ThunderBolt Goes on Sale Thursday at Verizon for $249.99

The first LTE phone at Verizon Wireless, the ThunderBolt by HTC running Android 2.2, will be available Thursday for $249.99 and a two-year agreement, the carrier and HTC confirmed early Tuesday.

Verizon also revealed its possible future data pricing model for smartphones on the faster LTE (Long Term Evolution) network, saying there will be an unlimited 4G LTE data plan for $29.99 a month on ThunderBolt. That data cost would be on top of a nationwide talk plan, which starts at $39.99 a month, Verizon noted.

Other details on data pricing or tiers of service for LTE data on smartphones were not immediately available, although the mention of an unlimited data plan is a surprise. Verizon officials recently said ThunderBolt data pricing would have new tiers of service , and many wireless experts had suggested Verizon would not provide an unlimited data plan in its tiered pricing.

Three other LTE phones running Android are coming to Verizon by mid-year: the LG Revolution, the Droid Bionic 4G and the Samsung 4G LTE, Verizon said in early January.

Online retailer Wirefly had put the smartphone on pre-order at 3 a.m. Tuesday for $50 less than Verizon --$199.99 with a two-year Verizon contract or $669.99 unlocked -- after saying on Monday that the device would be available Thursday.

The ThunderBolt will be available Thursday at Verizon stores and online, the carrier said.

Bloggers and reviewers have been excited by the potential for faster downloads with LTE on ThunderBolt. Verizon has said its LTE network is 10 times faster than its 3G speeds, and so far is available in 39 cities and 60 airports. On Tuesday, Verizon put the average downloads at 5 Mbit/sec. to 12 Mbit/sec. with LTE on ThunderBolt. Uploads can be 2Mbit/sec. to 5 Mbit/sec. in 4G areas, Verizon added.

Where 4G is not available, the ThunderBolt will convert to 3G speeds. One feature of the LTE network is that it allows the ability to simultaneously talk and browse on ThunderBolt, which is not possible with the iPhone 4 on 3G at Verizon, Wirefly noted. ThunderBolt will feature LTE-optimized apps, including EA's Rock Band, Gameloft's Let's Golf, Tunewiki and Bitbop.

Verizon also surprised close observers by saying it will support mobile hotspot capability in ThunderBolt with up to eight Wi-Fi-ready devices, an increase over the expected five devices. Also, Verizon said that Mobile Hotspot fees will be waived through May 15, although the service will be $20 for 2GB of data hotspot capability per month thereafter.

ThunderBolt features a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, which is fast compared to recently shipped smartphones, but not as fast as some dual-core models announced in January. The storage on ThunderBolt is generous when compared to other smartphones, owing to its ability to process and store video and games. It has 8GB of onboard memory, plus a 32 GB microSD card pre-installed.

Two cameras will support video chat, although it is not clear which chat software is being used, since Wirefly stated the device will not support Skype video.

While ThunderBolt sounds like a smartphone for gamers and video fans with its generous storage, faster processor and 4.3-in. screen, Verizon noted it will also have the latest version of HTC's user interface, Sense, including a consolidated e-mail inbox for various e-mail clients that business users will find useful. Plus, it supports Google Mobile Services such as Gmail and apps in Android Market, now numbering over 150,000 apps.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

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