It’s been a rollercoaster year when it comes to the DROID Bionic. We first learned of Verizon’s first dual-core LTE-enabled device during the Consumer Electronics Show in January, where it quickly became a staff favorite and easily the most hotly-anticipated Android device for Big Red. We expected the device would land on Verizon in Q1 2011 to correspond with the launch of the nearly-identical Motorola Atrix.
But that was not the Bionic as we know it today. Those of you who’ve closely followed the Bionic’s story know that the device apparently did not pass Verizon’s internal testing, which eventually sent Motorola back to the drawing board. Since its original conception, the Bionic has shed the Tegra2 processor in favor of Texas Instrument’s OMAP4 chip (also clocked at 1 GHz).
Other than swapping the processor and some minor cosmetic changes, the first dual-core LTE device is largely identical to what we saw at CES almost a year ago. Does the Bionic bring enough to the table to make it the must-have device on Verizon’s network? Read on for our full review.
LTEThose who have been following our site for a while know how much we love the speediness of Verizon’s 4G LTE network. This mobile network is faster than the internet many people have in their homes, allowing you to consume the mobile entertainment and information you need at insanely fast speeds. If you live in one of Verizon’s LTE cities and are a Big Red customer, you simply owe it to yourself to have an LTE device as your next phone.
The DROID Bionic takes full advantage of Verizon’s LTE network; data speeds for me have averaged between 12-20 mbps down, 2-5 mbps up.
TI OMAP4430 ProcessorThe DROID Bionic is the first Verizon phone to feature both a dual-core processor as well as Verizon’s 4G LTE network. The decision to produce the Bionic with Texas Instrument’s TI OMAP4430 dual-core 1 GHz processor instead of NVIDIA’s 1 GHz Tegra2 processor found in the original Bionic device was certainly a controversial one and has led many to believe that NVIDIA’s Tegra2 wasn’t quite ready to handle Verizon’s next-gen mobile network. (Though the fact that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 with LTE seems to be doing just fine may suggest otherwise).
Regardless, the TI OMAP4430 processor is powerful enough to handle any task thrown at it with ease, and users of the DROID Bionic will experience the same boost in performance they’ve come to expect from the current crop of dual-core devices.
Android 2.3.4 with Motorola UI (Don't call me BLUR)The Bionic comes packed with the latest version of Android: Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread. As expected, Motorola has included their custom UI overlay, complete with all the widgets and settings we’ve come to expect with MOTOBLUR devices. (Just don’t tell Moto I called it BLUR).
Most of Motorola’s enhancements focus on social networking. You can add a plethora of social media accounts to your profile, and the built-in social widgets and tools put all your friends’ status updates and pictures in one place to more easily manage your digital social life.
Though Motorola’s Gingerbread overlay has certainly improved from the version of BLUR found on 2.2 and previous devices, it’s still just annoying enough to make me cringe a little. If you also are not a huge fan of Motorola’s UI, getting rid of the included widgets from all your homescreens will make a world of difference.
But this overlay is certainly their best offering to date (other than their decision to go with stock Android 2.0 for the OG Droid release), and it has come very close to dethroning HTC’s Sense as my favorite of the Custom UIs. Though I’d still go with Sense if I had the choice, Motorola’s UI overlay is something I could see myself living with, earning it half a point in this category.
Form FactorUpon first looking at the DROID Bionic, you’ll likely get a feeling of dÃ©jÃ vu–especially if you happen to be in a Verizon store. In designing the Bionic, it seems as though Motorola didn’t want to rock the boat too much when it came to form factor. The Bionic looks like Motorola mashed together the Droid X2 and the Droid 3 into a pretty final package.
Though the Bionic is a bit thicker than the Droid X2, it feels much more solidly put together and doesn’t have quite as noticeable a camera bezel as the X2. If you took all Verizon’s Android devices and put them next to each other, the DROID Bionic would easily be the best looking of the bunch.
DisplayqHD (quarter HD) resolution is becoming one of the staples of any Android device released this year, and of course the Bionic proudly features a 4.3″ qHD Pentile display. The Bionic’s screen features a 960 x 540 resolution, and the Bionic’s screen is nothing short of vibrant.
Though Samsung’s Super AMOLED Plus displays are the gold standard when it comes to brilliant displays, the Pentile qHD on the Bionic is a close second, and will certainly not disappoint.
AccessoriesThe DROID Bionic has a powerful set of accessories available at launch that challenge users to make the most of their new devices. But are any of them useful?
The first accessory is arguably the coolest and is the only one that’s priced reasonably. The Webtop Adapter is a mini-dongle that plugs into both your HDMI and USB ports. When hooked up to an HDMI TV, bluetooth keyboard and mouse, it turns your Bionic into a makeshift computer complete with Firefox 4 browser. Pretty cool, eh? The Webtop Adapter comes in at a reasonable $29.99, though a bluetooth keyboard and mouse can easily run you another $50-100+.
The second accessory is the HD station, which is similar to those found in the Atrix and Photon. The features largely replicate the cheaper webtop adapter, but add the ability to charge your device while using it as a computer. The HD Station adds a few USB ports, allowing you to plug in a USB mouse and keyboard in case you don’t have the bluetooth accessories. The HD Station is helpful for business users, as the accessory comes with a remote that allows you to easily flip through powerpoint slides or documents on the go. The HD station comes priced at $100.
The third accessory is the laptop dock. The laptop dock does exactly what you’ve come to expect if you read the previous two paragraphs; it allows you to use your Bionic as a personal computer. The main difference is that the laptop dock comes complete with an 11.6″ display, full keyboard, and a modified version of the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system. As cool as that sounds, it really only lets you run a modified version of Firefox, as well as most the features on your phone. At $300, the laptop dock is a very hard sell. In my opinion it simply isn’t worth the added cost.
The Bionic also features a standard dock ($40), which is identical to the HD station sans access to your HDMI and USB connections. It does maintain the audio output, allowing you to use the Bionic as an alarm clock or media player.
Finally, the vehicle navigation dock ($40) attaches to your car’s windshield, connects to your cigarette lighter, and turns your phone into a semi-hands-free GPS device, while still providing access to your phone and other applications.
Though the accessories available for the Bionic are plentiful, the number of individuals who will find any of the accessories useful is very small. Unless you find a strong case for using the webtop UI, you’d be better off simply using microHDMI or DLNA to mirror your phone’s screen on your HDTV. As far as the standard dock and vehicle navigation dock go, these are a bit more useful and more reasonably priced. Though it’s hard to recommend a proprietary vehicle navigation dock that will be obsolete as soon as your Bionic is instead of a universal car dock.
The fact that the Bionic has so many accessories available at your disposal warrants an upvote in this section.
Battery LifeThe concern about the DROID Bionic’s battery life has been the most often cited reason for Motorola going back to the drawing board and swapping out the Tegra 2 processor for OMAP4. With this swap came rumors of a Bionic with an impressive 15 hour battery life. So just how well does the Bionic’s battery perform on Verizon’s LTE network?
Just about as poorly as we’ve come to expect from other LTE devices, it seems. Sure, the 1735 mAh helps make this perhaps the longest lasting LTE device, but we have yet to crack the 7 hour of moderate use mark after 4 battery cycles. Needless to say, if you actually use your device on a regular basis, you’ll probably want to also spring for either a second battery or an extended battery (which should hit store shelves soon).
Of course battery usage will vary from user to user, and there are many ways to conserve battery life (such as dimming your screen or turning 4G off when not in use). It will be interesting to see if AT&T’s upcoming LTE devices are plagued by the same issues or if the inability to break 8 hours of usage is Verizon specific.
The rear camera was the biggest disappointment of the lot. Though the camera takes great photos in well-lit situations, pictures often came out grainy in even moderately-lit situations. Don’t even try to take pictures with the Bionic if there isn’t ample lighting.
This is relatively on par with other cell cameras out on the market today. We are, sadly, not yet at the point where our smartphones are smart enough to replace our point-and-shoot cameras. Hopefully that day is near.
The front facing camera performs as well as you would expect from a front facing camera. Don’t expect to take crystal-clear self portraits, but it performs fairly well for video chat on the Gtalk application. Below are a few examples of photos taken with the FFC.
Below is an example video taken in full 1080p HD with the DROID Bionic. As you will see, the camera performs fairly well and provides a great way to take short videos without needing to lug around a full camcorder.
Overall, the cameras perform as well as most smartphone cameras out on the market today. As long as you stick to well-lit pictures, you will surely enjoy the pictures taken by the Bionic. Also, the inclusion of full 1080p support in the camcorder results in great amateur videos.
Call QualityOver the past few days, I’ve made a few calls to test out how well the DROID Bionic fared when it came to call quality. All calls were crystal clear on my end, and folks on the other end of the line reported being able to hear me just fine as well. You should have no problem with call quality on the Bionic.
Included ApplicationsWhen it comes to the applications included with the Droid Bionic, Verizon and Motorola have added some helpful tools in addition to the usual bloat. The most widely useful tool is the inclusion of Quickoffice, a mobile suite that allows you to do quick work on Word documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
For the business users out there, Citrix’s GoToMeeting is also included on the Bionic. GoToMeeting is a web conferencing service used by many businesses to conduct web-based meetings over both PC and mobile devices.
For you sports nuts out there, the Bionic features Verizon’s Exclusive NFL Mobile application, which gives you quick access to scores as well as live audio (free) and video (premium) of the games.
The biggest question on everyone’s mind (okay, my mind at least) is whether or not Motorola and Verizon waited too long to release the Bionic. The Bionic immediately becomes the most powerful Android device on Verizon’s network, and the first device with a dual-core processor to also pack the super-fast LTE connection. With the hotly-anticipated Android 4.0 flagship DROID Prime launch slated for October, it would be hard for me (or anyone) to recommend picking up the Bionic in September rather than waiting a month for a device that will outdo the Bionic in almost every way.
That being said, Motorola’s DROID Bionic will be the most powerful Android device on Verizon’s network for the month of September, and provides a good alternative for those of you out there who have sworn off Samsung devices for one reason or another. If you’re interested in picking this bad boy up for yourself, it runs $299 on a new 2 year contract and can be found at your local Verizon store.
If you do happen to pick up the Bionic, let us know what you think about it in the comments.
The Verizon Droid Bionic is available now at Amazon Wireless for $179.99