Motorola's long-awaited, long-delayed flagship new phone is here. The Motorola Droid Bionic sports a massive feature set including 4G LTE, 32 GB of storage, and lots of expansion options, along with an equally impressive suggested retail price of $300 with a two-year Verizon contract. But is it worth the cost, and does it live up to expectations?
BUILD & DESIGN
The design of the Droid Bionic is, as such things go, fairly simple. It follows its siblings, the Droid 3 and Droid X2, in having a squared off, angular shape. However, I find I like the Bionic's feel better than the similar Droid X2, since the back features more beveled edges, making it more comfortable to hold in your hand without losing the "look." This is a pretty good compromise between being ergonomically friendly and having the distinctly mechanical lines that have become emblematic of the Droid devices. One thing you can say about the new Droids, it's not easy to mistake them for anything else.
Coming in with a 4.3-inch screen, the Bionic is certainly not a small device. Physically, it's only a tiny bit smaller and lighter than Motorola's other flagship, the Droid 3, which includes a slide-out keyboard. A lot of the Bionic's bulk, though, goes into the battery. 4G LTE devices are famously power hungry, and to combat this Motorola has equipped the Bionic with a 1735 mAh battery.
Down along the device's left side, you'll notice the Bionic's micro-USB and mini-HDMI ports. These are very strategically located in order to enable the use of a number of accessories with the device. And I do mean "a number." You have the standard dock, which is basically a charging cradle with 3.5mm audio out for speakers or headphones. Then there's the HD Station dock, which provides charging, HDMI out, audio-out, USB Host, and a tiny wireless remote control so that you can use the Bionic to play back music and video on your home entertainment system, or stream it live off the Net. And with the Bionic supporting 1080p output via HDMI, you can do this in high definition. Then there's the car dock, which conveniently includes a single cable to give you both power and audio out to your car stereo.
More notable, though, are the "webtop" options. Like AT&T's Motorola Atrix 4G, you can connect the Bionic to a dock which effectively turns it into a tiny laptop. Snap the handset into a little mini-cradle on the back, and you instantly have access to all your phone's files and apps, on an 11.5-inch, 1366 x 768 screen. You can either use the lapdock's native web browser and apps, or you can directly access the Android interface. The latter is a little fuzzier, since you're scaling up the Bionic's native 960 x 540 resolution, but it's still plenty clear for things like GPS navigation, allowing you to put Google Maps or any other app on the big screen. Plus, the lapdock's independent battery will charge the Bionic any time it's plugged in, even if you're not using either device, so it doubles as a backup power supply.
Of course if you want some of this functionality without the laptop end, Motorola also offers a "webtop adapter" which lets you get HDMI and USB Host (albeit in a tiny connector, needing a specialty cable which isn't included) by snapping it on to the side of the phone. Thus you can hook up a keyboard and HDMI-capable display directly, turning it into a pseudo-desktop.
For all this impressive hardware though, there's a drawback. In short, it's all bleedingly expensive. The laptop dock is priced at $300, the HD station at $100, and even the little "webtop adapter" features a suggested retail price of $30. Oh, and Motorola insists that the Bionic isn't compatible with the laptop dock from the Atrix, so you can forget about getting an older model to save a little. That may be an exaggeration though, as I did successfully hook up a borrowed Motorola Photon 4G to the Bionic's lapdock, and it worked fully despite the slight difference in where the ports are located.
I do have to admit, while I haven't been a big believer in the principle of smartphone companion devices before, using the Droid Bionic with the laptop dock was definitely an interesting experience. Just snapping the phone into the slot, and suddenly having a big screen and full keyboard to work with, is really attractive, particularly if you're often on the go and keep a lot of your work on your phone. I think the laptop dock could do with some improvements, notably a better mouse system and skipping the "lapdock apps" in order to provide a more pure Android experience more closely tied to the phone. But the idea has potential, particularly as the dividing line between smartphones and tablets becomes more a question of size rather than capabilities.
The Droid Bionic touts the 960 x 540 (qHD) screen which has been the standard on Motorola's high end devices for awhile. Despite some complaints I've heard from others about the screen quality, I found it quite good. At 4.3-inches, it's great for web browsing, and not uncomfortable to type on--even for people like me who are usually keyboard addicts.
Other Buttons & Controls
Aside from the power button and volume rocker, the Bionic has no other controls beyond the touchscreen. The standard Android buttons -- Menu, Home, Back, and Search -- are actually built into the bottom of the display.
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