The HTC Bolt is a Speedy, Water-Resistant Phone Exclusive to Sprint

HTC is coming in with another new smartphone, the HTC Bolt, just in time for the holidays. The company has partnered up with sprinter Usain Bolt to promote the new phone, but it’s the phone’s swimming abilities that might prove most attractive — it’s one of the few water-resistant Android smartphones to be released this year. It’s a high-end phone for the most part, although some sacrifices have been made that could prove unpopular.

The Bolt is a 5.5″ aluminum phone running Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box. It runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC, the chipset we saw in most premium 2015 smartphones. That chipset is still powerful enough for most smartphone uses, although the 810’s history of overheating does raise some concerns. However, Qualcomm did start making new versions of the 810 after rumors of overheating got out — it’s possible that by now, the 810 has been refined quite a bit. We’ll have to test it out for ourselves to know for sure.

The 810 is joined by 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. That’s a bit on the low side for both in 2016, but the good news for the latter is that the Bolt has a microSD card that works with up to 2 TB cards. Usually with unibody aluminum phones, we see a dual-SIM tray with the second slot usable both as a Nano SIM slot and a microSD card slot, but the Bolt actually has two separate trays on the side, one right next to the other — this does mean that the Bolt is a single SIM phone. The Bolt has a 3,200 mAh battery, which is a bit on the low side in 2016. It works with Quick Charge 2.0, which isn’t quite as fast at charging as the Quick Charge 3.0 we saw on a lot of Snapdragon 820 phones this year. The Bolt uses a USB Type-C charging port, but it only uses the USB 2.0 standard, so expect data transfer speeds to be a little slower.

The most premium feature of the Bolt is its screen — a 2560 x 1440 Super LCD 3 display protected by curved Corning Gorilla Glass 5. That makes the Bolt more suitable for use in mobile VR headsets than smartphones with 1080p displays, and should mean that the screen won’t crack easily unless dropped from above the shoulders. It’s the best display possible on paper in 2016, although it will come at the cost of battery life.

On the back, there’s a 16 MP camera with a f/2.0 aperture lens, phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization, auto HDR, and dual-LED flash. It’s going to be a good choice for anyone who takes a lot of video, too — on top of stabilization, the phone can take 4k video and has the hardware and software to record certified Hi-Res audio. It can also take slow-motion 720p video at 120 fps, which is a pretty good resolution for slow-motion. The 8 MP front camera can take 1080p video and also has auto HDR.

One of the most popular features is sure to be water resistance. The Bolt is IP57 rated, which is as close to dust and waterproof without actually getting there. The rating means it can be submerged in shallow water and still work, so any water-related incidents won’t leave you without a working phone.

But, to get that rating, HTC has made a sacrifice that we’ve seen many phones make this year — there’s no 3.5 mm audio port. You won’t be able to use most wired headphones with this phone without an adapter, although we’ve seen most companies include an adapter with phones that lack a 3.5 mm port this year. Instead, the USB Type-C port is used as the audio port. To take advantage of that, the Bolt is shipping with adaptive headphones — besides having larger drivers than usual for in-ear headphones, they’ll measure your hearing ability across the range of sound, then tune the headphones accordingly. This means you won’t be able to charge the phone and listen to music at the same time without some kind of splitter.

The phone also has a fingerprint sensor on the home button, Bluetooth 4.1, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and GPS. There is LTE support, and the phone works with TDD band 41 — the frequency used for Sprint’s Spark network.

That brings us to the biggest compromise — the Bolt is a Sprint exclusive. That’s going to make it difficult for the Bolt to be successful. Sprint has improved the coverage and the speed of their network, but it’s still spotty or non-existent in many parts of the country, where AT&T or Verizon are often the only two viable choices. But, for satisfied Sprint customers, the Bolt doesn’t look like a bad phone. If you’ve been looking for a water-resistant Android phone, the Bolt does make some compromises, but it’s one of the better options. There is the Galaxy S7 Active, but the Bolt is cheaper — it’s $600 up front or $25 per month for two years. It’ll be at Sprint stores, Best Buy, Radio Shack, and on Costco.com starting today.