Motorola Atrix in-depth review -

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Look and feel

With a black plastic casing and standard heft, the Atrix looks OK - no better, no worse. The slick new Motoblur interface looks clean and elegant on the high-resolution display though

Ease of use

Packing Android Gingerbread, the Atrix is intuitive and responsive with a a great touch-screen, though we regularly encountered short software freezes. Using it with its (separately sold) accessory set requires a little more setup sweat, but in general, things do what you expect them to

Features

The Atrix has the full line up – social, web, email, multimedia and sat nav all check off, and it can also be used with a few different docks as a laptop or media centre

Performance

Though generally fast, the Atrix also regularly froze and we had to turn the display off and on to get it going again. It lags when used with the laptop dock that is its USP, with delays of up to two seconds between input and action when using certain programs

Battery life

Pretty standard for a smartphone, we got around 13 hours of moderate use

 Motorola Atrix Review -
3

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/13/2011 10:10:47 AM

6

out of 10

Performance

6

out of 5

Look and feel

8

out of 5

Ease of use

10

out of 5

Features

6

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Excellent touch-screen, slick-looking interface with social networking features, good email and web, HDMI out

Cons:

Many software glitches, pedestrian design, accessory set that is its unique selling point is cheaply made and expensive

You've probably got a smartphone, and you definitely have a computer. Maybe two. Isn't it annoying carrying all these things and/or having stuff on your phone that you really need on a computer? Along with being a middle-class whinge, it's also one of the convergence issues of our techie era - and Motorola believes it can be solved by buying a smartphone that can be turned piecemeal, like a prototype Transformer, into something that at least resembles a computer. Enter the Atrix, a power-phone with the dual-core cojones and sprawling accessory set to do just that - but does the execution match its innovation? 

 

Design

By itself, the Atrix is just another phone - black chassis, rounded corners, four-inch full-touch display, the requisite superphone spec list of dual-core 1GHz chip, 1GB RAM and five-megapixel camera (with HD recording, naturally). The front boasts its own little VGA lens for video calls. Down the left side are an HDMI port to hook up to media displays, and microUSB for charging and file transfer. At 117.8x63.5x 11mm, it's reasonably easy to palm, while its 135g weight just manages not to be heavy. Of special note is the power button, located at the back cover - it's also a fingerprint sensor that amps up phone security by allowing only you to biometrically unlock your device. It works perfectly and as a happy side effect, is also the fastest unlock method on any phone we've tried - but just in case (or if you want someone else to use your phone), you're also asked to provide a backup PIN.

There's a small nod to design frippery in its houndstooth-like patterned back cover, but overall, the Atrix looks are just serviceable – the key here is that it can do a lot of stuff, at least if you've got the accessories.

Though it's powered by Android Gingerbread, Moto has laid on its own skin, Motoblur, which gives the phone an especially streamlined look. Icons and wallpapers look sharp and vibrant on the 540x960 pixel display, while widgets are done in clean, straight lines that are somewhat reminiscent of Windows Phone 7 simplicity. You can make the widgets larger - which isn't possible on Android phones from other manufacturers – to display more information. But despite the highly responsive touch-screen, this is a pretty clumsy process and took us a few tries each time. They look great though, compared to the pixilation we observed on the first few Motoblur handsets.

The basics

You're prompted to input email, Facebook and Twitter details the first time you turn on the phone. This then automatically syncs your contacts to the phone, though annoyingly, you can't choose to only view those contacts for whom you also have phone numbers. The result is a stupidly long list of contacts, many of which in our case were email addresses without names from our Google account.

Luckily, both the text and dialer apps let you type the name of your intended contact, automatically filling in the number details, so it's a problem that is at least possible to ignore. 

On start up, the Atrix already has several widgets scattered about, so that first-timers have an idea what they're meant to do with a smartphone. Social networking widgets display the latest from Facebook and Twitter, either in a single box, or separately, and you can also pop on your own update widget that displays the last thing you wrote, and, if you tap on it, lets you share even more.

You can back up and manage contacts, photos, messages and any other phone info including missed calls at the Motorola Phone Portal, which can be accessed via USB or Wi-Fi.

So far, so standard – but the Atrix steps into a whole new arena when you consider its accessory set (sold separately). Or at least, it tries to - despite its turbo-charged spec list, we encountered regular software freezes in our review period, with the touch-screen completely unresponsive or pop up windows not shutting down. Usually turning the display off then on again worked, but we occasionally had to restart the phone.

Laptop or not?

Though there are already quite a few accessories you can plug the Atrix into, probably the most interesting is the Lapdock, a Moto product that is a plastic replica of an actual laptop, with a battery, and HDMI and microUSB plugs that slot into the phone. Push it on, and for all intents and purposes, you have a full sized laptop at your disposal. On the phone, the Webtop app automatically launches and displays on the dock's screen. It looks like a simple browser, with a shortcut dock for the dialer, contacts book, messaging inbox (which includes email and social network messages) and the entertainment centre. You can also browse files on the device, but the file manager is an unfiltered list of every file on the device, many of which you can't (or shouldn't) interact with – offputting to anyone not well-acquainted with poking around the dusty nooks of their virtual archives. Of course, it's the classic Android dilemma: lots of functionality for the tech-savvy is also too much for the average consumer.

 

Playing around this interface, it's very easy to forget that you're actually just using a phone projecting its innards onto a bigger screen. So it's particularly frustrating when performance goes sluggish in certain programs.

 

For example, QuickOffice is preloaded, so theoretically, if you have work to do with documents or spreadsheets, you'd turn to the lapdock – but it's very slow to respond. There's no cursor to show where you are either, while a lag of around two seconds before input is recognised means typing is pretty frustrating. This is compounded by a touchpad that's a bit too big and often led to accidental swipes that sent the (invisible) cursor flying elsewhere so that we would type words in the middle of other words.

 

If you can learn to work with this, it is a good tool for quick replies to emails and texts, which pop up as notifications you can navigate to. If you get a call while the phone is plugged in, you can take the call via the dock's speakerphone and mic.

Movies and web

Web browsing was smooth both on the phone and on the lapdock, with the desktop-like features of the browser translating well to the 11.6-inch screen. Even when you remove the phone, it 'remembers' the programs you had open so you can continue browsing on the handset itself.

 

The Atrix's video player can handle most common file types, including the ever important DivX/Xvid that much high-quality online video is compressed in. It supports high-definition playback, but we couldn't play a lot of 720p downloaded content, as it was largely coded in the MKV format not supported by the player. Playing video on the Laptop Dock was smooth, but colours were not as vivid as we knew our movie to be, as the display is only 1366×768 pixels.

 

Thanks to its HDMI port though, you can directly hook the Atrix up to an HDTV or monitor for more vibrant results. You can record your own HD footage, or shoot stills with the five-megapixel camera. We found both video and still images to come out a tad overexposed with light colours, but the device is a more than decent companion for spontaneous Facebook-friendly shots. A dual flash on the camera means lowlight shots are OK.

The verdict

The Atrix is a powerful smartphone - but it's not more powerful than the other superphones currently on market. Its selling point should have been its ability to be used like a laptop, but what is a tech-forward, innovative idea on paper fails in execution. Even taken alone as a phone, its regular software freezes keep this out of the upper echelon of Android smartphones. Meanwhile, its brawny mojo dwindles when you try to make it do computer things. The smartphone that's also your computer will undoubtedly happen, but for now, you're better off using a Bluetooth keyboard with your existing phone.  

 

Natasha Stokes