7th Dec 2011 | 20:53
Motorola has updated its deceptively solid Defy ready for the Christmas smartphone buying frenzy – but has it done enough to make us want one?
Overview, design and feel
Motorola's original Defy appeared in the spring and we were impressed with its rugged features, packed into a relatively sleek chassis.
Motorola clearly had a lot of positive feedback, because the Defy has returned. The rugged chassis features remain the same, and the Defy+ is water resistant, dustproof and scratch resistant. But the internals have been spruced up for a late 2011 market.
So, what's this rugged stuff all about then?
Essentially the chassis has been made into a sealed unit, albeit one with a removable backplate. So the backplate itself is held in place by a solid sliding lock and there's a rubber seal around the battery casing with a secondary plastic rim sealing on the backplate itself.
There are some screws around the edges of the chassis which don't actually do much to add to the ruggedness, but they do look industrial. More important as far as the Motorola Defy+ edges are concerned is that both the headset slot on the top edge and the micro USB slot on the left are protected by rubber covers.
Now, these covers are clearly a good idea, but they are also a bit of a bind. The headset one in particular is fiddly to remove, and you could well find you yank it off completely at some point. Lose these and dust and water resistance will, of course, be severely compromised.
A further help in terms of protecting vulnerable parts is that the microSD card is located under the battery. Needless to say this makes hotswapping cards impossible.
The screen is made from Gorilla Glass. Once upon a time that was something special. Now Gorilla Glass is everywhere, so the Motorola Defy+ doesn't really have a standout feature there.
Add this little lot together and you have a dustproof, water resistant and scratch resistant handset which doesn't look industrial.
The Motorola Defy+ feels comfortable in the hand. It is a little thick at 13.4mm, but in a way that just psychologically reinforces that the phone is more solid than most. Its other dimensions, 107mm x 59mm won't trouble your pocket, and it weighs an unproblematic 118g.
The shiny edges are perhaps a bit passé to look at, but the rubberised backplate is a good feature. It helps with grip and resists fingerprints, both characteristics of which we approve.
The main on/off switch on the top edge was, we felt, a bit awkward to use. There are two reasons for this. It sits quite flat to the chassis, and the casing is angled inwards towards the back, so you have to reach round a little when accessing it from the front of the phone.
On the right side there is a volume rocker and this is a bit on the small and finicky side to use too. The tricky little buttons are not a deal breaker, but they are a small point of note.
We tried the same test on the Motorola Defy+ as on the original Defy, running it under a tap for several minutes when it was switched on. It didn't stop working, though it is worth noting that capacitive touch screens don't actually work well when they are wet!
Like we said at the outset, the chassis is no different to that of the original Defy, but the innards have been upgraded a bit – but just a bit. So we have Android 2.3 instead of 2.1, the processor runs at 1GHz instead of 800MHz. and the 1540 mAh battery has been replaced by a 1700 mAh one.
There's still 2GB of storage provided on microSD card, and just over 1GB free internally too. The camera is stuck at 5 megapixels and the screen remains a 3.7-inch 480 x 854 pixel panel.
If you've seen the original Defy then Motorola's Android skin will have no real surprises to offer you.
There are seven home screens, each one able to be peppered with widgets and shortcuts. Motorola provides a range of widgets that's reasonably expansive, though it offers nothing we have not seen before.
Oddly, when it comes to taking things off a home screen, the waste bin is rather small and at the top of the screen – it's more often found at the bottom. If you are switching from another Android handset this can be a bit annoying at first.
You can resize a lot of the widgets. Just tap them then drag them around until they are the size you want. What's a bit annoying is that you can drag widgets to sizes they can't actually move to, so getting things to look right for you might take a bit of fiddling around.
Each of the seven home screens has four fixed icons at the bottom in an area Motorola calls the Dock.
Changing these is a simple matter of doing a press and hold on the one you want to swap and choosing its replacement from a list.
At the very top of the screen there's a notifications panel which you can pull down to reveal additional information on a range of apps and services. So, when music is playing you can link quickly into that, when there's a Wi-Fi connection sensed you can set up DLNA, and so on.
It would have been nice to have quick access to connection toggling (Wi-Fi, GPS, Airplane mode, and silent mode) from here, but that's not been provided. The one saving grace in this respect is that you can toggle the ringer on and off from the lock screen.
In order to increase appeal to professional and leisure users, the Motorola Defy+ has three 'profiles' called Home, Work and Weekend, each with seven home screens. Just hit the Menu button beneath the screen on any home screen to switch between them with ease.
With so many possibilities in terms of peppering the home screens, the 3.7-inch, 480 x 854 pixel display can get a bit overwhelmed. This is always a danger with Android, of course, so tread carefully. At least you can tap the home button beneath the screen to see thumbnails of all seven home screens.
Contacts and calling
The Motorola Defy+ is aware of social media, and can tap into all manner of online accounts. But it left us rather disappointed. First off, when you initially switch the handset on you are encouraged to set up a MotoBlur account.
While you can skip out of Motoblur setup doing so isn't a good idea. You can pull in contacts from the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but you can only log into those accounts after you've set up a Motoblur account. Here's what you get to set up without a Motoblur account...
And with a Motoblur account...
When you've logged in to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, the contacts app in the phone is automatically populated. But it took my handset an hour or so to pick up photos and full data for everyone I have contact with.
The worst part of all is that I couldn't see how to link contacts from the two sources. That feature seems to have gone AWOL though it was present in the original Defy.
This means if you want to contact someone through Facebook or Twitter you'll have to remember the name they're set up with on the network you want. It also means that when you view contact history, you only get partial data.
When you tap Contacts on the handset you get a full list of everyone (unlinked). You can put contacts into groups so you can message them collectively, which is a plus, and there's a search tool in the dialler.
For making voice calls you can nip into the dialler and start tapping away, and there's smart dialling so matches start popping up as soon as you begin to tap. There's only room to display one match at a time, but if you tap on the number found indicator, all the matches show through.
If you tap on a contact's photo at any time in these screens you get little tappable icons offering a range of ways to contact them. The number of options is dictated by the contact info that's stored about them. If you don't have an email address you won't get an email icon, for example.
You can also put specific contacts and quick tasks relating to them on a home screen, but you can only select two options from their range of social media, voice and SMS contact options, so this is a bit limited.
While we didn't have any problems with call quality, and found the smart dialling tool easy to use, we felt that Motorola had missed several tricks when it comes to integrating social media strands together. If anything this made our job of getting in contact with our chums harder than it should have been.
Read back over the section on Contacts and you'll find we have several misgivings about how the Motorola Defy+ fails to integrate social media properly in its Contacts app.
What we didn't mention there, was the way messaging works in Motorola's own Social Networking app. If you've signed in to Facebook and Twitter you can message one or both from this app and see incoming messages too.
Messaging is easy. Just hit the Menu button then choose Set Status and you can choose to post to one or more account.
The screen display is fairly basic, but you can view messages in a stream and tapping one gives you added functions. Tweets can be retweeted and favourited, Facebook messages can be commented on and liked.
There's a social networking widget that can show messages from whatever of your social networks you choose, and you can choose a subset of contacts that you are really interested in for this widget so you aren't bombarded. You can even change the widget name if you like.
The widget shows one message at a time, though tapping it opens up a carousel that you can scroll to see older messages.
When it comes to composing messages, whether it is email, SMS, or social media messages, you are reliant on the on screen keyboards. Motorola has installed Swype, which is the default, though it is easy enough to disable.
There's a predictive text system which we rather liked, but to counter that the keyboards are quite small. In tall mode we doubt many people will cope very accurately.
Hold down a key momentarily and its second function appears. Hold down a smidgeon longer and you get a smorgasbord of alternatives for the key you are pressing.
Rolled over from the original Defy is a universal inbox option that unites SMS with direct messages from other messaging accounts you've set up. It's sort of hidden away under the messaging icon, which is different from the SMS icon, and it's all a bit of a social messaging option too far, in our view.
The Motorola Defy+ has good web connectivity credentials. With 802.11b, g and n support, as well as the ability to handle HSDPA downloads to 7.2Mbps – dependant, of course, on what your network is offering where you are, it shouldn't struggle to download or render pages. And thankfully we found that to be the case with Wi-Fi being particularly adept.
One of the things that annoyed us with the original Motorola Defy was that the web browser wasn't able to support Flash. Well, hippity do dah, here it does, and the sound quality is quite good too which helps with viewing embedded video.
However everything isn't great when it comes to the web. The 3.7-inch screen, with the same 480 x 584 pixel resolution as its predecessor, is only just about big enough for a lot of the web browsing we like to do. Full sized home pages aren't always easy to read.
A double tap zooms in so that some detail can be read.
Double tap to zoom in on some text and the reflow system comes into play – though you can lose images which aren't taken account of very well.
Zoom in further using a pinching action and text reflow is lost altogether - at first. We found that if we swivelled the screen to toggle between wide and tall formats, reflow clicked back in. Go figure.
It is nice to be able to have multiple windows on the go at any one time, nicer still that you can just move between them with a quick tap on the menu button.
Tap a little icon to the right of the address bar and you can get to bookmarks, your most visited sites, and browsing history. This makes flicking about within the browser a speedy and efficient task.
All in all we found web browsing easy, compliant and, with the exception of that text reflowing glitch, comfortable. Just be aware that the small screen doesn't lend itself to easy text reading, or, indeed to streamed video watching.
The camera on the Motorola Defy+ shoots stills at resolutions to 5 megapixels, and there is a single LED flash to help with low light shooting. There's no side button to launch the camera software, and you shouldn't expect a great deal by way of sophistication.
There are several effects: black and white, negative, sepia and solarise are joined by red, green and blue tints. There are also some preset scene modes: portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, sunset, macro and steady shot.
Perhaps more interestingly there's a widescreen shooting mode, and in video, fast and slow motion shooting.
Early on a winter morning can be a difficult time for camera phones but the Motorola Defy+ copes fairly well. The sky is over exposed, but the water is handled quite well.
On auto shooting mode the movement of water here is captured nicely and this is an acceptable photo
When we take the same photo using widescreen mode you can see how much more width there is to the shot. There are times when this shooting mode could be handy for framing a photo just right
Macro mode shooting doesn't let you get in quite as close as we'd like, but the results can still be quite impressive
Indoors the camera responds quite well as long as there is a fair amount of ambient lighting
Motorola has not done anything to beef up the video recorder on the new Defy+. Shooting is stuck at a top resolution of 640 x 480 which is frankly woeful. Saving graces are that there is a widescreen shooting mode, and fast and slow modes too, which are both rather fun to use.
A basic full res video that suffers a bit from inability to cope with a bright sky even though the video was shot quite early in the morning with relatively low light levels.
Mucking about with fast and slow motion shooting proved to be fun
In fact we liked the fast and slow motion modes so much that we experimented with them quite a bit.
One of the things we really liked about the original Motorola Defy+ was its connected media player, and it is back here delivering a similar level of delight. The clue to its brilliance is in its name. Connected.
So, you can get lyrics for songs which show up, line by line, as the music plays for a bit of bus karaoke.
But as you'll notice from the above picky, the handset completely failed to pick up album art from our microSD card.
Online services also run to finding music videos for the currently playing track and artist, and there's a general YouTube search feature too.
Integrated into the music player there are also some online community features such as TuneWiki and manual artist/track/phrase lyric search. SoundHound song identification is here too, and both an on board FM radio and SHOUTcast internet radio are included. Music needs are sorted, then.
On the video side the Motorola Defy+ played what we threw at it including MP4, WMV and AVI. There was no jerking, and the sound quality was good too.
You've got DLNA for streaming and we had no trouble setting this up to grab music, video and pictures from our PC.
Overall, though, the screen is a bit too small for serious video watching for any length of time.
Battery life and connectivity
The connectivity options on the Motorola Defy+ are not to be sniffed at. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS are augmented with DLNA and that worked well for us. You can use the handset as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot and there's a little app to help you set that up.
HSDPA downloads max out at 7.2Mbps and uploads at 2.0Mbps. We've seen better, but in many cases you will find the available signal won't challenge the download max.
Battery life is always a bone of contention. Motorola has given the Defy+ a 1700mAh battery, beefing up the 1500mAh cell of the original Defy by a fair margin. Still, frugality is the name of the game. There's a faster processor to keep on track here (1GHz as opposed to 800MHz), for a start.
And to be honest we're sticking to the one day per full charge rule here. And you might struggle to get that, to be frank. On one occasion we left the Defy+ alone at about 4pm on what was a pretty much full charge. Wi-Fi was on, and it was running a SIM but nothing much else. When we came back at 9am the following morning the battery was down near 20 percent.
There's good news in the Data Saver which is in the Settings area of the handset. You can instruct it to alter the handset's behaviour if battery is low.
There's more good news in the battery modes you can configure and set. Switching between them can help eek out the power. You can even create a custom setting. Sadly you can only get the custom setting to kick in automatically at a pre-set time.
Finally, if you need to keep an eye on data usage, the Data meter will help you out.
Maps and apps
Motorola has kitted the Defy+ out with a fair few apps to help you get a lot out of it right from the start. Google Maps goes without saying, of course, but it is the extra apps that capture the attention. None are particularly new to us, but the combination is good to see and you can take or leave them, after all.
7 Digital is the online music store that'll be familiar to lots of people already. You can buy music through it and it's easy to search and use.
We quite like the Motorola Car Dock which gives you a big grid of shortcuts ideal for use in vehicle.
You also get a fitness app, cardio trainer, which when we launched it immediately wanted to update itself via the market. It might be a good introduction to using your phone for fitness, though it's probably not the app we'd choose for this function. One thing it does is give you a little notification icon of calories burned with a pull down information bar delivering a week's worth of data.
You also get a file manager, the Media Share app we've mentioned already for DLNA, and Motorola's rather nice Phone Portal. This lets you connect to a PC over Wi-Fi or USB and manage data in the phone including SMS, contacts, photos and files. It wasn't too happy about giving us full file transfer control over Firefox though - Internet Explorer seems to be its preferred browser.
There's also a copy of QuickOffice for viewing but not editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. And a neat little task manager.
When we first saw it we were pleased with the original Motorola Defy, linking its toughness and it social media features. Several months on Motorola may think it has revamped the Defy well, but we aren't so sure.
The Chassis is unchanged, as is the overall size. Over the last six months handset sizes have become larger and arguably a 3.7 inch screen is borderline minimal size if you are to make the most of a smartphone.
Moreover, inside, while there have been some upgrades, much remains untouched. The Defy was wow-worthy, but the Defy+ is in many ways just more of the same.
The camera is not a star feature, and a max video resolution of 640 x 480 is really too low to pass muster – though we did have fun with both fast and slow shooting modes.
The inability to link contacts across different social networks is an unbelievably bad error. We hope Motorola puts this feature, which was in the original Defy, back or we'll consider the Defy+ rather hampered.
The screen is a bit small for truly visually rich social media activity these days, and Motorola does itself no favours by sometimes using some truly tiny icons that are difficult to hit accurately.
The Connected Media Player continues to wow us every time we see it. It's a clever conflation of on board and online service that we really enjoy using.
An extended battery is noteworthy, though it is still only really good for a day between charges. We do like the battery management features, though.
The rugged features undoubtedly give this handset a lift, and should help it withstand bumps and knocks.
We wanted to be very impressed by the Motorola Defy+, but in the end the update just doesn't do enough to get us going. We'd almost suggest that if you want a Defy you plump for the older model – it'll be cheaper and you won't be losing out on a great deal.