Motorola Defy Mini £160
15th May 2012 | 15:12
A new, small, low cost addition to the Motorola Defy family
Motorola's original Defy was a winner of an Android smartphone for us, marrying solid build with a neat design and some nice software touches. It was followed by a revamped handset, the Motorola Defy+, which updated some of the features but left most of what was in the original mobile phone untouched.
Now the Motorola Defy Mini has popped up, a smaller version of the Defy with some design changes, but the same solid specifications. This phone might be a steal, priced at around £160 (around $260) SIM-free in the UK, with the only real rival coming from Samsung's Galaxy Xcover.
The Motorola Defy Mini is small. You might say this is a handset designed for a child's hands. And this is a good market for a rugged phone, given how kids are not known for their delicacy and TLC with their technology.
Anyway, it measures a teensy 109 x 58.5 x 12.5 mm and it weighs just 107g. That inevitably means a small screen - just 3.2 inches with 480 x 320 pixels.
The 600MHz processor raises a few on-paper concerns, and the rather short memory allocation of 512MB is another potential worry. There was 121MB free on our sample before we added any apps or data. The camera tops out at 3 megapixels - another budget handset marker, although there's a front camera too, which is nice.
Meanwhile, looking over the remaining specifications it becomes clear that Motorola has included the standard smartphone essentials of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 7.2Mbps download HSDPA, GPS and eCompass. There's DLNA too.
The Android operating system is old, at version 2.3. Ice Cream Sandwich is really where it's at for Android smartphones now.
There's a rather impressive 1650mAh battery, which in theory ought to keep the phone going for a relatively long time.
The rugged features are key to the Motorola Defy Mini's success. Gorilla Glass has been used for the screen so it is scratch resistant. The top mounted headset connector and left side mounted USB port are protected by hinged covers. The backplate is held tightly in place by a sliding lock, and there's a seal around the battery.
The design isn't as industrial looking as that of the Defy and Motorola Defy Mini, but we like it for that. The rubbery backplate is preferable, we think, to the shiny plastic of the Defy and Motorola Defy Mini, and we reckon it'll make the handset easier to grip outdoors when you're wearing gloves.
We like the side-mounted camera shortcut button on the right edge, though it's small and fiddly to use, particularly when you are wearing gloves. Ditto the volume buttons on the same edge. And we aren't overly excited about the tiny on/off button on the top edge, which is also fiddly to use.
Interestingly, we don't see the IP67 rating flashed around with the Motorola Defy Mini, although the phone is touted as dust and water resistant.
Motorola has skinned the Defy Mini in a slightly new way, and part of this is about the new MotoSwitch user interface, which incorporates features that learn how you use the phone and adapt it accordingly.
There's still the familiar four shortcuts that sit at the bottom of each home screen as you scroll around. These take you to Dialler and Messaging as well as to the main apps menu.
The fourth shortcut drops you into one of the bits of freebie software Motorola has added to the Defy Mini - something it calls Dashboard. We'll come to this later, when we look at Maps and Apps.
Meanwhile there are seven home screens to populate with shortcuts and widgets. But you aren't stuck with seven. Tap the Home button beneath the screen and you'll see thumbnails of all seven home screens. Use the plus symbol at the top of the screen to add another one or two if you like.
If want still more home screen choices, then tap the Menu button beneath the screen and choose Profiles.
Now you can switch between three different collections of home screens, labelled Home, Work and Weekend. Populate these with the widgets and shortcuts that suit those times, and you can switch between personalised handset looks for different situations.
No Android smartphone worth its salt comes without a selection of widgets, and Motorola provides a series of its own to complement those that come with Android. They're nicely separated out so smartphone newbies don't get too confused.
Some of the Motorola widgets are part of the new MotoSwitch user interface, and they're really quite nice. You'll see them too on the high-end Motorola Motoluxe.
Social Graph, for example, provides information and contact access to your most frequently contacted people. In the screen shot below we've not set it up yet, but when you do those mugshots will be of your favourite people.
Activity Graph learns what apps you've been running and changes to reflect this - or you can set it up with your favourite apps.
We have to say we rather like these widgets, and we're really pleased to see them being used on a budget handset.
Contacts and calling
Getting contacts into the Motorola Defy Mini is an easy enough process. It can cope with Twitter, Google, Facebook and Microsoft Exchange contacts.
Setting up your accounts is a simple matter of entering your username and password - it only takes a minute or two. Once you've done that you can synchronise the accounts into the handset.
It's the same process for synchronising your Facebook contacts. We did have trouble with Twitter sync though, which often failed. This is something we've encountered before - we met it with the Motoluxe too. Maybe Motorola has a perennial problem with its internals, and if so it really does need looking at.
The contacts app itself is neatly designed with a standard dialler area, Call button and links across the top of the screen to the call log, contacts, favourites and groups.
There's smart dialling built in, but such a small portion of the screen is given over to it that it can be a bit difficult to use efficiently. You can only actually see one match at a time.
Calling itself was a straightforward process though, with good call quality. There's not a lot going on by way of noise cancelling, though.
We found that when we were talking to someone in a crowded location it could be hard to hear them. Hope they weren't yelling into the phone and disturbing people around them!
The process of composing SMS messages on the Motorola Defy Mini is very standard fare. The interface offers nothing that's going to throw you, although you may find the keyboard is rather pokey to use on the small screen.
To help things out here Motorola provides Swype, and indeed you may find that sweeping a finger around the screen is easier than prodding at its tiny keys. Unless you've got child-small fingers, of course.
Auto correct works quite well, but you can't see an awful lot of any text you write, because of the cramped screen.
When you've got a conversation going on a small area about a fifth of the screen shows messages when the keyboard is up. There's going to be a lot of scrolling going on unless you get rid of the keyboard and look at the trail without it.
You have the same problem of a small keyboard and not much screen viewing area in email, and this can be a real pain, since emails usually carry a lot more text than SMS text messages.
One solution is to switch into landscape orientation, but even then you only get to see two rows of text. So the Motorola Defy Mini is not going to work well for you if you are wedded to mobile email.
You'll be better off choosing a phone with a bigger, higher resolution screen.
The small screen of the Motorola Defy Mini isn't really best suited to internet browsing. There's nothing wrong with it on the connectivity front, with Wi-Fi and 7.2Mbps HSDPA downloads. But we think 3.2 inches doesn't give you enough space for adequate web browsing, and the pixel count, at 480 x 320, is low too.
Web pages look squeezed - take the TechRadar home page, for example. The mobile version looks fine, but pop into the desktop version and things are too squished up for our liking. You certainly can't read anything much without zooming in.
You can double-tap to zoom in and out of pages in the usual Android fashion, and text reflowing works as it should do in these circumstances. But as we've found before in far too many Android handsets, pinch to zoom in further and there's no reflow support.
How much this matters to you will depend, of course, on how you use the web. Double-tap zooming often gives quite enough detail to read web pages successfully.
In general we found web pages loaded fairly quickly, although that last little bit of complex pages sometimes took its time to resolve.
You will also notice that there is no Flash support. We hate it when handsets don't have Flash. It means that video embedded into some websites is a no-go area, and for us that really detracts from the browsing experience.
With just a 3-megapixel main camera on the Motorola Defy Mini, you can't expect top quality photos. There's a flash, but the camera is fixed focus. That's OK, really, on a handset at this kind of price. And having a side button for launching the camera and taking a snap is a plus.
We were a bit disappointed in the shutter reaction time though - if you move the camera about after pressing the button you'll get a blurred image. You learn this quickly, but it's not ideal.
On the plus side, Motorola has added a few image filters that are a bit different to the norm. Alongside the usual and rather predictable sepia and mono there are aqua, emboss, negative colour and negative monochrome and sketch modes. And there's a night scene mode alongside the auto mode.
The camera controls are easily accessed on screen via a neat menu system we've seen before, and this makes the camera relatively easy to use.
Normal shooting mode produces passable images for the phone screen but not really for sharing or printing. Note how the slow shutter speed blurs the water, and the background trees are just a splodge.
The filters are fun, though. Aqua lends a rather nice blue tint to everything you photograph.
The Emboss filter is something you don't often see on a phone camera - it's something you apply after in photo editing software. It makes for some rather fun photographs.
The Sketch filter is also something rarely found on a phone camera, and more often seen in photo editing software. Again the results of using this can be really good.
You've two types of negative to choose between on the Motorola Defy Mini. The Negative Mono has a real night shooting feel about it.
The video camera on the Motorola Defy Mini is rather disappointing as it is limited to VGA (640 x 480) pixels as its maximum resolution. On the other hand it shares the shooting modes of the stills camera, so you can have a little fun.
Motorola tends to take media seriously on its handsets, and for a while we've enjoyed its Music+ application. This gives you access to online services as well as the included music player. For example, forget FM radio - which you've got as a separate app on the Motorola Defy Mini - and go full on for internet radio via SHOUTcast.
On the other hand, if you are into karaoke or just enjoy song lyrics generally, then the great news is that as soon as you start playing a track its lyrics are found and shown on screen.
The Motorola Defy Mini's small screen again somewhat lets things down, since you can't see much by way of lyrics at once, but the idea is great, and if you tap a line of a lyric you can view the lot. You can also tap an icon on the player screen to get related YouTube video right from the player, which is neat.
The player copes with AMR, MP3, MIDI and AAC files, although with a memory of just 120MB, there's not enough room to store too many on the phone.
Sound quality leaves a bit to be desired, with the built-in speaker decidedly rough and tinny, and the provided headphones no better than average quality.
If you switch out of the music player to use another app, there's a control panel in the notifications pulldown, and there's also a rather nice widget that incorporates connected features.
Video playback is remarkably smooth, given the low powered processor, and our main issue is really that the small screen doesn't make us want to watch a great deal.
Motorola includes a neat media-related feature in the shape of MediaSee, which really quickly and easily hooks into your network for streaming music, video and images. In theory.
It found all three, streamed music and showed us images full screen. But while it uncovered video, the handset refused to play any of it.
You can also use the Motorola Defy Mini itself as a DLNA server.
Battery life and connectivity
Motorola has given the Defy Mini a 1650mAh battery that's good for 580 minutes of talk time and 420 hours on standby. These figures mean little these days when smartphones are used for a whole lot more than talk, of course.
The good news is that the battery really did seem to deliver. When we were indulging in light use, that is. We got more than a day and a half at times when we were making a few calls and browsing the web a little and sending just a few messages.
But leave social media and email sync on, play tunes for a couple of hours a day, watch some video, browse the web and use the GPS and we had to recharge mid afternoon. That's a standard usage pattern for us, and a standard battery life report too.
You've got recourse to a battery saver app if you want to stretch battery life, and can configure this to act as you want it to.
There's quite a lot going on in the Motorola Defy Mini in the connectivity stakes. HSDPA only runs to 7.2Mbps, but that's really fast enough for a handset at this price, and there's also Wi-Fi with hotspot capability, DLNA, media streaming and Bluetooth too.
It's not bad fare, although Moto really does need to fix the MediaSee problem with video streaming, which seems to run across more than one handset (we had the same problem with the Motoluxe).
Maps and apps
We've already noted the MediaSee app that Motorola adds in for media streaming, and its own DLNA sharing app too. It goes without saying that the Motorola Defy Mini also includes good old Google Maps. And there's quite a lot more besides.
Dashboard will appeal to fitness fanatics. A pedometer at the top of the screen is coupled with links to apps you might like to use while out and about. By default these are a compass, FM radio and the camera, but you can tap and hold any of these to change them, and the fourth option isn't even configured at the outset, waiting for you to touch and hold it to choose what you want in its spot.
You've also got QuickOffice Lite for viewing Microsoft Office files, a sound recorder, voice dialler (as well as voice search), and a Torch app that toggles the camera's LED flash. It's not a bad set of apps, and of course you can go crazy in Google Play.
Hands on gallery
The Motorola Defy Mini takes the Defy idea and puts it into a small package. It works - up to a point. The chassis feels robust, and the covers for the headset and USB slots afford protection, even though they're fiddly to use.
But the handset is a bit too small and under-powered for our tastes.
SocialGraph and ActivityGraph are really nice features, and while we could easily make our own shortcuts to favourite contacts and apps, we like the look and feel of what Motorola has done.
The Connected Music Player, Music+, really works nicely. We've always been fans, and continue to be. Similarly, MediaSee is seamless for media sharing - although its video player needs work.
There were problems with Twitter sync for us, and MediaSee failed too. Attention to detail, Motorola, please.
The Motorola Defy Mini's screen is just too small for some activities, with cramped viewing around the keyboard area.
512MB of internal storage, with the influx of more expansive apps, really isn't enough these days either, so we'd have liked to have seen that boosted.
And more importantly the OS is something of a concern - we can accept Gingerbread for now as it's still a pretty current platform, but we've not heard anything about an update to the OS to Ice Cream Sandwich.
If Motorola (which is almost owned by Google, lest we forget) doesn't get its act together and start being among the first to publish updates to its handsets, we're going to see a few disgruntled customers.
Motorola seems to have a lot of the components for making fab handsets at its fingertips, but doesn't manage to bring them all together perfectly. The idea of taking the Defy range and making it smaller is a good one, but the execution isn't great.
We're also not sure about the phone's dust and water rating. Moto uses the phrases 'dust proof' and 'water resistant' on its website, but doesn't' mention IP67. Maybe the Motorola Defy Mini didn't qualify, then.
Overall, it's a decent enough little phone in places - and being life proof plus small enough to pop in places you wouldn't normally see a handset should be tempting.
But the lack of overall fluency and reliance on last-gen components (including that underpowered processor) is a worry, even at the modest price.