Review of the Motorola Droid Bionic on Verizon 4G LTE

I had an opportunity to review the Droid Bionic, my second LTE phone on Verizon.  The HTC Thunderbolt had its ups and downs that have largely been cleared up by updates, we’ll see how well Motorola’s introduction to LTE fares.  I have used the Bionic as my primary phone for a little over three weeks now.

Device Looks and Design
The Bionic is nice and light, though some of that impression may be due to my carrying the Thunderbolt with Quasimodo extended battery pack.  There are no metal parts in the battery cover, so unlike the Thunderbolt is appears all of the antenna parts are in the body of the phone.  The extended battery cover is very streamlined as well.

The two-tone look is good.  The touch-based home buttons are large, which helped me transition from the reversal of the Home and Menu buttons on the Thunderbolt.  I like them better than the Droid X buttons, which are physical buttons.

I was not looking forward to one aspect of moving from the Thunderbolt, and that was because all of my prior Motorola Android phones (except for the Devour I believe) had magnetic sensors that would trip the car or media dock apps when magents were detected at those spots.  This made carrying those phones in belt pouches a hassle because those have magnets in them.  I was relieved to find there are no magnetic reactions on the Bionic.  No more worrying about manually shutting off the screen once it pops on again passing a magnet into a case, or dealing with various dock modes and having to install apps to ignore those.

I miss the kick stand HTC builds into the Thunderbolt and the Evo.  Too bad more carries don’t include those, they come in handy sometimes.

Packaging and Activation Notes
Initial unboxing was like most of the recent Android devices… small box with power/data cable.  Activation coming from the HTC Thunderbolt was as easy as moving the SIM card over to the new phone.  Reminds me of the nice and convenient GSM days when I could easily change phones based on my mood of the day without logging on to a Web site or going through a long process to change equipment on the line.  It is a welcome feature for Verizon.

Data handoffs and seeming indecision on the part of the Bionic on whether to lock onto 3G or 4G are problematic.  I have run into a few situations where I pulled out the phone to do something and there was no data connection.  Sometimes putting the phone into airplane mode and back will get data to “wake up” but sometimes a reboot is required.  This is one of those frustrating things I hope will be solved by updates to the phone.  It seems all Android phones have a couple of infuriating bugs when released that later updates usually take care of.

My hope with the Bionic was that Moto’s LTE phone would lock and hold onto 4G signal better than the Thunderbolt, but so far mobile data performance is not noticeably better out-of-the-box than the Thunderbolt.  Even though the areas I live and work are well-covered by 4G, I still see the 3G indicator icons frequently.

Battery Life
I tried using the standard battery for a few days but was not impressed, easily getting less than a day’s use out of it.  Luckily I ordered an extended battery and performance is a little better.  Based on my normal usage patterns I can finish out usage with enough left to get me through early-morning the next day with the extended battery.  Plan to buy one unless you don’t mind plugging the phone in mid-day or top it off with a car charger while driving.

The screen looks good, though not as good as the Thunderbolt indoors.  I use my phones for ebook reading and find the screen to be adequate and easy to read.  And unlike the Thunderbolt I don’t have a hard time using the screen outdoors as long as the brightness is turned up.

An improvement over the Droid X I appreciated was discovering the Bionic will output everything through its HDMI port.  The Droid X was limited in what would be sent to the HDMI output and there were apps out there to compensate for that, but with the Bionic everything is there… the desktop, games I load, movies I play.

User Interface
Everything is snappy and fast, even after loading the apps and widgets I use.  I wish it had 7 home screens instead of just 5, I often find myself wishing I had at least one more.

Memory and Storage
One issue that causes fits is how the Bionic maps its “external” storage.  The phone’s handling of storage (onboard storage and external card storage) is nonstandard and many of my apps don’t work well because of it.  The built-in 8GB of storage is mapped to /mnt/sdcard, and the microSD card is mapped to /mnt/sdcard-ext .  This means apps that expect to save to /mnt/sdcard (what other Android devices use) are going to save to the internal storage and not the card unless the app lets you change where it stores stuff.  I’m not happy with that, as now I’ll have app data in two places and not on the one single place I want it (the microSD card).  So if you are looking around the filesystem be aware of that, as I had some initial “I just copied that over, where is it?” moments.

An example of where that affects use is my bookmarks backup app.  It is expecting to import/export my browser bookmarks to /mnt/sdcard, so I had to copy that folder into the correct sdcard spot to get it to work.  Who knows where my browser downloads will show up.

Voice Call Quality
Very good, in fact exceptional as compared to other phones I have recently used.  I can get enough volume out of the earpiece in different environmental situations.  I don’t talk much on the phone, but when I do it is nice to have a quality experience.

The Bionic’s camera is so-so… I sometimes can’t get it to focus correctly and have to re-take shots, and the time between when you tell it to take the pic and when it actually takes it is too long.  But it has served most of my needs so far.

The Bionic is easily the fastest Android phone I have used in terms of interface response.  Physical form is polished.  There will be some more interesting Android releases this Fall going into the holidays, but if you need to buy now and can put up with a few quirks and wait for required fixes via updates then I can recommend the Bionic.

Bill is a member of the Verizon Wireless Customer Council, an invitational customer focus group sponsored by Verizon Wireless.  He periodically receives devices in exchange for review and comment.

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