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Weekend Tech Blog: Verizon's new Bionic phone and Seattle. Is this love?

Despite a few hiccups, the new 4G LTE Bionic gives Seattleites the very best in smartphone equipment, power, and performance.

Verizon's Motorola Bionic: both a phone and tiny computer (seen with Bluetooth mouse and keyboard)

Verizon's Motorola Bionic: both a phone and tiny computer (seen with Bluetooth mouse and keyboard) Skip Ferderber

A few days ago, I borrowed a new Motorola Bionic Android phone for a test drive from Verizon's local PR office in Eastgate. Could the phone, coupled with Verizon’s 4G LTE super-fast phone service, really be all that good? And would it mean more to those of us in the greater Seattle area than elsewhere in the country?

Here’s my answer: I just bought one — all $299.99 worth (on a two-year plan). 

If you’re looking for purely a technical review, here’s a good one from Boy Genius Report and another from Engadget. And here are the complete tech specifications. But I think most of people just want to know how well it works. So how does it perform?

Putting together the Bionic’s software (Gingerbread 2.3.4), dual-core processor — as powerful as many home desktop computers — and Verizon’s 4G LTE data network is a killer combination especially here. Verizon’s fast data network covers virtually all of Puget Sound from Burlington to Chehalis, and east to Sammamish. Other phone companies have 4G networks in place but most observers believe that Verizon is currently the top dog in contiguous coverage and speed. We benefit here by being among the first communities in the nation to have it fully deployed.

Here’s an example. Driving on I-5 from my Mukilteo home to downtown Seattle, using an Android phone on the older, slower 3G network, was always an exercise in patience: the phone would choke, signals would drop, etc. You know the drill. With the Bionic phone late last week, taking the same route and adding on the extra miles to Boeing Field past downtown, I turned on the phone’s GPS, cranked up Radio Paradise, my favorite internet station — my phone plugs into my car stereo system — and eased on down the road at 62.5 mph, mellow as can be, with smooth and uninterrupted coverage. Then I got a call. I answered it hands-free, hung up, and found my GPS connection was still intact on the phone’s screen and Tina Turner was singing and shaking it for me on the radio, all without a hitch.

Regarding the network speed, you can drive yourself crazy trying to figure that out. A Teknoise article in June quoted Seattle blogger Matt Miller registering an average speed of 18.37 megabits per second. I sampled our 4G network service here in Mukilteo; my tests showed anywhere from 11- to 30-megabits per second depending on location. Suffice to say, it’s about as fast as you’ll ever need. It also slides effortlessly between 4G and 3G networks depending on your location.

It’s a big hunk of a phone, and that's one of the reasons I like it: 5 inches long, 2½ inches wide, about 3/8" thick.  Its big color screen brings you a step closer to a tablet but it still rests comfortably in your pocket. It only weighs about 6 ounces but it makes everything from book reading to movie-watching easy on the eyes.  

Verizon rates these phones with 11 hours of talk time, and 200 hours of standby time. Here’s my informal test.  On WiFi in my house, I watched a two-hour movie (“The Graduate”) on Netflix, then downloaded and installed approximately 60 apps in a row from the Android and Amazon markets to my new phone, then played a casual game (“Chuzzle”) for a half-hour. My phone radio stayed on as well.Total time elapsed for all those activities: four hours without a break — and I still had 30 percent battery time left. That’s good battery life, given all the hard-core activities it handled. 

For power users, Verizon Wireless also has a $49.95 extended battery (2880 mAh) that nearly doubles your battery capacity (1735 mAh) but changes the phone’s appearance, giving this slim phone the appearance of a humpback whale. If you want better battery use from your phone, learn to turn off those systems and apps on your phone that suck battery life. A free Android app called Super Tool Box, in the Android Market, is terrific for telling you what eating away at your battery.


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