Hardware

Droid Bionic Teardown: Motorola switches processors, upgrades RAM in final version

Bill Detwiler cracks open the Droid Bionic and finds a different processor and twice as much RAM as Motorola originally planned.

In September 2011, Verizon added a fourth device to its growing lineup of 4G LTE smartphones--the Motorola Droid Bionic. When it was unveiled at CES 2011, the Bionic's spec sheet showed an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 512MB of RAM. Motorola said it would launch the phone "around Q2 this year", but it would be near the end of Q3 before the Bionic finally made it to market.

During the company's Q1 earnings call, Sanjay Jha, Chairman and CEO of Motorola Mobility, commented on the Bionic's delay. According to Droid Life, Sanjay said the delay "was really a software issue of getting the performance to a place that both ourselves and our partner Verizon Wireless were comfortable launching the device."

Yet, Motorola seems to have also used the delay to significantly change the Bionic's hardware. Instead of the originally-planned Tegra 2 processor, the final version of the Bionic uses the Elpida B8064B2PB-8D-F chip, which contains both 8 Gb DRAM and the Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 Application Processor. RIM used the same Elpida chip in the BlackBerry PlayBook. (I explain a few possible reasons why Motorola made this switch in the Cracking Open observations section below.) The final Bionic also has 1GB of RAM instead of 512MB.

The Bionic's other hardware includes 16GB of storage, an 8MP rear-facing camera, a VGA-quality front-facing camera, a 4.3" display (960x540 pixels), and a user-replaceable battery. It measures 5" (H) x 2.6" (W) x 0.5" (D) and weighs 5.6 ounces. Like Verizon's other 4G phones (HTC ThunderBolt, LG Revolution, and Samsung Droid Charge), the Bionic runs Google's Android operating system.

In the US, Verizon sells the Bionic for $299.99 (with a two-year contract). I bought our Bionic test device (sans contract) from a local Best Buy Mobile location for $699.99 (plus tax). Interestingly, Verizon's Web site lists the full retail price as $589.99.

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Motorola Droid Bionic

Cracking Open observations

  • User-replaceable battery: Unlike the iPhone, the Bionic has a user-replaceable 3.8V 1735 mAh Li-ion Polymer battery. This is a step above the HTC Thunderbolt's 3.7V 1400 mAh battery.
  • Standard Torx T5 screws: I was able to remove all the Bionic's external and internal screws with a Torx T5 screwdriver.
  • Good display: The Bionic has a 4.3" (960x540 pixels) qHD LCD--the same panel used in the Motorola Atrix. As CNET's Nicole Lee pointed out, the qHD display " doesn't pack as much pixel punch as a Super AMOLED display, but [CNET] still liked it."
  • Gorilla Glass front panel: Motorola used Corning Gorilla Glass for the Bionic's front panel. Along with being tough, the panel has a coating designed to reduce glare.
  • LCD and front panel are easily separated: Unlike most of the smartphones I've dissected, the Bionic's LCD and front panel are not fused together. You can easily replace one without damaging the other.
  • Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 Processor: Both the TI OMAP 4430 and Nvidia Tegra 2 use the Cortex A9 ARM design, and both have the same 1GHz clock speed. But, the OMAP 4 platform offers a few advantages over the Tegra 2. First, the OMAP 4430 SoCs use dual-channel LPDDR2 memory, which improves the chip's graphics performance. Second, OMAP chips support a wider array of video codecs than the Tegra 2. And third, the OMAP 4 platform supports 3D display technology, which the Tegra 2 does not. Yet, these factors may not be the only reason Motorola opted for the TI processor. According to several sources, there are problems combining the Bionic's Motorola T6VP0XBG LTE modem and the Tegra 2 processor. The two apparently don't play well together.

Internal hardware

To avoid damaging our test device, I decided against de-soldering all the EMI shields on the main PCB. Luckily, our friends over at iFixit did, and we have a fully hardware list thanks to their effort.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

18 comments
jbenjamin
jbenjamin

Kick-Butt smartphone, BLAZING fast - Add Verizonwireless 4G, and I saw speeds approaching 12MB/SEC. WOW!!

rborchert
rborchert

I believe the Elpida B8064B2PB-8D-F has 1 GB of DRAM, not 8 GB as stated here (which would makes sense since the phone is advertised as having 1 GB of RAM)

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

Too bad I'm a broke college kid and $300 is kinda painful for me to shell out for a phone... I'll stick w/my R2D2 model till it croaks

tiredoftechrepublic
tiredoftechrepublic

SPAM User ' north face store' is a spammer Please remove this user from the site SPAM

north face store
north face store

When tomorrow turns in today, yesterday, and someday that no more important north face store in your memory, we suddenly realize that we are pushed forward by time. This is not a train in still in which you may feel forward when another train goes by. It is the truth that we've all grown up. And we become different.

bart001fr
bart001fr

After reading the specs for the OMAP 4430, it becomes readily apparent that this is the most advanced phone available today. No telling about tomorrow, though. Bill, thanks for pointing us to the guys who had the gust to strip the EMI shields off. this phone is very well-put together. Something solid well worth the cost. I only wish it had a separate keyboard, slide-out or third party. BTW, is there a keyboard one could put on this phone to use in composing emails and instant messages?

keithmcinnis
keithmcinnis

While popular analysts claim the fusion of Google and Motorola was mostly about IP rights I point to this device and it's improvements as an example of how that joining will benefit Google in a real, physical way. The OS is already superior. The hardware is being optimized to run that better. The market share will continue to grow. It is significant beyond legal arguments and this product proves that point.

keith.tuttle
keith.tuttle

How about the lack of .wav support? I can't get my exchange voicemails from the Bionic.

CrowdedCranium
CrowdedCranium

I would think if you really are dying for one, go ahead and do it. Google is most likely interested in the less physical aspects of Motorola mobile and will take a while to getting around to firing people that do not kowtow correctly, and promoting people who look pretty on their knees. Ultimately, by the time anybody with goggles at google sees and oportunity to seaze the construction limelight there will have been several device cycles that have already lived and died and passed megabux from consumers to manufacturers before any of their in house chefs have an oportunity to interject their DNA. As I am sure all are painfully aware, 6 months is a long time in mobile hardware cycles. An 18 month production cycle delay a provocative invitation to a corporate funeral. An interesting article. I wonder what nVidia has to say for themselves. Surely they are not standing around the water cooler analysing the situation "Hmm, Foot groin, foot groin, foot groin. Sorry Johnhie we dont get it yet, footgroinfootgroinfootgroin. Still testing technical detail Johnnie.

naviathan
naviathan

Looks like a solid contender I'd be hesitant to jump into anything Motorola before we see what Google has up it's sleeve.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

By many accounts, the Motorola Bionic is a solid Android phone--perhaps the best Verizon LTE phone out there. But, with Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility looming, should Android fans buy a Bionic or wait to see what comes next?

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Thanks for jumping in bmcmenamy. I actually considered changing the Elpida chip's description to 1GB, instead of 8Gb, but I stuck with the numbering scheme I used in my PlayBook (which uses the same chip) teardown.

bmcmenamy
bmcmenamy

The capital "B" is for Byte and the lowercase "b" is for bit. And there are 8 bits in 1 Byte. So he was correct in the specs.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

The Bionic supports Bluetooth so you can use it with just about any wireless keyboard that uses Bluetooth. Motorola even sells one for $70 (US). http://www.motorola.com/Consumers/US-EN/Consumer-Product-and-Services/Mobile+Phone+Accessories/Wireless-Accessories/Atrix-Wireless-Keyboard-US-EN For $100, the Motorola HD Station allows you (among other things) to connect an external, USB keyboard. http://www.motorola.com/Consumers/US-EN/Consumer-Product-and-Services/Mobile+Phone+Accessories/Docking-Stations/HD-Station-for-DROID-Bionic-US-EN

gamebird
gamebird

There's a app for that - remote wave

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Initially, rumors were floating around the Internet about a compatibility problem with the Tegra 2 processor and LTE modems. But according to Droid Life, Nvidia wanted to set the record straight and issued the following statement: "Tegra has no compatibility issues with LTE at all. The Tegra-powered Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 4G LTE tablet runs on Verizon???s LTE network and is a perfect example of Tegra working fine w/ 4G LTE. Tegra 2 interfaces with many types of modems via standard interfaces, including LTE. There is nothing inherently unique about LTE as far as Tegra 2 is concerned." If combining Tegra 2 with LTE an issue, at least not for Samsung, then it makes sense that the Motorola modem is the problem. Personally, I'm looking forward to Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 "Kal-El" chips. Check out this video posted back in June: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfNxbbJgSMQ

BrightLibra@Gmail.com
BrightLibra@Gmail.com

Did we see there was quality in the build? How about the choice of components that use less of the most precious commodity in a mobile device, power? 4G LTE is almost not quite ready for prime-time with the power consumption seen, even just standing in a store. 3G phones do well, and 802.11A worked fine too, is this a device that will compel ownership?

Editor's Picks