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 (960×540 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″ (960×540 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.

Update 12/19/2011: This post originally appeared in our TR Dojo blog.