Review: Motorola Atrix

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Published: May 31, 2011 11:00 PM
By Romain Thuret
After last year's Defy, an all-terrain smartphone with tough external protection, Motorola has taken a different tack with its new Atrix.  Ever since it was first announced, the new handset, which shares the honour of being the first to use Nvidia's 1 GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor with the LG Optimus 2X, has had Android fans desperate to learn more. 


Motorola's come up with an innovative new strategy to shift this ultra-powerful mobile: if smartphones are getting closer and closer to laptops, why not go all the way? 

That line of thinking has lead to the Lapdock, an optional accessory that looks like a laptop.  You can connect the Atrix and end up with a working computer. 


The outside features a four-inch qHD display protected with Corning® Gorilla® Glass, the same scratch-resistant surface used on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S II.  There's also a fingerprint reader, a back-facing 5 Megapixel camera capable of shooting 720p HD video and a front-facing 1.3 Megapixel webcam.  Inside, there's 16 GB of internal storage, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1 and a combination of Android 2.2 and the manufacturer's own Motoblur interface.

For connecting to other devices, there's support for DLNA, a micro HDMI port and a micro USB port for exchanging data and recharging. 
 

Serious about security

The Atrix sits well in the palm of your hand, and despite having an excellent finish, feels a little too serious.  At first, the power button seems to be in an odd place in a small indent at the top of the handset at the back, but it turns out to be just perfect: with the phone in your hand, your index finger comes naturally to rest just on top of it. 

If you want to add an extra layer of security, the same button doubles up as a fingerprint reader.  Once you've registered the index fingers of both hands, you only have to slide one across the back to switch the Atrix on or unlock it, and the system usually works pretty well. 


The touch-sensitive controls are bunched together at the bottom of the screen, but they have just the right level of sensitivity to avoid too many false positives.  In general, in fact, not much space has been wasted anywhere on the handset, which seems very small compared to the 'other' Nvidia Tegra 2 smartphone, the LG Optimus 2X.

We can't neglect the Lapdock, though, which we also tested alongside the Atrix.  It uses HDMI and USB connections to use the Atrix's OS on a 10.1'', 1366 x 768 pixel laptop display that uses TN technology.

Things look slightly different on a larger screen, with the Motoblur interface relegated to a small window in one corner and new options offering a chance to browse the web, use social networking sites or edit documents using tools that aren't available on the phone itself.

Watching a movie that's stored on your mobile is great fun, and being able to surf the web on a larger screen or write longer e-mails is very handy—especially given that the Lapdock promises eight hours of battery life.  It also has two USB 2.0 ports, allowing you to use even more accessories.
 


Overall, Motorola has produced a very nice accessory with a great use of aluminium.  However, that makes it pretty heavy and the poor viewing angles don't help matters.  We suspect that only die-hard fans will be convinced.


Screen

The qHD display found here is used by Sharp on some of its high-end mobiles in Japan, and has a resolution of 940 x 540 pixels, just a hundred lines short of the iPhone 4's Retina Display.  There are no problems with viewing angles.

The Atrix struggled to beat the Optimus 2X when we tested it for contrast, with a ratio of 666:1 compared to LG's 965:1.  Motorola's display had an average deltaE score of 7.6.  This index, which describes how accurately a display can reproduce colours, should ideally be as close to zero as possible.  These results are still more than acceptable for a mobile device, and greys, blacks and blues come out best, with reds and yellows the least accurate.

The Atrix can also boast incredible brightness of over 550 cd/m².  You won't need to download the Torch app from Android Market: just load a blank webpage and turn the brightness up and you'll be able to find your way in the dark.  More realistically, that extra brightness makes it much easier to see what's on the screen in bright sunlight.  Finally, we measured a ghosting time of 25 ms, which makes the Atrix's display slower than the ones used on both the iPhone 4 and the LG Optimus 2X, which are between 19 and 21 ms.

Interface

If you buy a HTC mobile, you're also buying into the firm's Sense interface, and choosing Motorola means you're also choosing Motoblur, a very attractive software customisation with excellent contact handling. 

You can add shortcuts to your favourite contacts on the various homescreens.  These contain photos captured from social networks like Facebook and you can choose whether to include buttons to call your contacts, or send them a text message or e-mail ...


Motoblur includes a whole series of dynamic widgets with all sorts of content, including your most recent text messages, weather and news updates and direct control over the phone's hardware, activating flight mode straight from the homescreen for example.

Moving around the phone is very smooth with an almost instantaneous response every time.  Motorola has also included its owns system for managing Android apps, with direct access to certain settings without using the Settings app and a redesigned DLNA tool. 


You can choose whether to use a Swype keyboard, where you slide your fingers across the screen, or Motorola's standard virtual keyboard.  The latter has plenty of space between the keys, but is much more accurate in landscape mode than it is in portrait orientation.  It's easy to select text with an accurate tool, but the flashing red cursor is a little garish.

Multimedia

The web browser is as fast and powerful as the one offered by LG on the Optimus 2X, and rarely struggles even with Flash-heavy pages.  Pages displayed in portrait mode are a little frustrating and you always need to zoom in just a little.  When you do zoom, though, it's fast and accurate.  If you're planning to use the Lapdock, then opening several tabs at once like you would on a real laptop slows things down a lot.


As is so often the case, support for video depends largely on what is natively available in Android, meaning MPEG-4, H.263 and H.264 files.  There's no support for separate subtitles.  You need to use third-party software for other formats.  With music, there's only native support for MP3 and WMA9 files, but that should cover most people. 

Gaming on the Atrix is almost as fun as on the Optimus 2X, but having such a large screen has a (very slight) effect on how fast 3D games can be rendered.

There's a powerful speaker at the bottom of the case at the back, and the headphone output produces a clear signal with no feedback.  The dynamic range might not be huge, but the whole thing is acceptably accurate. 












Compare the Motorola Atrix other smartphones in our Product Face-Off

The main camera is one of the best we've seen on a mobile, with far more details visible in still photos than would be the case with the LG Optimus Black's 5 Megapixel camera.  Motorola doesn't apply any heavy-handed effects and the raw results speak for themselves.  Only the iPhone 4 is better at picking up detail, but for everything else, the Atrix beats it hands down.

The flash is well-behaved and doesn't lead to over-exposed photos.  All of the options available are very handy, especially the macro mode.  The video is a little bit less impressive, but the fact it does well in low-light levels makes up for this.

Battery Life

If you fit your smartphone with a demanding dual-core processor and invite users to explore powerful new multimedia tools, then you need to chose a battery that can keep up.  Motorola has done just that by choosing a 930 mAh battery, setting a clear challenge to LG, whose Optimus 2X really struggled in this department.  That's enough to allow the Atrix to last a whole day, even with an intensive use of all the features it has to offer.  It generally offered around eight hours of active use, compared to a little under six hours from the Optimus 2X.

Motorola's hype about the Atrix is full of superlatives, and most of them are well-deserved.  For the time being, the Lapdock is likely only to interest only the most dedicated fans, and if it doesn't make the Atrix a game-changer just yet, it's certainly one of the best Android smartphones currently available.  It's a great concept, so we're keen to see where Motorola will take it next, not just with this new generation of processors, but also in the future.
3/5 Motorola Atrix DigitalVersus 2011-06-01 00:00:00

Pros

  • Innovative concept transforms a smartphone into a laptop
  • Great use of the powerful Tegra 2 chip
  • Excellent battery life and great camera
  • Powerful Motoblur interface is especially good at handling contacts
  • Good quality audio and fast web browsing

Cons

  • Classic design
  • Lapdock is expensive
  • No protection for the connectors

Conclusion

A couple of niggling worries—mostly a question of taste—and some expensive accessories can't take away from the excellent experience offered by the Atrix. It gets the very best out of Nvidia's Tegra 2 processor and has a battery to match. It's a must-have for Android fans while new users will be at home in the Motoblur interface too.

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