Rogers has been offering a moderately rugged entry level Android handset with a full physical QWERTY keyboard called the Motorola Defy Pro for a few weeks now. Though the specs don’t exactly blow any minds, its pricing is a new step towards a bit of sanity in Canada; this is a phone you get for free on a two-year contract, which is unheard of when the industry standard up here is a three-year commitment. The $275 stand-alone price even makes it viable without a contract. TELUS previously toyed around with the idea a little bit, and it seems like Rogers is at very least testing the same waters.
Still, with so many higher-end devices available on Rogers and LTE still being a relatively new thing up north, how many people would be more interested in saving a buck with such a modest handset?
The Motorola Defy Pro’s price point is its main competitive advantage, especially in Canada where getting a free smartphone on a two-year contract is hard to do. A real physical keyboard plus a healthy dose of survivability are great perks.
Gingerbread is really painful to deal with, which is compounded by having to hold the phone sideways to run most apps. The spacebar isn’t particularly reliable, which is too bad considering the keyboard is one of the main selling features. The rear lock hatch, though necessary to keep moisture away from the battery, is a bit too easy to accidentally open.
Inside this review
Motorola Defy Pro hands-on
I've got to admit, it's a little nerve-wracking willingly dousing a phone in water, no matter how cheap it is or how much it says right on the box that it can handle it. The Defy Pro made it through the ordeal alive however, though I did find a few droplets getting precariously close to the battery after flipping open the battery door. Definitely don't go for a swim with this phone. That said, if you ever want to get your device fully waterproofed, you should check out Liquipel.
As for sheer look and feel, the Motorola Defy Pro is a little bit on the chunky side. For dudes with big hands like me, that's not so much of an issue, and so long as it fits in a pocket, I'm not too bothered by it, but others may be tempted to line up the Defy Pro's profile against a higher-end handset and grimace. The build quality is good enough, though the plastic doesn't feel especially high-grade. I don't expect the silver paint job on the rear and trim to age well, since dings and scratches tend to show up pretty clearly with those color schemes.
The HVGA display isn’t particularly great; the colors are washed out and the viewing angles aren't forgiving. Even with brightness cranked up all the way, the Defy Pro's display doesn't do too well outdoors on a sunny day. At 2.7 inches, you don't have a lot of room to play with, which makes things tricky for watching video or navigating via touch. The layout is reasonably optimized given these limitations, but there are still odd quirks, like not being able to drag and drop icons into the shortcut bar on the home screen. Instead, a pop-up provides options after a long press.
The overall design of the Defy Pro is pretty straightforward and streamlined. The five-way directional pad is a bit of a throwback at this point, but the secondary menu, home, back, search, and call keys are laid out in a really smooth way. The headphone and microUSB jack both have pesky plugs in them, but that’s to ensure water-tightness. Similarly, the rear battery door has a lock switch, again, to keep moisture and dust away from the battery, but it’s definitely a little awkward and easy to accidentally knock open. There's a subtle LED indicator on the top-left of the device, which is always appreciated.
Motorola fondly describes the Defy Pro as “life-proof”, which is not to be confused with mil-spec ruggedization that we see in other phones. The Defy Pro is rated 67 on the Ingress Protection scale, meaning it is completely dust-tight, and can be immersed in a meter of water for one hour. The screen is also built out of Corning Gorilla glass, making it pretty much impervious to scratches. As you can see in the video at the top, I was able to run the Defy Pro under the tap pretty much indefinitely without having any issues with the phone afterwards. As for scratches, I tried pressing a metal wire hard into the screen and wriggling it around and it didn’t leave even a slight scratch. The only thing really missing here is impact protection, and without any real cases out there for the device, it may not be something you can work around.
Having spent a good amount of time on a BlackBerry, the keyboard quality was hugely important to me. Much like the Motorola Admiral and Droid Pro, the layout borrows heavily from RIM’s style with frets between each row of keys and arcs along each key to catch a user’s thumb. The key placement isn’t identical to a BlackBerry’s, so there’s definitely some slight mental rewiring needed if that’s what you’re used to. Still, the keyboard is generally enjoyable except for one significant misgiving: the spacebar. For some reason, it has a two-step click mechanism which doesn’t always register on the first click, and at other times registers multiple presses when pressing hard enough for the second one. Considering how important the spacebar is, this is a pretty huge fault.
Specifications and performance
Given the price and specs you’re seeing here, you can’t expect too much in the performance department. Everyday navigation won't be quite as fast as you might like if you've spent a reasonable amount of time with higher-end devices. Still, it gets to where it needs to go, and handles most tasks faster than you'd expect from a device with a screen that's this low-resolution. The battery managed to make it through a full day of regular usage, which is just about all one can ask of any smartphone these days. I didn't take any issue with the call quality, either - no calls dropped, and everything was good and audible.
Another big strike against the Motorola XT560 is that it’s running Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread. That is some serious oldness, and for discriminating technophiles, a definite deal-breaker. Considering the device's obscurity, I wouldn't expect an official update any time soon either. However, those that are just getting into smartphones won’t have a basis of comparison, and anyone looking for a cheap deal won’t be particularly picky with what they get.
There are a few preloaded applications included which gear the device primarily towards business users (i.e. the people moving from BlackBerry): Citrix Reciever, GoTo Meeting and QuickOffice. There's also an FM tuner built in, though it requires headphones connected to act as an antenna. TuneWiki offers a bit more on the music front, including its well-known music ID service as well as streaming audio. Motorola has some of their own stuff on their too, of course, including a widget for showcasing your most frequently accessed contacts.
My biggest complaint about the Defy Pro’s software is that the vast majority of the apps only fit on the screen when it’s rotated. I don’t know about you, but I sure feel a little awkward having a whole honkin’ keyboard off to one side or the other when using an app, especially when the device was designed with portrait orientation in mind. Sure, maybe devs should have layouts with short and wide aspect ratios in mind, but maybe Motorola should have tried keeping the screen narrow and tall like the Admiral and Droid Pro.
Even for a 5 megapixel camera, the shots from the Motorola Defy Pro weren't great. Most mobile cameras can still handle their own under overcast conditions outside, but no such luck here. The front-facing camera isn't ever expected to be particularly good, so no real love lost there. Video recording isn't great either; audio maxes out quickly, and details are poor, even with a slow pan.
BlackBerry users looking to transition to Android will be naturally drawn to the Defy Pro, but even compared to many of RIM’s current smartphones, the Defy Pro doesn’t quite stack up.
Even though it barely matches the two-year old Droid Pro's specs, the Defy Pro is strictly a pricing play; $275 for a passable phone without a contract has a huge amount of appeal to some people, including students that are on a shoestring budget. Being able to handle a spill is nice addition, and a real physical keyboard in a portrait layout isn't a sight seen too often (though favored by many). All-in-all, the Motorola Defy Pro offers decent bang for buck, but even those new to smartphones may quickly be wishing for an upgrade.
For those interested, you can pick up the Motorola Defy Pro from Rogers in their online store. It doesn't look like the two-year option is available there, so you may want to check out your local store.