Review: Motorola's Atrix is the new king of the Androids

February 15, 2011: 8:13 AM ET

Motorola's latest is the new high-end Android, yet its refinements mean long battery life and light weight.

Motorola ATRIX 4G credit: AT&T

Ever since the HTC EVO was released on Sprint (S) about a year ago, there has been some stagnation at the high end of the Android spectrum.  Processors have maxed out at about 1GHz, screens are about 480x800ish and 720P output has become standard.

The Motorola (MMI) Atrix takes Android to the next level.

The screen on this new phone is a beautiful 4-inch  960x540 or 'qHD' covered in strong Gorilla Glass.  While Sharp and others have released a 3.5-inch screen with the same additional pixels as the iPhone 4, this one's size alone blows away smaller screens.  IT is also bright and looks great from all angles.

The processor is a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 running at 1GHz.  While the LG 2X and the Dell Streak 7 both have the same processor, neither device matches up with the Atrix in other areas.

The Atrix is much more refined than other high end phones.  While the EVO is big and bulky with a weak battery life and stuff protruding everywhere, the Atrix is light, smooth, unassuming and lasts forever on a charge -- even more so than Samsung's popular Galaxy S line.

The Atrix is a handsome phone.

But then, the Atrix does much, much more than a phone; it serves as the brains of a computer as well...

The Atrix is also dockable in a number of devices that turn it into a full-fledged computer.  Motorola has a laptop dock, an HD dock and you can just plug an HDMI cable into the side and use a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard.

When you want to turn the phone into a computer, you activate an app and dock it into one of the simple connectors on the connected devices.

The most elaborate dock is the laptop, which effectively turns your Atrix into a 12-inch screen netbook.  Motorola has a thin, 12-inch  shell that also houses some additional battery power and, of course, a keyboard and trackpad.

I love the idea, but the execution is flawed.  The Atrix plugs in as advertised but the netbook you get is pretty much a browser and the Android phone in a window.  That browser is Firefox and it runs really slow, and the keyboard and mouse lack the refined movements of a mature desktop OS.  For me, it was harder to use as a laptop than a $300 Intel Atom-based netbook, which negates its usefulness and the dock's extra $300 price tag.

Also, the trackpad isn't multi-touch so I had to unlearn all of my scrolling shortcuts.

I actually found myself using the Android browser even though it was touch-based on the laptop because of its speed and agility.  Motorola needs to tighten up this experience and probably swap out Chrome for Firefox if they want this model to work. Until then, I'd recommend saving your money on the laptop dock and getting a solid netbook for the same price.

The $129 media center/desktop dock is also something I'd have a hard time justifying, though for different reasons.  The dock allows the phone to stand up and charge while putting an HD display on.  USB connectors allow you to hook up extra storage and a remote allows you to control the device from the couch.

With media centers coming in under $100 already (Roku's is $59) there is really no reason to buy one for this device.  If you want to play some videos you just shot or brought over, you can plug an HDMI cable directly to the back of the TV without using a dock and power it via USB.

In this fashion, you can also use it as a desktop.  While the webtop OS is incredibly slow for even a notebook, I could see this coming in handy.  You just pop the HDMI cable into your 24-inch monitor and pull out some Bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo and you are able to type at pretty much normal speeds.  Motorola has a solid keyboard and mouse accessories that work great.  I've used better Bluetooth keyboards that cost less but there you go.

Again, the webtop browser is slow, so don't expect to enjoy Hulu or any Flash content for that matter. Speaking of Flash, it works great on the phone...

It is a great phone.

While I personally can't recommend either Atrix accessory, the phone is simply the best Android phone I've ever used -- no qualifiers needed.

It is on AT&T's network which has its ups and downs, but overall, it was fast enough to keep the phone busy. Data speeds overall felt fast but tested low.  I'm not sure why but it didn't bother me at all, though AT&T's 4G claims might be somewhat misleading.  The GPS worked flawlessly and got a signal much faster than any Galaxy S device I've ever used, about on par with other HTC and Motorola high end Androids.

The 5-megapixel camera is fantastic and as good as I've seen on just about any phone.  There was a bit of a blue tint on some of the outdoor photographs but some quick levels adjustments fixed that.  The front camera also works well and I look forward to more video chat companies like Fring, Skype, Tango, Oovoo, Yahoo, etc. getting their software up to speed on this device.

The phone call quality was great as well.  In my house, where we are on the frontier of AT&T coverage, call quality was as good as any mobile phone I've used.  I can't say that for other AT&T devices that I've used in my home, which are often choppy.

As for the Android phone experience, this phone comes with Motorola's Motoblur overlay which, like all versions of Motorola's overlay, is a hinderance more than a help.  That being said, it mostly stays out of my way and the Atrix's muscle out-powers any sluggishness that Blur inflicts.  AT&T, like they are wont to do, has loaded up the Atrix with their own maps and other apps.  It would be nice to be able to hide or erase these but you can easily navigate around them.

App performance is bolstered by the Tegra 2 inside and I was really impressed with the resposiveness all around.  Even things that often take a while to load and run, like Flash movies in the browser, were almost instantaneous on the Atrix.

There were some small quibbles here and there.  I plugged the phone in as it was powering off and it went into a beep loop once.  Also, a menu window stuck open that I hade to power down the device to remove.  All of these things were small and fixable with a software update.

Conclusion:

As other sites have said, I think this is one of, if not the best, Android devices on the market.  It is everything that the Galaxy S phones are with a better screen (and that is saying something!), faster processor, better GPS and more RAM.

The only downsides are Motorola's Blur and possibly AT&T's apps and '4G'  network, depending on where you live.

As I said above, the accessories, including the $300 laptop dock, are unnecessary but a cool trick if you have that kind of money to burn.

The Atrix is $199 with a 2-year data plan at AT&T.  I imagine they will be a sought after item even as others are releasing new devices at MWC.

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About This Author
Seth Weintraub
Seth Weintraub

Google went from searching the Web to worming its way into nearly every facet of business and government. Seth Weintraub unveils where the company is going, who it's competing with, who it's about to compete with and how market forces push the company to veer or adhere to its Don't Be Evil motto. For 15 years, Weintraub was a global IT director for a number of companies before becoming a blogger.

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