Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

Summary: Motorola's long-awaited Droid Bionic has finally debuted on the market, but is it everything we were waiting for and more? Here's a hands-on review.

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TOPICS: Mobility
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Motorola rolled out its latest smartphone evolution under the Droid brand name to stores this week with Verizon Wireless. The Droid Bionic was first unveiled back in January at CES 2011, but consumers haven't had a chance to get their hands on a unit until now.

See also: Verizon and Motorola push pricing boundaries with Droid Bionic

However, a $299.99 price tag has us wondering just how valuable and worthy this Gingerbread-based smartphone really is. Here's a hands-on review of the device itself.

(There are some details about the specially-designed accessories for this device sprinkled throughout the review, but the primary focus here is on the Droid Bionic itself.)

INTERNAL HARDWARE

The Droid Bionic is a speed monster with an impressive dual-core 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. Also, with the speed of 4G, users can expect download speeds of up to 5 to 12Mbps and upload speeds of 2 to 5Mbps when connected to Verizon's LTE network.

Currently, there is only one integrated storage capacity option for the Droid Bionic and that's 16GB of flash memory. There is also 16GB pre-installed microSD card that is easy to access by flipping off the back of the phone. (In fact, that back cover comes off a little too easily). Users can maximize their storage space by upgrading to a 32GB card on their own.

Along with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, users can also connect to other devices via Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, USB 2.0,  DLNA and HDMI.

DISPLAY

Sporting a 4.3-inch qHD touchscreen, the Droid Bionic's screen is resilient with Corning Gorilla Glass and a dual-layer, anti-reflective coating.

You'll also notice in the photo below that the Droid Bionic is quite a large smartphone, measuring 2.63- x 5- x 0.43-inches, but it only weights 5.6 ounces. It is also the thinnest 4G LTE smartphone from Verizon -- which isn't hard to claim considering Verizon only offers a trio of other options: the LG Revolution, the HTC Thunderbolt and the Samsung Droid Charge.

For better reference, check out the side-by-side visual comparison of the Droid Bionic (left) to the Motorola Photon 4G (middle) and the iPhone 4 (right).

USER INTERFACE

The latest member of the Droid family runs on Android 2.3.4. As for Gingerbread, there isn't much of anything new here. However, considering we're so close to seeing Ice Cream Sandwich launch this fall, one might wonder what's the point of buying a Gingerbread phone at this point. Verizon reps asserted that they ensure operating system upgrades for up to 18 months after a device is released. Thus, Ice Cream Sandwich should be in the cards for this phone.

It has become the norm for most Android partners to integrate their own UI touches on top of the base OS. Thus, Motorola hasn't done much tweaking here, but it has pre-loaded some software of its own. One of the more notable examples is ZumoCast, which brings a cloud-of-sorts to the Droid Bionic as it is a portal that connects to a user's computer to access videos, music, pictures and documents remotely.

The Droid Bionic also supports Motorola's Webtop platform, which essentially turns the smartphone into a computer (at least on the netbook/Chromebook level) allowing for full-screen browsing and access to productivity applications when connected to an external monitor.

If you are willing to spring the extra cash for these accessories (see page 3), then they make the value of the Droid Bionic more substantial as a more productive set-up for a business environment. But then you have to figure out why you're agreeing to pay $299 for a phone and then another few hundred bucks to make the first purchase seem more reasonable.

CALLING

Considering at the heart of these handhelds, the fact that they're telephones seems to get overlooked too easily. However, maybe given the popularity of texting, email and using social media apps on smartphones, who needs calling anyway?

Nevertheless, this is a very important spot to consider. After making a few calls to recipients on landlines and cell phones, I would rate the call clarity as satisfactory. I thought it was on par with the iPhone 4, which I use on a regular basis myself so that's the best frame of reference I have. Even though many phones have better call clarity than the iPhone 4, another iPhone owner I called said he thought the audio on the iPhone sounded better.

However, compared to the Photon 4G, which I reviewed a little over a month ago, I found myself disappointed with this feature. The audio on both ends when using the Photon 4G was so crisp that I almost couldn't believe it, whereas on the Droid Bionic, I had to ask people to repeat themselves a few times. Additionally, one caller said my voice was clearer when calling from a landline instead. Another person even said I sounded "muffled." So there you have it.

CAMERAS

The cameras are actually some of the more special spots on the Droid Bionic, which comes with the now-standard set of two : a front-facing VGA camera intended for video chatting and conferencing as well as the 8-megapixel rear-facing, autofocus camera with an LED flash.

The VGA camera supports video calling over 4G, 3G and Wi-Fi. That 8MP camera is actually one of the special spots on the Droid Bionic as it is capable of full 1080p HD video capture.

Here are three sample, untouched photos I shot that you can use to judge for yourselves.

Indoors with bright, natural light (i.e. near a window):

Another indoor photo with artificial lighting:

Outdoors:

Overall, this camera can definitely replace a basic point-and-shoot if you just want a camera for on-the-go. However, it might not be the camera you want to use for snapping photos often indoors or when on faraway vacations.

BATTERY

This subject is sticky as neither Verizon nor Motorola seem to want to talk about it much. The reason for that would seem then that the battery life is deplorable, which is the case with most 4G-enabled devices at the moment.

When I asked Verizon reps about the battery life, the only specific time frames I was given were that the Droid Bionic’s removable 1,735 mAh battery battery can last up to 650 minutes of talk time and 200 hours on standby when on 4G mode.

However, when I asked about browsing, streaming and more, Verizon was reluctant to give any more specific numbers, citing that customers use their smartphones for a large variety of different purposes.

There are ways to conserve the Droid Bionic’s battery life. Users can opt to drop down to 3G connections when they want, and there are some options in the Settings menu. Additionally, Verizon and Motorola are selling an extra battery with a docking station that can charge both the extra battery and the Droid Bionic simultaneously for $49.99.

However, my guess estimate would be that the Droid Bionic can last four to six hours after a full charge when using it for a mixture of calling, browsing and using apps.

ACCESSORIES

After budgeting $300 (before the required monthly talk and data plans) for the Droid Bionic itself, then there are a bevy of accessories to think about. A few of them are quite familiar, such as the Lapdock for $299.97 on its own, the vehicle navigation dock for $39.99, and the HD station for $99.99. You might remember seeing the Lapdock associated with the Motorola Atrix 4G along with the vehicle navigation dock and the HD station for using Webtop on a separate display with the Motorola Photon 4G.

All of the functions with these accessories are relatively the same, although you wouldn't be able to use any of the Atrix and Photon accessories for the Droid Bionic as the latter is a different size and therefore wouldn't fit. The vehicle dock is particularly useful as the Droid Bionic utilizes both the built-in GPS and VZ Navigator app for maps and turn-by-turn directions, thus replacing the need for a GPS unit on your dashboard. (It also keeps your smartphone away from your hands while driving.)

There are also a few new products in the mix, including a standard charging dock that does exactly it says (charges the phone) for $39.99 as well as an ultra-portable adapter for the Webtop application that fits in the palm of your hand for $29.99. Basically, the adapter fits into the micro-USB and micro-HDMI ports and then connects the Droid Bionic to an external display for Webtop use. However, it just lacks the Bluetooth capabilities and other ports for plugging in peripherals like speakers and keyboards.

BOTTOM LINE

This is a great Android phone, but it does not have anything so significant that it deserves the $299.99 on-contract price tag.

As I wrote on last week, Motorola and Verizon have severely pushed the average pricing of a smartphone sky-high with this device. Just because it is 4G-capable does not warrant an extra $100 for a 16GB phone with a two-year contract. The Motorola Photon 4G, which was released with Sprint in July, is just as capable (if not more so) for the now-traditional $199.99 price.

As for being a business-friendly smartphone? That is debatable. Motorola boasts that it is business ready, which is true to some extent. The accessories -- most notably the Lapdock -- does lend the Droid Bionic well to enterprise matters, as does the fact that Citrix's GoToMeeting and Receiver apps are preloaded. The smartphone can also double as a 4G LTE mobile hotspot that shares the connection with up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Other useful features include the Motoprint Wi-Fi printing app and SD card encryption.

But for smartphone owners who travel internationally for work often, this might not be the phone for you as this is a CDMA device. Verizon reps specifically stated to me that this is not a world phone as they would prefer to focus on building for the 4G LTE U.S. network only with this device at this time.

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Topic: Mobility

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23 comments
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  • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

    "However, my guess estimate would be that the Droid Bionic can last four to six hours after a full charge when using it for a mixture of calling, browsing and using apps."

    -Your "guess estimate??" Did you notice that other professional reviewers actually used the device and reported an actual figure? What kind of crappy journalism is this? If you're going to review a device, why don't you actually put it through its paces? This kind of lazy journalism sickens me.
    hellfyre
    • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

      @hellfyre "sickens you"?? get a life, this is technology here, no one _has_ to have a smart phone.
      cjc5447
      • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

        @cjc5447
        Sorry if my strong language offended you. Actually, some people DO have to have a smartphone. I own my own business and I depend on it to keep in touch with my staff while traveling and inputting sales orders from the road. My livelihood and 95 others depend on our smartphones. I just found it so flippant to estimate that the phone has only a 4 hour battery life when I haven't seen any other reviewers say this.
        hellfyre
      • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

        @hellfyre Actually, no, nobody has to have a smartphone. Do they make life easier, of course they do. Does it help you with your business, apparently so. That doesn't change anything, nobody has to have one. You do realize that people owned and ran successful businesses (myself included) long before we had smart phones don't you? Your claim that some people DO have to have a smartphone is no more correct than a guesstimate on the battery life of a device.
        non-biased
    • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

      @hellfyre I wouldn't use language as strong as yours, but yeah, this review is sophomoric at best. I doubt the writer has even had a mockup in hand.
      relativityboy
  • Decent review - why does everyone insist on battery life estimates?

    Good review. Here are my thoughts on owning the Bionic:<br><br>Upgrading from my HTC Incredible to this Moto Bionic feels a lot like upgrading cars of the same model: it's new, there are a few nice features, and it runs a little faster. It also costs more, the user experience hasn't changed much, and the core features haven't improved as dramatically as one would expect. <br><br>I think the camera stinks indoors and my AT&T iPhone does a better job. 8MP of blurry or grainy photos means I'm using up more space to store bad photos. Fail! Video is a different story, and I'll take the Bionic over the iPhone any day.<br><br>Pricing is subject to change and there are options besides the $299 Verizon direct pricing. It looks like Amazon is coming late to the game with $199 pricing (still not available as of 9/12/11); Costco is currently offering a bundle that includes nightstand charging dock, spare battery, spare battery charging dock, car dock with charger, and a generic case for $279; and places like Best Buy claim they'll match pricing. Shop around and you might not be disappointed.<br><br>Zumocast is cool and easy to set up. It's a neat feature for the phone, but it also works for PC to PC access. The built in player allowed me to view an MP4 from a computer on a corporate network. Nice.<br><br>Battery life is extremely subjective. If I have multiple accounts syncing over 4G while leaving bluetooth and wifi turned on, choose to watch a movie during my lunch break, make & receive phone calls on it throughout the day, and play the occasional game, I'd better bring a charger and a spare battery. If I choose to keep the phone in my pocket most of the time, make an occasional phone call, and check incoming messages, then I won't need to carry a charger with me. Since it's impossible to factor in every scenario, I think battery tests are generally useless in a new phone review. <br><br>Ultimately, this phone fails to excite the way the first Android phones did; however, it's a refined and very capable device so it doesn't disappoint either. I'm confident that the Motorola Bionic will satisfy my needs for the next 2 years, but I wish it was a bit more cutting edge.
    Reply_account
  • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

    The price is definitely up there, but I fail to see how it's not industry standard. iPhone 4 32gb is $300 right now and it's currently a 3g device (rumors floating around that the iPhone 5 will be 3g) and a single core processor (also soon to change). The Droid Bionic with an LTE chip, 32 gigabytes of space and a dual core processor is the same price. When the iPhone 5 launches I expect both phones to have very similar specs with only the Bionic on 4g. Again the 32gb model will probably price for $300 though I can't be sure. So far I fail to see this as anything but a premium smartphone with an expected price given the pricing (and praise) of it's direct competitor Apple.
    ncoad
    • It's an issue because Android, like the PC market

      defines itself by cheap.
      baggins_z
    • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

      @ncoad
      I'll tell you why, Android devices are like herpes or crabs, plentiful, but not everyone wants them. You have to be out of your mind to spend $300 for an Android device, especially Motorola. Before you pull your sword from your sling, check the prices in five months; this fon will be availabe for $159.
      JunitoNH
      • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

        @JunitoNH

        Most phones price drop by 1/2 in 5 months? whats your point?
        Bruce Banter
    • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

      @ncoad Most consumers look at the price, not the spec sheet. If they can get the 16GB iPhone for $100 less it look more appealing. Sure, the Bionic has 32GB of storage (ignoring other specs just like average consumers do) but the average consumer will be fine with 16GB and will be happy to save $100. I think they would have been better off selling an 8GB unit with an included 8GB card for $199 to compete but maybe they can't get to that price point.
      non-biased
  • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

    $300 -- are you kidding? If you got the Bionic for free it would probably cost you north of $2,400 to use for two years. You are going to criticize based on maybe a $100 difference to a "normal" $199 purchase price. That's like 4%.

    The big deal with the Bionic is that you will probably spend $100 on the holders and stuff that goes with it -- if you get crazy, it is easy to dump $500 on the toys that you can get to make it a car device, a bedside alarm, a notebook computer, a Ferrari Stationwagon -- OK, I made the last one up.
    TomMariner
    • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

      @TomMariner Considering the price of the plan from Verizon doesn't change if you have a new device on contract or not what is the point of bringing it up. You are going to pay the same amount with your old phone without a contract or with Bionic subsidized with a contract so whats your point?
      non-biased
  • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

    I might add that the battery life is comparable to the X and Incredible 2 while being a 4G phone. Side by side, the X was comparable to the iPhone. I have been impressed.<br><br>The Achilles heal of the Bionic is the Pentile screen. Certain text like small blue on white is deplorable. The worst I've seen on any smart phone in the LAST TEN YEARS.<br><br>Like the Incredible 2 one of the two camera shutters or lenses (likely the ffc) rattles from the ear piece speaker while on a call. It's an annoying buzz. Tap the phone and you can hear the loose pieces. Volume is also a bit low in all but BT modes; probably to mitigate this problem. The FFC and 4G work nice for Tango video chat.<br><br>It is otherwise an outstanding phone especially since we have root. The Blur launcher is nicely updated with some new scrolling functions including scrolling in the calendar widget. $300 is steep! VZW is soaking us based on the out of contract retail price. I was using a backup phone and had to buy otherwise I'd recommend people wait just a bit if they can for the price drop.
    LarsDennert
  • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

    For those of us that get a new phone only every two years, the Bionic is an awesome upgrade from the original droid! Battery life? far better than my two-year-old battery from my original droid. Just like when I bought my first droid, I bought an extra battery and I don't really need it. But, no. I do not yet have access to 4G where I live, so battery life is fine on 3G.

    Biggest downside - all the pre-installed apps you don't want and can't delete. And the bootloader is locked, so no rooting and no cyanogenmod. For now.

    Costs too much? yes, but so did the original droid. Considering it can do most of what my laptop can do and almost as fast, fit in my pocket, and make phone calls, and take decent pics, maybe the price is not that bad. Well worth the $40 over the Droid 3. But I would like to reduce the camera resolution for smaller file size.

    Back comes off too easy? I have trouble getting mine off.

    I should have bought it at Costco...
    aprayzr1
    • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

      Sweet! Just figured out you can choose to show all apps, verizon apps, or just downloaded apps on the menu. Solves one problem!
      aprayzr1
  • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

    The HTC Thunderbolt and the Droid Charge from Samsung all debuted at $299. Moto isn't ushering in the $300 LTE price point that has been well in hand before.

    Also isn't the iPhone 4 32G model go for $299 and how much storage does the Bionice have? 32G right, so are you willing to say the iPhone 4 32G also isn't worth $299 especially when it's only a single core and 3G right?
    jonandkelly
    • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

      @jonandkelly I see the issue in cost being the entry point, not the overall cost. I do agree that if your willing to pay for a 32GB iPhone the Bionic shouldn't seem too expensive.
      non-biased
  • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

    Thanks for the review, but you did sound slightly biased as a devout iPhone user. You criticized the Bionic battery but made no comparison to iPhone's sucky battery.
    namcats@...
    • RE: Motorola Droid Bionic is great for Android, not for $300 (review)

      @namcats@... What sucky battery are you talking about? If the iPhone batter sucked then every smartphone wouldn't be compared to it.
      non-biased