One thing I noticed right away on getting to use it is that the Motorola Droid Bionic feels fast: faster than the Droid 3, in fact, even though the two devices have the same processor. When sliding between homescreens or panels full of icons, there’s none of the sensation of jumpiness or slight lag that the D3 had, it’s all smooth as glass.
This performance boost is backed up by the device’s Quadrant Standard benchmark scores. The Droid Bionic scored an average of around 2400. This puts it mid-way between the Droid 3, at 2225, and the Tegra 2 powered Droid X2, at 2660. Although I must say, the Droid Bionic had much more variation in it’s benchmarks than most devices do: over the course of running the benchmarks five times, all with no other apps running or anything to reduce performance, the Bionic scored between 2250 and 2540. Most devices I’ve seen only vary by 100 points at most between multiple tests. I’m not sure why the Bionic is different here, but it doesn’t appear to be a serious issue.
Beyond the raw benchmarks, the Bionic is loaded for bear, wolverines, and possibly elephants. With a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1024 MB of RAM, and 16 GB of internal flash, its specs place it high on the list of power smartphones. But on top of that, it comes pre-installed with a 16 GB microSD card, giving it 32 GB of storage right out of the box. Roll in LTE, an 8 MP camera capable of 1080p video recording, as well as 1080p output via HDMI, and if you’re not insistant on a keyboard, there’s not a lot more you could ask for.
Probably the biggest change in the Droid Bionic is that it’s Motorola’s first device to feature 4G LTE. Moto has made WiMAX and HSPA-based 4G devices before, for Sprint and AT&T respectively, but never anything for Verizon’s network, despite coming out recently with two otherwise high-end Droid models, the X2 and Droid 3. With the Bionic having been delayed a couple times, it was widely wondered whether Motorola was having trouble nailing down LTE… either because it wasn’t working, or because it wasn’t performing well enough to use in a flagship device.
Whatever caused the delays, taking the Bionic from a spring launch to a fall one, the time seems to have been well spent. Not only does the Bionic perform, it actually clocks average speeds somewhat better than previous Verizon LTE devices. It’s still power hungry to be sure, but that’s unfortunately true of all the 4G networks. Your actual speeds will vary heavily, of course, depending on your location and other factors, but speeds in the 10 to 20 megabit range are fairly safe to bet on.
But make no mistake, you’ll still need to fall back on the Bionic’s built in Wi-Fi too. Given Verizon’s new 2 GB limit on their standard data plan, with LTE speeds you could blow through that entire monthly data ration in less than 20 minutes. So for all the Bionic’s killer speeds, you’re still somewhat crippled by Verizon’s policies. This is a device which practically cries out for bandwidth, between the multimedia options opened up by connecting it to your home entertainment system — streaming Pandora, Netflix, YouTube, HBO Go, etcetera — to a wealth of over-the-air apps, updates, and synching, to business uses like video teleconferencing and remote access via that big snazzy lapdock screen. 2 GB a month is not even close to enough to do it justice.
One curious thing you’ll find if you pop off the Bionic’s back cover is that sitting above the battery is a SIM card. Unlike some of Verizon’s other recent high-end Droids, this is NOT for international roaming use. In fact, it’s the future of Verizon’s LTE services. You can at least in theory — I haven’t tested it myself — move this SIM from one Verizon LTE device to another, taking your phone service with it. Of course, that only applies to devices which are approved by Verizon for their customers, and I don’t know how it works when you’re in a purely 3G area. So it’s an improvement, but not a revolutionary one just yet.
Also on the back casing, you may notice a little hole for a microphone, which comes complete with a sticker saying that for best call quality, don’t cover the hole. The Bionic comes equipped with not one but three microphones, in fact — one for use in phone calls, and two more as part of the device’s noise cancellation system, to pick up ambient noises and filter them out while you’re on a call, making it easier to hear you.
Unsurprisingly given it’s intended market, the Bionic features a few added productivity apps above and beyond the basic email and contacts. Among these are the full version of QuickOffice, which offers word processing, Excel, and PowerPoint compatible with Microsoft Office. A client for Citrix, an enterprise-level remote access service. GoToMeeting, another service client offering telepresence options. And the accessory set is practically red meat to the business or enterprise crowd, allowing you to turn the Bionic into a portable terminal. One complete, I should note, with USB, remote internet, GPS, and even barcode scanning through the device’s camera, something which could make it attractive to a lot of businesses with remote workers.
The Droid Bionic also comes preloaded with a few added entertainment options, although these are more common than the business apps it comes with, ranging from the Amazon Kindle client, to Verizon’s NFL streaming app, to streaming music, in addition to the regular options for music, web browsing, etcetera. Nothing terribly exciting to be sure, but there are plenty more and better entertainment apps available on the Android Market.
When you do choose to use those apps, though, you have the ability to put them on the big screen via the Bionic’s HDMI out. Supporting resolutions all the way up to 1080p, the top tier of “high definition,” you can hook up to a flat panel display or projector for video — either what you shot yourself, or some of Android’s rich media options like NetFlix — web browsing, and even playing games. Everything shown on the Droid is mirrored on the big screen, enabling you to do everything you usually do, just bigger.
The Bionic comes with an 8 MP sensor, standard for high-end smartphones, as well as the ability to record 1080p video, which is a little rarer. For those who don’t know, 1080p is the same resolution used by Blu-Ray movies, and it’s the highest resolution available in current TVs and consumer gear. That’s not to say your videos will necessarily be Blu-Ray quality, but they’re going to be pretty good, that’s for sure.
The Bionic’s camera functions beautifully, and for the most part you wouldn’t know you weren’t using an independent consumer grade still camera or video camera.
The Droid Bionic stocks a whopping 1735 mAh battery. A year ago this would have been an absurdly large smartphone battery, but more and more of the new wave of large-screened phones are incorporating equally large ones, such as the Motorola Photon 4G, Samsung Infuse 4G. And the Bionic needs it, because using LTE can be brutal on battery power, particularly if you’re streaming. 4G is power hungry on any carrier, but LTE is the worst.
Even so, this smartphone does very well for itself. On 3G mode, it sports really impressive battery life, such that you really don’t have to worry about how you plan to use it. Even on 4G, it holds up well, and most users will find it satisfactory, particularly compared to the lackluster life of the HTC ThunderBolt and Samsung Droid Charge.
If you want, you can set the Bionic to CDMA only mode in the device’s settings. This will give you much better battery life, at the expense of only having 3G speeds. Which is, by the way, nothing to sneeze at. A couple quick tests showed Verizon 3G in my area clocking in at 1.8 megabits — not as fast as the 10 to 20 megabits that Verizon’s 4G network offers, but more than enough for most use. And you can always reenable 4G when you want it. The catch though is that it takes a short jaunt through the device’s settings to switch 4G on or off, so you may find it more convenient to just pick a setting and leave it that way.