DROID! The new 4G LTE Motorola Droid Bionic for Verizon has just been released and we have been playing with it for over a week now. This 4.3” touch-Screen phone is packing some raw power: a dual-core 1GHz processor with 1GB of RAM. It’s running Android’s Gingerbread OS with a custom Motoblur UI. Does it live up to the hype? Is it as powerful as it should be? Dive in.
Droid Bionic packs a Dual-Core 1GHz processor and a full gigabyte of RAM, which is a pretty impressive combo. There is 16GB of on-board storage, 8 of which is reserved for the OS and applications. It comes with a 16GB micro-SD card, and it supports up to a 32GB card. Droid uses an accelerometer to shift between landscape and portrait modes. It integrates proximity, ambient light, eCompass, and battery temperature sensors. The back camera is 8 megapixels and is accompanied by an LED flash. The front camera is VGA.
Connectivity and Networks
The Droid Bionic is currently on the Verizon network and uses CDMA 800, CDMA 1900, and 4G LTE networks. It supports all the latest bluetooth 2.1 profiles, 802.11N WiFi, and functions as a 4G mobile hotspot for up to 5 other devices. Bionic charges and syncs with a Micro-USB cable. The screen can be mirrored on an HDTV with a Micro-HDMI connector. DLNA can be used on the Bionic to wireless share media with DLNA equipped devices. There is a GPS built in as well as a compass for easy navigation. The maps application zeros in on a location quickly and accurately with a compass arrow in the direction the phone is facing.
Let’s be honest, most of these Android phones are starting to look the same. Like most of the new phones, the Droid Bionic rocks a large 4.3 inch screen touch screen, skinny black borders, and four backlit touch buttons. The frame is a glossy gun metal grey and the entire back is a matte black plastic battery cover. The screen is pretty good with fingerprints but the back of the phone is quick to show greasy hand prints. There are volume buttons along the right side, a power/lock button and headphone jack on the top, and a micro-USB port and micro-HDMI port on the left side. The four touch buttons are menu, home, back, and search. There’s a hump on the top of the phone which measures about 1.5cm thick and it tapers off to a thickness of about 1cm. At 158 grams, most users will be surprised with how light it feels. There’s an LED status light on the top of the phone that blinks green with updates and red on low battery. In-hand, the Bionic has a comfortable feel – but I have a large hand. While it’s thin, it’s still a pretty large phone.
The 4.3″ display is TFT (16M colors) with a qHD resolution of 960×540. It has a corning gorilla glass overlay. The resolution is great, but it’s no retina display. The only time we ever questioned the resolution is looking at a page full of small text. Overall, we’re happy with how the screen looks, the colors are bright and vivid, and the blacks are even pretty good for an LCD. The only real disappointment is that the screen looks washed out when viewing at an angle. The responsiveness of touch is perfect, which is partially do to the latest Android OS and the nice dual-core processor.
Droid Bionic does not have a physical keyboard, it uses Android’s multi-touch keyboard. It also comes Swype pre-installed. Android’s multi-touch default keyboard is very easy to type on when using your phone in portrait mode. It’s a little trickier typing in landscape mode as the screen is so large and the keys are spread apart. Autocorrect and word prediction are very helpful. There is haptic feedback when typing, so when a key is pressed the phone slightly vibrates.
The battery on Droid Bionic was our least favorite feature. With regular usage it needs to be charged by the end of the work day, 5PM. Granted, we left 4G on the whole time, but there’s no easy toggle to shut it off so most people will do the same. The setting to shut off 4G (LTE) is buried a few menus deep. Over USB, which is of course slower than charging with a power adapter, your lucky if it charges 20% an hour. It’s entirely possible to drain the battery with use even while it’s charging over USB. Luckily, the battery is removable, so it might be a good idea to buy another 1735 mAh Lithium Ion battery to carry around. Continuous talk time is supposed to be up to 650 minutes and up to 200 hours of standby time.
Droid Bionic uses an 8-megapixel back camera with an LED flash. By default it will shoot pictures in 6MP to match the screen, but this is easily changed. The camera is easy to use and has a nice interface. The volume buttons function as zoom buttons. There are creative settings and styles that can be chosen to make the most out of your mobile photography. I found that the picture taken deviates from the preview. This worked out for better and for worse, but usually worse. The pictures can come out very nice, but more control over the focusing would be nice. I found most of my shots to not be as vibrant and crisp as I hoped for; more often then not they look a bit washed out. Pictures are generally between 1MB and 2MB. Shooting videos, however, come out extremely nicely. They can be shot at 1080P up to 30 frames per second, and you can output it straight to the big screen to really appreciate the quality. The videos come out as good as you could possibly expect from a cell phone. The front facing camera is VGA (640 x 480) and useful for video chatting or checking out your hair do.
The Droid Bionic is running Android’s Gingerbread operating system (version 2.3.4), which we were happy to see. On top of the Gingerbread interface is Motorola’s custom UI, Motoblur. In addition to all of the standard Google applications like talk, maps, calendar, ebooks, and contact sync, the Bionic comes pre-loaded with Verizon applications like backup assistant, Verizon media manager, and Vcast music. Also included is Citrix Receiver, GoToMeeting, Quickoffice, Motoprint, and Zumocast by Motorola. The browser is Android’s HTML Webkit and it comes with Adobe Flash Player 10. All included widgets are grouped into one folder, and they’re all pretty standard: clocks, toggles, calendar, data usage, news feeds, photo gallery, traffic, universal inbox, weather, tasks, and sticky notes. It comes with two (free) navigation applications with vocal turn-by-turn directions: Google Navigation and Verizon Navigation. Both work very well and will make you a beloved passenger in anyone’s car.
Calling, Data Speeds, and Hot Spots
Our phone calls were all crisp and clear, we’d say better than average. While we were pretty busy playing with every feature to spend much time on the phone, we’re pleased to say we didn’t have any dropped calls. The speakerphone gets just loud enough to hear outside on a busy street. Our data speeds were very impressive, especially on 4G. A lot of our testing was done in New York and Washington D.C. and 4G coverage was excellent. There were few instances where 4G wasn’t available. To see a cell phone with data speeds over 1MB/s was almost mind blowing. Upload speeds were also quite astonishing. Needless to say, websites load at lightening fast speeds and youtube videos begin playing almost instantly. When I used my WiFi iPad in a public location it was much faster to share Droid’s internet with the Hot Spot app than it was to use public WiFi. Bionic can share wireless internet with up to five other devices, and it alerts you of all users that are connected to its hotspot. You can encrypt your network with a WPA2 security password.During our tests we averaged 717.2 kB/s (not to be confused with kbps) down and 180.7 kB/s up. We speed tested our iPhone 4 on ATT in the same exact spots and got 192.9 kB/s down and 70.22 kB/s up. The fastest speeds we hit on Bionic 4G was 1383.4 kB/s down and 722.4 kB/s up.
Android’s come a long way. As an iPhone snob, my main criticism has always been how choppy, and not smooth, everything is in Android. The Droid Bionic had a very smooth and snappy interface, from scrolling between home pages, browsing the web, or checking out the photo gallery. Multi-tasking is a pleasure to use on Android when the device can actually handle all of the background processes running. As for data speeds, we couldn’t be happier. Browsing the web with 4G was a delight on the Bionic, especially with a nice large screen. You can even share the love in a matter of seconds by turning Bionic into a wireless hotspot.
Don’t be surprised if the Bionic exceeds 100º F, this was quite common with heavy 4G usage. Maps was one of our favorite apps on the phone; it’s much quicker and more detailed then it is on iPhone. Also you can’t beat the free voice navigation application. It was nice that a 16gb memory card is included. You can load it up with media and output it straight to your HDTV with a Micro-HDMI cable.As with all Android phones, it takes some time to adjust to the interface and really make your own. Once it’s all set up and personalized, the Droid Bionic is an awesome phone. Our only real issue was the battery life, but get yourself a work charger and/or an extra battery and you should be good! The lightweight body, nice grip, and thin profile offsets the fact that it’s a huge phone — but it really comes down to personal preference. The Droid Bionic for Verizon is currently available for $589.99 without a plan or as little as $149.99 with a two year contract.
The Good: 4G Speeds, Fast Performance, Gingerbread, Hotspots, Great Video Camera, Free Turn-By-Turn Navigation Software
The Bad: Battery Life, Can get Very Hot, Still Photos Are Just Okay, Could Benefit from a Kickstand, Micro-HDMI Cord Would Be Nice