HTC Thunderbolt (Verizon) vs. iPhone 4 (AT&T)

I'm writing this post while traveling home on CalTain using my iPad which is hotspotted (tethered) to my new HTC Thunderbolt smartphone on Verizon's 4G network. To do so, all I had to do was tap a couple icons in the phone to get the mobile sharing up and running, then have my iPad scan for a wireless network and connect (authenticate). I normally would. Before you know it, my iPad is seamlessly online and communicating with whatever I need to talk with on the Internet. The current power level is at 68% so we'll see how that serves us by the time this article is finished.

The tl;dr for this review is simply this: Thunderbolt > iPhone 4.

Now, let me explain why...

First, let me begin by saying that I have been an Apple fan for a long time. In addition to using their computers, I was a first generation adopter of both the iPod and the iPhone. I've gone through the original iPhone, the 3G and the 4. As a matter of fact, I deemed it justifiable to pay the contract cancellation penalty with AT&T to come to Verizon.

What I like about the iPhone can be summed up by saying that it represents exemplary engineering on top of a ghastly deployment. AT&T's service is, by comparison, pathetic; it is the Dan Quayle of service and performance - at best, AT&T's service can only be described as "mediocre".

Switching to Verizon made me realize just how bad AT&T's service actually is. Within my first week of using my Thunderbolt, I experienced NO dropped calls, NO poor signals, NO service interruptions of any kind. Certainly not what I was accustomed to after years of (ab)use from AT&T.

And, while Apple is, in my opinion, the best hardware engineer in the business, the other factor in my decision to move phone platforms was that Apple never quite got the whole synchronization thing down. I really don't need seven different copies of my veterinarian in my address book. Syncing services with Google have been working for me perfectly - and I don't have to pay them $99 per year to screw up my address book contents or my calendar.

So, at this point, I've dropped .me, and my iPhone, for a Google world. Since the Android requires a Google account, (Hey! I have one of those!), setting up my phone required that I only provide it with my account information and everything from that point was auto-magically configured for me.

What I Love About the iPhone

  • Overall Design -- the iPhone(s) have always spearheaded the industry standard on look-and-feel.  The phone feels solid regardless of it's size and it's simply umatched in terms of it's aesthetic beauty.
    • Add to this the on/off button located at the bottom-front-center of the phone.  Incredibly convenient, easy to locate by-touch.  You won't realize how much you miss it until it's gone.
  • Easily Rooted - rooting the phone takes place in one-click and is easily reversible.  Your phone is automagically backed-up and, when a new version of the OS is released, you're not waiting very long for the geniuses to release the updated rootkit.
    • The additional software available for the phone once you've rooted it makes the phone a delight to use.  Specifically, my favorite programs were Intelliscreen and BiteSMS.

Things I dislike about the iPhone:

  • DRM music.  While this isn't an iPhone-specific feature, I do (did) use my iPhone extensively with iTunes to download music.  The fact that Apple now wants about $200 to remove the DRM from the existing content I already own really pisses me off to the point where I stopped downloading music through the iTunes store altogether on my phone.
  • AT&T -- seriously bad cellular service.  I live in San Jose.  I spend a lot of time in San Francisco.  To have a call start and end without dropping, without having to repeat myself because of the crappy connection, is just like winning the lottery.  It never happens.
    • 3G is so slow that it's speeds are measured in geological terms.  It's slow to the point of worthless.
  • Sync -- sorry Apple, it just doesn't work.  In all the years I was using .me -- which I was willing to pay the $99/year for just to have a clean address book, it never happened.  Having duplicates in my address book, sometimes as many as a half-dozen for every contact, makes it unusable.  Wake-up.  The fact that one of the hottest-selling apps on the app-store is address-book-cleaner should be a clue.
  • Battery -- I can't get through the day without a re-charge.  I don't use my phone all that much for voice (see above) but I should be able to get the battery to last an entire day from just music and texting.  (This was on a new phone, too.)
  • UX -- stale.  Other than creating folders, there's not a lot I can do with the UX unless I root the device.  TBF, I can understand Apple's slow-moving approach to updating/modernizing the UX, but I think it's quickly being passed by other (agile) devices.
  • Having to enter my AppStore password every freakin' time I update and/or download.  Why?

What I like about the Thunderbolt:

  • 4G/Speed -- this sucker is so fast, it'll make your jaw drop.  Downloads are near instantaneous.  Applications load in a flash.  It's painfully noticeable when it drops down to 3G -- so much so, I usually turn it off and look for something else to do.
  • User-Interface -- I like the Android UX.  It's clean, modern, and customizable.   It encourages exploration and discovery.  It's intuitive.  I also love the time widget and it's incorporation of the weather based on my current location.  While not a fan of anthropomorphic devices (and, honestly, who is?), I like this non-intrusive approach to personalization.
  • App Market -- While the UI of the App Market (counter part to the iTunes or App Store) is less-than in every way to Apple's implementation, it is chock-full of neat stuff.  I immediately found all of my paid-for apps (bought on the iPhone) on the Market and installed them.  Overall,  a nice surprise.
  • Default Applications -- The positive thing about all the crapware installed on the Android is that it gives your creative-juices a nudge.  Something along the lines of "Wow, I didn't realize that existed."  I like all the music-based programs, for example, installed by default.  Although I'm pretty much a Pandora devotee, it has been interesting to explore the alternatives.
  • SMS - The first time I got a voice message it kind of freaked me out.  Don't know if the iPhone supports this without being rooted as I never received one until I had the android...
  • Google Apps Integration -- Since I've moved off .me to Google -- all my apps are integrated.  Flawlessly.  Including address book.  Yay!  I can even let Google Voice be my default voice mail for vm transcription.  (Which is a very nice-to-have as I'm hard-of-hearing.)
  • Verizon -- A positive point since it's not AT&T.  Simply put, I never realized how much AT&T's service sucked until I started using Verizon.
  • The connect-the-dots security unlock - because I have too many damn passwords and pins already.

Things I Don't Like About Android:

  • Blech engineering on the look-and-feel.  Truth be told, Apple spoiled me with respect to my expectation for Engineering.  Yesterday, a co-worker said: "HTC - isn't that a Korean company?" with the insinuation that my phone, physically, was inferior.  I looked at the plastic case, creaking and clicking in my hand, and just muttered an agreement.
  • Battery Life -- the phone is a vampire for energy.  The little crappy 1450ma battery that comes with it can be effortlessly drained in under two hours of intensive use.  I replaced the battery with an HTC-made 2750ma unit and a new case.  My phone is now a tank -- with respect to both battery life and look-and-feel.
  • Default Software -- Blockbuster?  Seriously?  The fact that I can't delete this application is probably one of the highest incentives I have to root the device.  There is a lot of bloatware crap installed on the phone that you can't get rid of...and., come on...Blockbuster?
  • Lack of Documentation -- this is a complex instrument.  Due to the nature of it's operating system and it's Google integration, the granularity of options available, it requires more information than some splashing marketing booklet that ships with the device.  I spent several calls with technical support the first few days I had the phone on basic set-up stuff.  I've also gotten intimate with several of the droid sites to learn how to exploit all the features of the phone since.
  • Rooting -- rooting the phone is considerably more-complex of an operation than it is on the iPhone.  And, apparently, there's the possibility that you can screw-up and brick your phone.  Also, never made clear to me, is how to recover (re-root) following a OS-update --- which can be pushed down to your device without your explicit permission?  WTF?  (One of the reasons I loathe Microsoft operating systems is that they take liberties with your environment without your explicit consent.)
  • Engineering -- the back chome-bar that folds out to stand the phone up as a display in desk-top mode is really, really a great idea.  Putting the usb-port on the bottom side (in display mode) shoots the idea right in the head.  Seriously?  Did no one test this?

I'm sure I forgot to list some stuff -- as my experience continues with the phone, I'll add to the article via comments.

In summary, once I swapped out the battery for something more apropos, I've come to really like my Thunderbolt and the Android OS.  I don't miss the iPhone 4 at all.  Everything works and works well.

Apple lost a loyal customer, I believe, because they moved too slowly in a market place where they mistakenly believe they have (had) dominance.  I recently read where they're activating about 400,000 android phones a day!  I believe it.  I didn't even mind paying the early-termination fee to walk-away from AT&T - that's how happy I am with this phone and it's service.