Even though the U.S. features a healthy selection of national and regional carriers, the biggest, baddest devices hit the “big 4″ first. Everyone else is left to deal with the scraps many weeks later long after the excitement surrounding a particular device is gone. But every once in a while your smaller regional carriers get something worth boasting about. Today that carrier is U.S. Cellular with the new Motorola Electrify.
Hop past the break as we dive into the Electrify, leaving no button untouched…
- Processor: dual-core 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 AP20H
- Display: 4.3″ qHD
- Memory: 1 GB of RAM + 16 GB of internal storage
- Camera & VIdeo: 8-megapixel (rear)/VGA (front) | 720p video recording
- OS Version: Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)
- Battery: 1,700 mAh
On paper the Electrify doesn’t really look any better/worse than nearby competitors from the likes of Verizon (Droid X2/DROID 3/Bionic), AT&T (Atrix/Galaxy S II/), Sprint (Photon 4G/EVO 4G/EVO 4G 3D), and T-Mobile (Sensation/Galaxy S II). But raw power and paper specs aren’t everything (as many of you may know). It’s the overall experience — the design, weight, feel in hand, pocketability, and more. And in that respect we feel the Electrify has many of its competitors beat.
For starters, even though the 4.3″ qHD display shares its roots with the Bionic, we feel it looks noticeably better, dare we say a tad crisper. Whatever Motorola did (or didn’t do) to the Electrify that they did to the Bionic is a good decision. (We hate the Bionic’s PenTile display.) Speaking of the display, 4.3″ is right about the threshold of “too big”. Boxier phones typical of what Motorola makes aren’t necessarily the most comfortable to hold or easiest to use. The Electrify bucks this trend by featuring a very HTC-like design that is heavily rounded. The end result is a very nice feel when holding the phone in one (or both) hands as well as easier navigation between the phone’s hardware buttons.
On the topic of buttons, we’ll note that there aren’t many. But what buttons Motorola did include they did so brilliantly. The nubby volume buttons are some of the best in terms of grip, though we wish they weren’t so squishy and exhibited a heartier *click* when being pressed. Similar to the volume buttons, further down the right side of the Electrify resides the hardware camera button. Same story here: easy to find and your fingers won’t slip off, but the same squishy feeling remains. We’re actually quite torn. The buttons are great at finding and grabbing your fingers and at the same time cheap feeling.
On the top of the device you’ll find the standard 3.5mm headphone jack and power button while the left side holds the microUSB charging/syncing and miniHDMI ports. Finally, on the back of the Electrify you’ll find a pop-out kickstand (that can have actions assigned to its opening) and 8-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash.
Design: A thing of beauty
U.S. Cellular isn’t usually one to feature high-end (read: the most powerful) good looking smartphones. All too often the more brickish fodder get shuffled forward as it simply wins the paper specs race. Thankfully for smartphone enthusiasts who also have an eye for design, the Electrify satisfies both parties.
The chrome-like band around the phone is — alright, we’ll say it — very iPhone-ish. It is what it is. And what it is, is a slick design. Period. But it’s not all flashy parts that have won us over. Everything from the placement of buttons to the soft-touch back cover to the colors used throughout the phone ooze sophistication and class that is quite frankly, a rare thing to witness coming from Motorola.
This isn’t the first Motorola device to feature a more rounded style. The rumored (and currently unannounced) “DROID HD” as well as leaked images allegedly showcasing the XOOM 2 show what appears to be Motorola’s new design moving forward — a very good thing. We’ve grown tired of Motorola’s current design as it’s getting a bit long in the tooth.
Camera & Video
Motorola hasn’t taken a lot of risks when it comes to mobile photography. And while that may not excite bleeding edge phone junkies it means Motorola is at least consistent.
The Electrify’s camera chops aren’t class leading by any stretch with photos turning out rather dull and washed out in low-light situations. Given enough light, however, the Electrify holds its own. Compared to the recently reviewed Bionic, the Electrify is on par if not a tad more accurate in the color department. Also when compared to the Bionic, the act of taking pictures feels more natural thanks to a faster shutter speed.
We’re pretty sure you won’t be disappointed unless low-light shooting is your norm. In that case you’re going to want to find a phone that at the very least features a back-lit sensor. Of course, hardware is only half the battle. If the software is out of whack (read: inefficient code), the hardware can only do so much.
Video on the other hand was actually what we’d call above average. The only negative thing we noticed was that the Electrify had occasional trouble adjusting video lighting on the fly which resulted in 1-2 seconds of too light or too dark sections. Colors were accurate and not overly saturated (that’s a good thing). Quite honestly, the Electrify’s 720p video rivaled some phones boasting higher quality 1080p.
While the overall look and feel of the Electrify’s BLUR is identical to the other aforementioned devices, the U.S. Cellular takes a more hands-off approach. (Read: There’s hardly any bloatware to be found.) A couple of Amazon specific apps and a game or two are the only additions. It’s nice break from some of the heavier Verizon and AT&T tweaks that stuff the phone full of (often useless) software that is either hard or downright impossible for the end user to remove.
We wish more carriers/manufacturers took a similar approach and left Android how it was meant to be: customized by the end user and the end user alone.
Performance: Hardware & Network
It’s clear the Electrify has a pretty face. But can it hang with other high-end offerings from competing carriers? In short: yes. Benchmarks aside (which aren’t all that useful anyway), the Electrify is smooth throughout your typical system navigation. Swiping pages was effortless and uneventful as icons whisked by free of lag and stutter most of the time. We did, however, notice some lag occasionally when waking the phone up from long idle periods that lasted for 5-10 seconds. Apart from that, the only other times we noticed some actual slowdown was (1) in demanding games and/or running multiple data intensive apps as well as (2) when installing/downloading multiple apps from the Android Market. When an app was in the process of finishing its install the phone would hang for ~5 seconds. Not exactly reassuring given the 1 GHz dual-core packed within. Though not completely unexpected either.
Network performance was on par with competitors in the area. Average download speeds hovered around the 1 Mbps mark while uploads were a little further south around 400 Kbps. For 95% of smartphone users, these speeds are more than acceptable. Still, we would have loved to have some new-age 4G/LTE love.
We’ll be honest. We use our phones as “phones” in the traditional sense of the word at most 10-15 minutes per week. We literally never use it. In that regards it doesn’t take much to please us in this area.
In our neck of the woods (north central Indiana) U.S. Cellular coverage is widespread and steady. Both voice quality and data speeds are above and beyond what is needed. It’s so reliable in fact we found ourselves defaulting to the Electrify when our AT&T device started dropping offline in questionable areas.
As we’ve said before, in 2011 and beyond the phone aspect of mobile phones has come to a point (at least for now) that won’t see any major advancements or new features. Essentially any phone you get these days will work and work well.
Motorola hasn’t always been the leader in Android phones in regards to battery life. And while they’re still not the “one to beat”, the Electrify is part of a new Motorola. With that said, we found the Electrify to be about average (slightly above on some days) — you’ll get a solid 8-10 hours off the charger with moderate use before you’ll need to plug in. Hit up those fancy web pages and/or burn through a few hours of intense games and you’ll see your mobile time cut drastically down. Nothing too surprising, really. If you are a heavy user you’re going to want a spare battery and/or charging cable of some sort.
At $199 with a 2-year contract the Electrify is hands down the best device for the smartphone junkie running on U.S. Cellular. It’s not only fast and easy to use but damn good looking too. And that combination, we think, is worth the price of admission. We only wish there was some 4G tech baked inside.
**Customers subscribed to U.S. Cellular’s “Belief Plans” can score an Electrify at the promotional $199 price without having to sign a new 2-year contract.