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Motorola DROID Bionic Review – Verizon

This weekend, after more than a week with the DROID Bionic, I felt it was finally time to put my thoughts on the device together in one of our standard reviews.  Since most of you know the story of the Bionic, there is no need to rehash all of those bad times, so instead, I will just jump right into this.  This device was supposed to be game changing.  Is it?  In some ways it most certainly is.  But is it game changing enough for you to buy it now instead of waiting the month to see what may be the beginning of an era of smartphones that we never dreamed would come.  Let’s find out.  

The Good:

  • Call Quality:  I don’t find myself highlighting call quality all that often during these reviews, but in the case of this phone, it had to be mentioned.  Motorola sure does know how to make a call sound spectacular.  If you were looking for a phone that essentially tops them all for making calls, this would be it.
  • Speed/Power:  With its dual-core 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, this phone flies.  While it runs essentially the same version of Blur as the DROID3, it definitely does not suffer from those same slowness issues that over time plagued that phone.  From day 1 to now this phone has been fast.  It processes multiple apps at a time, jumps between them, and rarely (if ever) finds itself bogged down.
  • Design:  Some are fans of the Moto hump, some aren’t.  I’m one of the fans.  It’s different that anything anyone else is doing and I like that about it.  Other than the hump though, I’m a fan of the black and metallic exterior, the smooth lines, light grey speaker highlights and big ol’ soft keys.  Another well designed phone, right here.

  • Hardware:  I’ll just list it all out and you tell me what phone on the market matches up to it.  1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 4G LTE, 4.3″ qHD screen, 8MP camera that shoots 1080p video, front camera for video chatting, HDMI mirroring, 16GB of internal storage, and a pre-installed 16GB SD card. Can’t think of another device that matches those specs?  That’s because there isn’t one.  There are no other dual-core phones with 4G LTE connectivity.
  • Screen (at times):  This is one of those sections that I’m coughing while writing as someone who in the past has absolutely trashed on Motorola’s qHD PenTile Matrix screen choices.  So what are my “at times” thoughts on them now?  I’ll just say this – the brightness is unmatched.  If you use a blue background, it looks fabulous.  And as long as I try and avoid looking at greens or straight lines with black in them, I can live with it.  It’s definitely not perfect and I would prefer a Super AMOLED Plus, but I can at least admit that the screen has grown on me over the last couple of weeks.
  • 4G LTE:  I had been using an unlocked Samsung Galaxy SII for 2-3 months because I found the HTC Thunderbolt to be one of the buggiest messes of a phone in I don’t even know how long.  So while I love my SGS2 still to this day, I most definitely missed having 4G LTE.  With this phone bringing me specs similar to the SGS2 but with LTE tacked on, I have found myself back in a very happy place.
  • HDMI:  This has become a standard with most high-end phones these days, but having an HDMI port that allows for full mirroring to an HD screen is pretty fun.  Gaming, watching home videos, or showing slideshows of the pictures you just snapped, are tasks that are all easily completed with the Bionic.
  • Front Camera and Google Talk:  I really wish Motorola had tossed in a 2MP front camera like Samsung did with the Galaxy SII, but that’s just not the case.  The VGA (0.3MP) shooter won’t be used any time for taking stills, however, it works just fine while video chatting on Google Talk.  Speaking of Google Talk with Video – it’s such a fantastic app.  I can’t wait for every front-camera’d phone to get it.
  • Battery Life (sort of):  When compared to other 4G LTE phones from Verizon, the Bionic is king.  While it may not be world beating when compared to non-4G LTE phones, it’s at least showing us that this technology is headed in the right direction.  I saw anywhere from 8-10 hours of normal use on the standard battery and 14-16 on the extended big dog.  I should point out that standard use for me is checking emails, Twitter, Google Reader, and potentially browsing through some favorite internet spots. If you start gaming, watching video, or doing other intensive processes, you’ll get far less than those numbers I just gave you.  Don’t forget to take a look at our battery hands-on which included both the extended and inductive (wireless) cover.
  • Accessories:  The accessory options for the DROID Bionic are really unmatched by any other phone at this time.  The webtop experience – which is sort of shaky at this point – is something that has a ton of potential.  And with 4 different options for you to experience it at a variety of price points, I’d say that Motorola is on the right track.
  • Root:  The phone was rooted before it even became available to the public and that makes all of us happy.  It also has a bootstrap app that can put a custom recovery on it.  And CM7 is getting closer to being released.

The Not-so-Good:

  • Screen (a lot of the time):  I know that I just got done semi-praising the screen on this phone, but that doesn’t mean I’m in love.  After coming from the incredibly vibrant screen on the Galaxy SII, it has been a struggle to get myself to a point where I can almost accept the one on the Bionic.  It has moments of brilliance, but for the most part, the grainy mess that appears far too often is unacceptable in today’s mobile landscape.  It’s time to switch it up Moto.
  • Camera:  We had heard all sorts of rumors about the Bionic’s new shooter and how it was so much better than anything Motorola had used before.  Well folks, it definitely did not live up to that hype.  While it may not bring us that nasty blue tint like the DROID3 did, it has enough other downfalls to make even a novice photog frustrated.  It takes waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long to focus on anything.  Doesn’t even know what to do in dimly lit areas.  And even struggles at times to create non-blurry shots in pristine lighting conditions.  Here are some of the best photos I was able to take:

 
 

  • Headphone Jack:  What’s with the obnoxious hissing noise?  Moto, Verizon, anyone – please fix this immediately.
  • Bootloader:  It’s locked.  Only a miracle would get it unlocked.  Still no word on when Motorola is going to start unlocking bootloaders either, but rumors would suggest that this phone could be one of the first. We are getting close to 2012 and were told that we would start to see this happen some time in the “end of 2011”, so stay tuned.
  • Battery Life:  Back on battery life for a second.  We are aware that this phone bests the other LTE offerings in battery life, but still want to point out that this phone struggles to get through a day with even semi-moderate use.  I know that cell phones these days have multiple tasks going on and we rely on them more and more, however, the fact that none of them (including this one) can get you through even 24 hours is saddening.  We can do dual-core and quad-core this and that, but we can’t make battery tech that lasts longer?  Time to refocus some efforts into some other areas, I’d say.
  • Blur:  Skins, oh skins.  This version of Blur has improved greatly over past releases, yet it still drives me nuts.  In order to make this thing acceptable, I had to turn off those ridiculous 3D transitions and animations and then put in GO Launcher EX and Widget Locker immediately.  I do like some of the polish that this build has, but it still has a long ways to go before I’ll even think about not doing my own customizing.  The dock bar is nice, the shiny gloss over widgets is fun, and the paginated app drawer is cool.  It’s still too much though.
  • Lock Switch:  We actually ran a poll over whether or not people preferred to have a top left or right lock switch and the majority of you share my thoughts.  The left switch on this phone is in the wrong damn spot.  As someone that uses my phone mostly in my right hand, that top left button is almost impossible to hit.  This may seem like a minor thing to be complaining about, but when you are constantly locking and unlocking your phone, this can be quite the nuisance.
  • Signal Issues (not widespread?):  There are known signal/hand-off issues with this phone that have plagued a number of you.  It doesn’t appear to be widespread, but we have heard from enough readers now that we made a separate post about it.  According to our sources, Verizon has an update in the works to hopefully address it.
  • Phone Thickness:  I love the styling of this phone, but would love for it to be thinner.  After using the Galaxy SII for so long, it has taken me a bit to get used to a phone this big again.  It’s thinner than the other LTE offerings from Verizon, yet still isn’t thin enough.

Gallery:

Benchmarks:

  

To see how it compares to the Galaxy SII and DROIDX, check out this post.

Hands-on and Unboxing:

Video Sample (1080p):

The Verdict:

I’ll try to make this quick, although I don’t know if that is possible when it comes to this phone.  I will say this though – I’m liking the DROID Bionic more and more each day that I use it.  The 4G LTE connectivity is something that every smartphone user on this planet should experience.  Even in the 2-bar area that I happen to live, it’s still almost faster than my home WiFi connection.  The specs are beefy enough that you should be able to use this phone for a long, long time.  In a world that is filled with 2-year contracts, I can’t imagine that this would not still be cruising along nicely at the end of one.  There is a vocal group of Android enthusiasts out there that would have you believe that this phone is garbage – they are 100% wrong.  This is actually a really excellent phone.  It is hands-down Verizon’s best at the moment.

But will it be able to compete with a couple of devices that could be here within the next month and a half, the Vigor and Galaxy Nexus?  Who knows.  Just remember, that when those come out, we will be asking if they can compete with the Motorola Dinaras and Galaxy S3s of the world.  And then after those, we’ll be asking about the rumored devices to come after them.  We are in this time period where mobile technology is evolving at such an incredible pace that many of you are nervous to pull the trigger; afraid that you will be locked in for 2 years on a device that turns out to be a dud.  The DROID Bionic does not appear to be a dud.

DROID Bionic Specs | Other Bionic Coverage

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