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Motorola Defy Mini review: Motorola Defy Mini

Motorola's promise of a "life-proof" Defy should resonate with the clumsy and active, alike, but it is worth considering some of the other, better phones in this price range.

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Joseph Hanlon
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Joseph Hanlon

Special to CNET News

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.

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4 min read

Design

The Defy is back, this in its third iteration, and though it's mostly the same old Defy we've become familiar with over the years, the new Defy Mini certainly looks like its growing up. The changes between this newer model and previous versions are subtle, but the Defy certainly looks slightly more business-like this year. The plugs in the phone's various ports, necessary for waterproofing, are now more flush with the edges of the handset, and there is an external speaker grille running along the length of the screen, along the bottom, which looks pretty slick.

motorola-defy-mini_1.jpg
7.2

Motorola Defy Mini

The Good

Water resistant, dust and shock proof. Slick redesign. Decent battery life.

The Bad

Low-quality camera. Sluggish performance.

The Bottom Line

Motorola's promise of a "life-proof" Defy should still resonate with the clumsy and active alike, but it is worth considering some of the other, better, phones in this price range.

For its AU$199 asking price (locked to Optus), you'll get a 3.2-inch colour touchscreen with a WQVGA (320x480 pixels) resolution. This is the standard in this price range, with similar screens on the HTC Explorer and Wildfire S, for example. This size and resolution is fine; it's perfectly usable, but you'll want to hold it away from your face to blur the rough edges of some of the icons and images.

As is common with the Defy range, this handset is designed to weather the elements, which is the demise of so many smartphones. On the back of the phone, you'll find a neat locking device, which keeps the battery cover snugly attached to the rest of the chassis. In fact, taking the battery cover off is a real mission and will be bothersome for users looking to hot-swap micro-SD memory cards in this phone (though we suspect that this is a pretty unpopular practice these days). Our review unit came with a 2GB memory card, though, if you plan to take a bunch of music with you, you'll want to budget for a larger card.

User Experience and performance

One of the big differences between the Defy+ and the newer Mini, is the update to Motorola's Android user interface. Between the older and newer Defys, Motorola launched the Razr, complete with a new-look user experience. This carries over to the Defy Mini, and the phone is better for it. The icon design is much more attractive and some of Motorola's own widgets are very clever. We especially like the frequently used apps widget, which populates itself as you use the phone.

The UI runs smoother than the older software on last year's phone, but it's still pretty sluggish. Motorola opts for a 600MHz processor and 512 RAM to power the Defy Mini, and while we understand that there are costs to keep down, this just isn't enough power to make the most of Android. Media playback is stunted, with the phone avoiding 720p video files, and owners of the Mini will need to pick their games wisely, as the Mini does not like games that require too much, graphically.

Battery life is good though; we ran a test, which loads web pages continuously at short intervals, and the Defy Mini maintained this activity on a Wi-Fi network for over five and a half hours. This equates to an average of one day and a half of moderate use, between charges.

Compared to

Motorola Defy Mini Samsung Galaxy Ace Huawei Vision HTC Incredible S
600MHz processor
512MB RAM
800MHz processor
278MB RAM
1GHz processor
512MB RAM
1GHz processor
512MB RAM
3.2-inch
320x480 pixel
3.5-inch
320x480 pixel
3.7-inch
800x480 pixel
4-inch
800x480 pixel
Android Gingerbread Android Gingerbread Android Gingerbread Android Gingerbread
AU$199 (locked to Optus)* AU$206 (locked to Optus)* AU$279 Outright* AU$332 (locked to Optus)*

*Prices correct at the time of writing, but likely to change.

Camera

As is with many phones in this price range, the camera is well below par. Our test photos all looked pretty shabby, regardless of the lighting conditions we took them in. Pictures are noisy, with clear pixelation. Colour reproduction is a mess with oversaturated elements co-mingling with washed-out hues. There is no auto-focus feature either, so the photos are often soft, but, at least, this makes photo-taking somewhat faster. The results are OK to send to other phones or post online, but not to be trusted for special moments.

(Credit: CBSi)

(Credit: CBSi)

Features

Motorola enters the Defy Mini into the budget smartphone range at a time when there are plenty of options for the well-versed tech shopper. Though, Motorola does sweeten the deal, compared to some of the lesser known brands. We especially like that you get full wireless media sharing capabilities in such a cheap handset. Using two different pre-installed apps — MediaSee and Media Server — one streams media from your phone and the other can display media stored remotely, on a DLNA-compatible device.

The Defy Mini also includes a neat exercise app called Instrument Dashboard, which rolls a pedometer, a calorie burning counter and a stopwatch, into one display. Google Maps is also part of the tool and there is an "SOS" function, in case you need assistance.

Overall

The Defy Mini includes a few neat features, uncommon at this price point, and the "life-proof" promise should resonate with the physically active and incessantly clumsy, alike. Though, we do think Motorola has cut a few too many corners in getting this handset to market on budget. The processor really isn't sufficient and it makes the user experience feel sluggish. It also, ultimately, impacts on what this phone is capable of, like gaming and media playback, even though everyday tasks are fine.

You do have plenty of options at this price point, too. The Huawei Vision might be slightly more expensive, but it offers a larger, clearer screen and faster, general performance. Samsung offers the Galaxy Ace and Galaxy Gio in this category, and if your budget stretches an extra AU$100, you can pick up the HTC Incredible S or the Nokia Lumia 610. None of these alternatives are water resistant or dust proof, but they are better options if performance matters.

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