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Old 11-09-2011, 07:13 AM
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Lightbulb Motorola Droid Bionic, Verizon’s latest overhyped smartphone


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There’s been a noticeable trend with the latest Android phones that come to Verizon Wireless. The hype machine starts, the fans get excited, the hype machine kicks it into overdrive, the fans become ravenous, and then the device comes out and the fans are left with this bitter feeling towards it. I find this to be particularly intense on Verizon compared to the other three carriers, perhaps because they are the largest network or because LTE drove an exorbitant amount of early adopters to the service. For whatever reason, the trend seems to be pretty significant. Take, for example, the HTC Thunderbolt. That phone got a bad image early on because of some reports that the phone kept being delayed, despite there never being anything official from Verizon announcing the release of the phone.
Now, we have the Motorola Droid Bionic, the latest in the Droid line of phones for Verizon Wireless. Last month, we published a story about the upcoming line of “superphones” headed for Verizon, with the Bionic leading the charge. Now that the phone is out, lets see if this phone lives up to the 9 months of hype and guessing.
Look and Feel
The Droid Bionic has a very familiar body shape for any users who have owned the Droid X or Droid X2. The top of the device bulges to hold the camera, and slopes in sharply to create the perfect place to place your index finger when holding the phone. The back of the phone is a thin plastic with a soft touch coat on it, which is a stark difference from many of the previous Droid phones. In fact, the entire design to the casing of this phone is different from the previous Droid devices. Gone are the sharp edges and rugged composure in exchange for soft corners and a smooth touch. Even the glass on the Bionic tapers in before it reaches the bezel, giving it a much more polished look compared to the previous Droid phones.
The phone is a little taller than the Thunderbolt, though not nearly as heavy. There’s a pair of speakers and a microphone in the back, which the initial plastic coating on the phone explaining that you shouldn’t cover if you want quality phone calls. Other than that, the phone has all of the usual attributes of a Droid phone. The volume rocker and power button are both brighter than standard, almost chromed plastic around the dark but shiny front bezel. The separate mini HDMI and micro USB ports lay side-by-side like the other Motorola phones that are built for the Lapdock.
The Bionic is not the thinnest phone out there. It’s not the lightest, either. It pretend to have a unibody construction or curved glass. It is, however, a phone that feels solid and is built to be cradled in your hand, while giving you the piece of mind that it is unlikely to slide out of your grasp. As far as design goes, this is probably my favorite phone from Motorola since they started making Android phones.


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Performance
Verizon’s LTE phones so far have been impressive devices in their own right, but when it comes to raw power they pale in comparrison to many of the phones that have come out in the last few months, and certainly don’t hold a candle to what we know is on the way. The Bionic is the first dual-core LTE phone, bringing the line of devices current. Motorola stuck a 1GHz dual-core processor in the Bionic — the TI OMAP, which replaced the Tegra 2 — nestled right next to 1GB of RAM. As if putting the phone alongside many of the Android tablets out there at the moment wasn’t enough, having access to LTE speeds certainly puts the phone pretty close to the top of the Android heap. Now that 50% of the US is wired up for LTE, with major new markets being unveiled later this month, the Bionic is primed to bring a whole new wave of users to LTE.
Sitting side-by-side, it’s clear that the Bionic’s processor makes using LTE a much better experience. Content heavy websites load faster, services like Netflix render video more quickly and they clean up any artifacts almost instantly. The Bionic is also able to handle multiple complicated processes faster, such as streaming Google Music and playing a game. Having Android 2.3.4 enables Google Video Talk, which runs very smoothly on the Bionic as well. All in all, the Bionic’s power and speed make using it very enjoyable, and the hardware ensures that the phone will stay relevant for quite a while.
The 1735 mAh battery is a jump over the Thunderbolt’s 1400mAh battery, and combined with Android 2.3.4′s battery saving benefits, the phone will get you through a 10 hour day with LTE on the whole time. On wifi, the Bionic got almost 23 hours of life in it before it started giving 5% battery warnings. While it is clear that LTE is still a huge battery hog, it’s good to see that manufacturers are using things like larger batteries to deal with it.
The Bloat Boat: Android with Motorola
Verizon is by far the worst when it comes to the sheer volume of apps that come pre-loaded on an Android phone, and the Bionic is no exception to that rule. Stock Android phones, like the Nexus line, come with 19 apps installed, most of them Google apps and the Market. The Droid Bionic came with 60 apps on board. You’ve still got your Google apps, and Verizon has a suite of their own apps like VzNavigator and Verizon’s freshly update Video service, but some of these are just plain and simple bloat. For example, The Video Surf app. If you are into social TV watching, Video Surf is a cool app, but why did it need to come pre-loaded on the Bionic? On top of all of this, Motorola has some of their own apps, like a social networking aggregation, that come with all of the themed phones from Moto.
The UI update from Motorola, that one that isn’t called MotoBlur anymore but doesn’t actually have a name yet, is pretty clearly the result of observation. The app drawer now includes a Market button in the to right of the window from Honeycomb, and is now paginated like Samsung phones, though with a much nicer transition from page to page. The homescreen rotates as though each page is a separate panel in a box, similar to how screen transitions in Honeycomb happen. Everything has a window transition or animation now. If you’re loading an app or returning to the homescreen, the experience is much more animated. Even the initial login, where you are asked to sign in to your Google account, rotates from landscape to portrait with a nice animation. The entire experience feel much more fluid compared to Motorola’s previous attempts, creating a much more pleasant experience.


For all of the great things this phone has going for it, the screen completely ruins the experience. Motorola’s pentile qHD screen is packed with pixels for sure, but makes viewing any still shot image or even reading a website a painful experience. Pictures taken on the Bionic look absolutely horrible when you go back to look at them, simply because everything looks grainy and pixelated as a result of the screen. If you’re watching a video on the phone, and the phone is more than two feet from you, the video looks as though it has a grid laid over it.
The Bionic is more than bright enough, though, even in direct sunlight, and the screen gets dim enough that you aren’t blinding yourself or other when you pull it out in a theater. Compared to the Thunderbolt, the Bionic’s color intensity is a little low, though you only really notice if you place it beside another phone showing the exact same thing.
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Final thoughts
I really want to like the Bionic. I think it’s got great hardware, and it’s the first Motorola Android phone that feels good in my hand. I’m looking forward to putting this phone together with some of the accessories that have been announced with this phone, like the lapdock or the inductive charger.
For $299 on a new contract, it’s clear that Verizon is sticking to the price hike on their premium phones, which makes it hard to compare the phone out the door to devices like the Sensation or the EVO3D. For now, on Verizon, the Droid Bionic os the most powerful phone in their lineup, just as Verizon’s LTE network is stretching across the US, which puts it in a great place to be sold until the “next big thing” comes along.
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