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Hands-On with HTC Bolt for Sprint

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Nov 11, 2016, 1:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

The HTC Bolt is a mishmash of HTC's two best phones with a handful of unique features tossed in to give it some additional appeal. Under-the-hood specs such as three-channel carrier aggregation and a Snapdragon 810 push this unibody handset faster than many others. Here are our first impressions of this one-off for Sprint.

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The HTC Bolt is what you'd get if you took the A9 (late 2015), mated it with the 10 (early 2016) and made the combo significantly bigger. The device's front face is nearly a direct lift from the A9, while the steeply angled chamfer around the metal rear panel strongly mimics that of the 10. So yeah, the Bolt is a greatest-hits mashup from HTC.

A9 v. Bolt v. 10  

It's a fine piece of hardware from HTC. The design is simple, but in a way that's appealing. Simplicity has often been at the core of HTC's design aesthetic, and that's once again evident in the HTC Bolt. The phone comes in glacial silver and gunmetal gray, similar to the colors offered for the 10. The silver model has a white glass front, while the gray model has a black glass front. It looks just a bit like the iPhone 7 Plus.

HTC has mostly resisted the urge to go crazy with big-screened phones, but the Bolt changes direction a bit. It's one of the larger phones from HTC in recent memory. The 5.5-inch screen means it had to push the dimensions out a bit. It's just a bit smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus, and that's a good thing.

The Bolt has rounded corners and mostly smooth surfaces. It is comfortable to hold and use, despite the size. HTC was wise to angle the front and rear chamfers so intensely, as they help reduce the phone's bulkiness some. The Bolt is a fine companion to have, as it slips into pockets easily and is a breeze to carry around and use, though many will need to resort to two hands. The materials and build quality are top-notch.

Body  

The Bolt's front face is very similar to that of the A9. I love the way the glass is curved gently where it meets the metal frame. These seams are smooth and tight. You'll see a slit in the glass above the display for the standard earpiece speaker and the large selfie-cam model off to the left. An elliptical fingerprint sensor sits below the screen. The fingerprint sensor is indented just a small bit, which helps make it easy to find by feel. It doubles as a "home" button, even though there's also a software home button on the screen.

HTC could have done a better job with the bezels. The screen measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal. The phone's bezels are nearly as thick and ungainly as those of the iPhone 7 Plus. The quad HD display itself is fine. I'd say it's bright, colorful, and sharp. The LCD panel means viewing angles are somewhat narrow, but colors are more natural than what you might see on an AMOLED screen.

There are two trays on the left edge: one for the SIM card and one for a memory card. They both require tools to eject, but are otherwise simple to interact with. The screen lock button and volume toggle are both on the right side of the phone. The lock button has a coarsely-ribbed edge that makes it feel completely different than the volume toggle. Both buttons have excellent travel and feedback.

HTC is following Motorola and Apple with the Bolt by ditching the headphone jack. The bottom edge is where you'll find the USB-C port, speakerphone, and microphone. The phone's top edge has a polycarbonate cap, very similar to that of the HTC 10, to allow for wireless signals to pass through.

Unlike the 10, the Bolt's rear panel is mostly flat. I like the look, which I think works well with the thick chamfers. The camera module, placed dead-center near the top, is a small raised circle with a chrome rim. Interestingly, HTC pushed the dual-LED flash nearly to the top edge of the phone. I can't remember the last time I saw a flash in this location.

As you might have guess, the metal rear panel is sealed up tight, which means the battery is as well.

User Interface  

The Bolt runs Android 7 with HTC's newest user interface skin on top. Sprint has destroyed it with bloatware. Seriously, the garbage that's preinstalled on our review unit is onerous and overbearingly awful. The snapdragon 810 processor — which HT claims got a bad rap last year — does a fine job pushing the phone. I did notice some pretty warm temperatures upon initial setup and sync. HTC's Blinkfeed is present, as is the powerful HTC camera app. Interestingly, Google's Duo video chatting app is aboard, making the HTC Bolt one of the first to ship with it as far as I can tell.

Just a few words about carrier aggregation before I wrap up. The Bolt is the first phone to ship with three-channel carrier aggregation installed and activated out of the box. This allows the phone to bundle together three of Sprint's LTE bands for massive speed and throughout improvements. Other Sprint phones already include 3xCA, but Sprint has not yet activated them. In other words, other Sprint phones will shortly have access to 3xCA, so don't expect the Bolt's "exclusive" status to remain for very long. Sprint said it is working to deploy 3xCA in NYC and other markets, but hasn't revealed exactly when and where it is available yet.

The HTC Bolt hits stores today for $600. It's a fine piece of hardware. If you're looking for an alternative to Samsung's Galaxies and other Android devices, it's worth your attention.

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