Who wants a cheapo Android phone? The answer: some people would love to have one. We check out the LG Optimus S, the Motorola Defy, and the T-Mobile Comet.
The Defy ships with Android 2.1 Éclair pre-installed and an update is on the way for it, but don’t pick up the Defy thinking it’s coming in the next couple of weeks. Even so, considering Motoblur is installed on top of Android, you won’t really notice the difference until you try to install an app like Google Voice Search, which has some features that are Android 2.2 only. Motorola is committed to Motoblur as an interface, and while we wouldn’t have a problem with that on other, more powerful handsets, the interface seems to drag the Defy down noticeably.
Scrolling through the list of installed apps and moving between home screens felt much slower than on other Android phones, and even some that we had on the side with slower processors, like the original Droid by Motorola, which doesn’t have Motoblur installed. The sluggishness persisted when trying to type on-screen using Swype (also pre-installed) and even though the Defy has a large 3.7" screen, all of the widgets that Motoblur adds to your home screens made it feel smaller than it is. Most users, upon picking up a Defy, will likely remove most of the widgets and turn some of those native features off, like Motorola’s included social networking app, and install their own favorites.
This is part of the issue with Motoblur: if you like and use it, then you're okay. But if you hate the app, Motorola doesn’t give you a way to turn it off, short of rooting your phone. The Defy also comes with an array of pre-installed apps, some of which you can remove and others you just can’t. Essentially, people who hate bloatware will inevitably dislike some of the choices that Motorola has made.
We had to activate a Motoblur account in order to use the device. This is an unnecessary barrier to entry for someone who wants to just hop in and start using their phone, but it does have some benefits. Motorola’s Phone Portal allows you to manage some aspects of your device via the Web and see SMS messages and edit your phone’s contacts on the Web. Still, it would have been nice to be able to select those features instead of being required to sign up as soon as we turned on the device.
Regardless of these gripes, once you have the UI out of the way, the Defy is a good performer. Light gaming with titles like Angry Birds and Jewellust were fast and responsive with minimal slowdowns. Watching Web video via the built-in YouTube app worked great, even over 3G. Flash video on the Defy was definitely sluggish, but Flash ads and interactive widgets loaded just fine. I wouldn’t do a lot of Flash gaming on the Defy and I would stick to Web video designed for the Web over Flash if possible, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker and performance was solid considering the phone’s specs.
The Motorola Defy will likely turn off some power users because it lacks some basic features like hotspot functionality or carrier-provided tethering. Other power users will simply find their own ways to tether their phone or add apps that make up for what the phone doesn’t already provide and to strip away the things they don’t like, such as the Motoblur UI and pre-installed apps. Regardless, if you’re the type who needs a phone that won’t break the first time it slips out of your hands, the Defy is an excellent contender.
Its good looks and rugged build make it a great phone for people worried about a device they can give to a teenager without seeing it broken in a week, and the battery life is great for people more concerned with being able to place great-sounding calls without diving for a charger every night. Motoblur makes it a little more difficult to really make sense of the phone–which is the opposite of what it’s intended to do–but it’s not a deal-breaker. The Defy gets the essentials right: call quality, battery life, and build quality. The rest leaves a little to be desired.
Hardware Features: 4/5
Software Features: 3/5