Motorola Defy Mini review

What Mobile
September 10, 2012

Following the launch of the original Motorola Defy and the Motorola Defy+, the Motorola Defy Mini is the smallest model in the Google-owned manufacturer’s line of water-resistant, dustproof smartphones.

The previous two models offerered decent attempts at finding a compromise between the sophisticated technology needs of urban users and the demands of outdoorsy-types who want a phone that will stand up to the elements.

Although neither of them could compete with the leading handsets in terms of power and features, they were pretty much the only advanced phones on offer for those who expected to come into contact with a lot of water, dust and grime while out and about.

The Motorola Defy Mini now takes the format laid out by its predecessors and runs with it in this smaller, more affordable semi-rugged device.

The first clear sign of the Motorola Defy Mini’s target market is its no nonsense design aesthetic that borrows heavily from the rest of the range. It won’t win any points for style, but its blocky shape and no frills buttons fit the tough-guy image Motorola is trying to emphasise.

The first key indicators of its resistance to water and dust are the rubber stoppers covering the Motorola Defy Mini’s Micro USB and 3.5mm headphone sockets.

When covered up these are the main defence against water infiltrating the Motorola Defy Mini in damp conditions. But of course if you happen to forget to close them after charging or plugging in your headphones the handset is little better protected than any other device, so as is usually the case human error is the biggest threat.

Motorola Defy Mini semi-rugged Android smartphone

On the back of the Motorola Defy Mini is the handset’s 3-Megapixel camera and a case lock slider which is located next to a small speaker grill.

Even once you’ve unlocked the case, actually removing it is reassuringly challenging. Inside there is little to suggest an especially tough handset, but the time spent getting at the inside suggests the elements will be easily kept out.

Those innards contain a capable 1650mAh battery pack which provides a surprising amount of stamina for such a small device.

During testing we got almost two days of moderate usage out of the Motorola Defy Mini – something that will come in especially useful for the handset’s target market of outdoor wanderers. As a result of the battery, the handset isn’t super-slim, but at just under 13mm thick it is no bulky beast and it fits comfortably in the hand.

Of course the Motorola Defy Mini exudes toughness but can it back up its hard man image? Without the option of taking the device out on a building site for a week we decided a brief spell under the shower and a bit of a rough and tumble in a gravel-covered garden would be the best bet.

As far as damp goes the Motorola Defy Mini performed well. We saw no obvious ill effects when we held the device under an improvised downpour for a minute or two. Most importantly, after being towelled off and opened up there were absolutely no signs of moisture inside the case.

In terms of functionality the Motorola Defy Mini was also able to easily shrug of its time spent in the gravel pit, with the Corning Gorilla Glass screen emerging without any significant scratches.

However, we found the matt black rear casing suffered a little more, with a fair few noticeable marks. If you are too concerned about keeping your smartphone pristine, though, you aren’t likely to be looking for this type of handset.

Our only note of caution is that the phone’s water resistance doesn’t mean you can fully hold it under water. There is no guarantee a full submerging won’t cause significant damage.

Just because the Motorola Defy Mini is tougher than the average smartphone also doesn’t mean it will survive what surely must be the demise of many a less-resilient phone – a simple drop. Our review sample suffered a pretty nasty cracked screen just from falling onto that most domestic of surfaces, a laminate wood living room floor.

Nevertheless, there’s no doubt it is a tougher beast than almost any other smartphone out there. And despite some thorough abuse, the performance of the handset was never affected.

Motorola Defy Mini waterproof Android smartphone

Of course at this price and size performance isn’t much to write home about and the Motorola Defy Mini’s benchmarking scores are frankly quite poor. During our benchmark testing it racked up a score of less than a fifth of high-end handsets such as the HTC One X and around a third of LG’s Optimus 2X, a once cutting-edge handset that is now more than eighteen months old.

That is unsurprising considering the slightly under-powered 600MHz processor and 512MB of memory. However, when put into a fairer fight against equally small and affordable handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy Mini 2 the Defy Mini comes out nearer the top of the pack.

The web browsing experience is decent, and while apps take a few seconds to load, our time with the handset didn’t include any screen freezes or undue operating system crashes.

Satellite navigation mapping – always a good test of a handset’s performance and one likely to be especially relevant to more active smartphone owners – is pretty smooth, and scrolling around to find locations on the map is no great chore as it can be on other devices.

Screen quality is also decent for a budget phone. The 3.2-inch screen has a low 320 x 480 pixel resolution and a density of 180 pixels per inch. That’s only ever so slightly more than the Galaxy Mini 2 and yet the Motorola Defy Mini’s display has more colour depth and is slightly sharper.

The capacitive touchscreen is also adequately sensitive. With such a small screen, text entry is always going to a challenge and writing anything longer than a sentence is sure to leave you with more than a few typos. However, that is more likely down to fat thumbs in a confined space, rather than any skimping on the actual capacitive touch technology used here.

Of course if texting does cause any problems you can always make a call instead. And the great call quality of the Motorola Defy Mini means that might be a preferable option in many cases.

A pretty vanilla implementation of the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system has been used on the Motorola Defy Mini and it isn’t likely to get an upgrade to the Android 4.0 OS anytime soon.

It includes a couple of pre-installed touches, however, that help make the smaller screen slightly less of a hindrance rather than merely providing an overly busy user interface.  These are two widgets found on the two screens on either side of the device’s main homescreen.

Swiping to the screen on the left brings up a collection of squares which are automatically populated with the phone’s regularly used apps. Swiping to the right then brings up a similar arrangement for regularly contacted people in your address book, providing quick shortcuts to a handy history of calls and texts you’ve made.

Both work well at providing easy shortcuts for quicker navigation, and during our time using the handset we found the choice of which apps and contacts it presented us was decent and made it quick and easy to access our favourites.

Motorola Defy Mini scratchproof Gorilla Glass screen

Beyond its basic functionality, the Defy Mini doesn’t offer much. The 3-Megapixel rear-facing camera delivers basic quality photos and videos and Motorola hasn’t tried anything to improve on the bog-standard Android camera interface.

When snapping photos we found moving subjects were often blurred, even when in good lighting conditions. And focusing your images isn’t as fast or reliable as we would have liked.

The front-facing 0.3-Megapixel camera is even worse and proved to be barely usable for anything other than capturing the most basic portrait photos or recording simple web videos. While the poor quality cameras might seem a bit disappointing, considering the target market, it probably won’t do much to hold back sales.

And of course, you won’t be taking too many photos or videos with the Defy Mini out of the box, as another weakness is its measly 512MB of internal storage. That can be expanded up to 32GB via the MicroSD card slot, but doing so will add precious pounds onto the cost of what is in the end a budget device. Motorola bundles a handy 2GB card with the device, however.

With that said, the limited camera quality, poor storage and mediocre performance of the Motorola Defy Mini have to be taken in the context that it costs just £150 SIM-free. More importantly, it is a perfectly effective device that delivers on its hardwearing unique selling point.

That toughness is sure to appeal to those who really are going to expose their smartphones to some hostile environments, but it will also help the Defy Mini stand out among the many similarly-priced budget devices on the market.

Of course, smartphone makers are trying to make all their devices hardier and tougher, and there are new technologies coming out to provide even better levels of water protection.

But until those efforts have moved forward significantly, Motorola has the water-resistant, dustproofed consumer smartphone market comfortably covered, and the Defy Mini is a good attempt at adding a smaller and more affordable model to its popular Defy range.

If you want the world’s toughest smartphone then you’d be better off looking at JCB’s great Toughphone range. But for everyday resilience, the Defy Mini is a great little Android handset.

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