HTC ThunderBolt launches as first LTE phone

Some wonder about battery life for fast device

HTC ThunderBolt smartphone
HTC's ThunderBolt smartphone.

Sales of HTC's ThunderBolt smartphone kicked off Thursday, but it isn't clear that faster speeds it offers on Verizon Wireless's LTE (Long Term Evolution) network are exciting buyers, possibly because of their concerns about battery life.

One man at a Verizon store in suburban Boston said he was buying the ThunderBolt because its hardware seemed more durable than an iPhone 4, not because of other features or because it is the first Verizon phone running on LTE. "I beat my phones up," he noted.

Other potential buyers said they worried the faster LTE speeds would drain the smartphone's battery too quickly, a concern that was rumored to have delayed the phone's shipment date several times while testing and refinements were made to the phone.

Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney, responding to a question about shipment delays, said Thursday, "When phones have completed the testing process, we launch them."

She repeated published specs for the phone's battery life of up to 6.3 hours of usage time and up to 330 hours of standby time, and wouldn't speculate on LTE's impact on battery life.

Raney also said customer "response has been good" for ThunderBolt midway its first day on sale, although Verizon almost never offers sales figures. At the suburban Boston store, a small crowd that gathered at the 9 a.m. opening had thinned out by 9:30 a.m. and several customers were looking at the iPad 2 and other devices.

In a quick hands-on of ThunderBolt, I had a chance to operate the in-store demo unit and was very impressed by the quick loading - -almost instant -- of Web pages over LTE on several sites, including Computerworld, ESPN and the The New York Times.

An ESPN video of President Obama filing out his NCAA tournament bracket streamed beautifully, but it took three or four seconds at the launch of the clip to eliminate video tiling that completely obscured the image.

I couldn't get Web speed tests to work before another customer arrived to check out the device, the only ThunderBolt on display in the store.

Elsewhere, Best Buy sells the ThunderBolt for the same price as Verizon -- $249.99 with a two-year contract. The retailer had been advertising the smartphone for weeks in Sunday newspaper circulars for $299.99 and then on Wednesday said it would drop the price to $249.99 for three days only.

Suddenly on Thursday morning, Best Buy issued a short statement that it would extend the lower price beyond three days, but didn't say for how long.

Wirefly, an online seller of phones and wireless plans, began taking pre-orders for the device on Tuesday at $199.99, and later said its first day had broken previous first-day sales records by 400%, noting that the ThunderBolt accounted for one-fourth of sales on Tuesday.

Verizon has kept its $29.99 per month price for unlimited data with the ThunderBolt, but it isn't clear how long that will last because the carrier is committed to setting up data usage limits.

Wirefly notes on its Web site that the ThunderBolt ships without mobile video calling software from Skype, although Skype is said to have committed Thursday to providing the capability.

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