Motorola Atrix Cell Phone Review
By Sandy Berger on October 4, 2011
Currently, 4G cell phones are very popular, and the Motorola Atrix offered in the US by AT&T is a 4G phone with plenty of special features. With a 1 GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor, a 5-megapixel camera, a fingerprint reader, and the availability of a docking station that can turn the phone into a laptop or a desktop computer, the Atrix seemed quite impressive. When we saw Motorola advertise it as the “World’s Most Powerful Smartphone,” we were anxious to take a look.
The Atrix comes in a colorful box, shown in Figure 1.
The contents of the box are shown in Figure 2. They include the Atrix, a Micro USB charging cable, a non-foldable plug that accepts the USB cable, and several small pamphlets including a Quick Start guide, a Staying Connected guide, and several safety and legal informational brochures.
As you can see in Figure 2, the Motorola Atrix is a standard looking candy bar phone. The phone measures 2.5 x 4.6 x 0.4 inches (63.5 x 117.75 x 10.95 mm) and weighs 4.8 ounces (135 grams), which is similar to most other phones of this size and shape. It sports a 4-inch screen, which is in the middle of the currently popular screen sizes. This screen is slightly larger than some and slightly smaller than others.
The Atrix has a 24-bit color qHD touch screen covered with Corning’s Gorilla Glass. A qHD has a display resolution of 960 × 540 pixels arranged in a 16:9 aspect ratio. The name is from the fact that this resolution is one quarter of an ATSC full HD 1080p frame. Although this is not a standard Android resolution, we found that it worked well for the phone as well as for all of the apps that we tried. The screen is crisp and clear but a bit faded in bright sunlight.
The remainder of the phone is covered in smooth black plastic. The only design detail is a diagonal pattern that runs across the back, as shown in Figure 3.
On the back of the Atrix you can also see the 8-megapixel camera and the LED flash. At the top is a power/sleep button. This is an unusual shape because it has a fingerprint reader incorporated into it. The fingerprint reader works very well most of the time, but the occasional time that it will ask you to rescan your finger always seems to be when you are in a hurry to access the phone. Corporate users may be willing to put up with this, but the average user might not. Fortunately, if you do not setup the fingerprint reader, the phone works in the regular manner, unlocking when you slide your finger across the unlock screen.
In Figure 3 you can also see the speaker on the bottom of the phone. It delivered very good quality audio for music, as well as clarity for speakerphone calls.
The Atrix is solid and sturdy. It fits well in a hand or pocket. It comes with 16 GB of on-board memory, and you can add up to 32 GB more on a removable micro SD card. Removing the back cover of the Atrix shows the SIM card, memory card slot, and the battery, as shown in Figure 4.
The screen fills the entire front of the Atrix, except for the black area surrounding it, as shown in Figure 5. On the sides of the screen, the black bezel is quite thin. The black area is thicker on the top and bottom. The top has the Motorola name in the middle with the earpiece above it. The front-facing camera is on the left. A message light on the right will flash red or green, indicating the status of your messages.
Under the screen are the four touch icons that are used for the Atrix’s Android operating system. They are Menu, Home, Back, and Search. Right under these icons is a very small opening for the microphone.
The volume rocker is the only control on the right side of the phone, as shown in Figure 6.
The left side of the Atrix has two openings, as shown in Figure 7: one for the Micro USB charger and one mini HDMI port.
All-in-all, the Atrix hardware performs well. Both incoming and outgoing calls were clear and crisp. The speaker phone is loud and clear. The Atrix is based on the NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor with dual ARM Cortex-A9 cores running at 1 GHz. It has 1 GB of DDR2 RAM. This makes for excellent speed, no matter what the task. Flash is not only supported, but runs very well because of the strength of the processor.
While surfing the web is good, it is slightly slower than some other 4G phones. AT&T bills Atrix as a 4G phone, but it runs on AT&T HSPA+ network which is more like a speedy 3G network rather than a 4G network. Yet, this phone works well with Wi-Fi networks and can roam overseas on GSM and HSPA networks.
The phone can also act as a mobile hotspot, for an additional monthly fee. This worked fairly well in our testing, except for some areas where the phone alternated between the 3G and 4G networks. In these areas, the hot spot cut out when the phone went from one network to another.
The touch screen is responsive. We found the screen’s display to be slightly better than some previous Motorola phones like the Droid and the Droid X. Yet it still isn’t up to the standards set by the Retina Display of the iPhone and the Super AMOLED display of many of the Samsung phones like the Samsung Fascinate. That said, however, the phone’s unusual 960 × 540 pixel resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio made videos look great.
The Atrix has the usual on-screen keyboard, as shown in Figure 8, which can be used either vertically or horizontally in most applications. While several other phones have done away with the Swype keyboard interface that we love, we found it alive and well on the Atrix.
The Atrix also has all the usual features we have come to expect in a smart phone including Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, an accelerometer, compass, light sensor, and proximity sensor.
Talk time on the Atrix is rated for up to 530 minutes. Standby time is rated for 350 to 400 hours. While we were able to get a normal day’s use out of the Atrix, if we left it unused for a day, the battery drained quite quickly, even with the Wi-Fi turned off.
There are several useful videos on the phone that will help new users, and there is also a useful Help Center in the App menu.
To setup the Atrix, you must have a Motoblur account with Motorola. If you don’t have one, you can set one up right from the phone. Motoblur has a lot of social network support. You can add as many accounts as you like and it will sync your contacts, posts, feeds, messages, emails, and photos, from sources like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, email, Picasa, and Photobucket. After you add a social networking account to Motoblur, you can see and respond to friends’ updates with a Social Networking widget. Motorola’s overlay does an excellent job of making it easy to keep up with your friends and social network sites on your phone.
After you set up your Motoblur account, you will want to set up your email. The Atrix supports POP3 and IMAP accounts, Gmail, corporate email, and corporate directory lookup.
Our review Atrix came with Android 2.2.1 (Froyo) installed. We knew that Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread) was a big improvement, so our first task was to upgrade the operating system. We had to go through the upgrade process and reboot of the phone four times before Android 2.3.4 was actually installed. The first three upgrades downloaded and upgraded other software components. There were no alerts that notified us of this. We simply saw that another update was available and clicked to install it. Although this was a bit time consuming (best done over Wi-Fi), it was a seamless process.
Once Gingerbread was installed, we noticed immediate improvement. This newer operating system version offers a more refined interface, a notification shade that lets you dismiss individual notifications, redesigned shortcuts and widgets, and an improved music player. The biggest change may well be the extra four doc icons at the bottom of the screen, three of which are customizable. To show you just how different things can look between the two operating system versions, we did two screen shows. Figure 9 shows the home page under Froyo. Figure 10 shows the same page after Gingerbread was installed.
Both the Android Gingerbread operating system and the Motoblur overlay have improved the music player. The Motorola Music app lets you share music with friends, discover new music, and explore artists. It also offers an integrated music store. It also lets you sync your music with iTunes or the Windows Media Player. The Atrix has a standard 3.5 mm ear bud port on the top of the phone, as shown in Figure 11.
The Atrix has a 5-megapixel camera with digital zoom, auto focus, and LED flash. The camera software is easy to use with large icons displaying the menu choices, as shown in Figure 12. Picture quality is good, but not exceptional. Indoor shots were crisp and clear and although not as good as those taken outside, the indoor shots, even in low-light, were acceptable. All of our photos had a slightly bluish cast, but not enough to be really problematic. The Atrix is also a front-facing VGA web camera, which is fairly poor quality, but it is available if you need it for video calling.
Video capture was surprisingly good, producing smooth 720p videos at 30 frames per second with decent sound.
The Atrix is the first cell phone to provide a simple way to use the processing power of the phone to turn it into a larger-screen computer. It does this with a choice of two docking stations – a laptop dock and a desktop dock. Although we were not provided these docks to evaluate, we have seen them in action.
The laptop dock is called a lapdock. It looks like a small laptop computer. It has a full-sized keyboard and screen, but it is just a shell. It has no processing power, no memory, and no storage. The Atrix sits in a small dock that is attached to the back of the laptop and provides all the power for the laptop dock.
The desktop multimedia dock is a small cradle that attaches to a monitor or TV, keyboard, and mouse.
Motorola provides an interface for the docks called Webtop that automatically pops to life when the Atrix is docked. This lets you surf the web with a full Firefox web browser.
You’ve heard the saying that the new smartphones are a “PC in your pocket.” Well, these new docking stations take that PC out of your pocket and put it back on your desktop. It is an interesting idea and implementation. Verizon has just come out with the Droid Bionic which has similar docking capabilities, so this may well be something that we find common in the future.
AT&T is currently charging USD 400 for the lapdock and USD 190 for the desktop dock. The desktop dock includes a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. You may get a better deal if you buy these accessories when you purchase the phone. Also, be aware that AT&T considers using the lapdock tethering so you must pay USD 45 a month to use it. Although this includes 4 GB of data and hot-spot capabilities, we would like to see AT&T let user’s choose the standard data plan for USD 25 a month for 2 GB, with additional costs for going over that limit.
The main specifications for the Motorola Atrix cell phone include:
The Atrix is a top-notch phone with a speedy processor. It handled everything we threw at it, including games, without any hesitations. With the Gingerbread operating system, the Atrix may well be the jack-of-all-trades that does many things and actually does them all well. The USD 100 price point with a two-year contract also adds to the attraction of the phone.
Although the Atrix’s processor may qualify it as the world’s most powerful smartphone, until it is on a true 4G LTE network, it won’t be the fastest.
That said, however, even on AT&T’s slower HSPA+ 4G network, the Atrix provides enough speed to satisfy the average user. Using the phone is easy with the Android Gingerbread operating system. Although we are not a big fan of overlays, the Motoblur overlay does create an easy way to connect with a variety of social networks.
We have mixed feelings about the laptop dock. Although the idea seems good, we would have to use it to see if we really think it would be beneficial. Also, at USD 400, it is pricey when compared to other options like a tablet or a real laptop.