It may not be classy, but the Defy is fun, eye-catching and individual, its big screen and small size making for a great combination
This is Android at its multi-touch, intuitive best - not the very latest iteration, true, but 2.1 ain't bad
The five-megapixel camera with flash isn't outstanding, but it's a surprise on a ruggedised phone to find such high-spec features
And though the processor isn't the fastest around, it performed well
There's enough juice here to last you a full day and a bit
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:59:44 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Neat, distinctive styling, strong features and big screen
Slightly low-rent looking, and processor very occasionally seemed slow
There's no denying it, the Motorola Defy is fun, even if the plastic casing which gives it some of its shock, dust and water-resistance means that it's not the classy Android build we've come to expect from Moto's Milestone or the Samsung Galaxy S. But it's an effective design, the rubbery matte-black front and back set off by the white edge stripe. This zebra effect means it should stand out enough for you to be able to find it whether you drop it in a snowdrift or patch of mud.
Traditionally, ruggedised phones sacrifice pretty much everything in favour of being well-protected, opting for a low-grade screen, hopeless camera or pathetic feature range just so they can boast they're indestructible. While the Defy isn't in the super-protected range of phones like the Sonim Solid Extreme, it's tough enough to survive the clumsiest among us. And it's much more highly featured than other protected handsets. Smart and tough - it's quite a combination.
The Defy is small enough to slip into the pocket unnoticed, though it's a little chunkier than many Android phones. Still, the sloping sides give it a svelte look. It may not be quite as slim as the iPhone 4 but it's noticeably less tall, even though the Defy has the larger screen (3.7-inches). As you'd expect, the edges are all sealed, from the pop-out plugs for the micro USB charger to the 3.5mm headphone jack and the springy volume rocker and power switch on the top edge. The battery cover is held in place with a neat sliding lock affair and the industrial chic of the phone is enhanced by the small edge screws on three sides. The large screen fills the front, with the four Android buttons found in touch-sensitive lights at the base. This is one of Motorola's best designs in a long time.That screen looks pretty good, too. The multi-touch display may not have the vividness of AMOLED, and the colours occasionally look a little washed out, but the resolution is great - 480x 854 pixels. The screen is made from Gorilla Glass, that tough material of the moment which aims to minimise scratches and dings.
So much for the design - how does it perform? Capacitive screens, as you know, work by conducting the electricity in the human body to the display, so it's no surprise that when the screen is wet performance is severely depleted. Anyone who's tried using their iPhone in the rain will have experienced this. But that apart, the phone coped well with the deliberate clumsiness we subjected it to, repeatedly letting it fall to the floor and even into a puddle. It kept going and looked as good as new once it was wiped down.
The Defy has a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash (is this a record on a tough phone?) which is decent enough, although low light seemed more of a problem than on some handsets. Video recording was fine, though not the HD resolution found elsewhere. Well, you can't have everything. This is version 2.1 of Android, since you ask, not the very latest edition, so there are a few bells and whistles it lacks. But it does come with MotoBlur, the accomplished cloud-based social networking aggregator which collects your tweets, Facebook updates and messages together, putting them in adjacent widgets on screen. MotoBlur has been overtaken by the competition recently, but it remains an enjoyable interface, down to details like the blood-red highlight colour throughout. Mind you, those seven screens are busy. One is festooned with contact shortcuts and the icon for recent messages, the next has the media playback widget, and there's a help shortcut to get you used to the phone. And that's before you get to the Contacts, Favourites, Camera and other buttons which have been pre-plonked at the bottom of the various screens. You may not want all of these, but, hey, you can always delete them. And there's a handy bar of toggle switches to turn wi-fi, Bluetooth, GPS and flight mode on and off, which is very welcome.
The Defy doesn't have the latest or fastest 1GHz processor, but the 800MHz model here is no slouch and rarely seemed to be running slowly. Battery life was decent enough, comparing favourably to some of the big-name Android phones and easily lasting you through a full day. If you've ever dropped your phone in a beer glass or down the loo, you'll have wished there was a ruggedised phone that could do as much as your suddenly-defunct smartie. Now there is. Motorola is a company that comes up with surprises: after a bunch of disappointing handsets it produces a new idea from nowhere. A rugged phone with the brains of a computer is certainly one of those.