Motorola Defy Pro

Posted by

A one-off Motorola phone that is designed to look like a BlackBerry Bold 9900 running an old version of Android may seem like an odd full-time phone for me, but after exclusive use for two weeks, I’m surprisingly impressed by this small, tough, and extremely long-lived $250 Android phone.

My requirements for a good cell phone are getting trickier and trickier all the time. Here’s the current list:

  • “Small” (4″ screen or smaller)
  • Light
  • Tough
  • Good build quality
  • Great battery life (at least 6AM to midnight)
  • WiFi hotspot capabilities
  • Elegant OS (Android 4+, webOS, BB10 hopefully)
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • 32GB+ or uSD slot
  • FM radio
  • Reasonably fast
  • Elegant and efficient calendar
  • Ability to sync to gmail calendar and contacts
  • Gtalk and jabber client that can run in the background
  • Dropbox integration
  • Decent 5MP+ autofocus camera
  • The ability to browse with many tabs, and SSH in a pinch

As you can see, this is not a short list. I currently own a Palm Pre 3, a Sony Xperia Pro, Mini Pro, and a Galaxy Nexus and LG Windows 7 Phone for testing.   I recently sold a BlackBerry 9810, which was as close to a default phone as I get.   I did this to get ready for BBOS10 and because of the acquisition of the Pre3.  It turns out I remembered the Pre 3 better than it was, so I started looking again with the list above to guide me.

Enter the Motorola Defy Pro, my latest addition to the collection.  It manages to check most of the requirements above, with a few glaring exceptions.

First off, overall, I quite like the Defy. It is a small, tough little workhouse that checks most of the right boxes. That said, it’s stuck running a customized Android 2.3.7. That is an ancient release for a brand new device. Motorola has added some features to make this less annoying, you can dismiss individual notifications, for example. However, task switching and killing remains unchanged. This is a major annoyance. Also, the overall aesthetic is far less mature than is now expected.

However, given that this is running 2.3.7, it’s actually surprisingly spry and usable, and Motorola has enhanced the UI in helpful and beautiful ways.

The small screen is a necessary trade off. It mostly works well. I found the auto orientation to be quite annoying, so I turned this off. Also, while suggestions are presented, auto correct is disabled by default. Turning rotate off and auto correct on made the device much more pleasant to use.  While the screen may be small, it is very clear, has a high pixel density, and brilliant viewing angles.  It is a luxurious, if small, screen and Motorola/Google have done a great job of making Android work well on it.

The keyboard overall is quite excellent. The device looks almost exactly like a BlackBerry Bold 9900 at first glance, which is a good thing. However, there are a couple of vexing differences, such as the lack of track pad, and the proximity of the home key to the top row of the keyboard. I have to be a little careful that I don’t accidentally hit the Home key when I’m on a typing tear, which certainly slows me down a bit. All of that aside, the keyboard is still fantastic overall and that the Defy runs Android well and has a better camera makes it far more appealing to me than the Bold 9900.

I also find the keys to be a bit too stiff, something that I expect to get better with use.

Call quality is remarkable. The Defy simply blows away the Pre 3, Sony, and Galaxy Nexus phones that I’ve been using lately.

The speaker is also good and loud and, while the bass response isn’t great for listening to intricate music, it is absolutely loud amid clear enough for podcasts.

The headphone jack tries to be too clever and launches a music player whenever you plug something in. I’m sure this can be disabled.  The phone feels solid but light in the hand, and it is small and thin enough to fit very comfortably in any pocket.

The camera is another area that I find important. The Defy has a 5MP camera with auto focus. At first I wasn’t sure that it actually could do auto focus but it is in fact there. One must tap the target to initiate auto focus. This isn’t great but it does the job and is much better for close ups than about EDOF camera, such as the one inexplicably included in the Bold 9900. As far as I am concerned, the terrible camera in the Bold was the worst compromise of that phone.  Overall, the camera on the Defy Pro is barely adequate.  If I could transplant the camera from the Sony Xperia Pro, or even the Mini Pro, I would.  This is the weakest aspect of the Defy Pro.

Perhaps the best part of the Defy Pro, beyond the fact that it has a keyboard, is the battery life.  I haven’t taken it down to zero yet, but in 24 hours of light use I still have 80% remaining on the battery.  I’ve used the Defy for three days of normal use on a charge.  I’ve never used an Android phone that could last more than 24 hours, so this is a huge advantage to me.

The Defy Pro is small, light, well-made, and quite affordable.  It is an ideal phone for me.  I wish the camera was a little better and that it was a little faster, but I’ll take the price and battery life as a trade-off any day.

After a couple of weeks of daily use, it looks like this will be my phone for a while.

GoSaBe Blog - Nov 9, 2012 | GoSaBe News, Hardware