htc-bolt-07The HTC Bolt was just introduced, and it has been designed to be an excellent multimedia smartphone for the Sprint LTE network. At the present time, it is the first handset which has been tuned to take advantage of Sprint’s 3x@20MHz carrier aggregation capabilities that could reach 450 Mbps in download speeds. Sprint has enabled its network in select locations (including San Francisco) to run at this speed (when conditions allow) and should continue to roll this out going forward. With this networking performance and the HTC Bolt built-in capabilities for Hi-Res audio and 4K videos, it seems to be a perfect match. We got our hands on this new HTC phone.

Quick specs and what’s new?

  • 5.5” Quad HD display, Gorilla Glass 5
  • Snapdragon 810 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage
    • X10 4G LTE Modem with 3x20MHz Carrier aggregation
  • MicroSD (2TB Max)
  • 16 Megapixel Rear Camera, f2.0. 4K video capable
  • Hi-Res Audio HTC BoomSound with 24-bit DAC
    • Compatible with select Hi-Res streaming services
    • Out of the box BoomSound quality earbuds with custom audio profiling ($40 value, says HTC)
  • NOT Daydream VR ready
  • Water resistant IP57 = 3 feet 1 meter for 30 minutes
  • 3200 mAh and Quick Charge 2.0

Industrial Design

htc-bolt-12

The HTC Bolt offers a similar high-quality all-metal built as the Flagship HTC M10 in a slightly larger and thicker body. The Bolt is the “large display” model of the HTC lineup. It provides carrier aggregation high-speed LTE CAT9, a feature enabled by the X10 Qualcomm modem. Sprint is introducing this handset.

"AN ELEGANT ALL-METAL DESIGN"The elegant unibody aluminum chassis gets the same design language as its sibling the HTC 10 with its signature angular edges. The device feels solid in hand and the unibody design does not allow to remove the battery. In the front, at the bottom of the 5.5-inch display, the fingerprint sensor can be used to launch Google Now, just like it does with the HTC 10.

Bolt (bottom) and HTC 10 (top)

Bolt (bottom) and HTC 10 (top)

The HTC bolt is IP57 water resistant meaning that it can be immersed one foot underwater for up to 30 minutes.

The USB-C port replaces the audio jack where you can plug the provided high-quality Adaptive audio headset, which you can customize with your audio profile. I tend to like adaptive audio since I do not hear basses well with my left ear, so I really need the audio software to compensate for it.

Display: Quad HD, Gorilla Glass 5

With a 5.5-inch Quad-HD display, the HTC Bolt is set to be a great multimedia phone. The Quad HD resolution can be particularly sharp when looking at HD photos from the camera, or reading text (especially small fonts). The display looks good and is competitive with other players in the industry. When it comes to screens, things have gotten very tight in the IPS LCD space, and although there were vast differences in quality in the past, most high-end phones are now very comparable.

Gorilla Glass 5 is a high-strength type of glass, which is designed primarily to resist scratches. It’s important to understand that this type of glass is always a tradeoff between scratch-resistant and shatter-resistance. Hard glass is great against scratches, but this hardness makes it brittle and shatter-prone. To reduce the risks of shatter, the glass has to be a bit more flexible, but then it’s more scratch-prone…

The various revisions of Gorilla Glass are mostly tweaks to this compromise, so Gorilla Glass 5 isn’t inherently “better” than Gorilla Glass 4, but it has different properties that result in a different tradeoff between two desired, but conflicting outcome: hard and flexible.

Hi-Res audio

htc-bolt-09The HTC Bolt comes with a 24-bit DAC which can output better and more powerful sound than most handsets. The HTC Hi-Res sound is called BoomSound and comprises the audio hardware and software. While we’re waiting for HTC to update its site with the HTC Bolt, check out the HTC 10 audio page.

"A PERCEPTIBLE DIFFERENCE IN QUALITY"Typically, most users can perceive the more powerful sound output, which is typically very useful when ambient noise is strong (airplane…). Also, if you have hi-resolution audio file, you can get much clearer sound — provided that you have decent earbuds or headphones. We’re not really “audiophiles,” but there is a perceptible difference in quality to us.

The good news is that the HTC Bolt comes with earbuds that are better than your run-the-mill ones which are usually provided with smartphones. Obviously, you can find better ones if you want, but it’s nice to have some that can establish a baseline for quality.

HTC has been “the” OEM that has promoted high-quality sound for a very long time, so props to them for that. Today, the LG V20 is our pick for the best smartphone when it comes to audio quality, but there’s no denying that HTC has inspired this segment of the market.

Camera

htc-bolt-16The main camera is a 16 Megapixel Camera with an f2.0 lens aperture. On paper, it is quite good, and we expect it to be pretty good if past HTC phones are any indication. At the moment, HTC has not provided the fine-grain details about which Camera sensor it is using, so we will have to dig up further to know all the technical details.

The HTC Bolt Camera is pretty good and holds its own. However, in this price range, the competition is extremely stiff, and the HTC Bolt will have no problem finding challengers with the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 – just to cite two obvious examples available at Sprint today.

Exposure 1/4sec, ISO 1000, f2.0

Exposure 1/4 sec, ISO 1000, f2.0

Although it wouldn’t win side-by-side cameras contests against the very best shooters (S7, Pixel), the HTC Bolt would provide a very satisfactory experience to its users, especially if the main use is social media sharing. It is easily in the top 10 best camera phones.

Software: Android 7.0 Nougat

As a new handset, the HTC Bolt comes with Android 7.0 Nougat (see what’s new with Android 7), and will integrate all the OS-level features such as split-screen and the Google Duo video calling app.

HTC also has its own OS optimization software called Boost+. This software manages the phone’s health in general and will clean up old files and memory automatically to try keeping things as clean as possible without user intervention. Some phone makers have worked more to reduce performance erosion over time, which remains an uphill battle since users tend never to clean things up, or even delete apps and content.

At the moment, this handset is not DayDream VR ready, and we don’t expect it to be since Google’s specifications call for a more advanced Qualcomm chip for that. On the other hand, it’s probably not a big deal since the phone isn’t designed for VR, but it’s worth nothing, just in case this is a use case you may want to try at some point.

Battery: 3200 mAh

With a 3200 mAh battery capacity, the HTC Bolt can be placed in the “large battery capacity” segment of the handset market. It’s not the highest capacity you can get since other phones can top 3600 mAh or 4000 mAh, but 3200 is still a very respectable capacity in that segment. If you are budget conscious, come back to this review when the retail prices are announced, and we will provide a battery-for-the-price comparison chart.

Although every OEMs claims to have battery savings features, we consider that battery capacity remains the single most important battery life indicator within a platform (here, Android). In the coming days, we will test the battery charge speed. Given that this phone supports Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 2.0, we expect it to charge at around 50 mAh/mn in the best case scenario, but we’ll see what happens.

Typically, the best phones charge at that speed, with the notable exception if the new Huawei Mate 9 that has topped 76 mAh/mn in our tests.

System performance

The Snapdragon 810 chip used in the HTC Bolt is well-known as it has been on the market for some time. It’s a powerful solution which has a well-established capabilities and support. The HTC M9, the Nexus 6P and the LG G Flex 2 are well-known examples of handsets that use this Qualcomm platform.

We will run more performance benchmarks soon, but at the moment, it’s fair to assume that synthetic CPU and graphics performance will be very close to the Nexus 6P implementation. You can check the Nexus 6P phone’s benchmarks by scrolling down this page.

The biggest difference with the latest phones will come from graphics performance which has vastly improved since Snapdragon 810 came to the market. However, this is mainly important to people who play games, use VR/AR or video-editing apps. To most users, 3D graphics performance doesn’t matter that much. The ability to record 4K video has evolved somewhat (better compression, filtering), and that’s probably a larger impact, for users who want to do that.

That said, the HTC Bolt is competing within the same price range as other, better endowed, handsets from an SoC (main processor) perspective.

Qualcomm X10 Modem: 450 Mbps maximum download speed

The Snapdragon 810 (and 808) comes equipped with the X10 4G LTE modem. While the modem in itself isn’t new, Qualcomm has worked with Sprint to make 3×20 MHz Carrier Aggregation work on their network, and turn this phone into Sprint’s fastest LTE handset to date.

In theory, other Sprint phones are hardware-capable of getting these speeds because they have same modem or a slightly more recent one. But those handsets have not had the necessary firmware updates to fully exploit 3x20MHz aggregation on Sprint (HTC 10, HTC 9, LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7, and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge). Updates were announced by Sprint in Aug 2016, but it’s not clear if they have happened, or when they will. The HTC Bolt is the first phone to officially feature this capability on Sprint’s network.

Carrier aggregation is the idea that multiple 20 MHz bands can be used simultaneously to carry data. This triples the maximum throughput when compared to using a single 20 Mhz band under ideal conditions. This technique is defined under the 4G LTE Cat9 standard and can top maximum download speeds of 450 Mbps. Check the official Qualcomm X10 page if you want more details.

Although many Qualcomm modems do support that type of aggregation, it doesn’t mean that it is actually implemented on phones and networks worldwide. Even when implemented, the network conditions on the ground may vary. However, when it works, it offers excellent network speed.

During the media briefing, HTC told us that the carrier aggregation feature is rolled out by Sprint in San Francisco, the roll out will continue during Q4 2016 and Q1 2017. I briefly tried the speed of the network by watching a 4K Youtube video while walking in our office’s street in San Francisco. The video was very fluid, and the audio quality very good., so the test went well. Some places in the city will have higher speeds than others.

Conclusion: 4G LTE performance and Audio quality

At $25/mo with a Sprint contract, the HTC Bolt competes with the iPhone 7 ($26.39/mo) or Galaxy S7 ($28.96) phones. If you unroll the cost over 24-months, the cost difference is much higher, but if you think of it in terms of monthly payments, there are some options available to you.

Right now, the HTC Bolt has the best network performance on the Sprint network, and that is one thing that could help it differentiate itself from the competition. The High-Res audio would be another one that would point out, along with the unique HTC all-metal design that will please many users who want to have a phone that feels “solid.”

In time, we expect other phones which are hardware-capable to get the same network capabilities, but Sprint has not committed to any specific deadlines.

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