Motorola DEFY Review

I haven’t tested a Motorla handset for a few months now, but the last two that I tried were the Droid, which I disliked, and the DEXT which somehow endeared itself to me.

The former felt somewhat rushed and unfit to hold it’s title as a heavyweight smartphone. It was sluggish, bulky, ugly had an unforgivably poor keyboard and ran a version of Android that left a little to be desired: admittedly not least of all because software support was immature in those early days.

The DEXT and it’s Motoblur UI, however, was a rather different experience. The keyboard was almost spot on, and the phone was aptly positioned as entry-level, and it delivered on the few promises it made, resulting in a nice, comfortably sized little handset which I found hard to fault.

The DEFY seems to follow on with this trend, offering up a diminuative and lightweight handset that makes no lofty promises and doesn’t shoot for the top. The DEFY, however, has a few tricks up it’s sleeve, separating it aside from the crowd and making it, in my opinion, a worthwhile punt.

First and foremost, and it’s namesake, the DEFY is built to “defy” the elements. In simple terms this means that it’s water resistant, shock resistant, scratch resistant and dust resistant. All of these are good things to have in a phone, and the one comment I hear over and over again when it comes to smartphones is: “if they can make them so smart, why can’t they make them durable?”

Motorola has stepped up to the plate and produced a phone that, whilst not exactly special in it’s appearance, delivers on that request. Traditionally any waterproof or durable phones have been fairly slim on features and somewhat on the bulky side. Sonim have made some fantastic examples which amount to dumb-phones but could be used to smash the DEFY into smithereens if the fancy took you.

The DEFY isn’t indestructible but, as Motorola put it, is “life proof.” It can handle abuse and accidental submersion, but you’re not going to want to take it swimming, attempt to drive over it with your car or boil it in a kettle.

Aesthetically the DEFY doesn’t differ much from any other average phone out there. What you will notice however is that it makes no special effort to be attractive. The rubber bungs which protect the headphone and charging ports betray it’s ruggedness, and it doesn’t repel water quite so well without these firmly in place. In fact, if you don’t get into the habit of pushing them securely back into place then an accidental drop into a puddle would likely be as fatal to the DEFY as any other phone.

With them in place, however, it does a stellar job of protecting itself from most normal water related accidents. I’m not going to put it into a washing machine, it doesn’t look convincingly rugged enough for me to attempt that. And I’m not going to boil it in a kettle; the treatment we gave the decidedly more durable but dumber Sonim XP3. However, I have tossed the DEFY into a bathtub full of water and been pleasantly surprised that it kept working, rather than fizzling out and succumbing to the water that surrounded it.

This means that Facebook in the shower is entirely possible if that’s your cup of tea. Personally I like a spot of music or a Podcast to curb my compulsive shower singing habits, but a waterproof smartphone is rife with other possibilities.

If the DEFY can withstand some tentative but full submersion then I feel pretty confident in confirming it’s water resistance. Other journalists have taken it beyond it’s limits (theoretically it should be water proof to a depth of 1 meter) and, predictably, it failed. But if you drop it in a puddle, a bath or, god forbid, the loo you can confidently rinse it off, dry it with a towel and continue using it as if nothing happened… Although you might want to involve a bit of soap if the latter should occur.

A rugged smartphone isn’t worth a damn if it isn’t smart, and that’s where the DEFY is pleasantly surprising. It punches above it’s weight and delivers performance that is nothing short of impressive for such a small and seemingly innocuous device. The DEFY comes in well above the Droid, which it should due to being a year or so newer, and is purported to have a 1GHz OMAP chip at it’s core- which I don’t doubt for a second.

3D games play smoothly and emulators work a treat with a short blast of Zelda on Robert Broglia’s SNES 9X EX being smooth as butter and working a treat with the iControlPad after a little hassle setting it up with BlueZ IME ( yes, I had to namedrop the iControlPad! )

Even Playstation 1 games play a treat in FPSe, and N64 titles whilst sluggish do a good job of showing off just how much grunt this little phone is concealing.

Navigating through menus is as responsive as you could like, and the experience should stay pretty sharp if you keep your eye on tasks running in the background and avoid bogging the phone down.

If MotoBlur isn’t your thing, it’s easy enough to grab Launcher+ or your launcher of choice and run it instead. Personally I found MotoBlur to be quite handy, what the prevalence of social networks these days it can’t hurt to be connected. A little more complex, but entirely possible, is the total replacement of Android on the DEFY with a slightly leaner alternative ROM. If you don’t know what on earth I’m talking about, don’t worry; the procedure is definitely not for you!

Overall the DEFY is a brilliant Android offering, delivering a surprising amount of performance in an unassuming little package that’ll survive the elements- as long as you leave the rubber bungs in place. It doesn’t take more than a quick glance at stores to find the DEFY leaving satisfied customers in it’s wake, aside from leagues of buyers who seem to have enountered ongoing problems with the speaker failing- I haven’t encountered any such problems myself.

The DEFY is an absolute steal at £230, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed tinkering with it.