dedicated camera button, I really miss this, but it’s fairly minor; the bluetooth volume is super low, I’ve read that it only does it with some headsets but my Jabra is so low I cannot use it; and the GPS takes forever to lock on, sometimes 5-10 minutes. Now, some of this is probably software-based so a fix may be in line (apparently there might be an update in the next month or so to address some of these issues as well as the random reboots caused by the last update) but until that fix is out these problems will remain.
So to sum this up in a few lines (TL;DR); I really like this phone a lot, it is a great phone by design. The 1Ghz Snapdragon processor and the large amount of RAM really make this phone fly with apps and games and with Verizon’s 4G it really is a speedy phone in all faces. However, the phone has many kinks due to some bad software that comes bundled with it and a broken update from HTC. Most of it’s issues are solely based on the software so hopefully we will see fixes for them in the future.