Motorola Droid Bionic (Verizon Wireless) review: Motorola Droid Bionic (Verizon Wireless)
We've been waiting for the Motorola Droid Bionic for so long that it's been hyped to near-mythical proportions. We first heard tell of the superphone at CES 2011, where Motorola came out with a cavalcade of powerful Android devices that included the Motorola Atrix 4G, the Motorola Xoom, and, of course, the Motorola Droid Bionic. With its dual-core processor, Verizon LTE speeds, HD video recording, HDMI port, and luscious 4.3-inch qHD display, the Droid Bionic was a pioneering handset in many ways.
Since its announcement, however, many other dual-core phones have arrived ahead of it, such as the T-Mobile G2x and Motorola's own Droid X2. The HTC ThunderBolt also beat the Droid Bionic to the punch as Verizon's first 4G LTE phone. The Droid Bionic began to lose its luster, while consumers grew even more impatient for this phone to finally arrive. Even we here at CNET had begun to question whether we would ever see the Droid that has suffered delay after delay.
Nine months later, Motorola is finally ready to give birth. And we have to admit; it was worth the wait. The Droid Bionic that Verizon will have in stores in September is remarkably different from the one we saw in January. The hardware is slimmer, sleeker, and definitely more polished. Indeed, Verizon claims that the Droid Bionic is its thinnest 4G LTE device yet. Also, while there are many dual-core smartphones and Verizon 4G LTE handsets on the market, the Droid Bionic is the first to be both. And we're glad that Motorola wisely shipped the phone with Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread instead of just Android 2.2.
While we've seen its features before on other handsets like the Atrix and the Motorola Photon 4G, we are still impressed by its multimedia capabilities, enterprise-friendly applications, and the powerful Webtop application that helps turn it from a phone into a portable PC with the aid of accessories like a laptop dock. We were reluctant to embrace this overhyped handset, but in the end, we have to say we're very pleased with its power, speed, and style.
The cost of the phone is why we hesitate in recommending it. The Droid Bionic is $299.99 after a two-year contract with Verizon Wireless. If you want the laptop dock accessory, that's another $299.99, though Verizon will knock $100 off that price if you have a data plan of $50 or more per month. The HD Station dock is around $99.99, and the tiny Webtop adapter is the cheapest option at $29.99.
We have to admit that the Bionic's final design was a huge surprise to us. The Droid Bionic we saw at CES 2011 was wide, bulky, and thick. Indeed, the original January prototype was probably more similar to the Photon 4G. Measuring 5 inches long by 2.63 inches wide by 0.43 inch thick, the actual Droid Bionic isn't exactly a tiny handset either, but it's certainly much slimmer. As we mentioned earlier, Verizon claims it is the thinnest LTE handset in its lineup.
Not only is it thinner, the final iteration of the Droid Bionic is also much more attractive. The glass on the display goes from edge to edge with a slight curve at the sides that results in a smooth and sleek appearance. The metallic housing and understated chin add to the phone's polished look. The back is clad in a soft-touch finish with beveled edges. Fans of the Droid series of handsets will recognize the Droid's familiar bump at the top, which adds a touch more bulk, but not much. Indeed, we actually like it, as it provides a little more grip when holding the phone. The Droid Bionic weighs in at 5.6 ounces, which we think is decent considering its size.
The 4.3-inch qHD display on the Droid Bionic is similar to the one we saw on the Droid 3. It's crisp, clear, and colorful. We enjoyed the vibrant graphics and sharp 960x540-pixel resolution. It doesn't pack as much pixel punch as a Super AMOLED display, but we still liked it. The Droid Bionic uses Corning Gorilla glass, which boasts a dual-layer anti-reflective coating. While it did appear a little washed-out under bright sunlight, we were still able to see what was on the screen.
What truly impressed us was how smooth and fast the navigation was. Thanks to the Droid Bionic's 1GHz dual-core processor, screens and pages just flew by as we scrolled and swiped around. We were a little bit surprised that Motorola opted for a TI processor instead of something from Nvidia, but we still thought it was fast. It definitely felt faster than phones with just a single-core processor. Certain applications like the camera and the browser did take just a touch longer to launch, but it wasn't a huge difference. Multitasking was easy and quick as well.
The user interface on the Droid Bionic is very similar to on the Droid 3. Both have a scaled-down version of Motoblur--you get the social-networking widgets and connected gallery, without the required log-in and setup. The main menu is the same, with side-to-side navigation instead of the vertical default. You can read more about the Droid Bionic's Android 2.3 interface in our review of the Droid 3.
Beneath the display are the four Android shortcuts for the menu, home, back, and search functions. On the right is a volume rocker while the Micro-USB port and Micro-HDMI port sit on the left spine. On the top are a 3.5mm headset jack and screen lock/power key. A front-facing VGA camera is above the display. On the back is the camera with a single LED flash. This is a departure from the original Droid Bionic seen at CES 2011, which had a dual Xenon flash.
Verizon Wireless packages the Motorola Droid Bionic with an AC adapter, a USB cable, and reference material. As we mentioned earlier, you can purchase several different accessories to take advantage of the Droid Bionic's Webtop application: a laptop dock, the HD Station, or a Webtop adapter. The laptop dock is the most complete package as it combines a screen and keyboard, along with a couple of USB ports. The HD Station lets you charge the handset and it too has a couple of USB ports and Bluetooth capabilities so you can use a mouse and keyboard, but you have to provide them yourself. The Webtop adapter can only be used with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. With the HD Station and the Webtop adapter, you have to provide your own display. Other optional accessories include a car dock and a normal charging dock. All of these accessories are only for the Droid Bionic and cannot be used with other phones.
Clearly the most compelling reason to get a Droid Bionic is that it combines two speedy technologies in one handset: a dual-core processor plus Verizon's 4G LTE. As we mentioned earlier, navigation certainly felt much snappier than single-core handsets. The phone's 1GB of RAM helped boost performance too.
But it was the Web browser where the 4G LTE speed boost was evident. Motorola packed the browser with HTML 5 support and full Adobe Flash support. With most handsets, this can result in slow page loading on Flash-heavy Web sites, but not so with the Droid Bionic. We loaded up our full CNET.com page in just 7 seconds, with all the Flash and Java ads as well. We were actually able to play Flash videos directly in the browser, with absolutely zero buffering time. We also managed to scroll through Web pages and switch between different tabs without any lag or hesitation. In short, the marriage between the dual-core processor and 4G LTE is a very good one indeed.
Other connectivity options include Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth. You can also use the Droid Bionic as a mobile hot spot for up to five devices with the activation of a Mobile Broadband plan. Other features include a speakerphone, speed dial, voice commands, conference calling, Skype Mobile, and text and multimedia messaging.
The Droid Bionic has an 8-megapixel camera with a single LED flash. We have to admit we're a little disappointed that it's not a dual LED flash, or the dual Xenon flash that we saw at CES. We're also not pleased with a slight shutter lag--if we moved even a little bit, the image would appear a touch blurry. Still, the results impressed us. Photo quality was pretty good. Images looked tack-sharp, and colors were accurate.
The Droid Bionic is also the first 4G LTE handset to have 1080p video recording capabilities, which results in crystal-clear videos that can play back on big high-definition TV screens. This is made even easier because the Droid Bionic has an HDMI mirroring mode, so you can view your phone's contents on the TV. The phone also has DLNA support so you can stream your content to DLNA-compatible devices. We're still testing the video quality at the moment, and we will update this review with that information once we have it. The smartphone has 16GB of internal memory and ships with a 16GB microSD card, though it's capable of accepting 32GB cards.
As we mentioned, the Droid Bionic ships with Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread, which means it gets benefits like a great multitouch virtual keyboard. If you would rather have Swype, it comes with that too. Of course, you still get access to all of Google's mobile services like Gmail, Google Maps Navigation, YouTube, Google Talk, Books, Places, Latitude, and Google Search with voice. The Droid Bionic is also compatible with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync so you can sync corporate e-mail, tasks, and calendars.
Other software and apps preloaded on the Droid Bionic include the Quickoffice Suite, the Amazon Kindle app for Android, Slacker, Blockbuster, and VideoSurf. Motorola also added its own ZumoCast app, which lets you remotely access your documents and media files as long as you have the companion app installed on either your Mac or PC. Motorola also preinstalled Motoprint for printing via Wi-Fi-enabled printers. As the Droid Bionic is a Verizon phone, it has a variety of different Verizon service apps like V Cast Music, Videos, Tones, Media Manager, and VZ Navigator. You can remove some but not all of the preloaded apps.
One of the more powerful features of the phone is the Webtop application, which is similar to the one on the Atrix 4G. Simply dock the Droid Bionic in one of the three accessories mentioned earlier (laptop dock, HD Station, or Webtop adapter), and you can access the Webtop platform. The interface is similar to that of a Netbook, and it has several Webtop-only applications like Firefox. For more on the Webtop platform, please read our review of the Atrix 4G. You can also use the Webtop platform for creating and editing office documents, which is a great feature for business users.
Indeed, Motorola claims the Droid Bionic is "business-ready," with features like resizable and scrollable e-mail, calendar syncing, and advanced security policies that enable you to encrypt both the device and the SD card. It has remote wipe capabilities for the device and the SD card as well.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; LTE B13 700) Motorola Droid Bionic in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless. Call quality was decent, but it had a few flaws. On our end, we experienced solid call quality, with good volume and natural-sounding voices. We heard very little background noise.
Motorola Droid Bionic call quality sample Listen now:
Quality was slightly more mixed on the other end. While callers could certainly hear us loud and clear, there was a tiny bit of distortion that prevented the call from sounding perfect. Callers also heard the occasional crackle, and voice quality was a little robotic. Speakerphone calls were all right, though callers said the echo effect was more pronounced.
As we mentioned earlier, the 4G LTE speeds were very impressive. We'll have to get back with more thorough tests, but initial testing showed very fast page loading and speedy downloads.
The Motorola Droid Bionic ships with a 1730mAH lithium ion battery that promises battery life of 10.8 hours of talk time and 10.4 days of standby time.
We have to admit that we didn't want to like the Motorola Droid Bionic. After so many months of waiting, we were prepared to be disappointed. After all, when the Droid Bionic was first announced, dual-core phones were rare and 4G LTE phones were nonexistent, and the market has changed considerably since then. Yet, we found a lot to love about the Droid Bionic. Its new sleek hardware is really quite attractive, and is miles better than the original edition we saw at CES in January. Its feature set is admirable too, with great multimedia capabilities and enterprise-friendly features. Performance is where this phone shines, with speedy navigation and zippy browsing. We also like its Webtop application, though we don't like the fact that you have to spend a lot for the required accessories. The Droid Bionic itself costs around $299.99 after a two-year service agreement with Verizon Wireless, which is already quite expensive.