Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

Summary: I have been using the Motorola Atrix 4G and laptop dock combo for a few days and offer my first impressions of the unique mobile solution. The Atrix 4G becomes a full computer in this innovative implementation.

SHARE:
29

Motorola made a splash at the CES early this year with the Atrix 4G phone running Android. The phone is a state-of-the-art handset, but what caught everyone's attention was the laptop dock option. This dock is a thin laptop shell that uses the CPU, memory, storage and connectivity of the phone to turn the dock into a mobile workstation. I have been using the Atrix 4G and laptop dock combo for a few days and offer my first impressions of the unique mobile solution.

A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to have a private conversation with Dr. Sanjay Jha, CEO of Motorola. It was a great exchange of ideas about the future of the smartphone, and at one point I mentioned I felt that phones were becoming so powerful they would soon be full-fledged computers. Jha responded with a twinkle in his eye that Motorola was working on innovative mobile solutions involving the smartphone as the brain, and that I hadn't seen anything yet. Having used the Atrix 4G/laptop dock combination, I have little doubt this is what he was referring to in that conversation.

Check out the extensive photo gallery of the Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop and multimedia docks.


Image Gallery: Check out the extensive Motorola Atrix 4G photo gallery with laptop and multimedia docks. Image Gallery: Atrix 4G Image Gallery: Atrix 4G

Phone

The Atrix 4G handset is an Android phone running version 2.2 with the MotoBlur interface. It is the most powerful phone I have used, and stuffed with hardware components that would make any mobile enthusiast happy. The dual-core Nvidia processor drives things without lagginess, and the high-resolution display is as sharp as that on any phone currently available. The Atrix 4G is available with the laptop dock and also with a webtop dock for use as a desktop/multimedia computer.

Phone specifications:

  • CPU: Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core, 1 GHz
  • Memory: 16 GB
  • Display: 4-inch, 960x540
  • OS: Android 2.2 (Froyo)
  • Ports: microUSB, HDMI, 3.5 mm headphone
  • Cameras: 1.3 MP front, 5 MP rear
  • Dimensions: 2.5 x 4.6 x 0.4 inches, 4.75 ounces
  • Connectivity (as reviewed): WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, DLNA, GPS
  • Special software: Webtop application, Firefox (laptop mode only)

Laptop dock:

At first glance this dock is a thin laptop with a screen, keyboard and oversized trackpad. While that is a reasonable impression, the dock is a shell waiting for the phone to be plugged into the stand that unfolds from the back of the laptop. The dock has no CPU, memory, storage nor any integrated connectivity; those are all supplied by the phone when docked.

  • Display: 11.6-inch, 1366x768
  • Ports: 2-USB (for peripherals)
  • CPU, memory, storage, OS: None

Using the laptop dock »

Using the Atrix 4G with laptop dock

The concept of using the phone as the core module to power a laptop is innovative, and a solid one. The Atrix 4G handset is easily powerful enough to drive the laptop, as is quickly apparent when the phone is plugged into the laptop dock. The phone sits behind the laptop in the dock, and is blocked from view when the laptop lid is opened.

Opening the lid fires up the dock, and the bright display fires up almost immediately. The phone screen, now blocked from view, is duplicated in a window on the laptop dock and can be viewed in either portrait or landscape orientation. In addition to the phone display window, there is a thin status bar at the top of the screen that provides access to settings for the environment. At the bottom of the display is a dock similar to that of OS X, that serves as a quick launch bar for the browser.

This is a true browser environment, as the Firefox browser is the only app that can be run outside the phone display window. It is a full desktop browser, with Firefox extensions to complete the laptop illusion. It is indeed an illusion, as everything is actually running on the phone, and merely displaying on the big laptop screen. The browsing environment is rich and as capable as that on full systems. All web sites work in this browser as expected, including those using Flash, and while there may be some on the big web, I haven't encountered any sites that can't be accessed properly. Web-based email, such as Gmail, work as well in this browser as on any system.

The trackpad is large, with two buttons as expected, and drives the system like those on any laptop. There is a tiny LED in the upper left corner of the trackpad that indicates whether it is active or disabled, which can be toggled by double-clicking the LED. The trackpad operation rivals that on most notebooks, and after a brief period I was able to use it with precision. Unfortunately the trackpad is not multitouch capable, so no scrolling in the browser window using two fingers is possible. This is something Motorola would be wise to include in future versions of the system, as it would greatly facilitate the use of the browser. The scroll bar is very thin and hard to operate via the trackpad.

All aspects of phone operation are possible while docked in the laptop through the phone window and the trackpad/ keyboard. Calls can be originated and answered, as the phone operates automatically in speakerphone mode while docked. Such calls have slightly muffled audio due to the placement of the phone right behind the laptop lid.

All apps on the phone can be run while docked, but they run in the small phone window on the big display. They can be a bit difficult to control, as Android apps are designed to be run by touch which is not possible on the laptop dock. Everything can be manipulated with the trackpad and arrow keys on the keyboard with a little practice. It is nice to have complete access to apps, if not as optimal as running them with the phone in hand. There is a file manager app for working with files on the phone in a laptop windows that works well.

The performance of the laptop can be laggy at times, especially with too much running at one time. Most likely the phone gets overwhelmed with too much running, on top of driving the large display of the laptop. One quickly learns to restrict how much is running at a time, which keeps performance acceptable. This is easy to do as the browser is the only app that can be run on the laptop side of things, so limiting the number of open tabs is the way to handle it.

The only component native to the laptop dock is an integrated battery, and it provides a solid 10 hours of usage. It also charges the phone while docked, so when you grab the phone out of the dock it is fully charged and ready for business, a nice touch.

Motorola has done a nice job with the grab-and-go nature of the Atrix 4G. The laptop operating environment is persistent, so you can grab the phone and go, and when you return the laptop environment picks up where you left it. This works well and goes a long way to the perception of instant-on when the laptop is opened.

Conclusions »

Conclusions

The system is not perfect, but it is possible to leave the laptop at home on short trips and bring this combination. My experience shows it is capable to handle all of my computing needs for short trips. The performance is not as good as a full notebook, but rivals early netbooks. While the combination of the laptop dock and the Atrix 4G phone will not be optimal for everyone, it will serve many, and with good battery life. This review was written on the laptop dock.

Motorola also offers a webtop dock, a small dock to facilitate connecting to HDMI TVs. It also is designed to handle a USB keyboard and mouse, so the dock turns the phone into a desktop computer without the laptop dock. I have this dock to evaluate, but haven't tried it out yet. It also turns the Atrix into a multimedia center for the TV, complete with a nice remote control to run things. The Motorola web site hasseveral videos demonstrating this capability in action.

The Atrix 4G is available from AT&T for $199 with a 2-year contract, and the laptop dock is another $499.99. This is very expensive, but AT&T will sell you the laptop and phone at the same time for $500 with a contract, which may be more palatable for some. Whether this price is out of bounds given the utility provided is up to the individual. The operation of the Atrix and the laptop dock is surprisingly solid for a first version release; Motorola has done its work well in this regard.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Laptops, Wi-Fi

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

29 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

    Love this phone but has two big problems:

    1. AT&T
    2. Laptop dock is expensive.
    tatiGmail
    • And the screen of iPhone 4 still has 30% more clarity, it has IPS, and its

      @tatiGmail: layers are glued together to fight parasitic refraction. While Atrix 4G screen <b>lacks</b> in at least these three areas.

      And iPhone 4 is not plasticky.

      Applications' choice is weaker for Atrix phone, AirPlay is not available as well.
      DDERSSS
      • Oh come now

        @denisrs

        How many hundred thousand apps do you really need? Other than games, I don't really see that the iphone has an app store that is any more helpful than android's.
        youngmaester@...
      • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

        @denisrs Always something for the iPhone people to whine about. How late were your for work this morning? Or don't you use your iPhone as an alarm.
        timspublic1@...
      • Not only quantity, quality too; how many apps are optimized for Retina for

        Android?<br><br><b>Zero</b>, because even now iPhone 4 is the only device with Retina-class screen (30% more details than in Atrix, 100% more than in any AMOLED screen). But there will be no apps optimized even for Atrix' resolution, since this phone will have really tiny share among masses of cheapo Androids with 320x240 screen resolutions.
        DDERSSS
    • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

      @tatiGmail I agree, you could get a real laptop for the price of the Dock.
      slickjim
    • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

      @tatiGmail : Agreed... this seems a first iteration of a interesting concept.<br><br>The placement of the phone BEHIND the dock is clumsy and think better configurations will arrive. Also, the laptop side needs a full "Ubuntu" style experience complete with Open Office and Evolution (aka for Outlook access). I don't see much personal use for this phone, but it could be a big hit as a side device for business user, who already have a desktop machine, specially for mail access, research web browsing and IM. <br><br>Motorola could improve the experience by leveraging X Windows and instead of connecting both sides via the HDMI, use the USB as a network card and include an Netbook class Atom on the laptop side running a minimal Linux with an X Server (no SDD and minimal RAM). That way, hardware acceleration will not be left on the phone side.

      With that said, my best bet would be to transform the laptop side into a 3 year old Atom netbook (no more than $199 hardware) with minimal Linux and even offer an upgrade for Windows 7 via an expansion SSD. <i>Viola, you're in the dual station thing with the best of both worlds.</i>
      cosuna
  • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

    Just get an ipad and be don with it...
    panic man
    • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

      @panic man

      That's not a solution. The iPad is not a Cell Phone. I think this docking option has some potential. Maybe not always in a laptop form but even something where you could take your iOS, Android, or some other mobile OS and dock it into a larger screen tablet could be an interesting idea.

      For example if I could take my iPhone and dock it into a larger screen and make it a tablet that could be kind of cool. After all the iPad is essentially the same as it's iPhone and iPod touch siblings aside from the screen right? Same goes for Android phones and Android tablets. It could adapt to change for the larger screen and save people from having multiple devices possibly.
      bobiroc
  • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

    OMG! I saw the prototype and thought it was stupid. But the idea that they have actually turned this into an actual product... Wow, that's stupid.

    What possible advantage does this have over a smartphone/netbook combo?
    jeremychappell
    • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

      @jeremychappell <br>- cheaper to make (does not mean it's cheaper to sell, for some reason anything related to telcos is over-priced..)<br>- lasts much longer on a battery<br>- thinner<br>- lighter (if they didn't put such heavy metals in the laptop dock)<br>- more secure<br>- faster than intel atom (if they used a faster processor than Tegra2, with more memory bandwidth, such as Exynos 4210, OMAP4430 or ST-Ericsson U8500)<br>- more simple, all your data is always there and synchronized<br>- much lower power consumption, save money on power, save the earth eventually, using this type of laptop should become mandatory<br>- unbloated, no more crappy software that crashes and fills with viruses and malware (would be better if it "simply" ran Honeycomb with that Chrome browser inside and optimized for laptop use)<br>- instant boot, no more waiting<br>- seamless resume of multimedia playback on different screen<br>- there is more..<br><br>I think Motorola did a great thing to releasing this product.
      charbax@...
      • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

        @charbax@...

        "cheaper to make"

        Basically because it's a toy more than anything. I don't see this as competing with much of anything.

        "lasts much longer on a battery"

        Depends on what you're comparing it to.

        "thinner, lighter"

        Depends on what you're comparing it to.

        "more secure"

        Eh, probably not.

        "faster than intel atom"

        Unlikely, considering it's just a big screen & keyboard for a phone.

        "more simple, all your data is always there and synchronized"

        Depends on what you're comparing it to.

        "much lower power consumption"

        Depends on how much the phone is drawing while charging. And depends on what you're comparing it to.

        "unbloated, no more crappy software that crashes and fills with viruses and malware"

        Pipe dream.

        "instant boot, no more waiting"

        I don't wait for any of my devices, including my PC. Cold boots are rarely seen anymore.

        "seamless resume of multimedia playback on different screen"

        A decent feature. Not something that would affect a buying decision, though.
        CobraA1
      • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

        @CobraA1@...

        Comparing one item against the world in each category everything is going to look weaker. Someone can run faster, think quicker, jump higher. But that is three against one. I don't think most people want to be carrying 4 or 5 devices.

        With VPNs, Cloud computing, and Virtual Desktops combined with 4g or wifi this type of system really could become the next environment for most travelling workers.

        Hopefully we will see some other companies coming out with better renditions of this device.
        GarlynSav
      • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

        "But that is three against one."

        I don't see how.

        "I don't think most people want to be carrying 4 or 5 devices."

        So instead of say, a lightweight laptop, they carry a lightweight screen for a phone?

        They can both do the same thing with the same amount of weight: You can certainly get laptops that are very light.

        No, this is not less devices or less weight.
        CobraA1
    • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

      @jeremychappell You mean besides price and stability?
      timspublic1@...
      • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

        @timspublic1@... Is it cheaper? Stability? Why is this more stable? Aren't applications going to need two totally separate UI's? Doesn't that mean more UI code - and hence more bugs? I don't see it.

        Given how much this is going to cost, I think two separate devices which I can replace as separate units makes FAR MORE SENSE.

        This is a solution in search of a problem. I mean when was the last time your thought: "Hmm, I really wish my laptop only worked when my phone had charge and was plugged into it"? I'm betting never.
        jeremychappell
    • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

      @jeremychappell
      It's a fantastic idea!
      Have a phone or tablet that you can dock and it becomes your notebook / desktop. When you are done take the device and go!
      I tried it and found it very useful but the cost pushed me away.

      Two improvements (besides cost):
      1. Chrome instead of FF for the browser
      2. generic that can accept more than the Atrix

      Cool concept and I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of this type.

      :)
      rhonin
  • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

    As a user of Atrix 4g I found both pros and cons to it.
    Pros: dual core processor, 16GB+32GB MicroSD, WebTop for Lap Dock.
    Cons: MotoBlur, Keyboard interface only for lap dock no touch screen, tablet dock that could have made this phone as slate/tablet, Froyo (not Gingerbread). Out of them all MotoBlur and Motorola are biggest issues
    Ram U
  • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

    Tried the Atrix and laptop dock, but returned it. 75% of my work is done on intranet portals, and we couldn't get a VPN or RDP connection working through the Firefox webtop environment. Citrix receiver is great, but obviously only with their environments.

    Great idea, but still v1.0.
    techwatcher
  • RE: Motorola Atrix 4G with laptop dock: first impressions

    I also don't have as much use for the laptop dock. The phone smokes anything on the market. Period. But I'm not too sure I would pay for the LT dock. The regular dock now that's a no brainer.
    timspublic1@...