My phone is faster than my cable modem

March 24, 2011, 9:08 PM UTC

The HTC Thunderbolt’s Internet speed is not only faster than any other phone, it may be faster than your home wired Internet connection.

Verizon (VZ) launched its LTE 4G wireless service in the U.S. at the end of last year.  Until last week however, the only way to tap into that superfast wireless network was to buy a USB dongle and plug it into your laptop.

That all changed with the introduction of the HTC Thunderbolt Android 2.2 phone.

The Thunderbolt hardware and software are going to be pretty familiar, at least on the outside.  If you’ve seen an EVO by Sprint (S), an AT&T (T) Inspire 4G, or even a Windows 7 phone on T-Mobile called the HD7, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’ll be holding. Just like those, the Thunderbold is a large phone with a large 4.3 inch screen.  HTC has improved the viewing angles so the screen is better than the EVO to look at, however.  It also has an upgraded MSM8655 1GHz Qualcomm processor, which isn’t noticeably faster, but I’m told I can thank it for improved battery life.

Thunderbolt, center with its brethren, the EVO on left and Inspire on right

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.  If you are interested in the Thunderbolt, you don’t care about its weight or how pretty it is.  When you talk about this phone, you are talking about pure, unadulterated LTE wireless broadband speed, and boy does this device deliver…

I got my Thunderbolt review unit while vacationing in southeast Florida with my family so I got my first taste of LTE phone speeds while on the beach.  Doing a quick between womping on puny East Coast waves, I managed to get 10Mb downloads and up to 40Mb uploads.

That isn’t a typo.

Just to put that in perspective, my home Optimum Online Cable network, I get about the same download speed and about 1/20th of the upload speed.

So sitting in my beach chair, I have as fast a connection as I have sitting in my house.  Later on, when I got back to New York City, I managed a 24Mb download speed (right)!

Time to cancel my Internet, right?

Well, not exactly.  First of all, Verizon’s 4G service doesn’t reach my house in the burbs.  It kicks out somewhere near the Bronx/Westchester border on my commute home.  And then I am at Verizon’s 3G speeds, which are nice but not a substitute for a cable modem.

Verizon’s 4G access is available in 40 U.S. cities now (map), it will be in 50 more soon and about 150 total by year end, so there is a pretty good chance most Americans will be able to take advantage of 4G soon.

What’s more, the Thunderbolt has some Hotspot issues, which Verizon is aware of. The 4G Modem switches on and off sometimes while I am using it as a hotspot, causing interruptions in service.

Even when I am full throttle on 4G LTE, by the time the Internet connection reaches my computer, it has slowed down a bit.  It is still the fastest mobile wireless I’ve ever used, but it doesn’t feel as fast as my home network.  Latency issues and the amount of hops in the connection probably play a big part in this (ping times — the time it takes for messages to get from a network’s hub to a computer and back — are 20ms for my home and 100ms for the phone) as well as some packet loss as the phone switches from LTE to WiFi.

Lastly, Verizon meters its Internet access.  You’ll get charged a monthly fee (it is currently free for 60 days) for tethering, and the data counts against your data plan.

Still though, if you use a phone as a hotspot, this is the fastest connection you can get.

VCast App Store

One other notable addition to the Thunderbolt is the Verizon VCast App store.  Verizon will be bundling the VCast app store as an addition to its Android phones going forward.  I spent a bit of time comparing it to the Amazon Appstore earlier this week but here’s the takeaway:

  • The store was buggy and slow for me
  • You can’t take your apps off of Verizon’s network
  • There wasn’t anything immediately appealing in the store that I couldn’t find elsewhere.

At the moment, I am hesitant to recommend buying apps from Verizon.  Perhaps future iterations will be more tempting.

The Thunderbolt also has HTC’s Sense overlay, which, as manufacturer add-ons go, isn’t too offensive.  It also has a bunch of Verizon apps, which also get in the way a bit (for instance, when you want to use maps, it asks to use VZNavigator, which would be insane).  Those two additions, however don’t destroy the experience and can be ignored after a few days.

Also, the phone part of this smartphone works well.  It’s nice that it can still make and receive calls while you are using a 4G  data modem.  No other Verizon smartphone can currently do this.

Also, one major gripe about both this phone and the AT&T Inspire 4D.  Taking off the back cover isn’t an easy experience and once you are behind the cover, MicroSD, SIM and battery aren’t arranged very well.  HTC really needs to work on making the back cover easy to deal with.  It is definitely a step in the wrong direction from the EVO, which has a back cover that practically falls off in comparison.

Overall, the Thunderbolt will make a great phone for people who like large, fast smartphones.  The HTC EVO sold extremely well for Sprint, a much smaller carrier than Verizon.  This updated, faster LTE version with a longer battery life should do at least as well for Verizon.

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