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HTC Thunderbolt review: Verizon strikes at 4G speed

Verizon's first 4G Android phone arrives. And the HTC Thunderbolt is a zippy masterpiece.

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HTC Sense includes a bunch of useful widgets and shortcuts that allow for full customization of the home screens. The onscreen keyboard is also preferable to those from other manufacturers, and predictive text, though not perfect, is remarkably accurate.

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One of the biggest problems with the HTC Thunderbolt is the same problem with nearly every Android phone on every network: bloatware. As is to be expected, the Thunderbolt comes with many pre-installed apps with debatable levels of usefulness. "Rock Band" is actually a shortcut to an offer to download a trial, which is just an offensive waste of space, and "Let's Golf 2" is quickly becoming the very symbol of unwanted apps on many Android phones. On the other hand, Slacker and Rhapsody apps are likely to be a boon to music lovers, and Bitbop might excite those who want to stream TV shows on their phone.

The real crime isn't the bloatware itself as much as the fact that they cannot be removed, especially Verizon's own V CAST apps. It's fine if you must include them on my phone, but at least let me get rid of them if I want to.

Surprisingly, some of the most common apps, including Skype and Netflix, are absent on the Thunderbolt, though that will likely change.

Trying out 4G

The thing everyone ultimately wants to know about the HTC Thunderbolt is whether it's really as fast as advertised. Let's cut to the chase: On 4G networks, the HTC Thunderbolt is blazing fast. Ridiculously fast.

We doubt many people have experienced an app taking longer to install than it did to download, but it's a transcendental experience for those accustomed to 3G networks.

In fact, if you live in Verizon 4G coverage, the 4G speeds would be reason enough to buy the Thunderbolt, even if the hardware was junk.

Verizon 4G is designed to provide download speeds somewhere between 5 and 12 megabits per second. Our tests in a 4G area (Orlando, Fla., with two or three bars of signal strength) consistently scored toward the top of that scale. Other tests we've seen exceeded it handily. In fact, in Chicago some people have reported 20 megabits or more per second on the HTC Thunderbolt.

This means Web pages are loading almost as fast as you can navigate to them. A colleague using a Thunderbolt on 4G in Phoenix reported pages loading two and three times faster than his Droid 2 on 3G. It's so enjoyable to watch that browser progress bar sprint across the top of the screen. Images load instantly; animations and video play smoothly; and zooming and scrolling is effortless.

Verizon also promised upload speeds between 1 and 5 megabits per second. The Thunderbolt easily gets 5Mbps and more.

Summary

We'll say it again, for emphasis: The 4G speeds alone are reason enough to buy the HTC Thunderbolt. This thing zooms. Fortunately, the phone has many other features to commend itself, including solid design and construction, beautiful display, responsive processor and passable camera. Despite the battery life problems and the inescapable bloatware, this feels like one of the best phones HTC has made, one of the best Android phones Verizon has carried, and one of the best 4G phones, period.