Review: Motorola Defy's rugged design and reasonably priced

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Review: Motorola Defy's rugged design  and reasonably priced

Daft names clearly aren't the preserve of desktop PC manufacturers, a fact proved by Motorola's latest handset. Ignore the moniker, however, and you'll find a gem of a smartphone underneath. Motorola's latest device sports a lovely 3.7in, 480 x 854 capacitive screen (a higher resolution than the giant HTC Desire HD no less), and squeezes in a lot more besides.

If that screen doesn't catch your eye, then the unusual design certainly will. With its exposed screwheads and grippy, light-plastic chassis, the Defy looks more like a rugged GPS than a modern smartphone. But it isn't just for looks.

Motorola claims the Defy is water, dust and scratch resistant, and it even sports an IP67 rating to prove it's been tested against dust and moisture ingress. Additionally, it's the first smartphone to achieve Telstra's Blue Tick of approval for rural use.

It certainly feels sturdy. The screen, just like the iPhone 4, is protected with impact- and scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass, there's plenty of protection around the sides, flaps to prevent the audio and USB ports getting clogged with dust and dirt, plus a thin rubber seal around the perimeter of the battery compartment. It's nice to see a manufacturer focus not just on glitz and glamour, but on practicality for once.

Elsewhere, you'll find Android 2.2 in place, the second such phone we've reviewed recently to sport the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. This adds some useful features, but most importantly gives performance a boost. With just an 800MHz processor on board we'd normally expect speed to be considerably down on the class-leaders, but as a BBC homepage load time of 13 seconds and a SunSpider JavaSript score of 16 seconds prove, it's far from slow.

Likewise, we found general responsiveness in and around the operating system very good, although it isn't quite up there with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S, Desire HD or iPhone 4. While sweeping from home screen to home screen, and whizzing through long lists, the Defy occasionally felt hesitant.

The presence of Google's latest mobile OS also means Flash 10.1 support, although we're not yet convinced of its readiness for use on mobiles. It's nice to have the full web at your fingertips, but video playback often looked juddery, and we found trying to play Flash games infuriating since most are designed for mouse and keyboard, not touchscreen operation.

Of more potential use is Motorola's Motoblur Android customisation. This brings together a host of social network, email and photo sharing services under one roof, grouping together contacts and contact images, updates, feeds and more. It lets you post to many services simultaneously, and the resizable Motoblur widgets for the Android desktop are very slick indeed. But it's the sheer number of services it can sync with that's the big attraction: not just Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, but also MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn, Picasa, Flickr and more.

And the rest of the specifications aren’t bad either: the Defy has a decent 5-megapixel camera with a single LED flash that produces sharp, clean shots; it has good battery life, with an admirable 60% left on the meter after our 24-hour test (on a par with the iPhone 4 and HTC Desire); and Motorola has also thrown in the Swype text-entry system, a welcome bonus that speeds up typing no end. The only complaint we have over the Defy's list of capabilities is that it doesn't shoot HD video, just DVD-ish resolution, at 720 x 480.

Apart from that, though, the Defy is an excellent phone. The slightly rugged design is pleasingly different. It has good battery life, a lovely screen and a decent complement of software. If social networking is your thing, you'll love it. Perhaps the most attractive aspect is the price: it's only just hit the shops, but the Defy is already edging toward budget smartphone territory, with free handset plans starting at $49 per month, or you can buy it for $600 outright. And that makes it an excellent buy.


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