HTC ThunderBolt Review
The 8MP autofocus rear camera on the HTC ThunderBolt does a very good job of taking pictures as long as there is plenty of light. Since there isn’t a physical camera button, you have to use the display to tap where you want it to focus (otherwise it will focus on the center) and then tap the shutter icon on the right side. Images that were taken outside during the day had highly saturated colors (though a bit too much) and were sharp with plenty of detail. But we did notice that bright areas have a tendency of being overexposed and just look white. When moving indoors however, image quality is still OK if there is enough light, but in low-light conditions, images start to look grainy and soft. When you want to take a picture in the dark and use the LED flash, it tries to focus without using the flash first, which is impossible to do. Then when it does use the flash, it can be out of focus or have a blue hue to the image. It took us several attempts of using the flash just to get a picture that was in-focus and had good color. There is also a 1.3MP camera on the front that you can use for self portraits, but the quality is pretty lacking of course. One cool thing that you can do with either camera is press the little magic wand icon on the right side of the screen, which will then open up a menu on the left of different camera effects, including Distortion, Vignette, Depth of Field, Vintage, Vintage Warm, Vintage Cold, Grayscale, Sepia, Negative, Solarize, Posterize and Aqua. They are fun to try out, though we doubt they would get much use.
Videos can be recorded up to 1280x720p resolution with 28 frames-per-second and a data rate of 8 Mbps. When viewed on a PC, the color is very saturated, just like when taking pictures, and there is plenty of detail, but the video looks jerky, even though we were holding the phone steady with both hands and just panned slowly left-and-right. So it’s probably best not to move the phone at all when recording videos. One thing we wish is that it could record in stereo (like the DROID X) instead of just Mono audio.
HTC ThunderBolt Pro Sample Video:
For phone viewing of your media files, such as photos and videos, they are broken down by folders in the Gallery app, plus you also have the ability to browse content from your Facebook and Flickr accounts. All the common features are there for photos, like pinch gestures to zoom in/out, but there are multiple options in terms of sharing them. Moreover, the handset offers the minimal set of editing tools at your disposal – such as cropping and rotating.
With its WVGA display and 1GHz processor, there is no arguing the effortless approach that the ThunderBolt takes when playing high definition videos. Upon loading a video encoded in MPEG-4 1280 x 720 resolution, it didn't have any problems in playing it entirely. In fact, the details are crisp, vivid, and super smooth with no evidence of jerkiness or slowdown to ruin the experience.
For video streaming, there is Bitbop, which can play pre-recorded clips and full TV episodes (currently at 156). We tested a couple, and after about 10 seconds of buffering, the video will start to play. You can also jump to other parts of the video, but it has to re-buffer each time. At first we had it set to the highest setting of 9MB/min, but noticed that the video wasn’t playing smoothly and there were some audio-sync issues. We lowered it down to 5MB/min, which did improve the smoothness of the video, though there was still some audio-sync problems, so we’re not sure if that has to do with the way the videos were encoded, or with the data connection. You also have the option of subscribing to VCast Video and Blockbuster, both of which have their own fees involved. Thankfully there is a YouTube app, which works quite well over the 4G network and doesn’t require a subscription fee.
The HTC Music Player is noticeably a step-above the stock Android player that most other phones use. Even though we’re presented with pretty much the same look in portrait mode, tilting the phone to landscape presents a full cover-flow interface that effortlessly allows you to swipe between albums. Audio quality is decent though the rear speaker, though you have to uncover it by opening up the kickstand for best sound. There is a SRS Enhancement, but all it does is give a reverb-delay that we didn’t care for, so we kept it turned off. If you plug-in a set of wired headphones, there are a few other equalizer presets that you can select, but again it sounds best without using them. By the way, when you have your headphones connected, you can also use the FM Radio app, which actually uses the headphone wires as the antenna. Just don’t expect any amazing radio quality from it. Or if you want a wireless connection for listening to your music collection, you can always use a pair of Bluetooth headsets (just remember the radio app won’t work with it).
We are glad to see a 32GB memory card included, as this is a first on a Verizon smartphone, allowing ample room of saving picture, videos, music, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Though there is one thing that is puzzling to us – on the HTC and Verizon site it states that the phone has 8GB eMMC (internal memory) but we haven’t been able to find a way to access it. Furthermore, when going into the phone’s settings shows only 2.6GB of internal memory. So we’re not sure what’s going on here, or how the 8GB is split up, though it does seem like there is a lot that isn’t accounted for.
UPDATE (March 25): We contacted HTC directly about the 8GB eMMC internal memory feature that is listed on their web site (and Verizon’s web site) for the ThunderBolt. We were first told in an email from HTC that “this is a misprint and that the ThunderBolt actually has 4GB eMMC internal memory, of which most is being used to make sure the phone is running at optimal performance levels.” But a few days later we were contacted by someone else at HTC and were told by email that “the device does indeed have 8GB of internal memory, but much of that is occupied by the OS, preinstalled apps, and reserved memory for upgrades”. Regardless of which is correct (8GB or 4GB of internal memory), the fact still remains that only 2.6GB of it is available to the user for installing apps and storing information, such as contacts, emails, etc. By contrast, the Motorola DROID X also comes with 8GB of internal memory, but almost 6.5GB is available.
For GPS guided driving directions you have a choice of using Google Maps, which is free, or VZ Navigator, which is $10 per month. Both provide you with turn-by-turn directions and audio prompts, though their layout is slightly different. Our choice between the two is Google Maps, as it doesn’t have a monthly fee, but this is personal preference. We’ve used it in the South FL area, and with the 4G connection it is accurate and shows satellite images without having to wait for them to load (unlike with EVDO on the DROID X).
There is also a demo version of Lets Golf 2 and Rock Band, though you have to upgrade to the full version of Rock Band for $10 to have access to the MultiPlayer mode. Unfortunately we didn’t have anyone else to multi-play with, so just used the stand-alone mode, which works fine.
For viewing your Microsoft Office files, there is the QuickOffice app, which can view Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and there is a separate Adobe Reader app for PDF files.