HTC ThunderBolt launches as first LTE phone

Some wonder about battery life for fast device

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Analysts have linked potential battery drain to Skype video, since the app would run in the background, tracking signals.

Instead of Skype, ThunderBolt does come with Tango's mobile video calling software installed, which makes use of the device's dual cameras. The phone also features a 4.3-in. touchscreen, and 40GB of total storage.

It is probably too early to judge whether battery life concerns with ThunderBolt turn into actual problems, or how well the phones and batteries will perform in real-life conditions. Wirefly did a thorough video review of application speeds in ThunderBolt apps, but had not thoroughly tested it over LTE.

One lengthy early review by InfoSyncWorld said the battery performance on its ThunderBolt review unit was "very similar" to the HTC Inspire 4G on AT&T's HSPA network, despite ThunderBolt's 1400mAh battery being more than 10% bigger.

"Regardless, the HTC ThunderBolt will definitely need a daily charge, just like any high-end smartphone, and in some cases an additional charge throughout the day will be necessary," InfoSyncWorld said.

Analysts said that many smartphone users are in the practice of connecting a charger to the device before going to bed, although they noted that 6.3 hours of use as stated in the specs won't take many workers through a long day.

"Battery life is an issue in any of these smartphones," said Phil Asmundson, an analyst at Deloitte. "It's great if I remember to plug it in every night, but it sucks if I don't. Anything they can do to improve battery life improves customer satisfaction."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said it isn't completely clear how much LTE chips will drain batteries. "Early indications are that the LTE chipsets draw more power than older chipsets," similar to when phones upgraded from 2G to 3G, he said. "LTE will likely cause some power issues in early-gen devices."

He said the power drain will come more from the LTE radio than the phone's 1GHz processor, even though an LTE phone could be used to play and process much more video since the LTE network is 10 times faster than Verizon's 3G CDMA/EV-DO network.

Verizon lists the average download speeds with LTE on the ThunderBolt at between 5 Mbit/sec and 12 Mbit/sec, with upload speed between 2 Mbit/sec and 5 Mbit/sec.

The phone converts from LTE to Verizon's 3G network where LTE is not available, and some analysts said the switching back and forth will also tend to drain the battery more than in one network. Verizon has LTE in 39 cities so far.

"We'll probably have to wait until some devices get out there and tested to know for sure what the powerimpact of LTE will be," Gold said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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