Powerful Android smartphones are becoming a dime a dozen, so it takes a lot to stand out amongst the pack nowadays. Regardless, the Motorola Atrix made a splash at CES last month when it was announced. Partly because it’s running on a dual-core 1ghz processor, but it its not just its powerful specs alone that made it impressive. It was its lapdock accessory that made everyone’s head turn. A smartphone that docks into a laptop? That is something new and different. It was clear that the Atrix could bring a lot more to the plate than the average super-powered Android phone.
With its 4″ display, curved edges and relatively lightweight body which weighs 135 grams, the Atrix feels really nice to hold in your hand. As a matter of fact, the Atrix weighs just a drop less than the iPhone 4, which is amazing considering it’s packing in a dual-core processor. Overall, we find the size and weight to be ideal for our tastes, as we personally find some of the smartphones with 4.3″ displays to be unwieldy for our hands. That said, the Atrix’s build quality feels pretty solid overall, but we have some concerns. For starters, while removing the battery cover, we somehow managed to the dent speaker grate located on its bottom back side, and it’s not like we were applying much pressure to it either. Overall, this isn’t quite a super delicate device, but we feel like using a case is necessary and that it’s not as hardy as some of Motorola’s other smartphones. Furthermore, the device also tends to heat up – but not so much, that it’s uncomfortable to use.
The Atrix sports a 4″ qHD 24 bit display with a 960 x 540. The display gets nice and bright, and colors are vivid and really do pop on the Atrix. Unfortunately the display suffers from some graininess. We’re pretty sure that about 95% of users wouldn’t notice or mind this graininess, but it does bother us a bit. It’s more noticeable if you compare the Atrix side by side to another device like the HTC Inspire 4G or iPhone. That said, the display is still very good.
The onscreen keyboard is ok. The keys seem a bit narrow, but the typing experience is still good, if not the best one out there.
The Atrix runs like a beast and is a joy to use. Multitasking is speedy, and the U.I. feels very peppy. Playing graphically challenging games like the included Need for Speed Shift demo on this device is brilliant. Not too long ago, a 1GHZ snapdragon processor seemed super fast – but apparently two cores are even better! We ran benchmarks on the Atrix using Quadrant and it came out with a whopping score of 2530! That makes it the fastest smartphone we’ve tested to date – including the HTC Inspire 4G which we recently tested and had a score of 1730.
Software and U.I.
The Motorola Atrix is currently running Android 2.2 Froyo. It’s a shame that it isn’t shipping with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) but we’re pretty sure that Motorola will be offering an update for it eventually. The device is also running the Motoblur UI overlay which helps compliment the device with tight social media integration and fun widgets, many of which are social media oriented. Like HTC Sense, many love and many hate Motoblur, but we’re pretty fond of it. It helps take the phone to the next level if you’re a social media addict – and really, who isn’t nowadays. Some Motoblur widgets include a calendar widget, a weather widget, a RSS feed widget, a social networking widget (for Facebook, Twitter, and even MySpace) widget, a message widget, a Sticky Note widget, and a social status widget for making quick post status updates to social networks. What we especially like about these widgets is that you can resize the width and height of these Motoblur widgets. This is something you can’t do with other widget sets like HTC Sense widgets or the Stock Android Widgets. But besides for its social media prowess, the Atrix also has support for Exchange and corporate sync too.
Some of the bundled apps include AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Navigator, BlockBuster, a DLNA app for using your phone to control playback of media files stored on your phone or other DLNA devices, an AT&T U-Verse LiveTV app – which requires a subscription, a Moto Phone Portal app which makes it easier to manage phone content from your PC, Quickoffice, Vlingo, YPMobile, a Task Manager (why don’t more Android phones include that!) and the WebTop Connector app which we’ll delve into later.
The Motorola Atrix sports a 5MP camera with an LED flash and automatic flash. It also has a front-facing camera for video calls! The 5MP rear-facing camera is pretty good. Even in low light it takes pretty good shots, although the flash tends to be too strong and it often washes the subject out. Overall, the Atrix has one of the better smartphone cameras with pretty sharp photos. The camera can also record 720p HD video at 30fps and videos came out great – bright with good color reproduction, especially those taken in daylight and outdoors.
Call quality on the Atrix is good but about average. Incoming callers sound clear and they say that they can hear us well enough. But the quality is not the amazing experience that we had with the HTC Inspire 4G.
With several widgets running, brightness on full, and just moderate use, you’ll just barely get through the day on a charge. Unfortunately this is more or less the standard for most smartphones nowadays.
Browsing web sites on the Atrix 4G is a pleasure. Besides for Flash 10.1 support, the device is a speed demon when it comes to loading web sites. Testing in NYC in midtown Manhattan, the Atrix has actually proven to be the fastest smartphone we’ve ever used for browsing the internet and it is even faster than all of the other 4G devices we’ve recently tested. This might be due to the fact that AT&T has since upgraded the network where we are, but we’re sure it’s also partly due to the Atrix’s speedy Dual-core processor which helps web sites render faster – even flash sites pop up quickly on this phone.
Out of the box, the Atrix can also work as a 3G mobile hotspot for support of up-to 5 devices. Sure, this is starting to become standard on smartphones, but it’s still worth mentioning.
For $359.99, Atrix users can pick up the special Lapdock accessory which is designed to dock your Atrix. This laptop dock lets you access your smartphone on a big 11.6″ screen, with a 1366 x 768 resolution, and also enjoy the comfort of operating your smartphone with a “real” keyboard. Made of black aluminum and soft touch plastic, the Lapdock weighs just 2.4lbs and is very thin yet still manages to sport a full size keyboard. With its chicklet style keys, the keyboard is pretty comfortable to type on. There is plenty of space in between keys, but the keys themselves are a bit small which takes some adjusting too. Also, the keyboard on our unit is not backlit, so we’re not sure why some other reviewers have noted otherwise. The Lapdock’s display is ok too with good color reproduction, but its viewing angles aren’t that great. Overall, the build quality of the Lapdock is very solid and it feels like it could handle the riggers of a mobile lifestyle, it’s also quite handsome. However, the laptop tends to pick up fingerprint smudges easily. Overall, the Lapdock is well made and we have to give kudos for Motorola thinking out of the box for this accessory, literally.
The Lapdock has no processor or memory inside of it, so once the Atrix is docks in it, the Atrix becomes its brains. The lapdock also charges the phone while its docked. The dock also sports two USB ports and a 3.5mm jack. The Atrix docks into a slot at the back of the Lapdock. Once the Atrix is docked, the Lapdock gives you access to a full screen Firefox browser. It also lets you view and access the Atrix in a window. This window can be enlarged to fullscreen. It is indeed pretty neat being able to access your smartphone on a bigger screen. However, the Lapdock doesn’t have a touchscreen, and the Atrix is a touchscreen device, so that makes accessing your Atrix through the lapdock somewhat awkward. To help make things easier, the Lapdock has a very large trackpad, but unfortunately its left and right mouse buttons are too stiff. Also, the Lapdock’s mouse pointer tended be a little too slow for our tastes. So you’ll want to go into settings to increase its speed.
The Lapdock can also be used to make and receive calls. When you make a call, the Atrix goes into speakerphone. The process is efficient, however callers told us that we sounded far away when talking through the Lapdock. The Lapdock also has icons for quick access to different aspects of your phone – like contacts, messaging and the dialer. The Lapdock also offers access to the Entertainment Center, which we’ll talk about more of when we get into the Atrix’s HD Multimedia Dock. Oddly enough, there is also a dedicated shortcut to the Facebook website. Finally, the Lapdock also has a file explorer which lets you view and manage the file contents of your phone. Overall, the Webtop experience is easy to use and navigate. However it’s also sluggish, but acceptably slow. To sum up, the Webtop interface works well enough but doesn’t come close to replacing a full fledged laptop pc.
The Lapdock accessory, which is designed specifically for the Atrix is available directly for Motorola for $359.99. This is a well made “laptop”, but even with its solid build quality, the price is way too hard to justify. As a matter of fact, we don’t think that it’s worth a penny more than $199 for its capabilities alone. You can purchase the Atrix bundled with the Lapdock for $499. All-in-all, while it’s certainly no Palm Foleo, unfortunately, we don’t believe that the Atrix’s Lapdock has the appeal to be become mainstream. In a world of tablets and notebooks, it’s hard to justify the need for a “dumb” laptop. Instead this laptop dock accessory will most likely be relegated to just some hard core enthusiasts and geeks. Fortunately as a smartphone the Atrix stands strong on its own.
HD Multimedia Dock
We actually think that the HD Multimedia dock accessory for the Atrix is more practical than the Lapdock. This neat accessory lets you dock your Atrix and lets you connect it to a TV via HDMI. It also packs in 3 USB ports for connecting a keyboard and mouse. The Media Dock also comes with a wireless remote, but the included remote is finicky and isn’t always responsive. Once the Atrix is docked, you have two options – you can use the Motorola Webtop app which offers the same functionality as it does when connected through the Lapdock. Of course, you’ll really need a keyboard and mouse to use Webtop interface properly on your TV. To that effect, Motorola sells a bluetooth keyboard separately, or you can plug in a USB keyboard and mouse.
Alternatively, once the Atrix is docked you can use the Entertainment Center which lets you access music, videos and photos stored on your Atrix to playback on your bigscreen TV. That includes support for 1080p videos. The HD Multimedia Dock for the Atrix is available for $89.99.
The Motorola Atrix is certainly a speed demon of a smartphone with a lot of things going for it – including the fact that it’s offered us the fastest web surfing experience we’ve experienced on any smartphone to date. We also love its form-factor, multimedia and multitasking prowess, great camera, and even appreciate its tight social media integration. We do have some issues with the Atrix’s display and build quality, but they aren’t big enough issues not to like the phone a lot. Furthermore, Motorola’s attempt at trying something new with the Lapdock accessory is admirable. But ultimately, the Atrix is a winner, but the Laptop dock is disappointing. Fortunately the Lapdock is an accessory that is only optionally bundled with the Atrix. The Motorola Atrix retails for $199 from AT&T with a new contract.
The Good: Blazing fast web surfing experience – even for sites with flash, offers performance like no other smartphone on the market (at-least not yet), excellent form-factor, tight social media integration, video calling, great camera, HD Multimedia Dock is a neat accessory to have.
The Bad: Build quality is a bit weak, screen suffers from some graininess, device heats up, power button is awkwardly located, price tag for lapdock is hard to justify