Motorola ATRIX Review (Part 2) with accessories

Jonathan Morris
May 19, 2011

Having now had the opportunity to properly test out the ATRIX, including the range of accessories that sets this handset apart from the competition, it is now possible to conclude the review of this rather innovative smartphone.

Even though the exterior look of the ATRIX is rather dull and uninspiring, compared to the Samsung Galaxy S II and LG’s Optimus 2X (the other two dual-core handsets currently in the marketplace), it will perhaps make the phone more appealing to business users.

This is not a cheap phone, nor is it widely available (Orange only for now, with T-Mobile from mid-June) and the accessories that show off it’s unique feature, called Webtop, where you can hook the phone up to a TV or convert the phone into a laptop aren’t that cheap either. However, it’s probably a dream come true for early adopters looking for something cool.

In a business market dominated by corporates tied to BlackBerry servers, and smaller companies allowing their employees to use an iPhone, Android is still to properly get a foot in the door of the business world. Even Microsoft is struggling with Windows Phone, so it’s not going to be easy.

As Samsung and LG clearly go after the consumer, the ATRIX has a number of business-friendly features.

The larger than normal power button on the rear is the first, doubling up as an optical fingerprint reader. Instead of having to enter a PIN or password, or draw a pattern that invariably leaves a mark that can be easily copied, you can now protect the phone and its content by requiring the swipe of either index finger.

What’s more, it isn’t a gimmick and it does actually work as long as you don’t swipe too fast. Now you simply tap the button once to bring up the lock screen, and swipe down with either index finger. If you do struggle, there is a PIN-code backup that you can use.

The other big feature, unique to the ATRIX, is Webtop. This outputs a bigger screen to HD televisions and when docked with the £300 ‘LapDock’, it gives you an 11.6-inch screen, keyboard and trackpad – using the phone to supply the processor, memory and storage.

To make this work, the phone has to have a good specification, and the ATRIX doesn’t disappoint. It has a NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core chipset, with each core running at 1GHz, plus a staggering 1GB of RAM (800MB or so available to the phone, and the rest for running the Webtop application).

There’s also 2GB of storage for apps and 10GB more for general media. Plus, unlike some devices (yes Apple, I’m looking at you) there’s a memory card slot that allows you to add up to 32GB of removable storage. This means there’s just one ATRIX and you won’t have to choose the specification in advance.

Finally, to further show its business credentials, there’s a 1,930mAh battery that offers up to 350 hours of standby and 9 hours of talktime

Even before you try to activate the Webtop mode, its own screen offers a better experience than the competition, at least until HTC’s Sensation arrives that has the same qHD-resolution. A 4-inch screen is pretty standard these days, but a 540×960 pixel screen is unique, and a nice increase on the previously used 480×854 pixel screens.

It’s bright and clear, but there is a catch. Motorola has used a different type of LCD screen, which differs from the usual red, green and blue pixels repeated over and over. Instead, the ATRIX uses a PenTile Matrix that changes the order of pixels, with more red and green than blue, and it then includes empty gaps to allows through more light, which increases the brightness without actually increasing the brightness.

All of this is designed to reduce power consumption, but it does mean solid colours get a dithered, halftone, effect that can be seen when you hold the phone close to your eyes. Small text can also become less defined.

However, despite my initial fears that this would be as bad as the original HTC Desire (before HTC switched to its Super-LCD screen) and Google’s Nexus One, the effect is actually minimal given the high resolution and a high dot-pitch. It certainly isn’t a deal breaker, especially when the promise of reduced power consumption appears to be true.

The battery life on the ATRIX is impressive, even if you keep the screen on for a long time (maybe watching a film or working your way through Angry Birds Rio) and is further aided by other battery saving features built in to the phone. Motorola’s own battery manager will let you turn off mobile data after set periods of inactivity, and at different times of the day. Although you can’t turn the phone off completely, like a BlackBerry, you can disable data overnight, or at any time you choose, knowing it will go back online in the morning to grab your email. The phone also manages the screen brightness automatically, although that’s a feature available on most smartphones.

The only thing on the phone that isn’t class leading is the camera. On the back of the phone is a five-megapixel sensor, which is accompanied by a dual LED flash. Photo taking is hindered by the lack of a dedicated shutter button, but you can set the phone to activate the camera by pressing the home button twice.

Although the focus time is very quick, in comparison to older handsets like the DEFY, the photos appear rather too soft, removing detail. Even in good light, you can zoom in on your results and see a lot of noise.

You can also record HD video, currently at 1280×720 pixels and – following a future update – 1920×1080, and while it captures at a very impressive bitrate (in excess of 10Mbps), it struggles to capture fast movements without skewing.

On the front of the phone is a VGA-resolution camera, usable for self portraits or video calling. Given where the ATRIX is positioned in the market, neither camera performs as well as I’d have liked – although the front camera is far less important given how few people will video call.

The ATRIX ships with Android 2.2 but is getting an update to 2.3, and this will add in better support for video calling and hopefully optimise a few other things here and there, but don’t expect to see much of a difference, bar a few visual changes in the UI. Some of the updates that have recently been introduced on the DEFY’s update to Android 2.2 are already on the ATRIX, like an improved gallery app, so there will probably be even fewer differences.

MotoBLUR is another addition to the phone, which doesn’t have the same sexy look as Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense UI but does allow you to gather together your social networking updates, like Twitter, LinkedIn, LastFM and Facebook, along with incoming messages and emails. All of this can then be seen in a single view, or individually.

The social networking data is collected remotely, once you’ve created a free account via the web. This also allows you to track your phone and remotely wipe the device if it should go missing.

MotorBLUR is often blamed for being slow or killing the battery, but I’ve rarely found it to be a problem – although updates can be delayed by the power saving options. Not only does it consume less data by getting Motorola to strip out the excessive data before it sends it to the phone (which might just allow you to keep using the service when roaming), but it also gets updates only when there’s new data to be pushed to the device.

While you don’t get all the features of the full Facebook app, or an app like TweetDeck, running MotoBLUR is a worthy addition, and should be tried out for a while before you dismiss it.

Perhaps one reason why the battery performs so well is the fact that dual-core processor really isn’t being taxed that much. Motorola has included a copy of Need For Speed Shift, which demonstrates the speed and 3D graphical quality the phone is capable of, but for most of the time the phone sits around running usign a fraction of the power.

Using a third-party app (System Panel), it was possible to see that the actual clock speed of the phone usually ran at just 300MHz for the majority of the time.

What the processor is really needed for is for when you hook the phone up to one of the docks. Webtop is a separate environment, which uses a bigger screen and resolution, whether that’s your HD television or the LapDock. Your phone becomes a windowed application, shown on a desktop that runs a standalone file manager and web browser (Firefox).

The Linux-based OS, separate to Android, is a proprietary setup but has a similar approach as Google’s Chrome OS that comes out this summer. You don’t run apps in the traditional sense (there’s no word processor, for example), but can open the browser and manage media, docs and email there.

Assuming you already have a Google account, a necessity for any Android phone, you can work with Google’s web-based apps to work with mail, contacts, appointments and documents. In addition to accessing data the data on the phone, like photos and videos, you can also plug in USB flash drives into a USB sockets at the back of the Multimedia Dock and LapDock. Open the file manager and you can move files around, just like on a PC or Mac.

However, while the desktop looks a bit like a Mac, with its dock at the bottom of the screen, you are extremely limited in what you can do. £300 for the LapDock doesn’t buy you something that can replace a laptop in functionality terms, but it does get you something very small and light, thanks to it taking its ‘power’ from the phone.

The LapDock also includes its own battery, so while you’re using the laptop the phone gets a charge too. The thought behind the LapDock is very clever, and from a security point of view, leaving the LapDock in the back of a cab (if you’re a politician or work for MI5, that is to be expected) means you’ll only be out of pocket, as all the data remains on your phone – protected by your fingerprint ID.

All things considered, the LapDock is a great toy, and will appeal to some users, such as bloggers, but other than that it’s really not worth the money. The Multimedia Dock, however, is worth the investment. Not only do you get an easy way to charge your phone, doubling up as a clock in standby mode, you can now get your TV connected to the Internet, or use the HD media mode to watch movies, view pictures or listen to music.

The more I used the ATRIX, the more I realised the phone just wasn’t going to spoil my fun by slowing down or crashing. I even began to get used to the ‘plain-Jane’ look, as the user experience is excellent.

If you never use the Webtop mode at all, you’ll still like the ATRIX. It has a very loud internal speaker, like all Motorola devices, and you have a number of sound enhancement options and noise cancellation to improve call quality.

The battery life is great, thanks partly to the battery saving options and the high-powered battery cell, while the fingerprint reader will now have me wanting the feature on every device I review from now on. Looks aside, the phone feels well built even if doesn’t get any of the ‘Lifeproof’ features of the DEFY. If the phone had been made water resistant, it would have required covers for the USB and HDMI ports, which would have made the accessories near impossible to use.

Producing a phone that appeals for work and pleasure is always tricky, but Motorola has come up with something that shows why they’re doing so well since adopting Android. They’ve had a number of great devices, since the release of the Droid/Milestone at the end of 2009, and they keep getting better.

What’s frustrating is the fact only Orange, then T-Mobile, is selling the phone. It really needs to be made available to all. However, Orange is offering the ‘Work and Play Kit’ for free on certain tariffs at the moment, so it certainly does sound rather enticing. But, forget about the LapDock unless you’re a sucker for technology.

[wpgalleryimage title=”Editors-Choice-5Star” float=right]Ratings (out of 5)

Performance: 5

Features: 4

Usability: 5


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