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Motorola Defy XT (U.S. Cellular) review:

Motorola Defy XT (U.S. Cellular)

To its credit, the Motorola Defy XT emerged from these trials unscathed and in perfect working order. My attempts to mar the screen with the business end of a metal key were also futile. To be clear, though, Motorola doesn't claim the phone can handle drops from any height and if the company did, I wouldn't believe it. I've cracked enough Gorilla Glass displays to know that all it takes is one lucky corner strike for you to begin a very bad day.

With a 5-megapixel main camera, don't bet on taking award-winning photos with the Motorola Defy XT. The handset captures images slowly and lacking crisp details. This is especially true under low-light conditions; pictures I snapped in dark environs were murky and exhibited lots of color noise. The flash tended to blow out subjects in the foreground, so I don't recommend that tactic either.

Motorola Defy XT
The camera has a modest selection of scene modes and color filters. Sarah Tew/CNET

That said, while still-life shots indoors were far from crisp, colors looked natural and exposed correctly, with the camera selecting the correct white-balance setting.

Motorola Defy XT
Colors were natural but details weren't crisp in still-life shots. Brian Bennett/CNET

Outside, or indoors with enough illumination, image quality was acceptable. Colors though weren't very saturated even in strong sunlight. The Defy XT's camera, which ranges from QVGA resolution to 5MP, boasts a modest selection of scene modes and color filters. Notable settings include Action, Night, Sunset, and Steady Photo plus typical filters for Sepia, Solarize, Negative, and Aqua, to name a few.

Motorola Defy XT
Detail in shadows was visible but colors were flat. Brian Bennett/CNET
Indoor shots with enough light came out fine. Brian Bennett/CNET

Video quality was very low: the movies I shot at the camcorder's highest setting (800x400) were extremely blocky and choppy, with clipped audio.

The Motorola Defy XT might be a tank, but it also drives like one. Powered by an ancient single-core 1GHz Snapdragon S1 processor paired with a small 512MB allotment of RAM, the phone felt very sluggish and practically lurched through menus and applications. The device's low Linpack (single-thread) score of 24.98 MFLOPs completed in a long 3.36 seconds confirmed my suspicions. There's a reason why Motorola chooses not to disclose the make and model of the Defy XT's CPU. (However, the HTC One V's showing of 33.6 MFLOPs on the same test wasn't much higher.)

Call quality on the Defy XT for U.S. Cellular, roaming on Sprint's CDMA network, was mediocre but not outstanding. Callers reported that my voice sounded clear but compressed and they could easily tell I was dialing from a mobile phone. To me, voices on the other end came through without distortion, but volume was not very high even at the phone's maximum setting.

Motorola rates the Defy XT's 1,650mAh battery as providing 5 hours and 30 minutes of talk time. In my anecdotal tests, the phone struggled to play a video file for 8 hours and 56 minutes. That said, the playback stuttered the whole way through.

Another thing to consider is that the Defy XT is limited to 3G cellular data, so it won't surf the Web with any speed unless you connect it to a Wi-Fi network. Download throughput hovered around 0.7Mbps while uploads barely cracked 0.6Mbps.

There's no denying that there's a real need for tough mobile phones, since these devices tend to take a lot of abuse on the go. Certainly the $99.99 Motorola Defy XT is a big improvement over rugged handsets that came before it. Its compact and classy styling doesn't scream armor-plated like, sa,y the Casio G'zone Commando or even Motorola's previous Defy model. Still, the Defy XT's archaic components won't just be a buzz-kill for hard-core Android users who demand cutting-edge power. Average users too will be unsatisfied by the Defy XT's slow performance tackling everyday tasks.

If you're shopping for a highly portable Android phone on U.S. Cellular and for you, features play second fiddle to ruggedness, the $129.99 HTC One V boasts a better camera and a stylish metal design, plus it runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. And of course, those who have money to burn should strongly consider the current Android king of the hill, the $299.99 Samsung Galaxy S3. Even so, if you're set on buying an Android handset for U.S. Cellular that can really take a licking, the Motorola Defy XT is your best option.

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