Verizon's HTC ThunderBolt is a milestone, but battery life concerns linger

The launch by Verizon Wireless of its first commercial LTE handsets is a milestone event for the cellular industry. The U.S. media is rightly alive with reports about the performance of the HTC ThunderBolt, having been frustrated by being forced to wait as its launch date slipped from one week to another.

Overall, the reviewers--albeit having only had access to the new handset for a few days--were hugely positive. They noted the ThunderBolt has good voice quality, that call hand-offs worked well, the device has strong Android performance and the 4.3-inch, 800-by-480 screen attracted much praise. While the device was labelled as being a little heavy and bulky, the data speeds were, to quote one reviewer, "awesome."

Early measurements conducted by PC Magazine produced download speeds of nearly 12 Mbps while with 4 Mbps in the uplink while tethered, and 9.6 Mbps downlink was recorded when the device was not tethered. Latency was around 85ms. Other writers reported much higher speeds, bearing in mind these early tests were conducted on an almost empty LTE network.

Altogether, they represent astounding results for a first-generation handset, vindication for LTE as a wireless technology, and a significant step-change for the industry.

But, as always when revolutionary technology is introduced, there are some downsides. And with the ThunderBolt it's a big one: appalling battery life--that age-old issue that has dogged mobile devices since the days of the first analogue portable phones, and became a major problem for early 3G phones.

For "routine" task, such emails, Facebook and downloading a few apps using LTE--but excluding Wi-Fi, videos or camera usage--the HTC handset was down to 8 per cent of battery life after around 3 hours and a half hours (including 2 hours, 45 minutes of LTE use), according to staff at SlashGear.

While some of the delay with launching the HTC ThunderBolt were rumoured to be due to efforts to fix this power consumption issue, HTC and Verizon are thought to be working on an update to the handset's firmware to improve battery life. Perhaps turning off LTE is not an appropriate suggestion.

Regardless, the media will shortly have the chance to compare the HTC handset with a competitive device when the Motorola Droid Bionic launches in a few weeks' (or months'?) time. This LTE device will include a dual-core processor, which sounds like it's more focused on performance and not lowering the power consumption. Shortly following the Motorola device will be LTE-enabled LG Revolution and the Samsung Stealth.

How the battery life of these handsets might compare is unknown, but it's sure to be discussed at this week's CTIA Wireless 2011 trade show in Florida.--Paul