T-Mobile Motorola Defy Review

From budget to high-end, Android devices are beginning to dominate the mobile market in a big way. It’s almost impossible to walk around town without bumping into somebody who’s peering deep into their Android, blissfully unaware of life happening around them. Because of the absolute market saturation of Android, it’s very easy to not be phased by the latest and greatest Android phone that comes around. After all, unless it includes a crazy design or super awesome specs that are almost akin to having the phone do your laundry, it’s just the same ol’ Android. Nothing big. It makes a lot of sense that phone companies are starting to come up with all sorts of ideas to have their Android stand out of the crowd and wipe its competition off the face of the earth.

Which brings us to the Motorola Defy, a new Android device that has launched on T-Mobile’s network. It’s a rugged device, which isn’t anything special. Except it’s a special kind of rugged, the kind that withstands water at a much higher level than any other phone on the market today, including the Motorola i1 Android that was billed as the very first rugged smartphone device to come out.

I was incredibly excited to begin reviewing the Defy, because it meant I would be able to dunk it in water. How often can I take my phone and just throw it in the kitchen sink and let it swim around for a while, and not get in trouble for it? Not very often at all, so I definitely wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to put the Motorola Defy to the test.

But even though I will spend a decent amount of time discussing the merits of dropping the Defy in the city pool and yet surviving, let’s keep in mind that it’s still a regular phone inside that rugged physique. Indeed, a phone that withstands being immersed in water doesn’t do any good if it’s a terrible phone in performance. Thus, without further adieu, here are my findings and observations on the Motorola Defy after some personal time with it.

Hardware and Design of the Defy

The first thought that popped into my head upon hearing that the Defy is a rugged device was “big and bulky”. It seems as though it should be a requirement. But I certainly was surprised when it finally showed up at my doorstep. It’s easy to mistake this phone for any regular ol’ Android: weighing in at 4.2 ounces and with dimensions o4.21 x 2.32 x 0.53, it’s completely average. It even throws in a 3.7″ capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels. It even feels smaller than expected when handling it.

Phones of this nature are never the prettiest ones either, though Motorola tried very hard to make this one the exception rather than the rule. The touchscreen takes up most of the front with little room for anything else besides speaker, sensors and the touch-sensitive buttons on the bottom. There are two bands of rubber, one black and one white, that stretch around the entire phone’s side that gives it a softer look, though there are six tiny Torx screws bolted into the black band that end up making the Defy look more like a tank, and it doesn’t do the Defy any favors in the looks department as a result.

At the bottom of the white band comes the back of the phone, decked out in black rubber just like the top side band. The Defy is designed in such a way that the front is wider and taller than the back; I believe this was done as a way for us to get a firmer and more solid grip on the device, as I do find the Defy to be easy and comfortable to hold. On the back itself, we see the 5 MP camera and accompanying LED flash. LED flash is absolutely crucial to have when considering a phone camera 5 MP or higher, because a camera at that high quality should have every luxury available to it that digital cameras of that caliber have. If phone cameras are replacing standard digital cameras, give them the same abilities so they can truly become competitive.

Lastly on the back, we can find the latch to take the battery cover off. This latch is the main part of the phone that keeps the water outside. Essentially the latch is a gasket that seals the phone shut from the surrounding water, and can only be opened by using a slider that has to be slid open to detach the cover from the phone. When using the Defy you need to make absolutely certain this latch is completely locked so as to ensure all of the Defy’s insides stay dry at all times.

The front is decked out with Gorilla Glass, which is meant to be a more durable material than the glass most other touchscreens are made out of. While it doesn’t prevent the screen from cracking, it does help keep the screen from getting so scratched up that you can’t see your phone’s display as a result. The touch-sensitive buttons on the front are the usual ones for most Android devices of late: menu, home, back, and search.

On the sides, there isn’t much, and for good reason. The more components that can be accessed on the outside of the phone, the more likely water damage can occur. So Motorola has kept everything to as minimum as possible. All we have on the left side is the port for MicroUSB charging, and the right side plays host to a volume up/down rocker. Up top we find a 3.5 mm headphone jack and a screen lock button. On the bottom, nothing.

Internally the Defy holds 2 GB storage, but an expandable MicroSD card slot gives you the option of sticking up to 32 GB extra in the Defy if you want.

All in all, I was impressed with the hardware and design of the Defy. Motorola did a great job of making a rugged device that fits well in your pocket and has a cool modern look to it. And it does the job that it was designed to do: keep water out.

Software and OS of the Defy
The Defy runs on Android 2.1 Eclair and is loaded with Motorola’s famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) MotoBlur User Interface. As it is a Motorola device, however, this is to be completely expected. The UI is the same as can be found on Motorola’s other Droid devices such as the Droid 2 Global, Droid X, and Droid Pro. The only difference you will see between the Defy and the Pro/Droid 2 Global is that the latter is supported by Froyo, aka Android 2.2. This is the newer version that is able to run at faster speeds and supports Flash Player. Being that the Defy debuted at roughly the same time period, it’s unfortunate that the Defy is already considered outdated compared to these other phones.

But moving past the concern of which version of Android is on which phone, Motoblur in and of itself has many good intentions. The whole goal of the UI is to integrate all of your social networking together, such as your Facebook and Twitter status updates, and attach them to one singular account that you can access even if you move from one Moto phone to another. The UI makes use of several different kinds of widgets to continuously stream new updates in at your convenience. However if these widgets get in the way, or prove to be unuseful to you, they’re easy to delete.

The problem I have with a UI attempting to integrate all of this social networking capability into one account is that the latest versions of Android already have decent social network integration built into any phones that have been updated to the latest version. So I just think it’s somewhat cumbersome to push all of that aside in order to replace it out with your own solution. That’s the double-edged sword of an “open source” OS; it’s too easy to go in and throw in your own flavor to an already proven platform.

As the Defy is a slate phone that has no physical keyboard, a heavy emphasis must be placed on the phone’s on-screen keyboard itself. At least this is an area where the Defy did not disappoint. Fortunately the Defy is equipped with the Swype keyboard out-of-box, which makes me very happy. I always love having different keyboard choices, but Swype is starting to become my default keyboard if available. With Swype you can just slide your finger from one letter to another until you complete the entire word, and it’s smart enough to tell what you are trying to type. If the word isn’t recognized then you can manually type it in the old-fashioned method (I do find it rather odd that I’m called a regular on-screen keyboard “old-fashioned”). This keyboard style has increased my typing speed dramatically.

Besides these factors, there is not much out of the ordinary on the Defy’s OS that you won’t find on any other MotoBlur device, especially those that have come out over the last few months.

The Motorola Defy’s Water Tests

Let’s not waste any more time. I know you want to know how the water testing went, so I’m happy to tell you exactly how it all worked out.

This video footage was taken on my Defy as I dunked it in water:

This was my favorite part of the entire review. It’s not too often I get permission to test out a phone’s durability to such extremes, so I lept at the opportunity to throw the Defy into water and see exactly how it would last. Having heard a few horror stories about Defys being water-damaged because a plug wasn’t actually sealed correctly, I was very cautious and meticulous about making sure everything was properly sealed. When it came time to put the phone in water, I was trying to keep myself from physically pulling myself and the phone away from it, just out of natural paranoia on my part.

But once I let my inhibitions down and threw the Defy in water, I watched (and recorded video) as it lay at the bottom of the tub of water, and realized that the screen was still on, and I could even make phone calls to the Defy while it was immersed. Granted, due to the nature of capacitive screens I could not actually answer any incoming calls (or do anything else with the screen for that matter), but it was neat to see the phone actually working when any other phone would be completely frying and going nuts in every way possible.

I kept the Defy in a tub of water (which was less than a foot deep, but deep enough to completely immerse it and get the point across) for roughly 2 minutes, took it out again and dried it with a rag. As soon as the screen was dry, I could use it normally as if nothing had happened at all. So I dunked it again. And again. I dunked it 4 times overall, each time for at least 1-2 minutes. So in a very short time period the Defy stayed underwater for roughly 5-10 minutes total. That’s definitely long enough to determine how well a phone can hold up to water, that’s for sure. Under the sealed gasket, there was a small amount of water on the top and bottom, but there were walls around the battery cavity that prevented any water from seeping in. In fact, after so many minutes of underwater adventuring, the liquid damage indicator was still completely white (when exposed to water, it becomes red as a telltale method for OEMs to determine if the warranty is void).

So my experiments were a success. The Motorola Defy can officially Defy water. There are a couple disclaimers, however:

First, you need to make absolutely certain that every plug and gasket is completely sealed. You shouldn’t be able to pull it away without digging into it with your fingernail or a finger and thumb combination. Second, even though it protects against water, it will only protect up to certain depths before the pressure becomes too much for the phone to handle. Motorola has claimed that the Defy can handle up to 10 minutes in water 3 feet deep. In other words, it’s still a very good idea to be cautious with your phone, though the Defy at least gives you some wiggle room if an accident occurs. Drop it in the sink? No problem. Drop it in the toilet? Please don’t tell us, but also no problem (unless you flush first).

In my full video review I show what it’s like dropping the Defy into water for a couple minutes, so keep an eye for that at the bottom of the review.

Camera and Camcorder

The Motorola Defy offers up a now-standard 5 MP camera with autofocus and LED flash. These are must-haves for top of the line smartphones in my opinion, and it’s a huge plus to me that a mid-range Android device has these capabilities.There is no physical camera button, likely due to concerns adding more buttons into a rugged and water-resistant phone; thus it makes it more difficult to actually press the right place on the phone screen and touch-to-focus on the screen itself is non-existent.

The one area that I felt is lacking is the video resolution. For any Android device that is at least 2.1 or higher, and has a 5 MP camera or better, I want to see 720p HD video resolution  offered. In the Defy, however, the max resolution I could bring up was 640 x 480.

Referring to the video I took above that shows the camcorder of the Defy while underwater, the above-water section of the video will be a good representation of the video quality on the Defy. For its max resolution, the quality is just fine. The problem is that it should be a higher resolution.

Multimedia on the Motorola Defy

Listening to music on the Defy is a neat experience. It took me by surprise a little, actually. Even sideloading and syncing media from the computer to the Defy is an easy and flawless process: plugging the phone into my Windows 7 PC prompted a new media sync screen supplied directly by Motorola. This screen is called the Motorola MTP Interface, and shows on my computer screen all of my missed calls and texts, and gives me options to import pics/videos and manage my media such as music and movies. It’s a very clever display and doesn’t require any additional downloading, so it pops up quickly and easily.

Once my music was loaded onto the Defy, I checked out the music interface. It’s nothing spectacular; just a blase Android interface. Except for one thing: lyrics are included! This means that as I was rocking out to Rock Lobster, the lyrics (powered by tunewiki) came up and put the proper sentence in bold as if I were trying to sing karaoke. And it was able to pick up some rather obscure songs, in addition to the standard top 40. Anytime I can find lyrics to songs I like, I’m happy and impressed. Another thing of note was that the lyrics didn’t take very long to load into the system; in fact, it was a rather speedy process.

I used my Skullcandy headphones to listen to the Defy, and the audio quality was wonderful. Absolutely no popping, hissing, or static of any kind. An equalizer helps offer the right audio flavor to go with the right genre that you’re listening to.

Performance of the Defy

My experience with the Defy’s performance overall was average. I didn’t have any problems making calls, hearing people on the other end of the line, and vice versa. The phone’s volume was loud enough for me, as well as the speakerphone volume as well.

The Defy’s 800 MHz processor also worked without many hitches or complaints, but I did notice that there was a tiny bit of lag in certain areas. For instance, as I would scroll up and down through the menu or contacts, I could tell that the list I was scrolling through had to catch up with me . It just seemed to be following me around, if only just a fraction of a second behind. But when compared to some of the 1-1.2 GHz processors out there, this is definitely a noticeable difference. I do wonder if any of this is related to the MotoBlur UI, as many times a phone’s user interface will actually slow the phone down. I didn’t experience any delay going into programs, however, and the pinch-to-zoom functionality of the Defy performed fine. So the processor was definitely average, but wasn’t bad enough to be a hinderance to my enjoyment of the device itself.

Battery life is rated at 6.6 hours constant talk time, which is amazing for an Android phone. I found that the battery would last me throughout most of the day at moderate usage (mostly texts, emails and apps) and would need to be charged up in the early evening. Stretching out my use by limiting what I did on it, I could make it last all the way until bedtime. But if you’re a heavy user on the Defy, you’re going to want an alternate method of charging it up mid-day just to be on the safe side.

It’s easy to be confused on what to do with the Motorola Defy. Obviously its major strengths are in its rugged design, and it does exactly what it’s supposed to, but what else stands out about the phone? Not a whole lot. Essentially it’s a mid-range Android device that just happens to do very well under extreme wet conditions. Motorola did a great job designing the hardware of the phone, to make it look like a softer phone even though it’s not supposed to be. It doesn’t feel rugged, and that’s the whole point. They also did a great job in making it feel comfortable to use. With a large screen and average processor, the phone itself runs smooth enough to do the job. I do wish a few specs were bumped up, such as adding in Froyo and HD video, but 2.1 still works just fine (sans Flash) and the video could potentially benefit by updates in the future.

The bottom line is, if you’re with T-Mobile and are looking for a heavy-duty smartphone, the Motorola Defy is the best choice by far on the network right now. I definitely was not disappointed in using it. It is not a high-end smartphone, nor should it be marketed as such. It’s a simple and average Android device and that’s all it was ever meant to be. And for what it’s meant to do, the phone receives high marks.

You can now get T-Mobile Motorola Defy for $49.99 on Amazon.com

Here is my full video review of the Motorola Defy as well as a beefy gallery of pics and screenshots.

Author: Brad Molen

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  • erictan

    Thanks for this.