Tech Review: Motorola Defy Smartphone

by Neil McAllister on December 24, 2010
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There are lots of smartphones based on Google’s Android OS on the market today — so many, in fact, that it can sometimes be hard to tell one phone from another. The Motorola Defy, available now on the T-Mobile network, is an example of a new generation of handsets that uses innovative ideas to differentiate itself, both from other Android phones and from Apple’s beloved iPhone.

The Defy is compact, particularly when compared to big-screen multimedia monsters like the HTC Evo. At 4.21” x 2.32” x 0.53”, it’s similar in size to the iPhone 4, albeit a little thicker.

Where the Defy stands out is in its ruggedness. Unusually, Motorola has designed this phone to be dust, scratch, and water resistant. Its screen is coated with a scratch-proof material called Corning Gorilla Glass, and Motorola says the Defy can survive being submerged in up to a meter of water for ten minutes or so. I wasn’t brave enough to try that, but casual water splashes left it completely unfazed. If you’re rough with your phone, the Defy should definitely be on your radar.

The Defy’s software is different from other Android phones, too. It’s only running Android version 2.1 — a disappointment, when Android version 2.3 phones are already starting to appear — but it includes a number of customizations from Motorola that improve on the stock OS.

If you’ve ever been disappointed with the onscreen keyboard on an Android phone, you’ll love the Defy’s Swype text input. Instead of lifting your finger to tap each key, you simply slide it from one letter to the next and Swype interprets what you mean. Much like other predictive text schemes, it sometimes makes mistakes, but once you get used to it you’ll find it’s one of the fastest ways to enter text on a phone with no physical keyboard.

And then there’s Motoblur. You’ll either love it or hate it. Motorola’s custom Android skin unifies your contacts and messaging from all of your email and social networking accounts into one place. When you open up your contacts, you’ll see their phone numbers, email addresses, profile pictures, and social status updates, all in one place. If you’re a heavy social networking user, you’ll appreciate how easy it is to manage your various contact lists. If you’re not, you may find it overbearing and frustrating — and you can’t turn it off.

If I have one complaint about the Defy it’s that, like most Android phones, its UI just doesn’t seem as consistent and well-integrated as the iPhone. The included apps don’t always work well together, and Motorola’s customizations occasionally seem buggy and half-baked. At $99 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile, however, the Defy is a unique and interesting offering, particularly if you’re looking for a tough phone that integrates well with social networking.

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