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Motorola Defy+ review: Motorola Defy+

If you're looking for a phone that can survive your "Xtreme" lifestyle, then the Defy+ is at the top of its game. But it's a shame that this rugged exterior doesn't protect a better smartphone experience.

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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.

4 min read

As Motorola launches its second Defy, its second verse is same as the first, with tweaks to the software and a faster processor marking the major changes between the Defy+ and its precursor. But is this enough 12 months on?

motorola-defy-plus_1.jpg
7.2

Motorola Defy+

The Good

Excellent rugged casing. Android 2.3. Good display for a prepaid handset.

The Bad

Sluggish-feeling performance. Camera could be better. MotoBlur still too demanding.

The Bottom Line

If you're looking for a phone that can survive your "Xtreme" lifestyle, then the Defy+ is at the top of its game. But it's a shame that this rugged exterior doesn't protect a better smartphone experience.

Design

We're not kidding when we say that the Defy+ is physically the same phone as the original Defy. However, age has not wearied them, and this new design seems as fresh and unique in 2011 amongst the year's similar-looking touchscreen smartphones. The sturdy body feels as rugged as its IP67 rating suggests (indicating that its waterproof, dust proof and shock proof), with exposed screws and latches giving the Defy+ a nice, industrial feel.

Last year's Defy beside this year's Defy+: she hasn't updated her Twitter profile pic in 12 months?
(Credit: Motorola/CBSi)

The 3.7-inch display should be sufficient for most everyday smartphone use, though we do wish it was a bit brighter and more colourful. The viewing angles are fine, and the touchscreen works well, but it just looks a bit dark, even with the screen brightness pushed up.

Motorola covers the phone's two exposed ports with stiff plastic plugs, to keep water and grit out of the phone's sensitive bits. Under these port covers, you'll find a standard headphone socket and a micro-USB port, though no HDMI socket like the one you'll find on all other Motorola releases this year. Motorola positions the microSD card slot under the battery, which should keep it safe from water, but it means that you'll need to restart the phone if you want to change it.

User experience

We mentioned earlier that Motorola had tweaked the software between Defy releases, but we wanted to expand on this by saying that it has not tweaked it nearly enough. There are a few nice usability enhancements, but over all this is the same Motorola Android overlay that we saw on the Defy last year and the Atrix earlier this year, and the results in the user experience are disappointing. This system is still bogged down by the non-optional MotoBlur account-management system, and, even with the faster processor, the Defy's interface feels really sluggish. Beyond performance, though, the system looks drab, with its brown-coloured iconography and dully designed widgets.

There are a few nice usability tweaks worthy of a mention, though; changes that mark a shift in performance you'll see very soon in the much-updated Motorola software on the new Razr smartphone. The app drawer now has a Groups filter option, letting you see only apps that you have used recently, downloaded or categorised manually. We also like that Motorola continues to add a Swype keyboard option to its Android smartphones — there is still no faster way to accurately compose messages, in our opinion.

Camera

Last year's Defy packed a camera that we thought was worth talking about, taking photos in focus and with good colour reproduction and sharp detail. This year's effort is off the mark, however, with photos consistently showing soft focus, and the image sensor struggling with strong light sources and bleeding colour across images.

Colour bleeding around the restaurant's sign is something we saw too often when photographing strong light sources.
(Credit: CBSi)

Predictably, the Defy works well in optimal lighting conditions, like outdoors under strong natural light. This fits with Motorola's "Summer Proof" campaign, we suppose, but it will disappoint those of us who like to back up a hot day at the beach with a night out in bars and clubs. The Defy's camera will only passably capture these late-night adventures.

Under natural light, the Defy+ does a great job of seeing colours and shadows.
(Credit: CBSi)

The 5-megapixel camera will only capture in QVGA resolution, and the results will look pretty blocky and jerky on any device with a screen larger than a smartphone. It does have a slow-motion shooting mode, though, which would be a nice touch for the extreme sports types, except that the slow-motion effect further spoils the video it shoots.

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