Sunday, October 30, 2011

Motorola Droid Bionic Review

The Motorola Droid Bionic is the fourth handset in Verizon's 4G LTE lineup.  The phone has a 1Ghz dual core TI OMAP processor with 1GB of RAM and runs Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread.  The screen is a 4.3" 540X960 pentile matrix display.  The phone comes with 16GB of onboard storage and is packaged with a 16GB microSD card.  After my disappointing experience with the Thunderbolt (Verizon's first 4G Lte device), I was really looking forward to testing this device to see if it was able to improve on the issues the Thunderbolt had.

Look & Feel
The Bionic looks very similar to some of Motorola's other higher end phones on Verizon such as the Droid X, the Droid X2 and the Droid 3.  The only difference with the Bionic is that it has a very smooth bezel around the sides of the phone and along the bottom below the capacitive buttons.  This makes the phone feel a bit more high-end and expensive compared to its older siblings.  It feels good in the hand, though it is slightly thicker and heavier than I would like.  Given this is an LTE phone however, this isn't too bad at all.  My main issue is with the battery cover.  It is extremely difficult to pry off and you will inevitably end up damaging the pry slot or your finger nail while trying to remove it.  A tight battery cover is a good thing in that it won't fall off when you drop the phone, but is extremely frustrating if you want to remove your SIM card or your SD card.  Ironically, as tight as the battery cover is, it creaks towards the bottom middle along the sides when you're holding the phone.  This gets pretty annoying.
Smooth bezel extends on the sides

Smooth bezel

Activation is the typical process for a 4G device and is painless if you're coming from another 4G device.  All you have to do is pop in your SIM card and in a few seconds to a minute, you're good to go.  I did have to reboot my phone once or twice before it activated fully, but I'm not sure what caused that..  See the review of my Thunderbolt for the activation process if coming from a 3G device.

Build quality
Thus far the only build quality issue I've experienced is the creaking battery cover which I described above, otherwise the phone seems to be made very well.


The version of Motoblur on he Bionic seems to be a slightly newer, more refined version than the one on the DroidX Gingerbread edition.  In general, I do not feel that Motoblur adds a whole lot to the experience of the device and most would argue that it slows the phone down.  I think that the contacts widget in Motoblur is done very well in this version.  It is the only widget that I find worth using as the other widgets such as the social networking ones, the clock, weather etc, do not look good and you can find much better ones in the Android market.  The battery and data manager is useful if you want to control at what times your phone turns data off and so on.  Most wouldn't want to turn data off except when you're sleeping, but you're phone's on the charger then anyway, so it's rather pointless.

4G LTE & Data Connectivity/Stability

As mentioned when reviewing the Thunderbolt, 4G LTE is very fast, cable modem fast.  However, one of the issues many experienced with the Thunderbolt was problems with handoffs and general stability of the data connection.  I was really hoping that this would be resolved with the Bionic seeing as this is now the fourth LTE device, but it has not been.  The phone seems to switch from 4G to 3G somewhat randomly, even in areas where I have strong  4G signal, such as my home and work place.  Also, handoffs between Gs often result in complete loss of data connectivity.  I'll look at my phone to check something during the day and I'll notice that I have no data.  I have to turn airplane mode on and off to get the phone to start doing data again.  This can be very annoying as it happens at least a few times a day.  It is worse if you start traveling between 4G and 3G areas.  This failure to hold on to a 4G signal and the failure to smoothly transition between Gs is in my opinion, the biggest flaw of this phone.  Rumor has it that Motrola & Verizon are aware of this issue and a fix is in the works for November 2011.  We'll see if that happens because the Thunderbolt still has those issues to date.

Like the Droid X2 and the Droid 3, this phone uses a pentile matrix display.  This is supposed to save power, but it comes at the expense of poor color matching and also everything is fuzzy, almost like you're looking at everything through a thin, sheer mesh.  This is definitely noticeable in pictures and when playing games such as Angry Birds.  I am disappointed by the quality of this screen, especially given that this is a $300 device.

The rear camera is an 8MP camera is not very impressive.  The shutter delay is too long and can cause you to miss precious moments.  Also, pictures are grainier than desired, colors aren't as good and low light performance is bad.  Definitely not the phone you want to be stuck with if you left your camera at home.  See the shots below that I took with the Bionic.
Soft focus, poor color reproduction, grain

Second attempt is also bad.

Battery Life
This was a major probem with the Thunderbolt and is unfortunately a huge issue with the Bionic as well.  With moderate use, most will probably not even make it to the end of the work day.  I find myself needing to charge my phone around 3pm.  Expect to get through dinner with low use on a single charge.    If you are in a 3G only area, the phone will get you through the day.  With anything more than low to moderate use, the phone battery will only last a couple of hours and you'll want to get the extended battery.  It seems that with 4G LTE devices thus far, we've had to accept a new standard of what is considered acceptable battery life, but I'm hopeful that that will change soon.  The bottom line is that you'll have to charge this phone twice a day at a minimum, so make sure you have a charger at the office and one in the car.

It is safe to say that as of the fall of 2011, the Droid Bionic is the fastest phone in Verizon's lineup.  No other phone, 3G or 4G is faster.  That's not to say that the Bionic is the fastest phone out there.  The phone is not as fast as say Samsung's Galaxy S2, but that phone is not available on Verizon.  So is this phone worth getting?  This is not a bad phone at all, but it is hard to justify the $299, 2yr contract price with something that has data connectivity issues as much as this, poor battery life and a lower quality screen.  My recommendation is to wait till November of 2011 as I think we will see LTE handsets that will be thinner, lighter, have higher resolution and higher quality displays and with better battery life.  This device is more of a stop gap until these new set of devices are hit the market.  However, if you can't wait till November, want a 4G phone and don't mind dealing with the issues I've discussed, then this is the phone to get.  I must warn you however, that when mid-November rolls around, you'll be upset with yourself for spending $300 on this phone.

Disclaimer: This device was provided to me by Verizon Wireless as I am a member of one of their focus groups.  The device is provided free of charge in exchange for honest feedback.