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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 You're probably not going to have to worry about your Droid Bionic being outdated by the time your two-year contract is up.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?
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.
The 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.
It'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.
The 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
The 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 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.
The 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.
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
The 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.