Motorola Droid Bionic Tested: Was it Worth the Wait?

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One of the most eagerly anticipated Verizon Wireless phones ever has finally landed in our hands. The Motorola Droid Bionic is the first Android device to pack both 4G LTE data and a dual-core processor. This Gingerbread device (OS 2.3.4) also features a 4.3-inch qHD display and an 8-MP camera that can shoot 1080p video. What took so long? Motorola said it has been working on slimming down the design and stuffing this $299 superphone with useful and entertaining apps. Like the Atrix 4G, the Droid Bionic plugs into an optional Lapdock and HD Station, but also a new $29 adapter for running the full web on a larger screen.

We spent several hours with Motorola's flagship phone for Verizon and wanted to share our impressions.

What We Like

It's Superfast
Motorola's previous dual-core phones were powered by Nvidia's Tegra processor, but the company opted for a TI OMAP 4430 CPU instead for the Bionic. Did Motorola make the right call? The device was definitely swift when opening applications, and we noticed zero lag when flicking between homescreens and multiple app screens. This smartphone is buttery smooth.

When it comes to benchmark performance, the Bionic holds its own. For instance, the handset notched a 53.3 score in the mult-threaded portion of the Linpack test, compared to 49.5 for the Nvidia Tegra-powered Photon 4G. However, the Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered myTouch 4G Slide registered a higher 57.6.

In the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the TI-powered Bionic turned in a comparable score to the Photon (2,955 vs 3,017). The Bionic handily beat the myTouch 4G Slide (2,255), HTC Thunderbolt (2,103), and Samsung Droid Charge (1,569).

Where the Bionic trails some of the competition is graphics performance. In An3DBench, the device scored 6,990, behind both the Photon 4G (7,522) and myTouch 4G Slide (7,098) but ahead of the HTC Thunderbolt (6,290) and Droid Charge (6,925). Nevertheless, the Droid Bionic delivered fluid animation and crisp details when playing the bundled demo of Let's Golf 2. 

 

Interface is Slick and Clean
No, the Droid Bionic doesn't run "pure Android," but Motorola's interface tweaks add polish and panache without getting in your way. For example, dragging down on the favorites widget on the homescreen fans out your favorite contacts in a grid. And the apps menu shows a nice little shadow beneath the last row of app icons. Another subtle touch is the way the icons gleam when you swipe from one homescreen to the next. It's not pretty, but we appreciate the My Data Usage Widget that shows you how much data you've used in close to real-time.

It's a Wireless Hard Drive

Thanks to the bundled ZumoCast app, you can access documents, photos, music, and videos from your PC right on the Droid Bionic. All we needed to do was sign up for an account online, download the PC software, and then sign in on the phone. From there we could stream all of our stuff over the air. Granted, your PC needs to be on, but ZumoCast worked well. We started streaming our MP3s in less than 10 seconds. Plus, Motorola says that ZumoCast support iTunes playlists.


4G Powerhouse
Verizon's 4G LTE network now covers about half the country, and you can expect awesome speeds from the Bionic. In our initial tests we saw an average of 11.6 Mbps downloads and 3.4 Mbps uploads, with bursts on the downlink up to 20.1 Mbps. These numbers are similar to what the LG Revolution and Samsung Droid Charge turned but the HTC Thunderbolt is the current speed champ with an average of 14.1 Mbps down and 4.6 up. The Bionic pulled down mobile sites (CNN, ESPN, NYTimes) in 3 to 4 seconds and full desktop sites like Yahoo and the full NYTimes in 7 to 9 seconds.


A New Way to webtop
Like the idea of using your phone to surf the full web? That's where webtop comes in, an app designed by Motorola that runs the Firefox 4 (which means sites like Hulu work). You can access webtop on the Bionic when you plug it into the $299 Lapdock (which has an 11.6-inch screen) or the $99 HD Station (which comes with USB ports for plugging in a USB keyboard and mouse). But the Bionic also works with a new $29 Adapter for Webtop that connects to any HDMI monitor. When you fire up the webtop app on the phone it changes the screen to a large touchpad, complete with two-finger scrolling. It worked well, but we wish we didn't need to be tethered to our TV.


Apps for Work and Play
NFL Mobile lets you keep tabs on your favorite teams and players, as well as watch the live games on Thursday night, Sunday night, and now Monday night. Videosurf-a Shazam for video--sounds cooler than it is. The app successfully identified an episode of The Office and then let us post a comment to Facebook or Twitter, but program guides give people most of the info they need. Business users will appreciate Citrix Receiver, GoToMeeting, and Quickoffice.


What We Don't Like

Not the Sleekest Design
At 5 x 2.6 x .43 inches, the Motorola is technically the thinnest 4G LTE phone from Verizon, but it has a bump up top that's closer to .5 inches. The fact that the power button is on the top left makes the somewhat large footprint more difficult to handle than it should be. We prefer the sleeker angled corners on the Photon 4G. The Samsung Droid Charge is still the lightest in Verizon's LTE stable at 5 ounces, but the 5.6-ounce Bionic is lighter than the Revolution (6.1 ounces) and Thunderbolt (6.2 ounces).

So-So Camera
Motorola could learn a thing or two from HTC's myTouch 4G Slide, which has a backside illuminated sensor. Outdoors the Bionic's 8-MP camera took sharp photos, but indoors we noticed a fair amount of grain to pics. Engaging the flash definitely helps, but you have to hold the phone steady because it takes a few seconds for the Bionic to fire. At least the Bionic can record 1080p video, up from 720p on the Photon 4G.

Lapdock Still Lackluster
It doesn't sound like a bad deal. Verizon will charge you $299 for the Bionic's optional Lapdock, which transforms this Android phone into a mini 11.6-inch laptop. Plus, you can get $100 off the dock if you sign up for a $50 or higher data plan. The problem is that the Lapdock's keyboard is too small and that the touchpad's accuracy leaves something to be desired. Plus, we noticed some latency when typing in the webtop interface.

Droid Bionic Outlook

The Droid Bionic is definitely the fastest 4G LTE phone yet, and it's apparent that Motorola and Verizon have gone the extra mile to bundle a bevy of useful apps. We also like the qHD screen and loud speakers. And while we're not keen on the Lapdock, the webtop app itself can come in handy for those who want to turn this phone into a mini computer.

The only big question mark remaining is battery life. The 1730mAH battery is the biggest yet for a Verizon LTE phone. And so far the Bionic looks like it will offer longer endurance than its cousins on Big Red, lasting about 8 hours of medium to heavy use. If our battery test confirms the Bionic's staying power, it will be our top pick among Verizon smartphones.

Editors' Note: Is there anything you want to know about the Bionic? Let us know in the comments and stay tuned for a full review.

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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6 comments
  • watsen678 Says:

    Hello,
    The Motorola Photon is the next 4G device in the line up for Sprint's network. The Gingerbread phone sports a 4.3 qHD touchscreen display along with a kickstand. The device seems rather similar to the Atrix, but it does seem to have it's own charm about it.

  • Irene Says:

    Got one today and I love it so far :) The 4G is so fast I could cry. I can actually skip around in streaming netflix videos! And Rick - the call quality seems fine.

  • Brian Says:

    so basically we had to wait 2 extra months for a phone that is really not as good as it's predecessor Sprint's Photon. Best I can tell the major difference is LTE vs. WiMax which I use rarely. The battery boost is encouraging.

  • GBH2 Says:

    Good Job! Will the Bionic fit the Atrix Lapdock? or do you have to have the Bionic specific lapdock?
    Does the Lapdock require a Tethering data plan or can you just use the Bionic data plan and nothing else. I can tell you are not a big fan of the lapdock but I think it might come in handy for me as long as the overall cost is minimal.

    You seemed to cover most of the bases nicely with the review. Maybe a few words on call quality, signal reception, speaker volume.

    Thanks!

  • Hank Says:

    I currently tether my smart phone to my laptop and use the Vzaccess Manager software. Will I have the same capibilities with the Bionic? My laptop does not have a working wifi modem so I must have the USB option working or purchase a different laptop.

  • Rick Says:

    How about call clarity? With or without bluetooth headsets? It is, after all, a phone. To me, that's it's top priority. I've had problems with various phones in their ability to connect to a bluetooth headset quickly. And complaints from people about the quality of my calls, as well as problems hearing the other person. If it's not good, then the other goodies (4G, dual-core, etc.) don't help me much.

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