The Bolt is a fine phone that should have attempted to fly on its own — without buckling to a carrier's demands.
The bottom line
In the HTC Bolt you get a stylish smartphone and a solid performer with the latest software. But with its aging spec offerings and a couple odd decisions, it costs just a little too much to consider adopting "Sprint's fastest smartphone ever."
- Stylish, aluminum build is IP57 rated
- Runs Android 7.0 Nougat right out of the box
- Capable set of camera specs
- You'll have to spend time undoing Sprint's tweaks to the interface
- There is no headphone jack, nor is there a dongle
- The processor is too old for this price-point
I'm not going to start off this review with any puns related to lightning bolts, nor am I going to delve into the history of HTC's gradual disappearance from the smartphone players marquee. Instead, I'd like to launch off the simple fact that the HTC Bolt is a great smartphone.
Admittedly, it was difficult for me to feel that way at first, and that's partly Sprint's fault. The Bolt is a Sprint-exclusive release, but its sole purpose appears to be to help raise awareness of the carrier's 3x CA (carrier aggregation) LTE network, hence the tagline, "Sprint's fastest smartphone ever." That doesn't seem fair for HTC, considering it had to make hardware decisions to fit that marketing narrative, but the Taiwan-based company doesn't have much choice at this point. It needs the visibility boost in the U.S.
The Bolt likely won't be a heavy player for HTC. If anything, it should be considered a glimpse at what's to come. Its sole existence, besides propagating Sprint's LTE Advanced network, appears to be to test what works in the market. And if the Bolt is any indication of where HTC is headed in terms of making smartphones, it may finally turn things around.
About this review
I (Florence Ion) am reviewing the HTC Bolt after spending six days with it on Sprint's network in the San Francisco Bay Area. The phone is running Android 7.0 Nougat under HTC's Sense UI. It did not receive software updates during my testing period. The phone was provided to Android Central for review by HTC.
HTC Bolt Hardware
I like the trend of matte, aluminum-bodied smartphones and the Bolt in particular sports a futuristic coolness about it that you don't typically see with a glossy, glass-covered device like the Galaxy S7, or even the Pixel. I'm also digging the Bolt's minimalist design and I like that the back panel isn't crowded by giant camera lenses and LED flash bulbs. Just remember that matte doesn't necessarily mean scuff-free, however. The metal that covers most of the surface held up well, but there's still vulnerable glass on the front — after a week it was already sporting nicks on the display from being inside my purse.
The Bolt is pretty big. It's about the size of the Pixel XL, but it's actually wider — and what makes it particularly hefty is its overall density. I got tired of holding it one-handed, so I found myself curling up with it a bit more and using two hands just to navigate the interface. The one time I didn't want to be holding it at all was when it's charging — it's almost too warm to hold when plugged in.
The Bolt gets really warm when it's charging — almost too warm to hold.
I know what you're probably thinking. No, the Bolt's propensity for being a hot potato is not directly correlated to the Snapdragon 810 powering it, despite its reputation for overheating. The giant metal frame dissipates all sorts of heat, not just the processor's. This processor's only folly is that it's too old for a smartphone offered at this price point and in late 2016. I actually no issues while I was using it, and the Bolt benchmarked like the Nexus 6P in PCMark. Anyway, this is all moot because HTC had to stick with the nearly two-year-old processor since it's one of the few chips that supports Sprint's new LTE network.
The Bolt's battery life seemed impressive at first. I left the phone off the charger for about three days and on the morning of the fourth day, I found it hanging on at one percent. I thought to myself, "Man, that last few minutes of usage could really come in handy." I thought it was a good sign that the Bolt could manage to hold on like that.
- 5.5-inch QuadHD
- Super LCD3 Display
- 2560x1440 resolution (534ppi)
- 16MP, ƒ/2.0 lens, OIS, Dual LED flash
- 8MP front camera, 1080p
- 3200 mAh capacity
- Quick Charge 2.0
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor
- Octa-core 1.5GHz
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB internal storage
- microSD slot with adoptable storage
And then I performed my battery benchmark. The Bolt did not perform on par with the other smartphones I've tested with the same battery size and QuadHD display combination. It managed only five hours and 24 minutes of on-screen usage in the PCMark battery rundown test, and that's with Nougat's renovated Doze mode. What's even more annoying is that when you're ready to charge it up, you'll have to wait around for a bit. The Bolt is only compatible with QuickCharge 2.0. It takes more than an hour and a half to fully replenish the Bolt's 3200mAh battery.
HTC Bolt Cameras
The HTC Bolt's 16-megapixel rear-facing camera shoots at an aperture of f/2.0 and comes equipped with optical image stabilization. Normally, I'd complain about how much smaller the aperture is compared to its flagship, the HTC 10 which shoots with an aperture of f/1.8, but the inclusion of the RAW and manual shooting mode makes that less of a limitation to fret about. If you want, you can use that mode to keep the shutter open for up to 16-seconds. The low-light limitation only becomes an issue when you're using a third-party camera app, like Snapchat, in an attempt to make the next social media masterpiece.
I was impressed by the Bolt's imaging capabilities. I liked the way the photos were composed in ample lighting and I liked that the post-processing engine didn't blow out or overly contrast the end result. Overall, the camera resolution is fine for a second-tier smartphone, but I hope we see more of the HTC 10's camera sensor in the next flagship.
My favorite thing about HTC phones is the native camera app. It used to be one of the easiest camera apps to use, years before Samsung and LG simplified their feature-heavy menus. The Bolt is well-equipped with its own library of camera features, too, but the options aren't all crowding the screen when you tap into that particular menu mode. Instead, you can simply scroll through the different options available to you, all of which are self-explanatory. It's the least overwhelming camera app, sans the stock Google camera app, and I like that you can even change the camera resolution without tapping into another Settings menu.
HTC Bolt Software
The Bolt runs HTC Sense on top of Android 7.0 Nougat. This is one of the better versions of Android as translated by a manufacturer floating around out there. It includes a theming engine, if you don't like the color scheme, and a notifications shade that's similar to what you'll find on the Pixel. The BlinkFeed is still a thing, too, but you can disable it if News Republic and all the sources you've selected become too much for you. BlinkFeed feels too noisy sometimes. Isn't life busy enough?
HTC optimized the software on the Bolt so that even though this is Android 7.0 running on subpar specifications, you'll hardly notice it with day-to-day usage. Even Snapchat ran without a hitch and I have issues with the app even when using it with the latest hardware. But while HTC left Nougat relatively unscathed by redundant apps, Sprint went rampant bundling in its own. The Bolt is not only preloaded with about 20 apps, but you can only delete about half of them. The interface also comes pre-skinned in Sprint's themed icon pack, which is as gaudy as it sounds, and a Sprint wallpaper, which is the default background for the app drawer. Thankfully, the Android interface is customizable as long as you're willing to put in the time.
HTC Bolt Odds and Ends
They keep taking away our headphone jacks to make smartphones thinner, but that's what's in style now, and it looks like we may have to accept the inevitable. For its part, it appears HTC is attempting something with the one-port-to-rule-them-all motif before its flagship next year. It included a pair of USB Type-C earphones that work with the Bolt and take advantage of its adaptive audio capabilities, which adjust to ambient noise and your ears to offer the best sound. But there's no included dongle for any other old school earbuds and headphones you might have around the house. That's a bummer.
Believe it or not, the Bolt is HTC's first water resistant phone, and has almost the same dust and water resistance standard as Samsung's latest phone. The Bolt's IP57 rating will keep the device safe in three feet of water for up to half an hour, but you're better off just keeping the phone away from large bodies of liquid in any case.
HTC Bolt The bottom line
I can't help but feel like the Bolt would have been a better device if it weren't beholden to another company. I'm assuming that in exchange for exclusivity and front-and-center marketing mojo, HTC had to compromise on the Bolt's performance so that its hardware could accommodate Sprint's LTE network. That's a hell of a compromise to make for the fourth largest carrier in the U.S., but in the end, having any sort of carrier backing is better than not having any presence at all — which the HTC 10 does not.
The Bolt is a definite look at what HTC has in store for us next year. I'm expecting a super cool aluminum smartphone with top-of-the-line hardware and a rear-facing camera that can better capture low light. For now, consider the Bolt a mere test run that shows off Sprint's network — and one that isn't likely worth $600 to you.