Caption by: Sandra Vogel
In the crowded smartphone sector, particularly at the higher end, new products need to offer something special in order to get attention. Dual-core processors are currently all the rage, and we've now seen several — including the Samsung Galaxy S II, LG Optimus 2X and HTC Sensation.
With the £407 (inc. VAT; £339.17 ex. VAT) Atrix, Motorola not only delivers a smartphone, but also provides a range of accessories — including one that turns it (after a fashion) into a notebook.
The Motorola Atrix is an unremarkable smartphone as far as looks and features are concerned. There are a couple of noteworthy features though, including a fingerprint reader — the first we've seen on an Android smartphone (although a few old Windows Mobile smartphones had fingerprint readers).
The reader can be configured to recognise both the left and right forefingers, and makes for more secure access control than a PIN. The reader worked perfectly well for us, although you can default to a PIN if it should fail.
The fingerprint reader is located on the back of the handset, at the top. It is in a perfectly ergonomic location for fingerprint login, but if you just want to press the pad in for a standard on/off action it's a little awkward to access.
Motorola's Android 2.2-based Atrix has a 4in. Gorilla Glass screen and a fingerprint reader for secure access control
The backplate has a patterned design that gives the Atrix a distinctive look. On the front are the four standard Android shortcut buttons for Home, Menu, Back and Search.
The second noteworthy feature is an HDMI-out connector. Located on the left-hand side of the device, this can be used to connect to an external display. Motorola helpfully provides a cable.
The screen measures 4in. across the diagonal and offers an unusually high resolution of 960 by 540 pixels. This makes for very sharp, clear rendering — notably of video, but also of web pages and text in general. The display uses toughened Gorilla Glass, but isn't as vibrant as some we've seen.
Measuring 63.5mm wide by 117.7mm tall by 10.9mm thick, the Atrix is a sizeable proposition in the hand and in the pocket. Many people will struggle to reach comfortably across the screen for one-handed use.
The Atrix's all-plastic chassis feels a little flimsy, but the handset doesn't seem unduly vulnerable. Also, the use of plastic rather than metal helps to keep the weight down to a respectable 135g.
The Motorola Atrix ships with an AC adapter, a Micro-USB 2.0 PC connector cable, an HDMI cable and a stereo headset with round in-ear buds.
The Atrix's core specifications are impressive, but not quite as impressive as they could be — for example, it currently runs Android 2.2 (Froyo) rather than 2.3 (Gingerbread). There is 16GB of on-board storage, with an easily accessible microSD card slot under the backplate for storage expansion.
The processor is a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2, which is supported by 1GB of RAM. Although the HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy S II both have 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPUs, a few megahertz here and there make no difference. What matters is that the Atrix is blisteringly fast: it's highly responsive to finger sweeps and presses, the web browser loads and renders pages quickly, and video plays smoothly.
The Atrix has a decent array of wireless connectivity options. It's a quad-band GSM phone with HSPA mobile broadband supporting downloads at up to 14.4Mbps and uploads at up to 2.0Mbps (network permitting). There is also Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) and GPS.
The Atrix comes with Motorola's Motoblur interface, which includes social networking apps and widgets. If you're keen on Facebook and Twitter, you can bring alerts from both together in one place. You can also populate the seven home screens with a wide range of widgets and shortcuts of your choice.
Many widgets can be resized: for example, if you're particularly interested in seeing incoming text messages or want a full-, half- or two-thirds-screen-sized calendar widget, you can have it. This is a feature that works well on large, high-resolution screens, and allows for more personalisation than the standard Android widget system.
Alongside Motoblur and its associated social networking tools, Motorola adds more extras to Android. There's a DLNA client, and another file-sharing app called MediaShare, with a potentially confusing overlap of services.
One app we really like is Phone Portal. Run this on the Atrix and you get a URL to enter into your web browser. Provided the browser is on the same Wi-Fi network as the Atrix, you can log into the handset and perform file transfers. It's a great idea, and very simple for the user to grasp.
There's an array of hardware extras for the Motorola Atrix, designed to help extend its usage. There are two docks: one is a simple charging unit, while the HD Multimedia Dock will act as a link, via HDMI, to an external display. You also get a remote control unit with this dock.
The HD Multimedia Dock with an HDMI-attached monitor running Motorola's Webtop interface
A Bluetooth mouse and keyboard are also available, and these can be used with the HD Multimedia Dock and external monitor setup. As well as mirroring the Atrix's screen on the larger display, this configuration runs an interface called Webtop, a web-based interface that lets you access cloud-based data and services via Firefox. Both interfaces can be seen at once. If you use the HDMI cable without a dock, you simply get an interface that provides access to the Atrix's media content, rather than full HDMI mirroring.
The HD Multimedia Dock (left) and Lapdock (right), which also runs Webtop
Arguably the most exciting of the accessories is the Lapdock. This is a notebook-like docking station with a port behind the screen into which the Atrix handset slots. Its 11.5in. screen displays both the Webtop interface and a screen view of the Atrix, as with the HD Multimedia Dock.
The Lapdock's screen and keyboard are both good-quality components, but the utility of the setup is questionable. If you can't find a suitable local, native Android app, you're reliant on web-based apps and these may not cater for all your mobile computing needs.
All these extras cost money of course. The Bluetooth keyboard and mouse costs £69.99, the standard charging dock is £32.99 while the HD Multimedia Dock with remote control costs £75.59. The Lapdock will set you back a massive £258 (inc. VAT).
Performance & battery life
We have no complaints about the dual-core Motorola Atrix's performance. The Atrix has a 1,930mAh lithium-polymer battery, which is larger than wer're used to seeing in a smartphone by some margin. The use of a larger cell pays off: even with a pretty challenging usage pattern, we got through a day comfortably without needing to recharge.
The Motorola Atrix is a competent high-end smartphone with a fast dual-core processor, good battery life, a fingerprint reader and a high-resolution screen. If you're prepared to invest in the accessories, you'll get considerably more functionality than the average smartphone delivers.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel