Review: 10 Reasons Why the HTC Thunderbolt is Better than the iPhone 4
I picked up my first Android phone a couple of weeks ago after using iPhones for almost four years. I still count my iPhone 4 as my primary mobile phone, but Android is definitely growing on me. Below are the top 10 things I love about my ThunderBolt and why I’m using my Android phone a lot more than I’d planned.
Voice calls are more reliable on the HTC Thunderbolt, but I’ll leave call quality out of this piece since you can pick up an iPhone 4 with Verizon or AT&T these days.
For some background- I bought the original iPhone on launch day back in 2007. I upgraded to the 3G, 3GS and iPhone 4 as soon as each was launched. Before that, I was a Palm Treo user.
The Thunderbolt is making my iPhone 4 look like it’s stuck back in 2007 in a lot of ways.
Verizon 4G LTE
The HTC Thunderbolt is the first 4G LTE from Verizon and it’s amazing. I live in San Francisco, which is well-covered by Verizon’s 3G and 4G network. The phone is almost always on the 4G network when I’m in San Francisco or Silicon Valley.
Verizon is providing a couple of months of free 4G LTE hotspot access, which I’m taking full advantage of. My ThunderBolt has fully replaced my 3G Novatel MiFi, which I recently gave up. Browsing the web on my notebooks feels just like using most moderate public WiFi networks. In fact it’s so fast that I don’t bother connecting the Thunderbolt to my home network on home.
Did I mention that it’s ridiculously fast? Here’s a SpeedTest.net test of the Verizon 4G LTE network on the Thunderbolt.
And here’s one with my iPhone 4 on AT&T’s 3G network.
Yeah, I know that Verizon’s 4G LTE network doesn’t cover everyone and it isn’t clogged with users yet, but this is one hell of a starting point.
The iPhone’s keyboard and text entry hasn’t changed all that much since the original iPhone was introduced. Before I really started using the Thunderbolt, I didn’t think too much of it. Why fix what’s not broken? But after using Swype and actually getting a choice of keyboards, I’m turning to the Thunderbolt for writing and editing on the go.
My favorite Android keyboard so far is FlexT9 from Nuance. This keyboard allows me to type by speaking, drawing, tracing or tapping. The voice method is by far the most useful and it works in any text-entry field. Voice apps on iOS, including Nuance’s, are pretty lame by comparison.
Here’s a cheesy video from Nuance that demos FlexT9. I haven’t scribbled text very often, but it brings back fond memories of Graffiti on my Palm Pilots of yesteryear.
It is far easier for me to write and edit text on the Thunderbolt than my iPhone, which means I pull out the Thunderbolt and fire up the WordPress app whenever I need to blog or edit on the go.
Android Web Browser
It is truly refreshing to be able to visit any website and see it in its full flory after using the iPhone’s Flash-less Safari browser for so long. Instead of having to fire up one of my notebooks while I’m on the go, I can finally my phone to get stuff done. Browsing the web on an Android device still isn’t as good as using a Mac or PC browser, but it’s far better than using an iPhone.
Here’s a Side By Side HTC Thunderbolt vs. iPhone Browser Comparison from Wirefly:
Both iOS and Android have alternative browsers, but Android wins out thanks to Flash. The Adobe technology may drain battery life, but it’s a compromise I’m willing to make.
The iPhone’s notification system is broken. Alerts from apps pop up with the same urgency as all the others, which means I end up turning notifications/alerts off on most apps on my iPhone. The problem is that every iOS notification looks and acts exactly the same, whether it’s an appointment that’s coming up in a few minutes (urgent in my book) or the verdict on some celebrity’s legal battle (not urgent in my book).
On my Thunderbolt, alerts that matter are shoved to the front and routine notifications barely make a beep. This system is a lot more intelligent and I love the fact that I’m actually able to review recent notifications. On iOS devices, they seem to disappear to quickly, which is a problem if you have several stacked up. On the Thunderbolt I can sort through notifications as time allows and discrete icons at the top of the screen gives me an idea of what notifications are waiting for my attention.
The appointments notification on the Thunderbolt displays a nice calendar symbol and the pertinent meeting info. It just works better than on the iPhone.
It Has Four Buttons!
I’ve gotten used to the iPhone’s single button on its face. When I first started using my Thunderbolt it felt like there were too many options. Now I’m right at home with the Home, Menu, Back and Search buttons. By far the most useful button for me is the back button. It might sound simple, but I can’t count the number of times I use it every day.
The iPhone’s home button does do tricks if you tap twice or hold it down, but it feels archaic compared to the Thunderbolt’s four buttons.
Gmail works like a charm on the Thunderbolt. It’s not perfect, but it’s miles ahead of the iOS mail client. I can actually use many of the most important Gmail features on the Thunderbolt, which means I can read, sort and write more efficiently on the go. It might sound like a small detail, but the ability to easily mark a message as unread is a godsend to my workflow. I can actually use Priority Inbox, stars, labels and a bunch of other stuff that I’m used to when using my MacBook to access Gmail.
The iOS Mail app feels stale compared to the Gmail app for Android. Apple needs to get to work in the mobile email department.
By default, the Thunderbolt comes with a theme that shows the date, time, location and weather conditions. There are animated clouds and rain when the weather changes. The home screen is customizable and just feels alive, like somewhere I should periodically check in.
The iPhone’s home screen hasn’t changed all that much since I bought my first iPhone. Sure, I can now stack apps into folders and I can switch between apps with a double tap of the home button, but things are looking stale after using the Thunderbolt for three weeks.
Navigation and Maps
My Thunderbolt has a perfectly serviceable Navigation app out of the box. That’s a welcome treat after going so long with Apple’s map program. Truth be told, I don’t rely too much on smartphone navigation apps unless I’m traveling since my car has a built-in GPS unit, but I have had to pay for iOS navigation apps while on the road. Trying to navigate with the built-in iOS Maps app is painful, if not dangerous.
Google’s Navigation app actually provides street-level views as I drive and overlays directions. It puts Apple’s Maps app to shame. Did I mention it’s free?
Google Maps Demo on HTC Thunderbolt from Ubergizmo:
This one’s a toss up, but at times I really do prefer the Thunderbolt’s big old display. The Thunderbolt’s display measures 4.3″ diagonally, which is significantly larger than the iPhone 4′s 3.5″ display. Colors don’t pop off the Thunderbolt’s display as well as the iPhone 4′s Retina display. But sometimes size really does matter, like when I’m trying to read text on the screen or view a map. I’m all for high-res displays, but it’s nice to let my eyes relax a bit. At times, it feels like I’m reading on a super small tablet rather than a giant smartphone.
Built In Kickstand
The HTC Thunderbolt’s built-in kickstand might look and sound like a gimmick, but I’ve found myself peeking at the Thunderbolt more often than my iPhone while I’m at my desk. Why? For the simple fact that the kickstand makes it easier to keep it in sight.
I usually keep my iPhone 4 in a Mophie Juice Pack Air, which means I can’t keep it in a standard iPhone dock when seated at my desk.
The Thunderbolt’s kickstand allows the phone to sit in either landscape or portrait mode, but it’s not perfect. When it’s in the closed position, the kickstand actually muffles the speaker’s sound. This isn’t a problem except for when you’re listening to music or other multimedia content with the kickstand in tight up against the back of the Thunderbolt.
While there’s a lot I like about the Thunderbolt and the Android experience, there’s a lot that I don’t like. There are a lot of reasons why the iPhone 4 is still my primary phone. While I use both quite a bit everyday, when I only bring one phone out with me, I choose my iPhone. That may change in the future, but old habits die hard. For any Apple fanboys that take offense to this article – stay tuned. I’ll share why the 10 reasons why I’m keeping my iPhone 4 and probably buying the iPhone 5 in a follow up article.