Motorola DEFY (Alternative)
Thanks to Vince at TracyAndMatt for this thorough review. The full review with images and screen shots can be read here.
The Defy is another 'Blurred' Android phone from Motorola, but this one is different. Designed to be tough as nails, the Defy conforms to IP67 standards - in other words, it's waterproof (submersion up to one metre) and dustproof (no dust-under-the-screen issues here).
The tough phone market is perhaps one that hasn't been addressed when it comes to cutting edge smartphones - after all, we all know someone (if not yourself) that has accidentally broken a phone, so maybe the route Motorola is taking here with the Defy is one worth exploiting.
This is one of the few heavy-duty phones out there that is aimed at the general consumer, and that robustness is also the feature that really sets it apart from an already crowded market of Android phones. But is it enough to make it a worthwhile purchase? Read the full review to find out.
The Ten Second Review:
* Device: Motorola Defy
* Price: £276.13 (incl. VAT)
* Summary: Solid, all-rounded hard as nails Android phone
* Best of: Scratchproof yet bright and crisp display, fronting a nice looking device
* Worst of: Motoblur, sacrifices made for the toughness
Beginning with the front, there's the 3.7 inch touchscreen dominating almost all of the front. Not much bezel here; it makes the device nice and compact, whilst making the screen look bigger. Above the screen there's a small earpiece hole, proximity sensor, light sensor, and notification LED. Below it there's a touch sensitive row of standard Android buttons - menu, home, back and search.On the left, there are some industrial looking screws, and a stubby little volume rocker. On the right, there's three more screws, and a rubber sealed micro USB port for charging and syncing that sits behind a beefy plastic door.
On the top, there's the 3.5mm headphone jack (again, under a rubber cap) and the power/lock button next to it. There's nothing much to see on the bottom, save for a lonely screw. Moving onto the back, we have a 5MP camera with LED flash, and an interesting sliding lock and release catch for the back cover. Just below that, we have an opening for the speaker (don't worry, that's sealed too internally).
* Super tough Gorilla Glass display, really is 'Lifeproof'
* Very loud speaker
* Compact size for a 3.7" phone
* Now outdated version of Android
* Motoblur makes it more sluggish than it should be
* Average camera
The Motorola Defy joins the onslaught of devices that Motorola are pushing into the Android space, but their designs have been quite different and interesting (such as the Backflip or the XT720). The Defy seems to continue the trend of uniqueness - Motorola have designed this one to 'defy' water, dust, sharp objects and even the occasional hard drop. Getting the Defy for review built up a bit of excitement in me as I knew it would be fun to test the claims!
Suffice to say, one of the first things I did was to test its IP67 certification, and I'm happy to report it passed with flying colours. My attempts to drown the phone were useless, and I had no trouble in surfing on the Defy while in the bath. Though I would recommend making sure the rubber sealant caps are securely in place before dunking the Defy into water. It's also worth noting that capacitive displays by nature (like the one here) do not work when submerged, or when there's a great deal of water on the surface. You can for example start a video recording and then go under to shoot some video.
The next test was the dustproof claims. Unfortunately I didn't have a box full of dust to test out these claims, but I did try with sand, and a weeks worth of lint-filled pockets. It wasn't surprising to see no specks of dust under the screen or in any ports. One thing about my BlackBerry is how much dust gets in the USB port, but thanks to the cover present on the Defy, it stayed nice and dust-free. They aren't without their drawbacks though - those who listen to music a lot on their phone will have to pry off the headphone jack cover a little to often, and it could become quite a nuisance if you don't have long fingernails. The USB cover is thankfully easier to remove as it's used for charging as well as syncing with a computer.
The third and final test was the screen. Coring have implemented their Gorilla Glass on other devices and phones like the Dell Streak to great results, and the same can be said for the Defy. As a gadget lover, it wasn't easy to take a key or blade to the screen but try as I might, I couldn't scratch the screen. There was a distinct lack of resistance when rubbing keys or sharps over the screen - it felt like a coat of oil had been spread over it (even after wiping my fingerprints). This probably helps the scratch resistance, but it's also said to be more crack resistant when compared with normal displays. After a fair number of drop tests (both deliberate and accidental!) I wasn't surprised to see the glass remain perfectly intact. The only issue is that the screen picks up and shows fingerprints very very easily - you'd be wiping the screen a lot to keep it looking tip-top. In terms of strength though, Coring and Motorola have really outdone themselves in the tough tests and I am quite impressed that the Defy really is a 'Lifeproof' phone.
Now we've proven the strength tests, let's have a look at the phone itself.
The Defy looks surprisingly 'normal' for a rugged phone. It goes against many design cues from other tough phones like the big rubber bumpers that are designed to look tougher than they actually are - and that's a good thing. The 3.7" display is surrounded by not much at all - the front is basically just the screen and the mandatory Android buttons. Looking at it, the edge-to-edge glass on the screen is far from durable. Of course, this is no ordinary glass; glass that we've proved to be scratchproof and more resistant to smashing - perhaps Apple should look at this for their iPhones? The display underneath is pretty decent too, at 854x480 pixels, it's slightly (54 pixels) 'longer' than the average 3.7 inch screen and the benefit is just noticeable when browsing the web. Sure it's got no fancy tech like S-AMOLED or IPS, but it's plenty bright and vivid.
The sides and the back of the Defy are made from a smooth soft touch plastic that not only helps your grip on the phone, but it also hides fingerprints very well. Tapping on the back cover of the phone does give a cheapish hollow sound, but I suppose that's forgivable as a premium feel and look probably wasn't the focus with the Defy. That's not to say it's bad though; holding it in your hand feels natural and the lack of bezel around the edge makes it look sleek and modern.
WiFi & Signal Strength
Usually I wouldn't talk about this, but the Defy was pretty good at holding a signal so I thought it'd be worth a mention. The walls in my house are pretty thick, and so usually I would get no WiFi signal in my living room on phones, and barely any on laptops. The Defy was a surprise exception - it could pick up my WiFi network and stay connected. Yes it was a very low signal, but just connecting was (nearly!) a cause for celebration. The same can be said for the mobile network coverage. The BlackBerry 9700 can pick up a very good signal, and the Defy consistently (with a few exceptions) displayed at least a bar more. That makes the Defy a good choice if you live in an area which can only get a low signal.
The sound quality during calls was good, but not mind-blowing - Motorola were famous in the past for very good call quality, but the Defy isn't quite there - again, waterproofing that earpiece hole was probably more important. Calling is quick and simple using the dialer or contacts list, or you could even use the voice dialling feature.
The GPS on the Defy is also pretty good, but there's nothing really that makes it stand out compared with other devices. Locking onto a satellite from a cold start took around three or four minutes, but a 'warm' start took about 30 seconds. Like all the newer Android phones, it comes with Google Navigation which is a free-for-life navigation software. Since the maps aren't stored locally, you can be sure to always get the latest map updates. Of course, it's a double edged sword - the navigation here is useless without a data connection, so for driving in areas where you don't get signal, it's best to find a navigation app with locally stored maps. There is basic Layer support, and the navigating interface is a simple, 3D, easy to follow layout with traffic information available too. You can speak or type a destination, as well as selecting a contact (with address information) to navigate to. Route options are pretty basic - only avoiding main roads or avoiding tolls - but it is free and there are many other free and paid for alternatives available on the Android Market.
As with all Android phones with a recent update, there is the Cardock app which is designed to enable easy access to the things you'll most likely need when it's sitting in a car mount while you're driving. The buttons are nice and large, as is the text, so it's very easy to use while on the road.
As with the other Android powered Motorola phones (apart from the original Droid) the Defy runs Motoblur on top of stock Android. It's Motorola's overlay that they have added to 'enhance' the normal Android experience. It is considered quite a marmite thing, and personally I don't like it. It gets in the way more often than it should, and speed and battery life can take a hit from Motoblur too. It even has a battery manager so you can adjust syncing options, as early versions of Motoblur hammered the battery life. I found delving into the screen settings and turning animations from 'all' to 'some' helped a lot with the smoothness of the UI. The version of Motoblur on the Defy includes seven homescreens which are preloaded with various Motorola widgets, which can be removed, added, or re-organised just how you like it. More widgets can be downloaded from the Android Market too.
When swiping through them, the call, menu and contacts shortcuts on the bottom are replaced with a mini toolbar (seen on the third screenshot) that you can use to quickly get from one screen to another without having to scroll all the way through them. The Motorola widgets can be resized to your liking as well as moved; for example, I could expand that RSS widget to fill a whole screen, allowing me to view more of the story. The customisation potential and the ability to quickly see information from the widgets are great, but they aren't without their drawbacks. The number of widgets you have running takes a noticeable hit on performance. The UI lags a lot more when the screens are dripping with widgets, and when there isn't a single one, it flies.
For the homescreens, there are a few simple preloaded widgets on every Android device, but Motorola have packed in a plethora of their own. There are ones that double functionality with standard Google widgets such as the connection toggles for Bluetooth, WiFi etc. but there are also some useful additions such as a Messaging one which shows you your latest messages without having to go into the Messages app itself. The News widget is another that's very useful - subscribe to your favourite sites (such as tracyandmatt) and see the latest news and blog posts; adding more is as easy as entering a web address with an associated RSS feed, or browsing through the included bundles and channels. The final one I liked was the weather widget. Powered by AccuWeather, it shows the temperature and current conditions of a selected city. Tapping it brings up a 5 day forecast and a nice dreary image of the current British weather.
The Social networking widget would be useful for the younger ones but I found that it is soft of useless. It only displays a single update at any one time, even if you resize it. Tapping it brings up a larger screen, but you still have to swipe to see the next update - it's just as good if not better to use the Social networking app (more on that later) or just have a homescreen shortcut to the Facebook or Twitter application as you can see a full list of updates rather than just one at a time.
Unsurprisingly, the Android browser is pretty much the same across the board of Android phones, so the Defy is pretty good at browsing the web. Double-tapping the home button is a customisable shortcut, but by default it's set to launch the browser. It's quick to open, and it renders pages quickly and perfectly most of the time. Thanks to a high-res display, text can still be read (just) when fully zoomed out in landscape, and zooming is multitouch enabled and can be activated with a pinch. Rotating the display will allow you to view the page in landscape, and scrolling around is nippy too.
Email was easy to set up on the Defy. If you have a Google Mail account, naturally it will play nicely with that and all the starring, labelling and other fancy Gmail functions are present too. There is also support for corporate email sync which is always nice to see, as well as a multitude of other accounts that you can manually input server settings for. Motoblur puts adding email accounts (and other online services) all in one place so it's easy to manage what you have on your phone.
The Defy has a 5MP autofocus camera with an LED flash which is about what we'd expect to see on a midrange device like this. The camera and flash have cut outs on the back cover to allow the them to peek through, and while they're not waterproofed holes, the camera and flash module themselves are integrated (and waterproofed) to the phone. There isn't a dedicated camera key on the body (probably in the name of water resistance) as they'd want to minimise the buttons on the outside of the phone. There's an onscreen camera shutter button in the top right corner which you tap to focus and take a photo. Usually, it's quick to focus and the photos save quickly and is ready for another shot within about three seconds. There are a decent amount of settings to play with too - resolution, exposure, and a selection of different scenes and effects.
The camcorder records in VGA, and while it's not bad, it's far from the 720p recording on other devices and in darker lighting conditions, videos are too grainy and noisy to be of any use. The camera pictures aren't too shabby though. It might not be the most impressive 5MP camera ever seen, but it'll be fine for those embarrassing drunken party shots that Motorola seem to be aiming this at. The macro isn't half bad either - that woolly hat was about 8cm from the lens. The winter garden was taken at about dusk, so that's what you can expect from a half-lowlight image (the exposure was cranked up to the highest level - 'three').
Android phones were never known for having a long battery life, and the Defy doesn't really break that trend. Different people use their phones differently, and so take the following as nothing more than a rough guideline. Under pretty heavy use, (web browsing, calls, music, wifi hotspot, navigating home, some gaming and a few hundred texts and emails) it lasted about 9 hours with the screen brightness at automatic. That is roughly on par with most of today's smartphones, so if you're after stellar battery life, look elsewhere. Under normal(ish) use, you can probably expect just over a day's use, and under little to no use (mainly standby) you could squeeze a weekend out of the Defy. For anything longer than that, you'd want some kind of juice supply handy.
Moto Phone Portal
This is a neat little app that is preloaded on most Motorola Android phones which is basically a manager for your media content. Using the PC app, you can quickly and easily manage the media on your computer and phone, and synchronise the two. The unique thing here is WiFi syncing - you can synchronise media without having to dig out a cable to connect to the computer. While this is slower and will use up more battery power, it is much more convenient. WiFi syncing is possible on Windows, Mac and Linux, but strangely USB sync using the Phone Portal is only available on Windows. Of course, you could easily drag and drop using the mass storage mode if you're attached to using USB and don't use Windows.
There is a choice of keyboards on the Defy - you can use the standard Android multitouch, or you could use the Swype keyboard. The standard one is just as you'd expect, with a qwerty layout and options for word prediction and correction. The Swype keyboard is where it gets interesting. Swype is a little company who have developed a very unique and easy to use keyboard that is vastly different from other virtual keyboards, and it has worked its way onto some Android devices, and hopefully more in the future. On the face of it, it looks like what you'd expect, and if you didn't know how it worked, you could tap away like a conventional keyboard. However, using the very helpful tutorial, you will find that you actually draw a line from one letter to the next. For each word, you draw one line over the letters, and the very clever software can guess what you're typing almost every time. For when there's more than one possibility, a query comes up simply asking which one you meant to type. It may seem hard, (and it is at first) but it's easy to get used to and once you do, it's blazingly fast. It's not even necessary to be really accurate with the line - it usually can guess what you want, and it's miles faster for one handed input.
The music capabilities of Android never one of it's strong points, and Motorola have taken this into account and added their own improvements, calling it the Connected Music Player. From here, you can view your music under artist, album, songs and playlists. The included FM radio app is graphically quite simple but works very well, with the ability to scan and set station presets. Where the 'connected' comes in is where Motorola have included various media services, such as SHOUTcast Radio, GoTV channels, search for (YouTube) music videos, TuneWiki Community, and SoundHound song identification. All are quite fun to play with and work pretty well, albeit kind of gimmicky. What I found that was very appealing was that when you're playing a song, it will automatically find the lyrics online and show you them in a rolling karaoke fashion. The song identification is just what it sounds like - it simply records a snippet of any song you find playing and it will tell you what song it is, who the artist is etc. (If it sounds familiar, it might be because Shazam does the exact same thing, though here you get unlimited tags for free.)
The sound quality of the Defy was pretty decent. I'm no audiophile, but it seemed just as good as an iPod, which is to be expected from smartphones nowadays. The speaker is also pretty decent in terms of sound quality, and can also reach very high volumes. At the highest levels, there was a bit of distortion, but it was the loudest I'd heard from a phone in a long time. The included set of earphones are pretty much rubbish (they rarely aren't.), but they do have an inline mic if you like to call handsfree. The 3.5mm headphone jack means that it will accept any pair of normal headphones, but only if you can get the rubber cover off! It is pretty difficult to remove sometimes, and it leaves a few millimetres of the jack exposed, so it looks like you haven't pushed it in fully.
Social networking is an example of Motorola's additions, and it's quite similar in function to Sony Ericsson's Timescape. You can see the facebook status', tweets, or any other social service you use just from this screen. The interface is pretty simple - just a list of the person, the update, and a little logo telling you which service it's from. You can sort it to display all services or just select ones that you want to see. You can also filter them to just display your own using that 'Me' button. It's pretty well integrated too - you can like and add comments on facebook right from the Social networking app, and use simple twitter functions without launching their dedicated apps. You can also update your statuses and send tweets from Social networking, and chose which networks to send it to.
DLNA and Media Share are two applications that allow you to send your media on your phone wirelessly to play on other devices. DLNA obviously only works with other DLNA certified devices, and a short trailer streamed to my DLNA laptop just as expected. Media Share is similar, but it works with other devices too. It's not clear what 'other devices' actually means, but there is a list of categories of other things - useful if you store a lot of media on your phone that you want to show on bigger screens like your tele.
Another neat addition is the 3G mobile hotspot. This does exactly what it says on the tin; the 3G cellular signal on your phone can be used as an internet connection that is broadcast over WiFi, turning your phone into a mobile router, similar to a MiFi. Some networks don't let you do this without additional charges, so it's safer to ask your provider first. You just set a name and WEP, WPA, or WPA-2 passkey and you're good to go - simply connect a WiFi device (such as an iPod touch) and you can browse the internet on it. It works quite well - it only 'dropped out' once or twice, only requiring a reconnect to get back online. Bear in mind that using the hotspot app does drain your battery - upon opening, the app warns you that it will 'impact battery life significantly.' This is more than true - I used the hotspot app from a full battery, and just squeezed out just under five hours of use on a full HSDPA signal before it conked out. If you're going to be using this regularly, it's a good idea to bring the charger or a spare battery.
After using it for about a week, I quite liked the Defy. There are more and more Android phones in the market, and to the average consumer, the choice can be pretty confusing. It's good to see Motorola trying something different - the Defy is a one-of-a-kind in that it's a tough, solid smartphone for the masses, without the usual clunky design and lack of polish that heavy duty phones traditionally have. Especially with the heavy advertising promoting the 'lifeproof' design towards teens and tweens, this would and should be a big seller; though it's not like there's much choice - what other toughphone is there that has a similar feature set?
For the rest of us though, is it still worth a look even if the lifeproof functionality is just an added bonus? I'm not so sure - the addition of Motoblur, while it has some perks, is a drawback overall. Thanks to Motoblur, responsiveness and battery life has taken a considerable hit, and the social networking implementation is too in your face. While you can choose to use the minimal of Motoblur's features, it's still blurred Android too much (in a bad way) that makes it a better choice over ones from HTC or Samsung. In other words, there are better Android options out there if the water, dust and scratch resistance aren't the priority.