Fasten your seatbelts, friends: Verizon’s first 4G smartphone has finally arrived.
The long-anticipated HTC Thunderbolt launches this Thursday, March 17. It’ll sell through Verizon for $250 with a two-year contract (though you can get it for $200 if you buy from a third-party retailer like Wirefly).
The Thunderbolt has plenty going for it: Running Google’s Android operating system, the phone boasts a giant 4.3-inch display and a look similar to HTC’s popular EVO 4G device. Like the EVO, the Thunderbolt even comes with a kickstand.
The Thunderbolt has more horsepower than its Sprint-based predecessor, mind you — 768MB of RAM compared to the EVO’s 512MB — and a good bit more storage space, too. But the Thunderbolt is also going to have some serious competition in the form of Verizon’s next high-profile 4G smartphone, the Motorola Droid Bionic.
So is it worth springing for the HTC Thunderbolt now, or would you be wiser to wait for the Bionic to arrive? Check out this comparison and see what you think.
Verizon 4G Phones: HTC Thunderbolt vs. Droid Bionic
First and foremost, make no mistake about it: The HTC Thunderbolt is a multimedia powerhouse. The Thunderbolt runs on a 1GHz processor with that aforementioned 768MB of memory. It has an 8MP rear-facing camera and 1.3MP front-facing camera for video chat. Of course, there’s that 4.3-inch screen with 480-by-800 resolution. And the Thunderbolt is ready to use Verizon’s speedy 4G network, provided you’re in a city that supports it.
Despite those impressive specs, the Droid Bionic — set to launch sometime in the second quarter of this year — comes out ahead in a few noteworthy measures: The Bionic runs a dual-core 1GHz processor. That distinction, also present in Android tablets like the new Motorola Xoom, makes a big difference when it comes to multitasking and resource-intensive applications. The Bionic one-ups the Thunderbolt with its HDMI output, too, as well as its higher resolution display, at 540-by-960 pixels in the same 4.3-inch size.
Hang on, though: The Thunderbolt isn’t down for the count. While the Bionic has the dual-core processor, it has just 512MB of RAM — less than the Thunderbolt’s 768MB helping. And while the two phones are matched in terms of their rear cameras, the Thunderbolt’s front-facing camera beats the Bionic’s hands-down; the Bionic has only a 0.3MP camera on its face.
Then there’s storage: The Thunderbolt comes with 8GB of internal space, plus another 32GB via an included MicroSD card. The Bionic has 16GB of internal space and can support up to 32GB of external storage; as of now, however, it isn’t clear what (if any) level of SD card will be included with the phone at purchase.
Finally, consider the software: While both phones ship with Android 2.2, aka Froyo — hopefully with upgrades to Android Gingerbread in the cards — each device has its own unique interface added on by its manufacturer. The Thunderbolt runs HTC’s Sense UI, while the Droid Bionic runs a version of Motorola’s Motoblur skin. Neither is objectively better than the other, but they’re definitely different.
Verizon 4G Faceoff: Final Thoughts
In the end, there’s really no clear-cut winner between the HTC Thunderbolt and Droid Bionic; based on the specs and our early impressions, both phones have their perks, and both promise to be powerful and compelling devices.
The decision ultimately comes down to a matter of preference. Personally, I’d veer more toward the Bionic; I tend to prefer Motorola’s hardware design over HTC’s, and I see a lot of value in having a dual-core processor phone. I’m also not a fan at all of the manufacturer-baked-in Android UIs. Ideally, I’d prefer a phone with stock Android — but given the choice between Sense and Motoblur, I’d pick Motoblur; for my tastes, it’s the less invasive and more stock-like option. That’s just me, of course; some people swear by Sense and wouldn’t buy a phone without it.
If you’re debating between getting the Thunderbolt and the Bionic, the best thing I could suggest would be to think carefully about what it is that you want in a phone. Check out the Thunderbolt in a store later this week. If you like the way it looks and feels and are happy with the way the device works in terms of its software, it might just be the one for you.
Also check out a phone like the Droid X, though. While it’s certainly not the same as the Bionic, it’ll give you a basic idea of what Motorola’s hardware is like and how its Motoblur interface feels to use. If that style strikes your fancy — or if the idea of a next-gen, dual-core phone is important to you — then the Bionic might be the better option.
Whichever way you go, rest assured: Something faster and shinier will be along to tempt you six months later. Welcome to the wild new world of mobile technology; there’s rarely a dull moment.
JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.