A few weeks ago at the CTIA 2011 conference in Orlando, I lamented to an attendee about being stuck with 3G connectivity at my hotel room. "Wow, someone complaining about only having 3G" was his response, which got me to think about how fickle we get about technology whenever something new or faster comes out (in this case, so-called 4G wireless).
When you're in the right zone, devices that access the new network make the device even better. When you "ramp down," the device becomes less exciting. Keep that in mind when reading the review of the following device.
The scoop: HTC ThunderBolt from Verizon Wireless, about $250 (with two-year agreement, plus data and voice service).
What it is: The Android smartphone (runs Android 2.2) takes advantage of the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network, which offers download speeds between 5Mbps and 12Mbps, and upload speeds ranging from 2Mbps to 5Mbps. Other features include an 8-megapixel camera with 720p video recording, a 1.3-megapixel front camera for video chat, a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 8GB of device memory with support for up to 32GB on a microSD card. The device can also be set up as a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot, giving about five users the ability to access the 4G network.
Why it's cool: Accessing the 4G LTE network in a proper zone (we have coverage at our Framingham, Mass., offices), I was able to get an average of 12Mbps of download speeds (the upper end of the range), and about 2Mbps of upload (the lower end of the range). These speeds make it phenomenal for the Mobile Hotspot feature, and can be a lifesaver when you're on the road and can't access a good (or secure) Wi-Fi hot spot (or if you're in a "3G only" hotel room in Orlando).
The mobile hot spot feature gives you the option of choosing security features, passwords and the SSID name for the network. You could even manage the connections that attach to the hot spot, so if you get a bandwidth hog (most likely a co-worker) you can boot that connection.
The speeds were also nice for using apps like YouTube, which experienced no glitches or pauses during my tests, unlike similar cases on a 3G network. It also handled uploading a 10MB video file (a 10-second clip I took with the video camera) quite nicely.
The camcorder and digital camera were impressive, offering a great range of options (for example, you can shoot video in black and white or sepia-tone if you want). And the built-in kickstand was a nice extra touch, which let me watch videos or just sit on the desktop in an upright fashion. The 4.3-inch WVGA display offers slightly more screen real estate than an iPhone 4, but it's also heavier.
Some caveats: As mentioned earlier, this is all great if you're in a 4G area; once you move to a 3G zone you are back to the issues of a regular smartphone in terms of connection speeds and possible delays on uploads/downloads and other network congestion. I also had some difficulty setting up the Mobile Hotspot feature -- the phone said it was operating, but both a Windows machine and an iPhone failed to connect to the network (a bug?). I was able to connect to a second ThunderBolt device that was given to a colleague for review, so I know the hot spot feature was possible.
Grade: 4 stars (out of 5).