Hands on: Motorola Droid Bionic has blistering speed on Verizon, with some flaws
Coming off a review of the Samsung Droid Charge back in September, I had great hopes for the latest robot in Verizon's droid army; the Motorola Droid Bionic. After spending several days using the Bionic, however, I found in many ways it did live up to expectations but in several other ways, it didn't. The most impressive feature is the speed.
Running on a 1 GHz dual-core processor with a 4.3-inch qHD display, the Bionic looks impressive at first boot. This is the first combination 4G LTE/dual-core phone for Verizon and it also happens to be their slimmest LTE phone to date. Think of it as a cut version of the Droid Charge, with less fat and more muscle. Coming in with dimesnions of 66.9 x 127.5 x 10.99 mm and weighing just 158 grams (about 5.5 ounces), the Bionic feels substantial yet light in your hand. For storage you get 16GB on-board with a 16GB microSD card pre-installed (can be upgraded to 32GB). Connection ports include micro USB 2.0 (for charging and data), micro HDMI and a headphone jack.
The dual-core processor makes a huge difference in performance and once you switch from single to dual-core on any smartphone, it's really painful to go back. Everything is faster, even without the fastest network connection. Boot time is short, apps launch in snap and web graphics redraw in an instant. Pair that up with Verizon's screaming-fast 4G LTE network and the results are stellar.
I did most of my testing at home, where all cellular signals are weak. The Bionic was barely showing one bar of 4G LTE and in the past that has greatly hindered other 4G phones. That wasn't the case here at all. The connection was solid and plenty fast. I was able to run in WiFi hotspot mode using my MacBook for several hours without a problem. So reception is definitely one of the strengths of this phone. For times when 4G LTE is not available the Bionic is equipped with CDMA 800 and 1900 bands for additional connectivity.
Right out of the box the display looked impressive and the size was fantastic. The more I used it, however, the more flaws I noticed. There were times when it looked kind of grainy and unsharp and when using the camera, on-screen images were very washed-out and the color balance was off. My daily phone is an iPhone 4 and I'm used to a really sharp display, so the Bionic's display was a disappointment.
Under the back cover you'll find one of the largest batteries I've seen on a smartphone; 1735 mAh Li Ion slab that is rated for up to 650 minutes of continuous talk time and 200 hours of standby. Leaving the display on automatic brightness and with moderate email and web use, the battery held up well during an 8-hour day. When used in WiFi hotspot mode, however, the story was much different and I was looking for a plug after about 2.5 hours. To be fair, this is pretty much the norm with all phones in hotspot mode and battery life varies greatly with individual use, so take all battery ratings with a grain of salt.
The Bionic ships with a slightly-modified version of Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread but don't expect the interface enhancements you'll see on the HTC or Samsung phones. You get five, customizable home screens with some standard widgets, the best of which is one that displays real-time data use for your Verizon account. A custom lock screen, haptic feedback on the touchscreen, enhanced virtual keyboard and voice commands are some additional highlights to the interface.
A fair amount of bloatware apps are loaded but some of them are good and geared toward the Bionic's use in one of the docking accessories. Citrix Receiver, GoToMeeting and Quickoffice the ones most business people will find useful. ZUMOCAST, the app that lets you stream content from your smartphone or another PC, is a useful app for all. And entire suite of Google apps also is included.
The 8MP camera is also a 1080p HD video camera. Still photo results were disappointing with photos that were way off in color and washed out with very little contrast. Below is a photo on the left made by the Bionic and a photo made in similar conditions with my iPhone 4. Both photos are just as they came out of the camera, with no toning. My phone is my primary camera these days so I need the best quality I can get. There are plenty of Android phones with excellent cameras but this does not appear to be one of them. I didn't do a video test.
Like the Motorola Atrix on AT&T, the Droid Bionic has available docking accessories to expand its functionality. The $300 Lapdock is the main attraction, with the capability to harness the Bionic's power and use it in the form of a 11.5-inch laptop with a 1,366 x 768 resolution display and extended battery. Drop the Bionic in the dock and the special Webtop app launches, giving you access to an arrary of business-minded, cloud-based apps. I didn't test this feature with the Bionic but did with the Atrix and I was thoroughly impressed. For those who need only to create simple documents, surf the web, check email and maybe watch a movie, it's a great system. I'm not sure it's a good investment, however, because the Lapdock will only work with the Bionic. So at $300 for the phone plus another $300 for the dock you're out $600 and stuck with a depreciated Lapdock when you upgrade to a new phone. You might be better off investing in a tablet or even a simple Bluetooth keyboard for less.
Also available are the Standard Dock and HD Station, which are $40 and $100 respectively. The Standard Dock is basically a fancy charging station with an audio-out port. So you can connect it to your stereo to play music or put it on the nightstand if you use your phone as your alarm clock. The HD Station adds HDMI out and USB ports plus a wireless remote. You can use it to watch movies on a large display or access the Webtop environment using a connected keyboard and other peripherals. One final docking accessory, the Travel Adapter, is a pocket-sized version of the HD Station that also gives you HDMI out and Webtop access.
The Droid Bionic is a mixed bag. It's a solid phone and if speed is your main priority, it's a good choice for that. The display has some issues, however, and so does the camera. If speed is not your highest priority you have other choices that will give you a better overall experience. And before getting this phone so you can use it as a laptop (with Lapdock accessory), consider other alternatives that might be a better investment.