There were a bevy of Android phones introduced at CES. One stood out and that was the Motorola Atrix 4G, winner of the Best of CES 2011. This was largely due to the unique accessories and capabilities of the phone. In particular, the ability to dock the Atrix 4G into a laptop dock accessory and transform it into a capable laptop. Unlike most phones we’ve reviewed in the past, the Atrix is unique in the breadth of accessories that transform this phone into a laptop, multimedia device and more. These all come at cost, but we’ll get into that later in the review.
From a physical perspective, the Atrix doesn’t stand out from the pack. It’s your standard black slab, but feels very good in your hand. If you stack the Atrix 4G on top of an iPhone 4, the two are almost identical, with the Atrix being just slightly larger. Motorola uses what they term “vacuum metalized housing” throughout the device, which when combined with the curved edges also make for an attractive design. Build quality is very good, but not Nexus One great (in our minds, the gold standard for build quality).
The Atrix 4G is the first phone with a qHD display. The four-inch display is 960 x 540 and uses Corning’s Gorilla Glass. This will provide you with the added comfort that’s it’s difficult to scratch the display. That’s a good thing because images, icons and apps look spectacular on the display. Included with the phone is limited version of Need for Speed Shift, which would allow for a great preview of the graphic prowess of the Atrix. While resistant to scratches, the same cannot be said for fingerprints. When the display is off, it really shows fingerprints. This is not an issue when the device is powered on, but I felt it worth noting.
Coupled with the microUSB port is an HDMI port, both of which help the Atrix transform into a laptop or mini-media center. There is a VGA front-facing camera and the back features a 5-megapixel camera that provides for 720p video capture.
The power button doubles as a fingerprint sensor that allows you to secure your phone from prying eyes. Set-up was a breeze and it allows you to setup a backup password should the fingerprint scanner function incorrectly. In our tests, the fingerprint scanner worked perfectly. You still have to physically depress the button to power on the phone. The swipe simply unlocks your device. The power button is recessed at the top back of the phone and it’s not ideal positioning. Still, the trade-off here is the ability to use the fingerprint scanner for added security. To power the phone on/off, you need to grip the sides tightly in order to press the button.
Processor and Storage
Powered by a dual-core 1Ghz NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, the Atrix 4G also includes 1GB of RAM. The result is a device that is an absolute pleasure to use purely due to the speed. Whether you are opening apps, acting on email or text notification or playing Need For Speed, lag is not in the Atrix’s dictionary. Even with a plethora of MotoBlur widgets (which can be removed), the device is incredibly fast. Granted it’s over a year old, but the Atrix 4G is noticeably faster when compared to the Nexus One (my current Android phone). The Atrix will go as fast as you go and that’s saying a lot. Speed by far was it’s most significant attribute during my use.
The device is clearly targeted at business users and/or heavy multimedia users, but will appeal to anyone looking for a spec-laded Android phone on AT&T. It comes with 16GB of on board storage, with support of up to 32GB microSD cards. Safe to say, the device offers plenty of space for documents and media.
The Atrix is a 4G phone and AT&T claims network speeds up to 6Mbps are possible. This is highly dependant upon a host of factors, most notably your geographic area. AT&T is still in the process of rolling out their “enchanced backhaul”, which is necessary for you to achieve higher speeds. In our testing, we did not come close to those numbers. Using test applications Speedtest and FCC Test, the highest we saw was 2229 kbps download and 191 kbps upload. Our testing was conducted in NYC and Long Island. If you are concerned about speeds, we’d recommend you download one or both of these applications at your local AT&T Store and run speed tests. Testing in your area will allow you to have a good expectation of download speeds.
As for battery life, it was on par with other smartphones. Having a removable battery, it’s easy enough to extend the life by carrying a spare. I managed a full day with an assortment of apps open. Your mileage may vary.
Voice call quality was clear on both ends. Nothing stood out either way when it came to voice calls.
It’s surprising, if not disappointing, to see new phones get released without the current 2.3 version of Android. Even Google’s Nexus One is without 2.3, so it’s hard to fault Motorola on this one. The Atrix 4G runs MotoBlur and I found it minimally invasive. I actually like the ability to move quickly from any of my homescreens by selecting the dots. Also a nice touch was “people” speed dials with multiple phone number fields for your favorites. For those who don’t care for the UI, there are several available launchers in the Android Market.
There are a number of AT&T sanctioned applications on the device that including, but not limited to:
- AT&T Code Scanner
- AT&T FamilyMap
- AT&T Navigator
I don’t particularly have a need for any of the apps, but you might. Given the sufficient amount of storage space that comes with the Atrix, this wasn’t a big deal for me.
Like most photo takers, the ability to snap a shot quickly plays an important role in photo-taking. Shutter speeds are quick and the 5-megapixel camera was able to produce high quality images. The front-facing camera is VGA and suitable for it’s intended purpose of video chat. The following are sample photos. They were resized, but not edited.
The camcorder produced good results. The video below is completely unedited and should provide you with a good idea of what you can expect from the 720p HD camera on the Atrix. I’ve also seen high quality video shot on the Atrix in a concert hall setting and was surprised at how well it performed in low-light areas.
Note: Please select high definition to see full HD quality of the cam.
Atrix 4G Accessories
The Motorola Atrix 4G is unique in that there are an abundance of accessories that transform the phone into a multimedia hub or laptop.
The laptop dock is essentially a netbook-style laptop without any memory, processor or other component. The Atrix 4G plugs into the back and becomes the brains of the operation. The laptop dock does include a battery, so while docked, it will actually charge the Atrix 4G.
The build quality of the Laptop Dock was impressive. It’s solid, sturdy and very lightweight given its lack of internals. This also allows for the dock to be ultra-thin, making it great for roadwarriors. The glossy display was bright and vivid, though susceptible to glare. The keyboard was tactile and comfortable to type on. The track pad does not support two finger scrolling or gestures. Performance of the track pad was middling at best.
The Laptop runs a webtop application developed by Motorola, but it’s limited in scope. Within the WebTop experience, you have essentially three apps. Included is a full version of Mozilla’s Firefox browser. Anything you can do within a desktop version of Firefox, you can do with the Atrix Laptop Dock. There are no Office applications, so you’ll need to rely on browser-based apps like Google Docs. One mirrors your phone, allowing you to run any apps you have on your Atrix within a small widget on the laptop dock. This can be handy, since you can make calls while checking email, browsing the web or editing a document.
Performance on a whole was not on par with a moderately priced netbook. Pages load slowly even using a WiFi connection. There are dedicated icons to web-based services such as Facebook and U-Verse. Both essentially do away with the address bar, providing you with more real estate. Think of them as bookmarks that launch into full screen.
A dedicated multimedia app titled the Entertainment Center” is included and allows you to access media on your Atrix 4G. The interface is actually very smooth and well done. It certainly makes it easy to share photos or video taken on your phone. During music playback, it shows some album artwork and animation. It’s similar to what you’d find in iTunes or Zune software.
While using the Laptop Dock, I found myself forgetting that it’s essentially a shell of an OS. You’re reminded when making changes to WiFi or even checking email. Outside of the Firefox browser, all of your work must be done in the phone, which appears as a window on your desk. Navigating your phone via the laptop felt odd. There are no scroll bars, so you have to click and drag to move up or down. While I understood it was driving this whole experience, I hoped the phone would stay in the background, allowing for more of a true desktop experience.
The Laptop Dock plus Atrix 4G is offered as a bundle, priced at $499.99, making the price tag of the Laptop Dock roughly $300. If you decide to add the Laptop Dock at a later date, it’s $499.99. While the concept is great and we could see this being a viable laptop for short trips, it’s not a full laptop replacement. The price point is in line with most well-equipped netbooks, which for some might be a better alternative. In order to use Firefox, you must have both the Data Pro Plan ($25) and the Tethering Plan ($20) The Atrix 4G Laptop Dock is great technology, but needs more time to develop in order command that price tag.
The multimedia dock allows you to connect your Atrix 4G to your HDTV. You can accomplish this with the included cable or using the dock (which then makes use of the included cable. The Motorola Entertainment Center referenced above is what you’ll see on your television. Included with the dock is a remote control and this is the lure of the Multimedia Dock. The remote makes it easy to browse through the Entertainment Center and access your content. We tested video taken with the phone and also an .avi, .mov files. All played back without any issues.
The Multimedia Dock is priced at $129.99, which seems high considering a Zune HD dock complete with remote and cables is regularly priced at $89.99. The Atrix already includes the HDMI cable necessary to utilize your media on an HDTV.
Other peripheral options include a keyboard and mouse. Bundled with the Multimedia Dock, this option costs $189.99. AT&T lists the keyboard at $69.99. It comes with dedicated keys to access options on your Android phone. This might end up being a low-cost alternative to someone who composes long emails or documents while on the go. This is a full-size keyboard, yet compact and light.
- Very fast
- Solid build quality
- Numerous expansion capabilities, accessories
- Checks all the boxes when it comes to specifications you would want in a phone
- Does not run latest version of Android (comes with Android 2.2 Froyo)
- Expensive accessories
- Download speeds highly dependant upon your geographic area and were not impressive in our testing.
The Motorola Atrix 4G won the best in show at CES 2011 for its ability to transform from smartphone to laptop to media center. Road warriors, especially those with an expense account, will appreciate the expandability thanks in part to the variety of manufactured designed accessories not currently available for any other smartphone. What might get lost is the quality of the Atrix 4G as a phone. With impressive specs and performance, the Motorola Atrix 4G stands out among the rest.