Motorola Defy+

So, you're looking for a rugged handset that can see you through the day-to-day struggle of your hectic life. In that case, you might be considering the Motorola Defy+. The follow up to, you guessed it, the Defy, the new handset offers a few improvements that should make it a better bet for people who need a rugged phone.

The first handset came in for some criticism, because it wasn't quite as rugged as people thought it would be. But, has this updated model learnt from its older brother, or is it destined to make the same mistakes?

A good size

We might as well handle our favourite things about the Defy+ first. As a phone, it's not a bad form-factor. It's small enough to fit in even the smallest hand, but it's not too small to use.

It's chunky though, almost certainly as a result of some of the reinforcement needed to make it "lifeproof". But it's not especially heavy at 118g and it's comfortable to carry around in a pocket.

What's more, the sockets are placed in sensible locations. Without doubt, the top of a phone is the BEST place for a headphone socket. Anywhere else and it causes all sorts of pocket-related mayhem and is a pain if you're using the phone while listening to music. We can forgive a bottom mounted 3.5mm jack, but the phones that have them on the side are really annoying.

The USB socket is, however, located on the left-hand side of the handset, but that's fine, as it's mainly used for charging, or the occasional bit of data transfer, although that's becoming less of a requirement in these days of wireless syncing.

Motoblur

Back in the days of the Milestone and the Milestone 2, when Android was a little less complete than it is now, we liked Motoblur. These days though, it doesn't really add a huge amount of any note to the handset aside munching through the battery.

It also looks a bit antiquated and it makes the phone less logical to use. For example, you can log in to your Facebook account - in fact, Motoblur remembers your settings, even if you switch phones - so you'll get notified of updates and such, but it doesn't include a proper Facebook app here. So you can't actually interact with the service until you download the (useless) official app.

Visually, the phone isn't too different to the usual Android 2.3 layout. In some ways, it's a lot more like stock Android than previous Motorola handsets. The unlock screen is, for example, very plain and basic. The notification area has no settings toggles for switching Bluetooth and GPS on and off either, something we love on phones which do have it.

Decent screen

We like the compact, but bright and detailed screen on the Defy+. We're actually amazed by how nice it is. Because it's an LCD panel, the colours are accurate - if a little less vivid than an AMOLED screen - and it's easy to see outside, even in reasonably bright conditions.

There hasn't been any upgrade to the display though, this is still a 480 x 854 pixel, 3.7-inch panel. Which all gives you a PPI of about 265, hardly earth-shattering, but it looks good anyway. 

We did have a few problems with responsiveness though, and we don't think this was down to the screen itself, but the speed and computational power of the phone itself. But we'll get to that in due course. The point here is that some times we found ourselves jabbing at a screen that wasn't listening. Still, at least the phone is tough enough to take the frustrated throwdown that resulted in its sluggishness.

Moto Phone Portal

One thing we do like is the ability to fiddle about with your phone via a web browser. Simply connect your phone using the supplied app, then visit the web address it gives you. Within moments, you can browse the images on your phone, send text messages and view and export your contacts.

There's also a file browser - which only works with Internet Explorer - that connects you to the SD card storage of your phone, wirelessly, as if the SD card was plugged in to your computer itself. This is a really nice little feature, and for advanced users it's likely to be a real winner.

There's also a DLNA client too, which works in the same manner as all DLNA clients. Namely, it's really picky about what formats it supports, and it can be a problem getting two networked devices to talk to one another.

Rugged

One of the big complaints about the original Defy was that it wasn't really "lifeproof" enough. People bought the phone, expecting it to be able to survive anything they threw at it, but it would often let them down. Pocket-lint went on Watchdog to talk about it, the crux of the complaints being cracked screens.

Whilst users need to consider that this phone does have a huge screen which, even with Gorilla Glass, will still shatter if you hit it, Motorola, it seems, has changed the phone for the better. It is now IP67 certified. That means that it should be able to resist water for 30 minutes at a depth of up to 1 metre. Although we don't disbelieve that assertation, we felt like testing it. So we did.

The test is hardly scientific, and our water depth was little more than 10cm, but even so, it proves the phone can survive being in water for a while. The only problem, of course, comes when the phone enters water without the port protectors in place. We didn't test what happens if they aren't. But we assume it won't be pretty.

Motorola makes sure you understand, this isn't a "waterproof" phone, in the same way a watch is waterproof. It's just designed not to break in the event of an slight accident.

To test the overall ruggedness, we gave it to Isobel for the morning. Isobel's hobby is throwing things on to the tiled kitchen floor. For this reason, we don't usually give her phones, but in this case we did. We should point out that Isobel is a toddler, not a petulant adult with a penchant for destruction of phones. The phone was fine though, and although we watched, with our own eyes, the original Defy break on a hard floor, we didn't manage to destroy this one. Or rather, Isobel didn't.

Under-powered

Here is where everything starts to get a lot less positive. The first problem with the Defy is that it's woefully under-powered. It's got 25 per cent more power than the first version, and it's still about 75 per cent less than we think it needs.

Games are slow; Tiny Tower could be a real chore to scroll through our tower block. But menus and navigating around the home screens has a real, tangible, lag to it. It's not the worst, but it's enough to make this phone feel clunky and out-of-date.

It may not, in fact, be the 1GHz Cortex A8 processor causing the problem here - the original Defy had 800MHz - nor is it likley to be the PowerVR GPU. It could, however, be the 512MB of RAM, which is about the smallest amount of RAM anyone would dare put in a modern Android phone. But whatever the problem is, it's very real and very annoying.

Reboots

By far the most irritating stunt the Defy+ pulled on us was to crash so comprehensively that it rebooted itself. It did this to us a lot, and it was just about the most annoying thing we've ever experienced. One minute you'd be servicing the needs of your 30-floor Tiny Tower, then the next, black screen, followed by a Motorola logo.

When it comes to show-stopping problems, this really is at the top of the list. We even had it happen once when we were in a phone call. That's a big deal, and something we would never want to live with long-term.

Wi-Fi problems

As annoying as the reboot problem is the Wi-Fi. On our test phone it was flaky and patchy to the point that it was almost unusable at times. In fact, it was sometimes easier to shut it off and just use 3G to get stuff from the Internet.

The biggest issue seems to be that, no matter how good your Wi-Fi signal is, the phone will sometimes fail to transfer data using it. The handset even has the audacity not to work when you have a full-strength Wi-Fi signal. It seemed that, at times, it simply wasn't in the mood to move bits around.

This problem plagued us from the very first moment we turned the handset on, brand new, out of the box. Switching the phone to flight mode sometimes fixed the problem for a bit, but in some ways, that just makes us more angry, as it proves that there is something wrong.

Music, camera and video

As you might expect, the 5-megapixel camera is fine for snaps. It's not a great camera for anything that happens away from direct sunlight. The video camera can't record HD, only VGA video. That's fine for the odd clip here and there, but it's still a disappointment.

Music is surprisingly good though, and audio quality is decent. Motorola's connected music app provides lyrics and other online song information, which is a neat touch. It has also got internet radio streaming, which we don't really see the point of, as at home you have all the internet radio you want and on the move 3G simply isn't good enough and your data package probably not big enough.

Battery life

There's nothing amazing to say about the battery. The 1650mAh cell is an improvement over the original Defy's 1540mAh effort. We could get a whole day out of it, but not doing much more than making a few calls and sending a few texts. A couple of hours of Tiny Tower action are enough to kill it completely though, so casual game addicts need not apply. 

Verdict

The Defy+ is an odd one. It's rugged, there's no denying that. So logically, if you need a rugged phone, then this might not be a bad choice. But that's a long way off a recommendation from us, because frankly, there's so much other stuff that's unsatisfactory about this phone, that it actually makes us a bit cross.

The resetting happened too often to be a one-off glitch. We haven't installed anything that could justify this, and we weren't doing anything complicated at the time. For a phone, this is just unforgivable. We don't like it when our PC crashes, but when a phone does, it's just infuriating.

Factor in the slowness of the phone, and really there's a phone that has very little to offer apart from being baby proof, and small enough to carry around easily. We could forgive it, but when you remember that most contracts now last for 18- or 24-months we can't imagine living with this phone for that long. We, after all, get to give it back after a couple of weeks. If you want something small, get the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray. If you want something rugged, then perhaps get a good case for the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray.