Review: Motorola Defy on T-Mobile – rugged Android phone

Back in September, we mentioned the Motorola Defy – the world’s first GSM rugged smartphone. And a little over a month later, the phone is already lined up to hit store shelves. As we promised back then, we’d get our hands on a review unit – and today we’ve got the photos and review to help keep that promise.

The Defy is Motorola’s second rugged Android smartphone, after their i1 on Sprint Nextel. The arrival of the Defy on T-Mobile means Motorola has firmly secured a top spot in the world of rugged Android phones.

First the basics – Inside the Defy is an 800MHz processor, Android 2.1, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, accelerometer, electronic compass, a 5 megapixel camera, FM radio and a MicroSD card slot. In other words – not too much astounding as this is quickly becoming the bare minimum anyone expects from an Android phone. Storage for the phone comes from 2GB of shared storage memory and 512MB of ram. Its 3.7″ 480×854 pixel screen sits behind a Gorilla Glass panel.

What makes the Defy special is that it can survive the elements – scratches, sand, snow, dust and water. This doesn’t necessarily mean the phone can come swimming with you, but as I’ll explain later, a bit of water won’t hurt this phone.


The phone is surprisingly light – most likely because I’m used to large devices like the G2 or the Nexus One, but holding the Defy is an unexpected pleasure – despite it weighing just four ounces, the whole package feels really sturdy.

On the top is a power switch and headphone jack (with a plastic cover). On the left side is the sync/charge port, also covered by a plastic cap, and on the right side are two volume rockers.

On the rear of the Defy is its battery cover, which is locked in place by a sliding switch. The back is also where you’ll find its 5MP camera and LED flash.

Behind the cover is space for the MicroSD card (it takes cards up to 32GB), the SIM card slot and of course the battery. The entire back portion contains seals and gaskets, and the rear of the battery cover has a small amount of sealant, all designed to keep water out.

A review of a rugged phone would not be complete without putting the phone to the test with some water – I sprayed it continuously, then left it wet for ten minutes. I then sprayed it again, and turned it on. I repeated this test four times, and I’m happy to report that it survived just fine. I eventually dried it off, but there are absolutely no traces of the phone having been soaked.

Of course, there is a difference between soaked, and submerged, but “underwater” is not listed in the elements it’ll survive. It will get through a rain storm just fine, and it won’t have a problem with a day at the beach.

The front panel is made of Corning Gorilla Glass – a specially formulated glass which is much stronger than previous generations of panels. This alone makes for a much more rugged device.

There is not much I can say about the Android Operating System that hasn’t already been said. The Defy runs Android 2.1 – which is a bit of a disappointment, because it means your brand new phone already comes one version below the current one (2.2). I’m hoping this will eventually be updated.

Included on the phone is the Motorola Blur interface on top of Android – which means you get easy access to messaging and social media tools.

One pleasant surprise on the phone is the addition of T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling app. This new Android feature allows you to access the T-Mobile network using Wi-Fi. This is obviously fantastic for people abroad or if you have no signal. Calls are routed over Wi-Fi, and minutes come out of your regular pool.

When you go outside the country, you simply pull up a Wi-Fi connection and you’ll be able to make calls. And while this technology is not new, the Defy is one of the first to offer it on Android. You do not need to sign up for anything extra, and there is no configuration necessary – simply turn it on, and it works.

Other pre-installed apps include the T-Mobile Mobile App Pack, Audio Postcards, Blockbuster video streaming, a DLNA media streaming app, the Amazon Kindle reader, Quick Office, a task manager, Swype keyboard, Telenav GPS navigation and T-Mobile account tools. These are all of course in addition to the Moto Blur apps like Family Room.

Motorola also included a better music player than the default Android version – and this one supports the built in FM radio, streaming radio and music recognition through Soundhound.

(photo from the built in camera – hi-res versions are in the gallery)

Photos from the 5MP camera are are actually quite good – as long as there is enough light. Indoors, the camera can use its flash, but the results are hit or miss – too close and they are too bright, too far away and they are too dark. Video is only in VGA resolution, so no HD shots from this smartphone.

Final Thoughts

Putting aside the fact that I absolutely love Android – the Defy has taken me by surprise. It is light yet rugged, compact yet speedy. Not everyone will love the Moto Blur interface – but that is the nice thing about Android – if you find something you don’t like, you simply replace it with something else.

The phone survived my basic elements tests fine, call quality is good (even when on speakerphone) and the touch panel is very responsive. The screen is also quite usable in sunlight – and looked much better than my G2 or Nexus One.

Battery life is rated to be just under 7 hours of talk time and 9 days of standby – I’ve not had the phone long enough to check that claim, but as with most smartphones, anything that can last more than a day should be considered good.

Included in the box is the phone, battery, battery cover, a 2GB MicroSD card, MicroUSB cable, a charger and a headset.

The Motorola Defy on T-Mobile launches in November for $99.99 after a $50 mail in rebate, when purchased on a two-year agreement with a data plan. To learn more about the phone, or to order one when it becomes available, head on over to