Kick it. Drop it. Scratch it. Bury it. Sink it. The first "rugged" Android phone for consumers, the Motorola Defy ($99 online with a two-year contract) can withstand all this and more. It sports a sturdy build, sealed ports, and a Corning Gorilla Glass display. But more than just providing a greater sense of security for the accident-prone, the Defy offers Motorola's Motoblur interface for quick access to Facebook and other social networking services, the ability to make phone calls over Wi-Fi, and pretty good performance. Not bad for a $99 device, but is all of that enough for this phone to "defy" the lure of the competition?
The Motorola Defy is an exercise in simplicity. The edges that surround the display are painted black, and screws on either side lend the phone an industrial feel. Along the sides, top, and bottom of the phone is a strip of white plastic, and the back cover is also black. The familiar Android touch navigation buttons are placed in a narrow strip beneath the Defy's edge-to-edge display.
At 4.2 x 2.3 x 0.53 inches, the Defy is around the same size as other budget Android phones such as the Motorola Cliq XT and the Sanyo Zio. The Defy weighs 4.7 ounces, so it sags a bit more in the pocket than the Cliq XT (4.6 ounces) and the Zio (3.7 ounces), but we wouldn't call this device bulky.
The Defy's casing isn't very cluttered. Beside the covered headphone jack at the top is a rubber on/off button. On the left is the microUSB port, and on the right, a volume rocker. The microSDHC card slot is underneath the battery cover, which can only be removed by pulling on a latch on the back, just below the 5-megapixel camera and LED flash.
The Defy won't survive being run over by a car or stay intact after a two-story drop onto concrete, but it can survive an unusual amount of torment.
Rubber trim around the face of the phone protects against light drops. The 3.5mm headphone jack along the phone's top rim and the microUSB port on the left side are covered with rubber stoppers, keeping the Defy secure from water and beverage spills as well as dust, sand, and dirt.
The Defy's 3.7-inch display is made of Gorilla Glass and can withstand key scrapes, face-down landings (read: drops from about four to five feet), and similar abuse without suffering the types of battle scars you may find on other phones.
The Defy withstood our abuse like Jack Bauer in an interrogation room. We submerged the entire phone in a glass of water, buried it in dirt, and dropped it on wood, linoleum, and concrete floors from about five feet. Unlike most phones, the battery never flew out of the chassis, and the rubber caps over the ports kept dirt and water out. The only visible signs of our tests were a few small scratches on the phone's plastic shell. Our attempts to scratch the display left it unscathed. You can check out our torture test review below.
The Defy's 3.7-inch display has a higher resolution (854 x 480) than more expensive phones such as the myTouch 3G slide (3.4 inches, 480 x 320) and the T-Mobile G2 (3.7 inches, 800 x 480). The display was crisp when surfing the web and browsing the user interface. Colors, too, were bright and splashy. The touchscreen was also very responsive; we launched small web links in our first try, and pinch-zooming in Google Maps was velvety smooth.
The Defy runs the Android 2.1 operating system, which is a bummer since the LG Optimus T ($39.99) for T-Mobile ships with Android 2.2, an OS that performs better than its predecessor. However, the Defy also has Motorola's Advanced Motoblur skin, with its multitude of social networking widgets and remote-wipe capability (provided you create a Motoblur account).
Widgets include Happenings (which lists your friends' updates from every network) and an option for sharing status updates on Facebook and Twitter in one stroke. Another widget, the Family Room Panel, detects family contacts and lets you create a shared Google calendar, designate family members as quick contacts, see updates from them, or send a group message. Other pre-loaded widgets include the Motoblur music app, weather, and connection management (3G, airplane mode, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi). While all of this will help newbies, having so many widgets on the device might overwhelm some users.
For the most part, the Defy's virtual QWERTY keyboard performed well. The haptic feedback is both subtle and reassuring, and the auto-correct was helpful. In portrait mode, though, tiny keys proved challenging to press at times. The Defy also includes Swype, an alternative keyboard that registers input by swiping your finger from button to button.
Performance and Specs
Not every phone needs a 1-GHz processor; like the T-Mobile G2, a beefier smart phone with a 4G data radio and Android 2.2, the Defy packs an 800-MHz TI CPU. In terms of performance, the processor (paired with 512MB of RAM and 2GB onboard storage) juggled multiple tasks well, including streaming Pandora online while downloading apps or scanning books with Google Goggles. In Linpack, an Android speed benchmark, the Defy scored 5.69, which is faster than the lackluster Sanyo Zio (3.83) but nowhere near as fast as the T-Mobile G2 (28.69), thanks in part to its newer Android 2.2 OS.
In Fps2D, which measures 2D graphics performance, the Defy crunched 51 frames per second, just shy of 59 fps, the G2's score.
Web browsing on the Defy was a pleasure. The device clung to T-Mobile's HSDPA 7.2 3G data network without reverting to the slower, older EDGE connection. Mobile sites for CNN.com and the NYTimes.com loaded in several seconds and Laptopmag.com, a full website, loaded in 12 seconds on average. Download times for full web pages were even faster in alternative browsers like Dolphin HD and Opera Mini. Pandora online radio streamed with only a small delay between songs, and apps also downloaded quickly. At one point, we saved 6 apps on the phone in under three minutes.
In addition to the Android Market (now stuffed with more than 100,000 apps), the Motorola Defy includes an alternative app shop, the T-Mobile App Pack. Basically a handy way for users to discover the most popular Android apps, it includes downloads for titles such as Aldiko Book Reader, Pandora, Paper Toss, Robo Defense (free version), and ShopSavvy.
T-Mobile also pre-installs several apps on the device, including Amazon Kindle and Blockbuster for entertainment. Motorists will appreciate CarDock, an app that provides quick access to road-friendly tasks (Bluetooth calls or music playback, GPS services, and Voice search), and another set of options include the DLNA and Mediashare apps for sharing files with other devices over Wi-Fi.
As with all Android phones, the Defy includes Google Maps, which offers free turn-by-turn navigation. T-Mobile bundles in TeleNav GPS as well, but since it costs $10 a month, we say skip it. GPS performance was dicey in Manhattan. The cursor in Google Maps misplaced us by about a block and a half during our test walk from Bryant Park to our office. It also struggled to pinpoint the direction in which we walked. Calibrating the phone's compass application (Settings > Location & Security) helped with that problem.
The Defy has a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash that can capture 640 x 480-resolution video at 30 frames per second. We liked that the camera took only a second to auto focus, and that we could adjust exposure and shoot in multiple modes (such as portrait, night portrait, sport, macro, and outdoor). The flash was handy for indoor shots, but foreground images, such as a set of flower bushes behind a construction zone in Bryant Park, just didn't have the level of detail we're used to seeing in other smart phones. The images were fuzzy.
Video also looked lackluster. A clip captured of a local workers' union protest was grainy, and we couldn't even read the protest signs when we watched the video. Audio of the workers' chants ("Same work! Same pay!") became clear only when we walked right beside them.
Calls made using T-Mobile's cellular network were decent. Callers didn't complain about background noise when we phoned them from a noisy section of Broadway.
The Defy is the second T-Mobile Android phone to feature Wi-Fi calling. When you're within a known Wi-Fi network, this feature automatically kicks in, and comes in handy in areas with bad reception, like office buildings or basements. Wi-Fi calling isn't a free ride, though: Calls made with the service continue to drain minutes from your regular calling plan, even if you happen to be at a paid T-Mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. Calls made over our office wireless connection were generally good until we got about 40 or 50 feet from the router.
The Motorola Defy lasted 6 hours and 52 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing over a 3G data connection). That's more than two hours longer than the Motorola Charm--even with its extended battery. Anecdotally, the Defy lasted two days of light use, then endured a burst of action that included four hours of web surfing, some social network usage, and e-mail messaging, before we needed to track down an outlet.
For those who are hard on their phones, the $99 Motorola Defy is quite the bargain. It can survive much more abuse than your typical Android device and delivers a good set of features, including Wi-Fi calling. Yes, you can pick up the LG Optimus T running Android 2.2 for free, and higher-end phones such as the $199 myTouch 4G offer faster data speeds and perks including a front-facing camera and mobile hotspot app. But the Defy is an Android phone that is almost guaranteed to last the length of that two-year contract.