While other phones are going large, Motorola is taking things in a different direction: small and tough.
The new Motorola Defy is a compact Android phone that wisely eschews the gigantism of other smartphones. Instead of the HTC Evo’s 4.3-inch screen or the Dell Streak’s 5-incher (please!), the Defy, which is available now from T-Mobile in the United States, has a cute little 3.6-inch display with 480 x 854 pixels. It’s small and pocketable — shorter (but thicker) than an iPhone 4 and it’s light, weighing just 4 ounces.
Despite its diminutive size, the Defy goes big in one important area: its resistance to water and grit. The case is water-resistant and the screen is made of scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass, a hardened material found in a few other recent phones. If you’ve ever dropped your phone in the toilet, spilled a beer on it or pulled it out of your pocket along with half a pound of sand after a day at the beach, you’ll understand the appeal of these two features.
There are some caveats. The tiny rubber flaps that cover the headphone jack and the USB port have to be in place. And unlike the makers of watches and other truly waterproof gear, Motorola hasn’t published a water-resistance rating, which means they don’t actually expect you to dunk it in the toilet. That said, I tested it by pouring a half pint of beer on it, yelling, “Dude, you spilled beer on my phone!” and then washing it off under a vigorously flowing kitchen tap. The Defy suffered no ill effects.
As a phone, it’s light, compact and capable. Talk time was a very respectable 5.5 hours, and sound quality seemed excellent for both listener and speaker. T-Mobile offers a Wi-Fi calling option, so you can place your calls using a local hotspot instead of the nearest T-Mobile cell tower. While you still use up your plan’s minutes this way, I found it was a great way to get a crystal-clear call even in a weak coverage area.
The Defy comes with the Android skin that Motorola puts on all of its phones, Motoblur. Some people might like the enhancements this offers, such as home-screen widgets that collect tweets and Facebook status updates from your social circle, but I found it mostly useless.
The phone’s default text-entry method, a Swype-enhanced virtual keyboard, is worse than useless: It actually slowed me down significantly and nearly caused me to test the phone’s impact resistance against a wall. (There’s no physical QWERTY in this soapbar-shaped phone.) Switching to the default Android keyboard and removing a handful of Motoblur widgets went a long way toward making me feel better about the phone’s interface.
The processor is a relatively speedy 800-MHz TI OMAP 3610, and the phone has 512 MB of RAM plus 2 GB of built-in memory and a 2-GB microSD card (expandable to 32 GB). That’s more than enough to handle the phone’s basics, plus most apps you’re likely to throw at it. There’s an FM radio, aGPS, Bluetooth support, DLNA compatibility and a laundry list of other useful features.
Other aspects of the phone weren’t as stellar. That small size comes with a price, and that is a screen that may seem cramped, especially for people used to bigger displays. Size also limits the space for a battery, curtailing the phone’s useful life: In a day of reasonably steady use, the Defy’s battery was nearly dry within about 12 hours.
The camera is, in a word, meh, taking middling pictures despite its 5-megapixel resolution. The LED “flash” is about as bright as a lightning bug, casting a pale glow over subjects a few feet away but useless further out than that.
And the OS is Android 2.1, aka Eclair, which means you don’t get tasty FroYo features like built-in tethering — the one feature I was really hoping to get from this little smartphone.
With those limitations in mind, the Defy is a sturdy, unassuming, practical phone that’s rugged enough to withstand a night on the town, or a day at the beach, no matter how many beers you down. I’ll drink to that.
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