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

Product review – Garmin Oregon 400t rugged handheld GPS

Welcome to my product review of the Garmin Oregon 400t navigation unit. If you are reading this article expecting to learn all about the latest and greatest car GPS unit, I’m going to disappoint you.

The Oregon 400t is a handheld GPS receiver with a very strong focus on outdoor activities. For starters, the unit is waterproof, and comes in a very sleek and sturdy enclosure.

The unit has just one button – power. The rest of the controls are operated using its color touch screen display. Operating that display is a breeze, and each feature can be accessed by pressing a large icon – making it easy to use even when you are wearing gloves. Moving from screen to screen on the device is done by “swiping” your finger to the next set of options, much like on the Apple iPhone. The screen is anti-glare, and can easily be read in direct sunlight though you may need to adjust the backlight settings to get make it more readable.
Inside the Oregon 400t is much more than just a GPS receiver – it also contains an electronic compass and a barometric altimeter.

When you first go out to use the device, you select a profile – each profile sets the device up for the specific activity you have planned for the day. The 5 different activities are recreational, geocaching, automotive, marine and fitness.

The feature is pretty smart – when you select “geocaching”, the geocaching menu option appears on the main menu page, and “automotive” moves the “route planned” and trip computer to the first screen. Another smart feature is that the background image of the device changes, depending on which profile is selected.

The Oregon 400t comes complete with a 3D topographic map of the U.S. (or Europe on the EU version). The map detail includes things like parks, forests, points of interest and trails, making it perfect for active use. Thanks to the built in MicroSD card slot, you can add additional maps to the unit. Additional maps are available for other countries, as well as regular Garmin City Navigator navigation maps for turn by turn directions. In addition to these regular maps, the Oregon 400t can also be expanded with specialty maps, like the Garmin Lakemaster and Bluechart marine map products.

Maps on the device can be viewed in 2D or 3D, and update very fast, even when you are using it on a plane. To start navigating, you can have the device direct you towards recent locations, waypoints, tracks, points of interest, tides and geographic points. You’ll notice that it can’t direct you towards an address – the topographic maps don’t include that data.

Now, on to the unit itself; on the rear of the device is a locking clip for keeping the rear battery cover on place, behind the cover are the 2 AA batteries, and behind the batteries is the MicroSD card slot. The rear cover also has 2 grooves for attaching accessories. Included with the unit is a carabiner clip, and Garmin will also gladly sell you a car mount, belt clip, marine mount or bike mount.

On the bottom of the device is the interface port, which uses a generic MiniUSB connector. This allows you to connect the Oregon to your computer, a MiniUSB cable is included.

The list of features on the Oregon 400t is impressive. You’ll find everything from wireless exchange of data with other Oregon units, to Wherigo location based adventures.

What impressed me most on the Oregon 400t is its well designed interface. Everything is where it should be, and most screens can be customized to your liking. The unit also features several handy additional applications like a calculator, calendar, alarm clock and even an image viewer.

These three screen captures show some of the screens you’ll find on the unit. The left map is a 3D elevation map showing a plotted course (in this case, a 757 heading towards O’Hare airport). The middle image shows a 2D map and the right image is of the trip computer, showing just a couple of the variables the device can display. You’ll notice that we were traveling at 631 mph and were descending.

GPS reception on the Oregon 400t is absolutely fantastic. The unit grabs hold of the weakest GPS signal and has no problems getting a “fix” even indoors or inside a plane (which is a heck of a lot more fun than watching the Airshow).

All in all, the Oregon 400t is the best outdoor GPS unit I have ever tested. There is no denying that the $599 price tag will scare you a bit, but if you spend a good portion of your time outdoors, then this is one investment you may want to consider.

The unit can be expanded with a great variety of mounting options, as well as a Garmin heart rate monitor and bike cadence sensor. Several vendors have decent deals on the unit, including, who sell it for $509.

The Oregon line of GPS receivers comes in several different flavors, the 400t comes preloaded with US topographic maps, the 400c comes with the Garmin Bluechart maps and the 400i comes with a US Inland Lakes map. 2 slightly cheaper models come with Garmin base maps.

I’ve added a gallery with some more images of the product.


The toughest digital camera on the market?

I’ve seen many a digital camera die a slow and painful death while on the road. Sand that got caught in the lens mechanism. LCD screens cracked by bumper-car-joyrides. Accidental drops on unforgiving pavement. Not to mention those of us who abuse our cameras in adverse situations involving water, dust and extremes of temperature.

For anyone who’s ever risked their digital to get a great shot but lost a nice camera in the process, I recommend checking out the Olympus Stylus 1030SW. According to the reviews I’ve found at Travel Gear Blog, as well as on CNET, the 1030W is one of the sturdiest cameras on the market. In addition to being waterproof and dustproof, the Olympus is also shockproof, crushproof and freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

How durable is that exactly? According to specs, you can drop it from up to 6.6 feet and crush it with up to 220 pounds of pressure. While the 1030 SW can’t match the optics of some of the top-of-the-line point-and-shoots out there, it does offer a solid 10.1 megapixels and the standard digital camera features like panorama stitching and image stabilization we’ve come to expect from most consumer point-and-shoots these days.

All you skiiers, snorkelers and adventure-travelers take note. Although there are better cameras on the market for image quality, this Olympus packs some great features into a highly durable package. Sometimes avoiding the aggravation of a ruined camera is worth that small sacrifice in functionality.