Although they sport very different looks, the Motorola Droid Bionic and Motorola Photon 4G share more in common than it seems, including their status as cutting-edge phones on two of the major carriers. We compare both 4G flagships to help you decide which one best suits your needs.
Complicating the decision for would-be buyers, both devices have extremely similar specs. For starters, both are based around a 4.3 inch, 960 x 540 (qHD) screen, have no physical keyboard, and boast a large battery along with a dual-core processor. For the Photon, this processor is the NVIDIA Tegra 2; on the Bionic, it’s a Texas Instruments chip. Run through Quadrant Standard benchmarks, both come out relatively even. The Bionic averages around 2400, the Photon 4G at 2550, but this isn’t a difference likely to be noticable to the user.
Likewise, both devices sport 16 GB of internal memory. But the Droid Bionic one-ups the competition, by also coming pre-loaded with a 16 GB microSD card, giving it some 32 GB of memory out of the box. The Photon doesn’t come with a preinstalled memory card, but you can add any size microSD card you like.
Otherwise, most of the device’s big differences are skin deep. The Bionic sports a squared off, somewhat mechanical look typical of the Droid line, while the Photon has a curvier, rubberized style that’s almost reminiscent of ruggedized devices. Don’t be fooled by this, though; the Photon’s most rugged component is its Gorilla Glass touchscreen, and unlike “real” ruggedized units like the Casio G’zOne Commando, it’s not designed to be waterproof or otherwise indestructible.
LTE vs. WiMAX: Battle of the 4G Networks
The biggest technical distinction between the Bionic and the Photon is the kind of high speed internet they support. While both are nominally “4G” devices, they use very different technologies. The Photon runs on Sprint’s WiMAX-based network, while the Bionic uses Verizon’s LTE system.
While it might sound like an epic battle royale, on a real world performance level there’s little real competition here. LTE is considerably faster than WiMAX; LTE devices can see speeds of 10 to 20 megabits downloading, compared to 4 to 5 megabits on WiMAX. On pure speed, LTE wins every time, and with Verizon aggressively expanding their network, it also has a better future.
Meanwhile, you may have heard recently that Sprint is planning on dropping WiMAX for its 4G network in favor of LTE. That means that WiMAX devices like the Photon won’t be getting expanded coverage as Sprint builds out their network, and eventually, that network will go away. Fortunately though, this isn’t likely to happen for a couple years at least, so the Photon isn’t likely to become obsolete that much quicker than any other phone.
But pure speed isn’t the only factor when it comes to deciding what network works best for you. Smartphones running on Verizon’s 4G network may be fast, but they’re also hobbled by Verizon’s 2 GB monthly limit on downloads. That’s plenty if you’re just browsing and doing light file transfers, but taking full advantage of the advanced multimedia and streaming options that having a high-end Android phone gives you will rapidly run you up against that limit.
Sprint, on the other hand, remains the only carrier which offers a truly unlimited data plan; you don’t have to count your megabytes as if they were gold, wondering whether another hour of listening to Pandora Internet Radio is going to get you overage charges from Verizon. That zippy LTE broadband may be fun, but using it at top speed you could blow through your entire monthly allowance of data in less than 30 minutes. Running on Sprint 4G, it might take two or three times as long to download that really big file, but if you need to be able to do it, or even just want to, there’s a big advantage to unrestricted internet.
When it comes down to real world use, either 4G network is probably going to give you more than enough speed to do what you want, including streaming good quality video. Verizon will give you better coverage, but Sprint gives you more capacity to use the coverage you get.
A Premium for the Cutting Edge
For all their similarities, there’s one other huge difference between the Photon and the Bionic. While the Photon features the relatively standard pricetag of $200 for a high-end smartphone with contract, the Droid Bionic has a much steeper pricetag: $300 suggested retail, even with a two-year committment, including data plan. For that much of a price difference, you could equip the Photon with a 32 GB microSD card and still have money left over. The Bionic is a cutting-edge device, which will always tend to cost more, so that price should come down fairly quickly, but for the moment it’s very expensive.
On a technical level, the Motorola Droid Bionic has a few notable advantages over the Photon 4G. But the Photon’s ability to take advantage of Sprint’s unlimited internet plans make it by far the most attractive choice for a heavy user, particularly if you intend to take full advantage of the phone’s capabilities. And the Photon boasts a much more reasonable price tag.