Sprint HTC Bolt review: LTE Plus network in a middling water resistant aluminum unibody shell

  • Editors' rating
    8.3 Excellent

Pros

  • Typical high quality HTC metal design
  • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • Water and dust resistance

Cons

  • Two year old processor
  • Mono speaker arrangement
  • Average camera performance
  • Excessive Sprint bloatware

Usain Bolt is the world's fastest man and Sprint is using him to help promote Sprint's fastest smartphone ever, the HTC Bolt. Network performance lives up to the speed promotion, but the device is uninspiring.

Usually when a new phone is released reviewers often state it is the best phone ever as phones tend to improve over time with advancements in technology. For the HTC Bolt, that is not the case.

It's been a couple years since I reviewed a Sprint phone because I never had a strong enough signal where I live and work to give the network a fair shake. Thankfully, Sprint has been working hard to improve its network and after a week with the new Sprint HTC Bolt I can say it's a network I would consider using on a daily basis.

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While the town I live in doesn't yet support the fastest Sprint network speeds, the city of Seattle where I work has zones of LTE Plus. I wandered into these zones with the HTC Bolt and saw download speeds of more than 76 Mbps. In other areas I regularly saw 20-38 Mbps so the network support is there for many people.

On the other hand, I personally wasn't that impressed with the HTC Bolt hardware and loads of Sprint bloatware installed on the device. I understand HTC worked with Sprint to deliver a device focused on the Sprint LTE Plus network, but using a two year old processor and basic 16 megapixel camera did not impress me. It's a step back from the excellent HTC 10 hardware, except for the addition of some water and dust resistance.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 2.0 GHz octa-core
  • Display: 5.5 inch 2560 x 1440 pixels resolution Super LCD 3
  • Operating system: Android 7.0 Nougat
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 32 GB internal with microSD card storage for up to 2TB
  • Cameras: 16 megapixel f/2.0 camera with OIS and 8 megapixel front facing camera
  • Extras: IP57 dust and water resistance, HTC BoomSound Adaptive Audio
  • Battery: 3,200 mAh battery with Quick Charge 2.0 fast charging
  • Dimensions: 153.6 x 77.3 x 8.09 mm and 174 grams

A two year old Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB of RAM, basic stock cameras, Bluetooth 4.1, and Quick Charge 2.0 mean the HTC Bolt isn't competing at the high end of the market. At $600, it is priced less than an iPhone 7 Plus or Google Pixel XL with the major focus of this device being the support of Sprint's LTE Plus network.

Hardware

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The first thing you will notice with the HTC Bolt, especially if you have ever tried out an HTC 10, is that the phone is wider and the back is flat. There is a deeper flat edge around the phone and the chamfers on the back are very pronounced. It's not terrible or anything, but it doesn't have a great in hand feel that many phones today implement well.

The display is a 2K LCD and it looks great. The side bezels around the viewable display are a bit wide, but the top and bottom are about what the same as the iPhone 7 Plus. I am a fan of the front facing home button/fingerprint scanner and it looks to be the same as what we see on the HTC 10.

Two separate slots are found on the right side, one for the microSD card and one for the SIM card. The volume and power buttons are on the right with the same ridged power button as the HTC 10 to make it easy to find and press. There is nothing along the top of the phone. The bottom houses the USB Type-C port and mono speaker. That's right, there is no 3.5mm headset jack or HTC BoomSound stereo speakers on the HTC Bolt.

You will find HTC-branded earbuds in the Sprint retail package. These earbuds are modeled after the HTC Hi-Res audio earphones, except they have a USB Type-C connector at the end instead of a 3.5mm headset jack. HTC took its adaptive audio utility and made it an automatic feature integrated with these particular earphones. On the HTC 10, you could plug in headphones to the 3.5mm headset jack and then run through a hearing test to customize the audio experience.

With the HTC Bolt, you plug in the earphones and then a signal is sent through the earphones (you will hear a bit of static) to measure the particular dimensions of your ear and optimize the listening experience for your ear. It's cool technology and you can even see a plot of the results against the default setting. Audio sounds great through the USB Type-C port and earphones, but I still think the audio is better through the 3.5mm headset jack on the HTC 10.

There is a 16 megapixel camera and dual LED flash centered on the back of the device. The camera does not integrate any HTC UltraPixel technology and doesn't appear to have any special features or software. It is a pretty basic 16 megapixel camera with fairly typical results that will likely satisfy the majority of people, but it won't compete with the Galaxy S7, Google Pixel, or iPhone 7.

Check out my full resolution samples of the HTC Bolt, iPhone 7 Plus, BlackBerry DTEK60, and Huawei Mate 9 on Flickr. I think the Bolt beats the DTEK60, but not the other too. Let me know what you think after reviewing the photos.

The HTC Bolt is an aluminum unibody phone with IP57 dust and water resistance. HTC stated that the larger size of the device allowed it to put in gaskets and material to achieve the IP57 rating. As a guy who runs and fishes in the rain, I am a fan of water resistant phones and it is becoming a new standard for my phone purchases.

Software

With the Apple iPhone 7, Google Pixel, and wide range of affordable GSM unlocked phones, it is very difficult for me to test out carrier-branded phones loaded with unremovable bloatware. I count at least 12 apps and utilities installed by Sprint and another six Amazon apps installed out of the box. Some of them can be uninstalled, but the majority take up some of the 32GB internal storage and cannot be removed.

Some of these utilities, such as Visual Voicemail and WiFi Calling, serve actual essential functions. However, the core Android OS supports both of these functions by default without the use of carrier-branded utilities. If you want to access the network speeds found on an HTC Bolt you will have to live with these apps.

Thankfully, the HTC Bolt launches with Android 7.0 Nougat and HTC Sense. Compared to the HTC 10 I tested, I am pleased that we can now customize the quick controls, have more advanced settings options, use more advanced notifications, and have the latest Android security update.

You can install a microSD card and choose to use adoptable storage to have that card function as internal storage. This is something we do not see supported by Samsung or LG, so it's a nice option for those who install lots of large applications.

Thanks to HTC Sense, you can theme your device with standard or freestyle layouts. These options are a nice easy way to customize your device and I personally do enjoy some of these them options.

Pricing and competition

The HTC Bolt is launching as a Sprint exclusive for $25 for 24 months, or $600. The Apple iPhone 7 Plus and Google Pixel XL both start at $749. The 5.7 inch LG V20 is $792 on Sprint, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is $794.99, and the HTC 10 is $648.99. As you can see, the HTC Bolt is one of the lowest priced large phones on Sprint and it runs at the fastest network speeds.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

I visited the local HTC offices in Seattle last Friday and picked up the HTC Bolt so I've had a solid week of use with it. After a couple of years with no Sprint phone, I came away very impressed by the network speeds and coverage. I rarely experienced zones without coverage and was very pleased with the network performance.

With such a fast network available to test out, I streamed video content on YouTube as a test of the device. The HTC Bolt heated up pretty quickly while streaming video content, which isn't a real surprise given it has a Snapdragon 810 processor inside.

Performance was good, thanks in large part to the way that HTC Sense is a minimal UI experience so there are not slowdowns like we see with LG and Samsung phones.

While I enjoyed the network speeds in downtown Seattle, there was nothing about the HTC Bolt that blew me away. IMHO, the design is a step back from the HTC 10 with a larger phone, no stereo speakers, and no advanced camera technology. Enterprise users may be happy with the larger display, IP57 dust and water resistance, and blazing fast network speeds.

Specifications

Cellular
Type Smartphone
Operating System Android 7.0
Processor
Clock Speed 2.0 GHz
Manufacturer Qualcomm
Processor Core Qty Octa-core
Display
Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Battery
Standby Time Up to 20 Days
Dimensions & Weight
Width 3.04 in
Depth 3.7 in
Height 6.12 in
Weight 8.09 oz

Topics: Mobility, Google, Reviews, Smartphones

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