Android Phones

Motorola Droid Bionic Review: Verizon’s answer to the Galaxy S II is fast, light, and thin

September 28, 2011 | by Ben Crawford

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droid-bionic

Verizon’s Droid Bionic is a hotly anticipated, ultimately delayed phone that has the fortune of facing its competition in the same launch timeframe. Bionic vs Samsung’s Galaxy S II phones has been a topic discussed non-stop since both were announced and delayed. Verizon even threw its confidence behind the Bionic while other carriers made they Galaxy S II its most-featured phone. Does the Bionic stack up against its rival?

The overall snappiness of the Bionic immediately impressed me despite Motorola’s insistence on dragging the phone down with flashing lights and slow animations. I will overlook MotoBlur for this review as my distaste for it is well-known. Aside from the Blur effect, the Bionic is hands down Verizon’s best 4G phone. For now, at least.

Hardware

The Bionic has the same Droid look and feel, strong and imposing as ever, but it’s slimness sets it apart from the rest of Motorola’s Droid series. While it has a slight bump for the camera at its top, the Bionic has a noticeably minimalistic design. The volume rocker, power button, headphone jack, and HDMI and USB inputs are designed for second-glance impressions. They aren’t something you notice at first because the thin design and premium feel capture your attention.

Motorola’s patented lip-design is standard of course, but they added a nice textured back to the Bionic different from its Photon brethren. Despite the rubberized back, the back case felt a little cheap. The first time I put it on it creaked and didn’t fit snuggly. Even now, with a little wear, the back doesn’t fit completely over the USB and HDMI inputs or power button. I’m also not a big fan of the hardened corners Motorola likes so well as I think it makes the phone feel clunkier and bigger than it should.

Screen/Camera

The Bionic’s screen doesn’t give anyone a compelling reason to buy the phone. Colors don’t pop, the theme is a dull blue, and I can see pixels on the home screen apps without straining my eyes. While the camera is a nice 8 megapixels, it’s impossible to tell how good pictures look on the phone because of the screen’s poor quality. I at least  like Motorola’s camera app as it makes uploading a little more convenient and produces respectable quality.

If you’re looking for this Motorola to compete against the Super AMOLED display, keep looking. The crossing pattern pixel display is apparent in almost every app, and brightening the screen only shows this flaw off worse. Maybe if Motorola added some vibrancy, vivid colors, or even a few bright-looking wallpapers, the Bionic could stand out, but it’s dull and drab style isn’t eye-catching to anyone. I will say that the glass on the screen doesn’t smudge nearly as much as my Xperia Play, and it always seems nice and clear.

Software Performance

I’ve had a few of Motorola’s newer phones with their latest version of MotoBlur, and it has always been a hindrance to the phone. While Blur certainly doesn’t help make the Bionic speedier, the Bionic can certainly handle all of Motorola’s boggy add-ons. Motorola doesn’t really give its customers any real reason to keep the stock launcher as the default, and replacing Blur with Go Launcher EX or ADW will lighten up the phone start experience considerably.

Toe-to-toe with a Galaxy S II, Motorola dropped the ball with its software. Samsung updated Touchwiz, added very cool features like panning, voice commands, and customizable lockscreens, and these types of manufacturer innovations were what I truly wanted from the Bionic. Samsung catered to new Android users as well as the hardcore who already know what features they want. Unfortunately for Verizon, Motorola and the Bionic can’t compete on any of these software levels.

One great feature of the Bionic that I was not expecting was the great battery life. With LTE, a decent screen, and tons of pre-loaded apps, I expected a respectable 12-16 hour battery. A heavy day of usage generally panned out in the 13-14 hour range, but with an average day of using the Bionic, I easily got a full day out of it. That is a full day with LTE on, downloading a few apps, playing a few games, and using Google Navigation. Verizon and the manufacturers must finally have a handle on the LTE battery drain as it seems each phone is getting better battery life. The short 4G life Andrew complained about when he reviewed the Samsung Droid Charge is not nearly as big a concern. I like dual-cores and having the latest version of Android, but for most people battery life is the absolute key feature of a phone; combining the speed of LTE with solid battery is a win-win for any customer.

App Performance

I finally feel like the dual-core processor is useful. Again, Motorola’s animations slow opening and closing applications down a bit, but the speed is still super fast. There isn’t any lag between opening R-Type, going back to the home screen, and opening Angry Birds. Every app I ran, ran great, and the speed is on par with the Xoom. Besides how nicely the apps ran, the LTE speed tests came back with ridiculous speeds. I got a 20mb/s download steadily. Outside downtown Indianapolis, in the suburbs, I got 20mb/s. Verizon’s LTE is a monster, and if any other carrier wants to compete, they should just steal everything Verizon is doing in regards to 4G (not tiered data).

One app issue I had with the Bionic, was with the Swype version that came pre-installed. I’m certainly grateful for the Swype nod, but there was a noticeable lag between Swyping words, the time they showed up, and the vibration that I felt. I would almost rather go back to the Android keyboard than deal with the laggy version of Swype that comes with the Bionic.

If Motorola and Verizon are going to add apps, I would really like useful ones. Motoprint is nice, but Let’s Golf, Tetris and a sampling of QuickOffice doesn’t cut it. I want good, useful apps and widgets that help make a person’s life easier. I don’t know how Motorola continues to miss the ball on this, but HTC and Samsung at least have a few widgets that people want to use.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure if Motorola realized that the Droid Bionic was supposed to Verizon’s flagship phone or compete against the Galaxy II. Sure, the hardware is comparable, but software-wise and unique-ness, Motorola brought a knife to Samsung’s gunfight. The Droid Bionic is basically the Droid 3 with an LTE radio, and the minute upgrades to the hardware aren’t helping Motorola keep up with the Samsung and HTC juggernauts.

I wanted the Bionic to be unique and offer us something that the new Galaxy S line couldn’t – something different to justify Verizon going all-in with the Bionic. It is fast and LTE figures to be an amazing evolution in wireless technology, but the Bionic is not the phone to carry the torch for the next few months. It is Verizon’s best phone with LTE, and with the great battery life, we can really see what smartphones are becoming and where they are going.

The Bionic starts at $299.99 on a two-year plan on Verizon’s website. It’s going for $149.99 at Amazon Wireless, and $199.99 on Wirefly.