The Motorola DEFY is a very well-built Android 2.1 Eclair handset that, like the iPhone, packs in a 3.6in screen, only it’s half a centimetre smaller overall. The screen is toughened plastic, and the backplate has a rubberised covering that secures the Defy in your hand.
The screen is brighter than many Android phones we’ve reviewed, but isn’t of the battery-draining, super-bright AMOLED type seen on the Nexus S. On balance, we prefer the Defy’s legibility and better battery life over the Nexus’ pin-sharp and extra bright screen.
We also favour the size of the Defy. The Samsung-made Nexus and Galaxy S handsets are very large, as are Windows Phone 7 handsets such as the HTC HD7 and the Omnia 7.
Motorola adds its MotoBlur social media interface, a feature not everyone will appreciate. To set up MotoBlur you create a dedicated account that will become your one-stop login for Facebook, Last.fm, Twitter, MySpace and so on. It’s a great interface for social butterflies and keen bloggers.
The Motorola DEFY is broadly similar to the also likable Huawei Ideos Google Android smartphone handset we reviewed recently.
It runs Android 2.1 off an 800MHz processor and has a 3.7in Gorilla Glass display that packs in 480x854 pixels of detail. The Motorola DEFY's display is brighter than average and manages the clever trick of taking up hardly any more space than the screen itself. Few smartphones have bezels as slim. We also liked its rubberised rear which prevents it becoming scratched or being easily knocked off the edge of a table.
The non-slip rubber casing extends to the Motorola DEFY’s sides, too. The result is that the protective covers for the headphone jack and charger cable stick out somewhat (and aren’t easily pushed back into place), but if you’re after a trim smartphone that’s built like a tank, the DEFY is a real contender.
Motorola has even nabbed IP67 certification for the Motorola DEFY. This guarantees that a few seconds dunked somewhere unpleasant will not kill its electronics.
Another real success in terms of design is the Motorola DEFY's lockable backplate. A plastic slider allows you to lock and unlock the battery cover. There’s then room to insert a fingernail to remove the backplate and get at the battery or change the SIM card. So many phones make it impossibly hard to perform this simple but commonly required task.
Multimedia and messaging
When we first tried out the Motorola DEFY we found its interface rather clunky and its cramped software keyboard a trial to use. However, we soon discovered that was because its default entry involves using Swype. Here, you have to glide a digit from character to character rather than stabbing at each one in turn. Though you have to discipline yourself to do things differently, once you’re accustomed to using the system, it makes things much faster. It’s also clever enough to learn as it goes, making light work of accurate input.
Unified messaging and streamlining all those social networks you feel duty-bound to keep informed of your every thought has been an important area for handset makers and mobile operators this year, so it comes as no surprise to find Motorola having another go at the MotoBlur idea here.
Rather than competing with the social network updates offered within the Éclair 2.1 version of Android, MotoBlur now adds the ability to store and easily retrieve details of those precious contacts you maintain on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and so on.
Surfing the web on the Motorola DEFY is a painless process. You can directly type in the web addresses you want to visit rather than being hobbled by an operator’s portal and when you get to your chosen online site, you can scroll and page-flit with ease. Support for pinch and zoom and a relatively responsive touchscreen help, though we noticed a fair amount of lag when we tried to navigate having already got a handful of apps on the go.
With 3G, A2DP Bluetooth and Wi-Fi onboard, the Motorola DEFY is all set for connectivity and you could certainly do worse than use it for streaming audio. A Connected Music Player lets you do just this, while the excellent DLNA app we liked so much on the Motorola Droid/Milestone also makes an appearance. This lets you push music, photos and video around a wireless home network and enjoy those tracks you’ve bought on the DEFY on, say, your home hi-fi, through proper speakers.
However, the camera isn’t quite as good as its 5MP billing suggests. You get an LED flash that gives you the option of tagging with location details, but actually using the camera is rather awkward. You need to go into the onscreen menu as there’s no hardware button to take snapshots on the outside of the handset. Nor were the shots we took anything much to be proud of. Video capture is limited to VGA resolution, though viewing video on the Motorola DEFY is fairly rewarding thanks to the crisp screen detail.
Aside from the media streaming app and MotoBlur, there are few extras on this handset. Motorola largely lets the Google apps included as part of Éclair do the talking. Google Mail, Maps, Latitude, Talk, News and Weather are all preloaded. Anything else can be downloaded from the Android Market and stored on the Motorola DEFY’s 2GB internal memory or to a microSD card, capacities of up to 32GB are supported.
In addition, there’s a barcode scanner app preloaded. This required us to merely waft the Motorola DEFY’s screen over the barcode of the latest Sebastian Faulks novel and it popped up with a snapshot of the barcode itself for reference, plus links to perform a product search, a book search, to search contents or go to Google Shopper. You can also use this with those clever 3D barcodes and go straight to items of interest or apps to download.
Another feature of particular note to visually impaired users is that Motorola is continuing to offer support for T3 and other hearing aid technologies along with text telephony. Android itself includes support for voice commands as part of the OS.
Motorola’s Defy is a pretty solid Android 2.1 device, with a 2.2 upgrade imminent. This mid-size handset is a good choice. The engineering feat that enables the Motorola DEFY to cram in a 3.7in display within its 59x107x13.4mm frame means you get every bit as much screen space to view web pages as you do on a fully featured smartphone such as the Samsung Galaxy S. Clearly aimed at the less dainty smartphone owner, the Motorola DEFY is a small but solid powerhouse that isn’t afraid to take on rivals bigger than itself. A bulldog of a device, in other words.