Dust-resistant, waterproof and tougher than a pair of particularly old boots, the rugged Motorola Defy is capable of withstanding almost anything you can throw at it. Refreshingly, this toughness doesn't come at the cost of functionality, although the relatively weak processor and lack of Android 2.2 do count against it.
The Motorola Defy is available on contract for around £25 per month. SIM-only prices start at around £300.
Beauty in strength
Gorgeous mobiles like the sultry HTC Desire HD and glamorous iPhone 4 may dazzle consumers with their sleek lines and glossy exteriors, but the rough-and-tumble nature of everyday life quickly dulls that perfect sheen, forcing users to spend additional cash on bulky cases and screen protectors. That isn't the case with Motorola's Defy, which proudly positions itself as a phone to last a lifetime.
As the name suggests, the Defy is all about resisting the trials and tribulations of general mobile use. We've all clumsily dropped a mobile at some point in our lives, and many of you reading this may also have experienced the unique horror of seeing your beloved handset plunge headfirst into a muddy puddle or rancid toilet bowl. The Defy laughs in the face of such perils.
This hardy device carries IP67 certification, which means it can be submerged in water of up to 1 metre deep for ten whole minutes. In addition to this, the phone is designed to resist the onslaught of dust and dirt, as well as sudden impact with harsh and unforgiving terra firma.
Built to last
With such an impressive degree of durability, you'd expect the Defy to be the size of a house, but its dimensions are disarmingly diminutive. Measuring just 107mm in length, it's a full centimetre shorter than the iPhone 4, yet it packs a larger 3.7-inch screen. This pin-sharp 480x854-pixel display dominates the front of the phone, and uses capacitive technology to register touch input. As such, you're guaranteed accuracy and responsiveness, as well as the ability to use multi-touch gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom.
In keeping with the rugged ethos of the Defy, its screen is fashioned out of super-resilient Gorilla Glass, designed to keep unsightly scratches at bay. It's not the first to boast such material -- and we highly doubt it would stand up to a direct hammer blow -- but we were incredibly impressed by the screen's ability to withstand assault from sharp objects. We took a knife to the screen -- purely in the interests of science, you understand -- to put it through its paces, and the Defy came away entirely unscathed.
The prospect of being able to surf the Internet while soaking in the bath is undeniably enticing, and we're pleased to report the Defy makes this fantasy a reality -- at least to a certain extent. The phone had absolutely no issues with operating in a soaking wet environment, although it should be noted that moisture reduces the responsiveness of the capacitive display, so you may have issues formulating those tweets in the shower. Watching a movie or browsing clips on YouTube are more feasible pastimes to indulge in during bath time.
Water off a duck's back
The Defy's water-repellent powers are actually down to pretty straightforward rubber stoppers, which cover up the 3.5mm headphone jack and micro-USB port. These prevent liquid, dust and grime from invading the delicate innards of the device, but they also break the otherwise sleek lines of the casing, and make the Defy look a little ugly. The placement of the power button -- which is used to wake up the screen when it's in sleep mode -- is also rather ham-fisted, as it sits flush with the headphone rubber cover and is often hard to press.
This is a real shame, because on the whole, the Defy doesn't fit the conventional image of a tough handset. From the front, it's actually quite attractive, calling to mind the classic design of the iPhone 3G. Even the slightly rubberised back possesses a certain aesthetic charm. The battery cover itself bolts onto the device using a locking mechanism, which keeps the battery, SIM card and microSD card chamber completely watertight.
A softer side
When reviewing a phone like the Defy, it's all too easy to get carried away with its physical attributes, but digging deeper reveals a capable Android-based smart phone that doesn't shirk on functionality.
Granted, we're talking about Android 2.1 here, rather than the more recent 2.2, but only dedicated experts will grumble about this issue. Despite being slightly behind the curve of Android OS development, the Defy is still perfectly capable of downloading all the greatest games and apps from the Android Market, including the social network aggregator TweetDeck, the infectiously addictive Angry Birds and thousands more.
Interestingly, like the Samsung Galaxy S, the Defy comes pre-installed with Swype as the default text-input method. Rather than tapping letters on the virtual keyboard, this system involves drawing a line from letter to letter, and currently holds the Guinness World Record for fastest text input on a touchscreen device. It's possible to switch to a standard Android keyboard if you wish, but we're willing to bet that once you've got used to the joys of 'Swyping', you'll find it hard to go back to traditional typing.
Bit of a blur
Android aficionados may mutter about the Defy's MotoBlur functionality, which has hardly elicited enamour from users since it appeared on the Dext all those months ago. Android 2.1 actually does much of what MotoBlur was once famous for, allowing you to integrate Facebook, Last.fm and Twitter information with your standard Google contacts. The latest iteration of MotoBlur does bring some welcome features to the table, such as the ability to store all of your information on Motorola's servers -- or, to use modern parlance, 'in the cloud'. Should you lose your device or choose to replace it with another MotoBlur-compatible phone in the future, you can simply download all of your contacts and social-networking connections effortlessly.
You'll also find MotoBlur comes with the usual selection of live widgets, covering elements such as weather reports, calendar appointments, Twitter updates and RSS feeds. A key issue with this facet of the OS on the Dext was the weak nature of the phone's processor -- there was just too much activity for the phone to keep up with. With an 800MHz CPU on board, the Defy fares slightly better, but there's still an unwelcome stutter when you fill up those seven home screens with active widgets, all updating simultaneously.
The Defy packs a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash but, unlike its sibling the Milestone XT720, there's no 720p video recording to film your epic rock-climbs in howling, gale-force weather -- the best you can capture here is 640x480-pixel resolution. The camera is capable of producing sharp, detailed images, but really struggles when it comes to lighting. Even in a bright and well-lit office, the snaps we took were disappointingly dark.
Phones aimed at rugged outdoor types usually cut back on features in order to offer up the kind of protection one would normally associate with a Challenger tank. The Motorola Defy presents no such compromise -- it's a resilient phone that boasts an impressive suite of Android-powered smart-phone features, and comes complete with a pin-sharp display and reasonably attractive looks to boot.
Although we can't see the trend-setting fashionistas queuing up to get their manicured mitts on this brutish device, those of you who work in dusty or wet environments (or are simply very accident-prone) will positively adore the Defy's tough, no-nonsense exterior and sturdy nature. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's currently the hardest Android phone that money can buy, and we wouldn't want to encounter it in a dark alley at night.
Edited by Emma Bayly