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T-Mobile Motorola Defy Rugged Android Smartphone Review

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If you think rugged smartphones are big, bulky, and ugly–think again. The Motorola Defy is a rugged Android smartphone–the second for the company–that launches in a tuxedo black and white shell that stands up to your daily life and ‘defies’ what you throw at it, including any pre-conceptions for what rugged may look like. The Motorola Defy is available in the U.S. on T-Mobile USA’s network.

I apologize for the belated review of the Motorola Defy as the review was misplaced when I was transitioning to GottaBeMobile from another site that I had previously written for; The Defy was announced this past October at CTIA Fall, along with handsets like the Motorola Droid Pro for Verizon Wireless and the Motorola Bravo on AT&T.

Hardware:

The Motorola Defy is an impressive smartphone and improves on the specs of the company’s first rugged Android handset in the Sprint Motorola i1. The Defy offers a speedier processor, improved screen resolution, and world roaming capability thanks to T-Mobile’s use of GSM technology.

The device has a black front, which is dominated by a 3.7-inch WVGA capacitive touchscreen. The front itself is clean–right above the touchscreen you have a loud and capable earpiece speaker, in which calls came through clear, if not a bit crackly at the loudest of volume settings. Just below the screen, you have Android’s suite of four navigation buttons: Menu, Home, Back, and Search, outlined in white and backlit when touched.

The Defy’s rugged looks shows through. Along the sides of the phone, you see exposedd screws, highlighting that this phone could handle the elements. On the side–the upper third or so is black and the lower third or so is white, giving it a fashion-forward look to the device that makes it attractive, despite its industrial strength heritage. On the left hand side, you have a covered charge and sync port, which accommodates a micro USB plug. This cover itself is plastic.

On the top of the device, you have a long, but narrow, power button. The button itself is nice and firm. To the left of the power button, you have a covered 3.5 mm headphone jack–the cover is rubber.

On the right hand side, you have the volume toggle.

On the back of the Defy, a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash is present. The camera can record VGA images, and is comparable to the camera on either the Droid Pro or the Droid 2. The back of the device is also black, and features a soft-touch cover that can be removed via a sliding bar at the bottom–slide the bar to unlatch the cover, which will reveal the battery. Just underneath the battery, you have a SIM card tray and a micro SDHC card slot, which can accommodate cards up to 32 GB capacities. The camera and video camera interfaces are similar to those on the Droid X (also on the Droid 2 and Droid Pro), of which we’ve included the camera UI from the Droid X below:

Unfortunately, the video camera on the Defy maxes out at VGA resolution and doesn’t support 720p HD, but the UI is very similar to the one demoed below for the Motorola Droid X:

Software:

The Defy offers great performance with Android 2.1 and the 800 MHz processor. Performance felt on par with the Motorola Droid Pro on Verizon Wireless. The device was fluid, though it did pause on occassion when launching or opening an app. Most users will find that the performance of the phone is fast enough when using it daily to browse the Web, update Facebook and Twitter, make calls, and send emails and SMS messages.

Unfortunately, though, as the device uses the Android 2.1 operating system, this means that the Defy does not support Adobe Flash 10.1 Mobile as Android 2.2 is required at a minimum for Flash support.

The device comes with full MOTO BLUR support, which is the Motorola custom user interface overlay on top of Android. This gives the Defy up to seven home screens, conveniently placed soft keys for call and contacts that flank the app drawer on Android, and nice integration and tie-in with social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace.

MOTO Blur Support, as demonstrated on the T-Mobile Motorola Charm:

Though different than the user interface on devices such as the Droid series on Verizon Wireless, MOTO BLUR is extremely similar and works in much of the same way. From our understanding, the difference is that the synchronizations and settings are done over Motorola’s servers rather than Verizon’s. Also, MOTO BLUR is more of a consumer UI than the widgets UI on the Droid series, and runs deeper.

For instance, with MOTO BLUR, migrating between two MOTO BLUR devices will automatically transfer your settings, emails, and social networking log-on as it’s deeply integrated so you can migrate from a Motorola CLIQ to a Motorola Defy on T-Mobile USA without having to do much in terms of set up. While the appearance of the widgets UI on the Droid series on Verizon Wireless is similar to MOTO BLUR, it doesn’t run as deep and will not back up those settings and account information, meaning you’ll have to re-configure your log-in information if you upgrade devices. The MOTO BLUR user interface debuted on the original Motorola CLIQ, which marked the company’s entry into building Android smartphones.

Like the UI on the Droid series, you get a number of widgets, which can be re-sized to take up less room on a screen if you desire to fit multiple widgets on the same screen. Also, you get integrated social networking and a Unified inbox for emails, SMS, and social network feeds.

Video: Widgets UI on the Droid series; MOTO BLUR on the Defy is inherently similar, but offers some other features such as the backing up of settings, account log-ins, and apps

Motorola’s customizations here are minimal–if you don’t like what you have or see, you can always remove the widgets or download widgets that you want. I, personally, appreciate Motorola’s customizations and like the fact that you can fit more widgets onto the screen by resizing them.

For more on the software side, you can check out our Droid Pro review as well. The slate form factor is also similar to the Motorola CLIQ XT on T-Mobile, though the CLIQ XT also includes a rear-facing optical trackpad.

Conclusion:

The Motorola Defy is a svelte, stylish smartphone that boasts a lot of high-end features. When the device launched, it was priced at $99 on a two-year contract with T-Mobile. At that price point, the device will appeal to users who are interested in mid-range smartphones, which may have a slower processor and lower resolution screen, but will deliver high-end features. Essentially, for me, it was a Motorola Droid 2 without a keyboard that’s been ruggedized to deliver performance to those who abuse their smartphones.

While I prefer the more dense build of the Motorola i1 for Sprint-Nextel, the Defy is an extremely capable device made with a strong, rigid plastic body. The plastic gives the deceptive feel that this device is too light to handle the elements, but I’ve been able to answer and make calls in the pool, dropped the phone into a tub, and not worry about dropping the phone. In an age that’s defined by fragile glass, like that on the iPhone, the Defy offers consumers a refreshingly solid build quality while delivering a nice high-end experience at an affordable price point in an attractive package.

Motorola i1 Video:

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

9 Comments

  1. Prithvi

    02/11/2011 at 2:34 pm

    Nice review Choung. I was torn between Nokia C6-01 & this one, but I think I’ll go with Defy only if there is an absolute confirmation of a 2.2 upgrade. Also there is today’s news about Symbian’s RIP in two years after Nokia announced handshake with Microsoft.

    • Chuong Nguyen

      02/13/2011 at 4:14 am

      Thanks for the comment! My advice to people getting phones is to get the phone with the features that they need today. If 2.2 is an absolute must, there are other smartphones out there. When considering updates, a lot of different variables can come up later that may prevent an update from being released, like the case with the Motorola CLIQ XT whose 2.1 update was canceled because issues came up beyond what Motorola had initially envisioned. That said, the device is a great rugged phone, but T-Mobile has newer handsets now that support 2.2 for Adobe Flash 10.1 Mobile support, such as the G2 or the myTouch 4G. There will probably be newer handsets coming out soon at Mobile World Congress and at CTIA. As far as Nokia handsets go, they are still an excellent value for an unlocked handset, but if you don’t need a phone right away, you should watch the space over the next few months. If you need a phone now, decide what features are absolute must haves and go from there.

      • Prithvi

        05/03/2011 at 5:58 am

        Hi Choung, After two months FroYo is apparently ON for the rest of the world apart from the US and I am still enamoured by the Defy despite what you suggested about looking out for possible options. I looked around but kept coming back to the Defy. I am a well wisher for Nokia but now its certain that if I buy a Nokia handset, it’ll most definitely be the WP7 esp., after seeing the super previews of their Mango Update. Back to Defy, I am seeing hints of issues relating to battery life or ‘the need to swipe twice’ before you can open the UI up for operation and other annoying yet manageable nuances coming out against the FroYo but at the same time this model has a lot of things going for it – primarily as a phone. Prices are coming down as well – lets not forget economics!! It seems from the plenty of reviews of Defy that if you are lucky you’ll get yourself a very good piece otherwise be ready to visit Motorola’s Service Center & with that build yourself a penchant for follow-up .. if you are ready for these two scenarios, I think Defy is still a very deserving and a worthy purchase.

  2. James Jones

    02/17/2011 at 12:52 am

    I am a little sad that the update to Android 2.2 is not released for the DEFY just yet, but knowing it’s on the way keeps me confident that I made a good purchase. Once I received this phone, I dropped it in a bowl of water while streaming HD content. That may be excessive for testing :), but It works great! I am a DISH Network consumer/employee, and can remotely stream over 200 HD channels to my DEFY. The 3.7″ HD screen is brilliant!!

  3. Anonymous

    06/01/2011 at 10:55 pm

    The DEFY is a rare breed in smartphones. Also,  The Motorola Defy is a great midtier Android smartphone, especially for those who expect a phone to be a little added adequate adverse life’s daily mishaps. 

    Smartphones

  4. Everettlawrence85

    06/11/2011 at 8:09 pm

    I love the Defy, upgraded to froyo a month or so ago on a OTA update, 1 fla I hv is the camcorder light will not work now, camera flash is fine, but when I use the camcorder and I try to turn on light it says gives a message like im using an inapropraite use for light….. Errr wt heck. Besides that ive done 3 water test just to brag to my freinds with droid X & iphone… They wont dare submerge their phones.. Lol

    • John Voss

      01/06/2012 at 2:41 pm

      love my defy and 2.2 now in Jan 2012.  THe processor sometimes gets overwhelmed, but I am running heavy stuff on it,  wish they would release a rugged phone with a beefy processor and 4g, but till then defy is it!!

  5. Prithvi

    01/06/2012 at 7:11 pm

    I too am pleased to own my Defy (2.2) … its been more than 6 months now. I charge my batteries at 40% for 1h:30m to max 1h:45m to get to 90% charge and this not only extends longevity but keeps the battery going for at least a day and a half or even beyond two days for me – my usage of data is minimal as of now. I don’t have any complaints against Motorola’s hardware device – it just fits well in my hands and the basic phone functionality is the best I could experience on any other device. The issue, if at all, is with the OS (Froyo) but its manageable really. Yeah, now that Google owns Motorola Mobility, I would like to own a Moto-made Google 4.3″ Defy with ICS anyday. Go ahead and buy the Defy+ if you can.

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