Verizon LTE showdown: HTC ThunderBolt vs Samsung Droid Charge

I've spent the last couple months with an HTC ThunderBolt, but had issues with it and decided to give the Samsung Droid Charge a try. Check out which one won me over, if any.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

I purchased my own HTC ThunderBolt back in March, but as I wrote on recent posts I have had nothing but problems with the WiFi hotspot functionality and was getting extremely frustrated. Thankfully, the wonderful folks at Wirefly worked with me and sent along a Droid Charge to see if it would work for me. You can check out this Samsung smartphone in my image gallery and find out below if I decided to stick with a Verizon LTE smartphone or drop Verizon all together and wait for further network rollout and development.

Image Gallery: You can check out over photos of the Samsung Droid Charge.
Image Gallery: Charge and ThunderBolt
Image Gallery: Back of the Charge

Hardware differences

The Android Police website has a nice specifications table comparison between the Droid Charge and the ThunderBolt so check out the details there. As you can see, both of these LTE smartphones have 4.3 inch 480x800 pixels resolution displays, but the Droid Charge blows away the ThunderBolt with its Super AMOLED Plus display compared to the nice super LCD one on the ThunderBolt. I thought the ThunderBolt's was fine, until I saw the Droid Charge and it is fantastic!

They both run Android 2.2 with single core 1 GHz processors, have 1.3 megapixel front facing cameras and 8 megapixel rear cameras, and included 32GB microSD card. The ThunderBolt has more RAM, but so far I haven't seen that to be an issue.

My ThunderBolt had to be charged a couple times a day to get me through a full day (I actually just received the super fat extended battery today and returned it) and so far the Droid Charge seems to be doing much better than the ThunderBolt. The Droid Charge does have a slightly bigger battery at 1600 mAh compared to 1400 mAh too.

They both support DLNA, but the Droid Charge has an HDMI port and I actually do use this on my phones to show off photos and videos to the family during get togethers. My Nokia N8 spoiled me with this and now it is something I look for when checking out phones.

I liked the heft of the ThunderBolt because it felt like quality to me, but am quickly getting used to the lightness of the Droid Charge now too. I was a fan of the kickstand, but not so much of the speaker behind it and the misalignment so you couldn't charge it and have it resting on the kickstand. I honestly like the physical hardware buttons on the Droid Charge and the slightly unique form factor, especially given I already have a 4.3 inch display HTC device with the T-Mobile HD7.

The biggest differences in hardware are the display, battery life, and HDMI port and they all tend to favor the Droid Charge over the ThunderBolt.

One of my biggest issues was the lack of the ThunderBolt to keep a signal with the WiFi hotspot. It would lose it and never seem to be able to regain it with any stability. I had the Droid Charge lose the signal a time or two in the same area, but it did a much better job of actually dynamically reconnecting without me having to do anything so I was able to stay on a Skype call with Kevin Tofel after a few second pause. I imagine this performance will get better too with more network support and updates to the Droid Charge.

CLARIFICATION: I have been getting questions about using Skype on the Charge and wanted to clarify that I was on a Skype call with Kevin on my MacBook Pro via the WiFi hotspot on the Charge. Skype for the Droid Charge and ThunderBolt is not yet available and the two clients I tried from the Market do not work on the Charge.

Software and Experience differences

The major differences for me were really in the software and as I have stated before I am personally a fan of HTC Sense, primarily due to the robust Exchange email and calendar experience. HTC Sense also has some very useful widgets and I was perfectly happy with the way I had the ThunderBolt setup.

When I first turned on the Droid Charge and saw the TouchWiz user interface and lack of any real widgets I almost boxed it back up and returned it. My buddy and fellow ZDNet blogger James reminded me to put Launcher Pro on the device since I clearly forgot that is why I liked my Samsung Galaxy Tab. Once I loaded up Launcher Pro, I was in heaven with the slick Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, and Calendar widgets along with Evernote, YouVersion, Slacker Radio, and some other widgets and shortcuts. I now have the Droid Charge customized to my liking and am quite happy.

I never found the Exchange experience on Samsung Android devices to be very good, but the one on the Droid Charge looks to be getting better with conversation view, ability to add a private appointment, and quick global address book lookup that doesn't even require a secondary button press like on HTC Sense. Samsung doesn't give you enough control over your folders and the quick tabs to jump between email types on Sense is still a lot better. However, I can get by with it much better than I could in the past.

HTC is starting to get into the media business with HTC Watch on the HTC Flyer, but the ThunderBolt is currently limited to BlockBuster. Samsung does well with media and includes their Media Hub on the Droid Charge, along with a $25 credit to use for movie rentals. I also now have Google Music beta on the Droid Charge along with Slacker Radio so music is not an issue at all.

Taking screenshots on Android smartphones has never been very easy and as a product reviewer it is nice to have this be a simple solution. With the Droid Charge you can simply hold down the Back button and then press the Home button to capture a screenshot.

I read that lots of people don't like the theme on the Droid Charge, but as a fan of orange and brown I am perfectly happy with it. Changing system fonts on the Samsung devices is also quite easy and helps improve the user experience, IMHO.

They both have lots of Verizon crapware, but thanks to Launcher Pro you can easily hide all of that from your view.

What was my final decision?

I think both the ThunderBolt and Droid Charge are excellent smartphones, but I did not have much success with the ThunderBolt and the WiFi hotspot feature. The display on the Droid Charge is absolutely gorgeous and may win you over just because of it. The Droid Charge is sold for $50 more than the ThunderBolt. The ThunderBolt also has a different radio inside and supports simultaneous voice and data. I really don't care about this though since I don't make that many calls on my smartphones and am more of a data hound.

I thought about returning both and paying the ETF to Verizon to close my account. However, once you taste the speed of LTE it is tough to go back and since I believe LTE is the network of the future I decided to stick with Verizon and went with the Droid Charge. I may not have the Exchange experience I want, but there is so much else to love about the device and since I have other HTC devices it is nice to have a Samsung in the collection.

Did you have to decide between these two and if so, which one did you go with and why?

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