As Motorola launches its second Defy, its second verse is same as the first, with tweaks to the software and a faster processor marking the major changes between the Defy+ and its precursor. But is this enough 12 months on?
We're not kidding when we say that the Defy+ is physically the same phone as the original Defy. However, age has not wearied them, and this new design seems as fresh and unique in 2011 amongst the year's similar-looking touchscreen smartphones. The sturdy body feels as rugged as its IP67 rating suggests (indicating that its waterproof, dust proof and shock proof), with exposed screws and latches giving the Defy+ a nice, industrial feel.
Last year's Defy beside this year's Defy+: she hasn't updated her Twitter profile pic in 12 months?
The 3.7-inch display should be sufficient for most everyday smartphone use, though we do wish it was a bit brighter and more colourful. The viewing angles are fine, and the touchscreen works well, but it just looks a bit dark, even with the screen brightness pushed up.
Motorola covers the phone's two exposed ports with stiff plastic plugs, to keep water and grit out of the phone's sensitive bits. Under these port covers, you'll find a standard headphone socket and a micro-USB port, though no HDMI socket like the one you'll find on all other Motorola releases this year. Motorola positions the microSD card slot under the battery, which should keep it safe from water, but it means that you'll need to restart the phone if you want to change it.
We mentioned earlier that Motorola had tweaked the software between Defy releases, but we wanted to expand on this by saying that it has not tweaked it nearly enough. There are a few nice usability enhancements, but over all this is the same Motorola Android overlay that we saw on the Defy last year and the Atrix earlier this year, and the results in the user experience are disappointing. This system is still bogged down by the non-optional MotoBlur account-management system, and, even with the faster processor, the Defy's interface feels really sluggish. Beyond performance, though, the system looks drab, with its brown-coloured iconography and dully designed widgets.
There are a few nice usability tweaks worthy of a mention, though; changes that mark a shift in performance you'll see very soon in the much-updated Motorola software on the new Razr smartphone. The app drawer now has a Groups filter option, letting you see only apps that you have used recently, downloaded or categorised manually. We also like that Motorola continues to add a Swype keyboard option to its Android smartphones — there is still no faster way to accurately compose messages, in our opinion.
Last year's Defy packed a camera that we thought was worth talking about, taking photos in focus and with good colour reproduction and sharp detail. This year's effort is off the mark, however, with photos consistently showing soft focus, and the image sensor struggling with strong light sources and bleeding colour across images.
Colour bleeding around the restaurant's sign is something we saw too often when photographing strong light sources.
Predictably, the Defy works well in optimal lighting conditions, like outdoors under strong natural light. This fits with Motorola's "Summer Proof" campaign, we suppose, but it will disappoint those of us who like to back up a hot day at the beach with a night out in bars and clubs. The Defy's camera will only passably capture these late-night adventures.
Under natural light, the Defy+ does a great job of seeing colours and shadows.
The 5-megapixel camera will only capture in QVGA resolution, and the results will look pretty blocky and jerky on any device with a screen larger than a smartphone. It does have a slow-motion shooting mode, though, which would be a nice touch for the extreme sports types, except that the slow-motion effect further spoils the video it shoots.
As we touched on earlier, the performance of the Defy is the Achilles' Heel to its otherwise indestructible package (OK, not entirely indestructible). The phone's "life-proof" certification is a big plus for anyone looking for a rich smartphone experience with a safety net, but the trade off for tradies is the sticky-feeling user experience. Swiping between screens provokes a delayed reaction in the transition between screens, and opening core apps can sometimes take several seconds before they are usable. This will prove to be a vastly difference experience for anyone who has been using an iPhone.
Battery life is solid, though, with Motorola opting to go with a comparably generous 1700mAh battery, up about 10 per cent on last year's model. We managed to get a full day's use out of the Defy+, or a total of about 4 hours of web browsing. If you manage the battery's connectivity options, you could easily get two days or more between charges, depending on use.
Telstra's AU$299 outright pricing makes it hard for us to write the Defy+ off based on its average camera and sluggish performance, but it does have its work cut out for it with models like Samsung's Gio and LG's Optimus Spirit offering comparable performance at half the price. At the end of the day, though, your decision to buy this phone will hinge on your need to life proof, summer proof or stupid proof your phone, and for that purpose there is still no real competition.