It's funny, the way that Motorola keeps awkwardly scraping away at the future of computing. The Atrix was a phone with a dual-core processor-like your laptop!—that also turned into a laptop. The Droid Bionic is the next step—a dual-core transforming thing of a phone, but it pulls down real internet from the sky.
Why It Matters
Verizon 4G LTE + dual-core processor. That's why it matters. This thing hums like Frank Sinatra with his lips sewn shut. Verizon has had 4G LTE phones, and it's had dual-core phones, but this is the phone that has both. It's also the thinnest LTE smartphone on the market—and did we mention it turns into a laptop? In short, Motorola's giving us another taste of the future of computing, even if it manages to ensure the experience of using the whole thing still crashes back to here, in 2011.
The screen does not look good. It's grainy and has an oddly visible cross-hatch pattern, thanks to the PenTile display. What it lacks in clarity, though, it makes up for in brightness. The Bionic has the brightest screen I've ever tested, which makes it extremely usable even in bright sunlight. I definitely wouldn't recommend it for watching movies or viewing photos (though you can always use this to stream video to an HDTV via HDMI or DLNA), but if you spend a lot of time outdoors, this might off-set that.
Battery life, like on all 4G LTE phones, is not so hot. With medium to heavy use the phone was usually dead by mid-afternoon. If you switch LTE off, though, and just use 3G/CDMA, it should last you into the night. For that reason I say leave it in 3G then use a toggle app to switch to 4G when you need it——even though it does kill half the reason you're buying this thing. Still, if you aggressively micro-manage, you'll get the speed when it counts and you should make it through the whole day on a single charge.
The software side of things is a weird mix. It's Android 2.3.4 with Motorola software that runs slightly more than skin deep. They don't call it MotoBlur anymore-you can call a dead raccoon Jessica Alba, but that won't make me want to make out with it. In the video you can see I put LauncherPro on it, and the user experience improved by 200 percent. Which, you know, consumers shouldn't have to do to their phones. It comes with some great software if you're a business user, and a lot of useless bloatware if you're anybody else-which you can't remove unless you root it. (And yes, Android nerds, the Bootloader is locked down.)
The camera is decent, but isn't as good as those found on Sony's and Samsung's high-end devices. Pictures tended to be a bit washed out, and colors weren't as rich or accurate as they could have been. In video mode, the camera has a lot of trouble finding its focus and correct ISO, which is a shame, because the 1080p video just doesn't look as good as it should.
This is, hands down, the fastest phone on Verizon. It's not as fast as Samsung's Galaxy S II—but that's not coming to Verizon, so this is your best option. The screen is crazy bright. Download speeds of 13Mbps and upload speeds of 3Mbps in NYC—faster than my Time Warner cable internet. Like most of Moto's high end phones, it actually feels like somebody cared when they put it together.
Oh, and it's a phone, so I should mention that call quality is excellent. You can get some serious talk time out of this bad boy—made it past 10 hours when LTE was off, which is among the best CDMA devices ever. Also, Google Talk video chat is awesome-I was able to video chat over 4G with my buddy on a computer (logged into his Gmail) and it was nice and smooth. 32GB of storage right out of the box (expandable to 48GB).
The PenTile screen, bright as it may be, hurts my eyes, with grainy, grainy pixels everywhere. The new Moto skin is unwieldy and messes with things that weren't broken-I shouldn't have to install a launcher replacement to make my phone's software functional and attractive.
The Webtop Laptop. This thing really just shouldn't exist. The hardware on the outside is nice and ultrabook-like, but as soon as you open it up things fall apart. The keyboard is cheap and awful and the track pad (with its buttons that constantly stick) is unusable. It was actually easier to compose documents on the phone. It's extremely slow and buggy on top of all that-it runs Firefox 4-with weird anomalies all around (like the on screen keyboard popping up for no reason, when it's completely useless, as you can see in the video).
Should I Buy It?
If you're on Verizon and are dying for a new phone, this is easily the fastest and best Android on Verizon. If you can get over the pixilation of the screen (and you probably will after a few days), and don't mind constantly toggling between 3G/4G modes to make it through the day without constant recharging, at any rate. If you're not squarely in the Android camp though, you should probably hold out a little bit longer to see what iPhone 5 and the next crop of Windows Phones are gonna deliver. And then there's a longer term consideration: Now that Google owns Motorola, is this still what the future of Android—and Motorola—is going to look like? [Verizon Wireless]
Update: It's the future now. I've been using the phone for a couple more weeks and there's more to report. There are a lot of anomalies in this little machine. There are some software gremlins in the Droid Bionic I've never experienced with any other Android device. Sometimes apps just disappear, only to reappear when you restart the phone. Also, when my phone is plugged in to the A/C adapter the touch screen becomes almost completely unusable. I'm not sure if there's a short or what, and it's possible that it's unique to my device. Lastly, the glass that protects the camera lens has cracked. I didn't drop it and I wasn't in a car accident or anything; I just pulled it out of my pocket one day and it was broken. Very strange. All that said, it's still as fast as the day I unboxed it and it's more than capable of being your daily device.
Motorola Droid Bionic
Screen: 4.3-inch 960-by-540 Pentile TFT qHD
Processor and RAM: TI OMAP 4430 1.0 Ghz dual-core processor / 1GB RAM
Storage: 16GB internal + 16GB micro SD (can swap in a 32GB SD)
Camera: Back: 8MP/1080p HD, Front: VGA
Dimensions: H: 5 inches x W: 2.6 inches x D: 0.4 inches
Weight: 159 grams / 5.61 ounces
Battery: 1735 mAh
Rank: 3 Stars
Video music credit: Keven MacLeod/Incomptech