Verizon Motorola Droid Bionic review: Worth the wait?

http://www.intomobile.com/reviews/mytouch-4g-slide-review-does-this-phone-slide-top/

We’ve been waiting for the Motorola Droid Bionic for a long, long time and in this review, we’ll see if this dual-core 4G LTE Android smartphone has been worth the wait. We first laid eyes on the Droid Bionic at CES 2011 in January and since that time, it has faced multiple delays, got a new processor and Motorola was sold to Google. This may be the last high-profile smartphone an independent Motorola ever puts out, so let’s see if it’s a good swan song.

The Good
  • It's the king of phones when it comes to specs right now with a dual-core processor and 4G LTE.
  • Verizon 4G LTE is fast, consistent and changes what you can do on the go.
  • The soft plastic backing on the device feels really nice in the hand.
The Bad
  • Like the Droid X2, the screen has a high resolution but can appear grainy.
  • Thanks to the first-generation 4G LTE chipset, battery life is bad.
  • Motorola's custom Android UI is not appealing to me.

Hardware

One of the most appealing things about the Motorola Droid Bionic on Verizon is that it's probably the most powerful smartphone on the market right now when it comes to specs. We're talking about a dual-core TI OMAP 1 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, 4.3-inch qHD screen with a 960 x 540 resolution, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, an 8-megapixel camera with a flash and 1080p HD record and access to Verizon's 4G LTE network. You're probably not going to have to worry about your Droid Bionic being outdated by the time your two-year contract is up.

The Droid Bionic is also compatible with the Laptop Dock and series of Motorola docks but I'm going to gloss over those because I hate the Laptop Dock. I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that's one of the first things that goes once Google fully takes over Motorola.

While we love specs here at IntoMobile, we know that raw horsepower isn't enough, as smartphones are so good nowadays that there has to be that excellent mix of design, hardware, specs and software. Does the Droid Bionic have that perfect mix to make it the best of the superphones out there?

Design

If you've ever seen a Droid X2, then the Droid Bionic should be very familiar looking because it also has a 4.3-inch Gorilla Glass display with a 540 x 960 resolution. If you turn it on its side, there are also similarities as the Bionic has that nearly trademark hump at the top where the camera module is. Don't think that the Droid Bionic is just the Droid X2 with 4G LTE, as it definitely has enough design tweaks to be its own beast.

The screen on the Droid Bionic is slightly lower than the edges and rim of the device and when you combine this with the slight chin on the bottom with a Verizon logo, it almost looks like the screen is in its own little frame. There are four capacitive buttons that are right underneath the display and these are your standard Android buttons (Menu, Home, Back, Search) and these work well and are responsive. There's also enough room between these and the bottom of the actual display to guard against accidental taps.

Verizon Motorola Droid Bionic reviewThe right spine has a single-piece metallic volume rocker that works well and is easy to find by touch. I do kind of like having a dedicated camera button but the Droid Bionic has none. On the other spine, there's the microUSB port for charging and transferring content and a miniHDMI out port for blasting your content out to a TV or hooking up with a Laptop Dock or other Motorola Dock. The top has the power/unlock button and a standard headphone jack and the bottom is clean except for a hole for the microphone.

The back of the Motorola Droid Bionic has a soft plastic finish that's similar to the Photon 4G on Sprint but not quite as squishy. I found the Photon was a little weird in your hand because the back cover was almost too soft but the Bionic has a nice, comfortable feel without being too soft. The back also sports a large metallic block for the 8-megapixel camera and the flash, as well as logos for Motorola, 4G LTE, Verizon and Google.

The back cover of the Droid Bionic comes off in one piece rather easily to reveal a 3.8V battery, the 4G LTE Sim slot and a microSD card and slot. The microSD card slot is hot swappable if a bit odd to get to but swapping your 4G LTE SIM card will require a battery pull. Not a big deal, as I doubt many of your will have to get to that SIM slot.

 

Build Quality

Verizon Motorola Droid Bionic reviewIt's a mostly interesting design that feels good in hand and the phone is packed with really good hardware but the Droid Bionic really lets us down when it comes to the display. Like the Photon 4G and Droid X2 before it, the Droid Bionic's 4.3-inch qHD display delivers a somewhat pixelated and grainy experience. Blacks and most texts are fine but colors really get pixelated and this can be distracting when you're trying to watch videos or viewing pictures. I'm not even close to a display snob or anything but this is the third-straight time that Motorola has failed to deliver a great screen and that's a shame.

It's not a complete deal breaker and your eyes get used to it if this is your day-to-day phone but let's hope Motorola under Google can really step up its display game. With gorgeous screens coming from the likes of Apple and Samsung, consumers are expecting and deserve better.

I really like the in-hand feel of the Droid Bionic and it's relatively thin considering its large screen size and the additional bulk that having a first-generation 4G LTE chipset entails. Still, there's not much to this design that separates it from the last few Motorola smartphones we've seen - all are solid but nothing in the design really excites us.

Software

Verizon Motorola Droid Bionic reviewThe Droid Bionic launches with Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread and Motorola's custom user interface, which used to be known as MotoBlur but Motorola has quickly moved away from that branding. MotoBlur gets a lot of deserved guff but remember that software from handset makers can eventually lead to better things in core Android - MotoBlur was the first Android UI with resizable widgets, which is now a standard in Android for tablets.

For those of you who haven't used Android yet, you should know that it's a thoroughly modern touch-based OS that makes it easy to make calls, send text messages, communicate through e-mail or video chatting, browse the web and add new apps through the Android Market or through other means. If you use Google services online, most of these work sublimely with Android on the go and the platform offers levels of customization that the iPhone can't come close to. On the downside, Android is still not quite as cohesively polished as iOS but the app disparity is quickly going away save for a few high-profile programs like Instagram.

The dual-core processor inside the Droid Bionic means that it zooms along, as apps open quickly and it can handle all types of 3D gaming. Unfortunately, I just can't get into the MotoBlur aesthetic. There's no major sins here but I just don't agree with many of the small choices: the app tray swipes left to right, there's a noticeable screen darkening in the browser when you're switching between landscape and portrait and I really hate the way the app switcher menu looks. To be fair, there are little touches of MotoBlur that I like, as the semi-translucent notification window is a nice touch and the animations in the favorite contacts widget is visually pleasing.

The Droid Bionic also comes with a ton of preloaded software including the range of V Cast apps, ZumoCast, Amazon Kindle, Blockbuster, Citrix, GoToMeeting, Let's Golf 2, MotoPrint, a mobile hotspot app, NFL Mobile, Quickoffice, Slacker and the VideoSurf app. Some of these are actually pretty cool (NFL, VideoSurf) but those who like a cleaner Android experience will likely just root it anyways.

The dual-core inside performs well but without something like the  Tegra Zone or Qualcomm's SnapDragon equivalent, it's tough to find content that's really optimizing that power. Expect that to change as Google increases the developer and targeting tools in the Android Market. The 1 GB of RAM probably helps the smoothness more than the dual-core processor at this moment.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Web Browser/ 4G LTE

Verizon Motorola Droid Bionic reviewThe Droid Bionic is the fourth Verizon smartphone that can utilize the super-fast 4G LTE network and it really does deliver the goods in markets where Verizon has service. In and around San Francisco, I'm getting consistently fast speeds and this makes a major difference in how you browse the web, watch videos and download files on the go. Yes, the tradeoff is the battery life (more on that later) but these types of consistent speeds can really change the way we work and play.

I averaged  between 8-12 Mbps download speeds and above 5 Mbps (I'll update this as I travel around). I know that T-Mobile and others promise faster speeds and actually deliver it in some cases but my experience has shown me that Verizon 4G LTE is the most consistent and the best so far.

The browser itself is pretty good except for the somewhat grainy screen and the aforementioned annoying blank screen when you rotate the orientation. Other than that, it's what you'd expect from the Gingerbread Webkit browser: a good multitouch experience that can handle Adobe Flash, JavaScript and pretty much anything the Internet can throw at it. Additionally, there are a plethora of alternative browsers in the Android Market which cater to different preferences.

Multimedia

The Motorola Droid Bionic can handle nearly all your multimedia needs, as it can handle videos, music and gaming with ease thanks to its dual-core processor and the 1 GB of RAM. We've mentioned how the screen quality can get in the way but it will only bother you if you're a nit-picker like us. While the end-to-end multimedia experience isn't as tightly integrated as the iPhone and iTunes, with apps like Google Music, streaming services like the on-board Slacker Radio, video services like Bitbop and others, Android users are increasingly able to use their devices as a multimedia powerhouse.

This handset also comes with DLNA capabilities and an HDMI-out port to throw content onto larger screens. I've never really found these as useful as manufacturers claim but I do think there could be a very powerful use case for sharing clips of your kids on the big screen.

Camera

Verizon Motorola Droid Bionic reviewThe Motorola Droid Bionic packs an 8-megapixel camera with a xenon flash and the picture quality is quite solid but still not as good as we've seen on other 5-megapixel shooter like the iPhone 4 or even the first generation Galaxy S II. As you can see from the photos below, close-up shots aren't great (even with Macro mode on) and colors aren't quite as vivid as I would like. The front-facing camera is good enough to snap self-portraits or to video chat with apps like Tango. Luckily, 1080p HD video recording looks pretty darn good even if the audio goes to hell if there's even the slightest bit of wind (check out the video here).

I'm really disappointed in the camera software on the Droid Bionic, as I find it to be a bit slow, not very intuitive and I'm not a fan of the overall look. There's no tap-to-focus but instead you have to drag the box to focus. The dragging works well but I do prefer the tap-to-zoom that's on HTC, Apple and  Samsung's software. To be fair, the on-screen zoom control is easy to use and there are a plethora of shot options and modes. Still, we've seen some stellar phone cameras lately, so you can't help but wish for more out of the Droid Bionic.

 

Verizon Motorola Droid Bionic review

Standard settings, good lighting

 

Verizon Motorola Droid Bionic review

Up close, Macro mode on


Verizon Motorola Droid Bionic review

Indoors, flash on, low lighting

 

Verizon Motorola Droid Bionic review

Front-facing camera, good lighting, standard settings

Call Quality And Battery Life

The Motorola Droid Bionic has solid call quality, as voices sound natural, loud and come through quite clearly. A few people told me I sounded a bit distorted when I was talking but overall, the sound quality was above average. I think the speaker phone could have had a bit more volume but it's a good device for making voice calls.

Unfortunately, the Motorola Droid Bionic doesn't have great battery life due to that first-generation 4G LTE chipset. Like the Droid Charge, HTC Thunderbolt and LG Revolution, this 4G LTE smartphone tops out at about six hours on a full charge with some moderate usage. Heavy usage (mapping, heavy web browsing, e-mails) will kill it even faster. If you head into an office each day, invest in a second charger and you shouldn't run into many problems.

It's a shame that the technology isn't there yet to provide proper battery life but that's just how it goes. Look for the second generation of 4G LTE devices to have this problem licked.

The Final Take

Motorola Droid Bionic review for VerizonThe Droid Bionic has been on many people's wish lists since January and I'm happy to report that it's not a disappointment. Motorola has done some some good stuff to make sure the design is on point, the enterprise support is there and it's packing some serious power.

Unfortunately, we're not in love with the low-quality display, poor battery life and the Motorola custom UI is still love-it-or-hate-it. There's also the sad reality that this device isn't as exciting as it was at the beginning of the year particularly with devices like the iPhone 5, Galaxy S II and the Nexus Prime around the corner. Still, if you really want a dual-core processor with 4G LTE and don't mind a bit of graininess on your screen, the Motorola Droid Bionic is a good-looking powerful smartphone that should stand the test of time.

For a long time, I was absolutely sure the Droid Bionic would be my next phone and it would have been ... if it came out a few months ago. I've moved on but that doesn't mean you should. 

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  • http://twitter.com/RodSimmons Rod Simmons

    Man wish I saw your review before I ordered my device today.  I hope your statement about the graininess on the screen is not too bad. This will be my fourth android handset returned. 2 Thunderbolts, 1 Charge.

    • Anonymous

      It’s not awful and you can get used to it but it’s kind of annoying with all the other great screens out there

      • Anonymous

        glad I read this. I have an ATT iPhone but wanted to try the Bionic on Verizon because a. I can get it for $0.01 on Amazon for a few days and b. ATT 3G coverage sucks out in the countryside. It would have taken me into the Android ecosystem with great support for Google apps like GMail and GTalk, both of which suck on iPhone since you have to use the browser.

    • Nybadboy11

      i just got the bionic yesterday not happy at all ….giving it 2 more days but i think its going back

  • Anonymous

    I was pretty excited about this phone, too, when it was announced at CES. Even the few seconds I had with it on the showroom floor was pretty cool. But now I kinda feel like it’s too little, too late.

  • Anonymous

    I THINK NOBODY IS EXCITED ABOUT THIS BECAUSE ALL THE NEXUS PRIME RUMORS!!!

  • Charles West

    Hopefully, Google will throw away Motorola’s crappy UI once the acquisition is final.

  • http://twitter.com/RodSimmons Rod Simmons

    Waiting on the FedEx Guy to deliver the device.The real problem is after looking at the Samsung Super AMOLED screen it is difficult to think anything else looks good.

    This could be the quickest return to Verizon. 

  • http://www.freearticlesreading.com/ John J. McBride

    Motorola Droid Bionic is a nice phone with plenty of horse power.

    Screen

    The screen quality is pretty good but looking closer you might see
    little pixelation and have no match to the Super AMOLED Plus found on
    the Galaxy 2 devices.

    Processor

    The dual core 1GHZ OMAP processor is really fast, the phone is very fast and shows no obvious signs of lag and slowing down.

    Battery Life

    Droid Bionic got a big battery (1750mH), which is the largest on
    any of the verizon LTE phones, but if you are an power user you might
    find yourself looking for the charger around 4 O’clock.

    Camera

    The camera quality is not the best in the market, if you own a droid x or x2 then you might know what i am talking about.

    Overall

    Droid Bionic is a phone what Droid X2 should have, the months of
    delay, the total design overhaul; still droid bionic is not the phone
    we wanted it to be. I think there is better competition out there and
    droid bionic might not be market leader for long time. if you are
    waiting on bionic for months and can live with the fact that bionic
    will not be something you can proud of for months to come then go ahead
    and buy it. 

    • http://twitter.com/RodSimmons Rod Simmons

      On day 1 of using the device my phone died while I was out a dinner.  Dinner was just under 3 hrs and letting the kids watch a couple videos, email, and 4 calls killed my battery from a full charge.  Hoping day 2 is better.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, videos will kill any phone but especially the Droid Bionic. 

        • geek49203

          In my experience, the 4G is what kills it.  My battery life is half in 4G regions of what it is in 3G regions. 

          • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

            And I can’t find a way to disable 4G.  I formerly have had 4G phones, but I was able to disable the 4G radio when I didn’t need the speed or wasn’t in a 4G area.  I can’t seem to do this with the Bionic.

          • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/T4S2CGTS7JOCE5IPTMGTXVXZ54 nunez

            Settings–>Wireless & network settings —-> (scroll to bottom) Mobile networks and change the network mode to cdma only, viola 4g to 3g

  • J_cobia85

     The phone is extremely fast and simple to maneuver.  However, if you love colorful vibrate photos, do not buy this phone.  I plan to return this phone because there are other phones that have 4g speed that also takes nice photos.  I take tons of photos, so a high “quality” camera is more important than one that takes fast photos. 

  • Anonymous

    I rather find it quite amusing how the super hard core Android enthusiasts bash this phone as piece of junk ready to be ravenously devoured by the likes of the DROID Prime or the Galaxy Nexus or the Vigor or the DROID RAzR or the… well you get the point. The truth is, there will always be something lurking around the corner ready to take on the reigning champ. In my humble opinion, this phone has all the future-proof specs any tech geek could want in a phone. Are there better phones out right now? Possibly, but that’s debatable and subject to personal preference. The SGS2 and the Photon (also by Moto) comes to mind. Are there phones lined up in the near future just waiting to make this phone feel like last year’s joke? Of course! There will always be better and hotter stuff in the future. That’s just how the tech game is played. People love to point at the $300.00 price tag. Umm… the DROID Charge had the same tag and doesn’t even come close to the Bionic’s specs, design, and performance. Simmer down about the price tag! It isn’t all that bad. Another complaint is the Pentile Matrix display. Umm… I only notice the pixelation when I hold the phone UP TO MY NOSE! now why would I wanna do that!? I need at least a foot and a half distance from my face to have a comfy viewing experiance and I don’t notice any pixelation at all at that point. One thing I love about the Bionic’s Pentile Matrix is that the whites actually appear white and the blacks appear just as black as well and viewing under the brighness of the sun is such a non-issue with the Pentile Matrix. But this is just a personal preference thing of course. So to each his own, or whatever. End Beef…Oh BTW, I am a proud and happy owner of DROID X2. Couldn’t  wait any longer for the Beastly Bionic way back in May and so far no regrets, but I would love to own a Bionic this very moment if I could. Times are tough and funds are tight these days.

    • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

      Aren’t the Galaxy Nexus and the DROID Prime the same phone?  I though the phone that was once thought to be called the Nexus Prime was going to release on Verizon as the DROID Prime and on the other carriers as the Galaxy Nexus.

  • Josh

    I’ve had my Bionic for going on three weeks now, & I absolutely love it. It absolutely tears through anything I throw at it, & I’ve never seen it slow down or lag once (even through lots of multitasking/gaming). I owned an iPhone 4 before this, & while I fully confess the screen isn’t up to par with that phone, it’s not nearly as bad as some people want to complain it is. I’ve watched multiple videos/full movies on this phone, and unless you hold it a 1/4 of an inch from your eye, you will never be able to see any pixilation. The only complaint I have with it is that the TI-OMAP processor isn’t widely supported by quite a few apps/games on the market, though this is pretty trivial as the vast majority of them will pick it up in the weeks to come.

  • LA

    Can want the Samsung all you want… but he Motorola’s radio’s for reception are much better than Samsung… also you may always want the “best” phone coming out… but that wont last long… technology is every changing, and you will have to ALWAYS have to play keep up in order to do this. Gets to be expensive and a hassle.

    • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

      I just moved from the Nexus S on T-Mo to the Bionic on Verizon, and I’m not impressed with Moto’s radios vs Sammy’s.  While I can’t compare the 4G because T-Mo is HSPA+ (and doesn’t have that available in my area), and because 3G coverage varies a bit here as well, I am left comparing the 802.11n radios.  My Nexus S picked up my (admittedly boosted) Zyxel router from 2+ blocks away, and my Linksys from next door.  The Bionic picks up the router at these distances but will only allow internet usage a few feet from the router.  Since it picks up the router but won’t connect to the internet, the phone won’t connect to the internet via 3G or 4G either, so wifi has to be disabled unless I am within a few feet of the router.  SInce Verizon cannot verify this as they can’t get far enough away from their in-store router and stay in their rather small store (and they won’t go outside to try) they say they can’t help me.  (This phone is three days old.)  It’s possible I have a defective unit, but Verizon won’t help determine this.  I can’t say I’m impressed with either Big Red’s customer service or with Moto’s radios.  But we’ll see in the next week how it all turns out.

  • Bill green

    Thanks for your review. I want to know why Motorola had to move all the buttons. I upgraded from a Droid X to the Bionic and am frustrated that Motorola moved the buttons , probably so you had to buy new windshield mounts and other peripherals. Most critical is the removal of the camera button from the side. Now, you have to push the button on the screen which of course, moves the camera slightly as you are trying to take a picture…retarded.

  • Letuiya Dick

     i have always wanted to owned one but too expensive for me

  • geek49203

    1.  If you hit a 4G region you’ll see your battery life fall in half– even if you’re using wifi all of the time. 
    2.  If you are using WiFi, then go outside, the phone doesn’t want to connect to 3G, maybe not even 4G.  Have to reboot to fix.
    3.  No good “bedside mode” (BB users know how important that is)
    4.  Each app has its own “look and feel” which is sometimes pretty clunky. 
    5.  Phone out of box experience is poor — why should a user be looking to download apps on the first day, especially when it is to do Verizon-promoted functions?  (no bar code reader when bar codes used by Verizon)
    6.  How do I delete the bloatware from Verizon?
    7.  It’s official, phones went from “too loud” when they ring to “too quiet” (this phone)

  • randolph pereira

    i dont understand why people hate motoblur ?

  • http://www.motoask.com motorola droid

    Great review, I like the overall tone of the article in light of how
    much negativity the Bionic has been getting around here and on other
    blogs. Feels very objective, and reaffirms the fact that the Bionic is a
    great phone, despite potentially great-er phones coming out soon.

  • Letuiya

    i wish to have look at that great phone

  • Bill Wollert

    This phone is a big time let down.  Goes in and out of 4G, battery life is terrible, Camera is embarassingly slow, applications consistently fail.  I was looking forward to it and jumped on the wagon a week after it launched to replace my original Droid, only to be disappointed for the above reasons.  Then come to find out the RAZR and Nexus Prime come out within the same 6 month period.

  • http://www.motoask.com motorola droid

    Woah, awesome design on the review! I really love the graphics and your star ratings at the beginning. With a million new Android handsets coming out every day, it’s nice to have something quick to and easy to look at.

  • Anonymous

    I have had the Bionic for a month now, and have both the HD dock and the mobile dock.  For me this entire experience has been terrible, but to be fair I live in a marginal 4g area.  The phone goes in and out between 4g, 3g, and no g.  Frankly, I suspect the cell towers are overloaded and therefore the dropped data calls.  In 30 days I have never be able to launce a mobile hotspot, a feature that costs me an extra $20/month.  I have  been a VZW customer for 12 years — and this is my last VZW phone.  I’d recommend sticking with a 3g “dumb phone” unless you live in an excellent 4g area, and even then during the prime hours you will probably have a problem.

  • AzRedShoe

    Today is Wednesday March 7, 2012 and I am currently on my third bionic android since January 18, 2012. I have replaced the sim card card twice and talked to Verizon tech support again and again and doing the same things each time. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and thinking the outcome will be different. Verizon has continually tried to factory reset and even asked me not to install any applications which I did and still I get no internet connectivity. The “G’s” just disappear, sometimes the “G’s” stay but they are white and still non-responsive. I had to make a 1411 call today in order to contact a school in order to get their phone number as I could not get internet for navigation or address or phone number. Their service has been substandard at best some Verizon personnel promised to call back days later and didn’t. This has been a nightmare.

    It all started with the promise that it was a network upgrade to a possible interaction with my mac computer, this went on for fourteen days. By the way fourteen days is the grace period and after that I was told I was out of luck and they couldn’t do anything for me and the phone that didn’t work was basically my problem. The store I purchased the phone from Diamond Verizon Wireless at Park Place Mall never responded to my calls; dropped into the store three times and the manager was always out, never returned calls, texts, emails or hand written requests for a response.

    Buyer beware; Warning if you deal with the devil (Verizon) you are going to get burned. It is an election year and I guess promises, promises but if you want service you have come to the wrong place. Then again if you are looking for a great paper weight I would definitely recommend the Bionic.

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