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HTC Bolt review: Where's its spark?

The 5.5-inch phone's minor issues pile up too high to justify its price.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
Jessica Dolcourt
3 min read

The HTC Bolt is a Sprint exclusive that sells for $600, and it's simply too much for the phone. Part of its high price comes from its 5.5-inch screen size and some comes from its faster speeds on Sprint's LTE Plus network. But at the heart of it, HTC can do better and so can you.


HTC Bolt

The Good

HTC's Bolt is one of Sprint's fastest phones. It's water-resistant and has enhanced audio.

The Bad

The Bolt gets hot when you use it, photos sometimes look dark and if you want to plug in your usual headphones, you can only use HTC's proprietary adapter.

The Bottom Line

HTC's Bolt is a decent handset plagued by a lot of small problems. You're better off with a different phone.

On paper, the Bolt looks pretty good. It's current with Android Nougat 7.0, the camera takes raw photos if you want them and it has a pro mode if you wanna get fancy. Enhanced audio sounds great out of the included earbuds, and you can add a new profile if you use a different set of headphones. The Bolt is also water-resistant (IP57) and upload speeds are on fire. Download speeds in my area, San Francisco, ranged from the lower end of average to pretty darn fast, but that will fluctuate depending on where you live.

But there are things you should be wary of if you're thinking about getting this phone. Like its design. It feels like an angular shingle: flat, wide and pokey. But you can always buy a case, so there's that. The metal back heats up when the phone charges or the processor works hard -- a lot of phones do this, I should add.

HTC's Bolt: Shocking? Maybe not

See all photos

The cameras take decent photos that you'll be able to use anywhere and everywhere, but there is a noticeable blue cast to some of them; others came out dark and some selfies have a gray sheen. HTC got rid of the awesome set of audio speakers that once upon a time graced the top and bottom of the phone face in favor of a static home button/fingerprint reader, and I miss that booming, party-starting bass.

Typing also vexed me; I made a lot of mistakes on the keyboard. The quick-charging technology isn't the fastest it could be; and the processor -- while still fast -- isn't the modern one everyone else is using on their flagship phones. It's a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 rather than the 821 in the Google Pixel, and that shows in diagnostic tests. In real life, I didn't notice lag.

Enlarge Image

I really like the camera controls. The swipe-down menu makes picking modes super convenient.

Josh Miller/CNET

One other thing to note is that HTC is following the iPhone 7-led trend of ripping out the audio jack and giving you headphones with a USB-C attachment instead. That means you won't be able to charge your phone while also listening to a podcast, and it means you won't be able to use your favorite non-USB-C headphones without an adapter -- only HTC's own adapter will work and you can't buy that until December. If you use wireless headphones anyway, you probably won't care.

Battery life comes in the middle of the pack at about 11 hours, compared to almost 14 hours on the Google Pixel XL and over 19 hours on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

If you don't care about a larger screen, the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 and 5-inch Google Pixel are cutting edge phones that cost only $50 more. Or, you can get something good and cheap like the OnePlus 3 or Huawei Honor 8, each $400. If you're tied to Sprint and the Bolt hits your sweet spot on price, you'll probably be happy enough with it. But it's hard to recommend it when there are so many other phones out there that have fewer strikes against them.


HTC Bolt

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Camera 7Battery 7