After 9 months, the Droid Bionic by Motorola is here. Motorola and Verizon first teased us with the Bionic at the CES trade show in January 2011, and since then Moto has gone back to the drawing board, to make their flagship phone more competitive and attractive. The smartphone business is a fast moving world, and much can change in 6 months. In the Droid Bionic's case, the phone got a cleaner, slimmer design and a 1GHz TI dual core CPU rather than the commonplace, though capable, dual core 1GHz Tegra 2. This Android smartphone is fast both in terms of 4G data speeds and CPU performance. It's well built, has good battery life and a sharp display. Is it Verizon's best LTE 4G phone yet? We'd say so, with a nod to Samsung's Droid Charge for its fantastic Super AMOLED Plus display.
The Droid Bionic looks much like the Droid X2, in fact it's basically a souped-up LTE 4G version of the Droid X2. It has the same soft touch back with a tapered design that rises in the camera area, a qHD 4.3" touchscreen and an 8 megapixel rear camera. The Bionic has a gig of RAM vs. 512 megs in the X2 (it needs more RAM to power the Webtop OS used with dock accessories), a CPU brand change, more internal storage, a larger battery (LTE needs more power) and a front video chat camera.
Like the Motorola Atrix 4G, the Bionic works with dock accessories and the Webtop software that turns the smartphone into a laptop of sorts. In fact, Motorola has really gone to town with expansion options, and there are 5 docks available for the Bionic. The most flashy and interesting is the Lapdock that's an 11.6" laptop minus the brains. As with the Atrix, the Bionic is the brain literally behind the Lapdock, providing the CPU, graphics processing and storage for the setup. The Bionic sits in a small cradle at the back of the Lapdock, and automatically switches to Webtop, which has a file manager, desktop, email and the Firefox 4 web browser. It sells for $300, which is more reasonable than AT&T's price for the Atrix Lapdock (no, they're not interchangeable), and you can get it for $200 if you sign up for a contract with a $50 or higher data plan.
There are several more affordable dock solutions including a $99 HD Multimedia dock and a $30 Webtop adapter that connects to the phone's micro USB and micro HDMI ports (as do all the docks) and turns Webtop on, for those who want to provide their own display and Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. When connected to one of these docks, the Droid Bionic indeed rules all machines, at least the phone variety that can't morph into a computer-surrogate. Webtop isn't a full-featured operating system in its own right, but it can run all your installed Android apps in a window to make up for the bare bones selection of Webtop apps.
Design and Display
The Droid Bionic feels weighty in a pleasing way, and it looks like a good quality piece of hardware. Its casing is primarily plastic, but the soft touch finish and smoked chrome surround impart a quality esthetic. The front is a huge slab of Gorilla Glass, and this is a large phone. Verizon's LTE phones haven't been petite, largely because they sport big displays and high end components inside.
Deals and Shopping:
The front capacitive buttons work well, but the side volume controls are small and a bit hard to operate. The 3.5mm stereo jack is sensibly located up top and the micro USB and micro HDMI ports are on the left side. We noted a low volume high pitched whine when using a variety of wired headphones, and Motorola expects to have a software fix in November for this issue. The microSD card slot is under the back cover, stacked above the LTE SIM card slot. You don't need to remove the battery to access the included 16 gig card, but you do have to pull the battery to remove the SIM card (not that there's generally a reason to pull the LTE SIM card).
The phone, though large, is very easy to operate one-handed. The capacitive buttons and display are all within reach of your thumb, with no contortion needed.
The Bionic has a 4.3", 960 x 540 pixel capacitive multi-touch Gorilla Glass touch screen. That's currently the highest resolution available on Android phones, and it's a good match for the display size in terms of font sizes and image rendering. It's a PenTile display, which I know a few of you dislike, but we find it plenty good enough. Like most recent high end Moto Android displays, it's very bright, has very high contrast and a cool color bias (whites tend toward blue rather than yellow). The cool colors can make things look a little stark (human flesh lacks warmth), but it's really a matter of personal preference. The display isn't as super-saturated as Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus used on the Droid Charge.
4G LTE and Calling
Motorola knows how to make phones, and we've come to expect very good voice quality as well as strong reception. The Droid Bionic delivers very good voice quality with good noise reduction, but reception on LTE is just average. Average isn't a bad thing, but this isn't one of those Moto phones that could get an LTE signal in a lead-lined box. 3G EV-DO Rev. A and 1x reception on the other hand are excellent.
We did note a bug that seems to rear its ugly head with Verizon LTE phones: if you're in a marginal 4G coverage area and the phone switches back and forth between LTE and 3G, it may lose the data connection completely, requiring a reboot or toggling flight mode on and off. Motorola has promised to fix this in an update, but there's no ETA on that fix.
Data speeds on Verizon Wireless' 4GLTE network were as usual impressive. We averaged 18 megs down and 2.9 megs up according to Speedtest.net with a 3 out of 5 bar signal in the DFW metro region. Web pages obviously download quickly at those speeds; Adobe Flash content doesn't pause frequently to buffer and Netflix plays well. The Bionic can act as a mobile hotspot that shares its 4G/3G connection over WiFi for an additional $20/month.
If you buy the Bionic with a contract, Verizon will require that you add a data plan, and these range from $30/month for 2 gigs of data to 10 gigs for $80/month (mobile hotspot increases your data allowance by 2 gigs and costs an additional $20/month). Beware: LTE is like using WiFi, and it's easy to consume lots of data. If you go to town streaming movies or consuming other high bandwidth content, you'll easily go through 5 gigs in a month. So use WiFi when you can if you want to avoid higher data plan pricing tiers. That said, when Verizon first introduced LTE phones, they offered special data plan pricing of $30/month for unlimited (really unlimited) data. I picked up a Bionic at the beginning of October 2011, and customer service offered me that plan, so you might get lucky.
Horsepower and Performance
In terms of perceived performance, the Droid Bionic feels fast, and can handle Webtop handily when docked. Even with Motorola's custom software running on top of Gingerbread, the phone doesn't pause or lag with several apps running in the background. It handles Adobe Flash well and does well with 3D games. Among the handful of Verizon 4G LTE Android smartphones (HTC Thunderbolt, Droid Charge by Samsung and the LG Revolution), the Droid Bionic is the only dual core, and is the fastest.
Motorola Droid Bionic Video Review
Motoblur hasn't received a whole lotta love, and Motorola's recent high end Android phones run toned down versions of Motoblur minus the name. The broad social network and email support with contacts integration is here, as are some of Motorola's widgets. The widgets no longer hog the screen as they did on mid-tier Motoblur phones, and the UI customization is subtle: you get Motorola's square app icons, a launcher strip on the home screen and a side-swipeable app palette. Motorola does a good job of integrating online services and social networking, but their UI doesn't improve on the basic Android experience (nor does it detract).
Motorola includes both business and pleasure titles like Motoprint, Citrix, GoToMeeting, ZumoCast for file sharing with your desktop, and VideoSurf, which attempts to identify videos using the camera and then provide you with related videos and info. ZumoCast is particularly cool and useful: it's basically a remote access app that gives you access to your computer's files, and it can stream multimedia (videos, music) including iTunes playlists. It's extremely easy to set up, works with both Mac OS X and Windows and it works very well. It starts with a default selection of folders like My Documents and your iTunes settings folder, and you can add (and remove) folders from any mounted drive.
Motorola's cameras haven't impressed us, but the Droid X2 and Droid Bionic's cameras are sharp 8 megapixel shooters. Images have a high contrast, super-sharp look that's a bit stark, but there's plenty of detail and not too much artifacting. Moto seems to like cool colors, and like the display, the camera favors cool colors. That's fine for landscapes with plenty of blues and greens, but humans look a little pallid. Still, it's one of the better camera phones on the market, and it can shoot 1080p video in MP4 format that's reasonably smooth with good detail and modest blockiness. Our only wish? That the photo shoot time were quicker. There are 3rd party utilities that can speed things up (not free) so we know it's not a hardware issue.
Click on the sample photo to see a larger version.
Battery life is never a cheery subject with LTE phones, but Motorola's aggressive power management and the relatively large 1735 mAh Lithium Ion battery put up a good fight. While Verizon's first LTE phone, the HTC Thunderbolt had trouble making it past mid-day, the Bionic can last until you get home from work. That's assuming average use; if you spend your workday hiding in a corner cubicle and playing YouTube and Netflix for hours, don't expect it to last until dinner. Standby times were very good in LTE coverage areas, and the phone should last a week in standby. Verizon claims up to 10.8 hours of talk time, which is somewhat optimistic. In our tests we managed just over 8 hours.
Motorola and Verizon offer a 2760 mAh extended battery that turns the trim Bionic into a thicker but not obese version of itself. The extended battery comes with a new back cover that accommodates the larger cell. You can also buy a $30 inductive charging back if you own a PowerMat or equivalent, and there's a battery dock that can charge both the phone and a spare battery simultaneously.
No doubt, the Droid Bionic by Motorola is Verizon's fastest phone with its dual core processor and LTE 4G combo. Despite 9 months of marketing and excitement, it's not a world-changing phone, but we put it at the top of Verizon's lineup of Android smartphones. The Bionic is especially appealing to those who like to accessorize and find the idea of turning a 4.3" phone into a laptop substitute using the $300 Lapdock exciting. We like the looks, solid build quality, sharp display and good battery life by LTE standards. We know that some of you will miss the Droid Charge's supremely vivid Super AMOLED Plus display, but that's the price you have to pay for a dual core CPU. The Droid Bionic by Motorola is definitely our top pick on Verizon Wireless as of this writing.
Price: $299 with a 2 year contract, $589 without contract
Display:4.3" capacitive multi-touch PenTile display. Resolution:
qHD 960 x 540, supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer. Has an ambient light and proximity sensor.
Battery:1735 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
2760 mAh extended battery available separately.
Performance:1GHz dual core TI OMAP4430 ARM9 family CPU. 1 gig RAM, 16 gigs internal storage.
x 2.8 x 0.4 inches. Weight: 5.6 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with 3G EV-DO Rev. A and 4G LTE.
GPS: Has GPS with aGPS and digital compass. Comes with Google Maps and Navigation and VZ Navigator.
Camera:VGA front video chat camera and 8MP autofocus rear camera with LED flash. Rear camera can shoot 1080p video at 30fps with mono audio. 4x digital zoom.
Audio and Multimedia:Built
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Has micro HDMI 1.4 port.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR.
Software:Android OS 2.3.4 Gingerbread with Motoblur software (social networking and email account integration, widgets and custom UI). Standard Google apps including search, Maps, Navigation, YouTube, web browser, email, gmail, Books and Gallery. 3rd party and Motorola apps: Citrix, DLNA, Blockbuster, Kindle, GoToMeeting, Quickoffice, Slacker, VideoSurf, Voice Command (Nuance), CityID, ZumoCast and Motoprint. Verizon software: VZ Navigator, My Verizon Mobile, NFL Mobile, V Cast Media, V Cast Music, V Cast Tones and V Cast Videos.