By June 22, 2011

Motorola Atrix Review

Motorola-Atrix-big The Motorola Atrix is said to be the most powerful smartphone and on paper it seems to be so: 1 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU, 1GB RAM, qHD screen, 8MP camera and 720p video recording are all impressive but for some Motoblur’s inclusion may be the deciding factor for making a purchase or not.

Specs are not the only cool things on paper going for the Atrix as it can be docked into a laptop dock so you can carry your entire office around with you, all being powered by the Atrix!

So does the claim live up to fact in reality? Is Motoblur bad enough to hinder a purchase? Should this be your next smartphone? Read on to find out!

 

 

The 10 second review:

  • Device: Motorola Atrix
  • Price: Free on a 24 month contract with Orange starting at £35 a month or £249.99 on a 24 month contract starting at £10 a month.
  • Summary: A almost great Android phone with good hardware but slightly lacking skin and a smorgasbord of accessories that could be tempting.
  • Best of: screen, camera, browser, battery life
  • Worst of: motoblur, laptop dock, some heat problems
  • Buy it now from: Orange

What is in the box?

  • Motorola Atrix
  • 3-Pin UK USB Plug
  • Micro-USB Sync/charge cable
  • Earphones
  • Getting started guide
  • HDMI to Micro HDMI cable

Motorola Atrix Specification

  • 2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
  • 3G Network: HSDPA 850 / 1900 / 2100
  • SIM Type: Normal SIM card
  • GPRS
  • EDGE
  • 3G: HSDPA, 14.4 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps
  • WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth v2.1 with A2DP
  • Display: TFT LCD capacitive touchscreen, 540 x 960 pixels, 4.0 inches
  • Camera: 5 MP autofocus, LED flash
  • 720p video recording
  • Secondary camera
  • Android OS, v2.2
  • CPU: Dual-core 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 proccessor
  • GPS with A-GPS support
  • Messaging: SMS (threaded view), MMS, Email, IM, Push Email
  • Radio: Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • Built-in Memory: 16 GB storage, 1 GB RAM
  • Supported memory card
  • microSD, up to 32GB
  • Battery: Stand-by, up to 250 hours – Talk time, up to 9 hours
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 117.8 x 63.5 x 10.1 mm
  • Weight: 136g

 

 
General:

The headphone jack and the power button/fingerprint scanner are on the top of the Atrix, whilst diddly squat is on the bottom; It is nice and smooth! The Micro USB port and Micro HDMI port are on the left hand side of the device and just the volume rocker is on the right. The back houses the 5 MP camera, LED flash and speaker while the front is dominated by the 4" TFT LCD screen, accompanied by the earpiece and 4 capacitive Android buttons at the top and bottom respectively. Oh and the microphone is hidden on the front as well, just beneath the capacitive Android buttons.

 

Review:

The Atrix is the third dual-core handset that I have had the privilege to review.  I was excited to get my hands on the phone that I have been looking to review since it’s announcement back in January at CES 2011. The fact that it was hand delivered by James was obviously an event in itself and only added to my heightened joy.

There are many aspects of this phone that excite me, but we will start with the hardware, as per usual.

Also per usual, I shall start with the screen and let me say straight off the bat, that the screen on the Atrix is neither good nor bad; Somewhere in the middle I would say. As it is a LCD screen, the colours aren’t as fantastic or as good outdoors or in direct sunlight as the Super AMOLED screens seen on most Samsung devices but by no means does it dip below the unbearable line.

One of the great things about the Atrix screen is that the resolution is of the qHD variety. The resolution is 540 x 960 and for the mathematical types, it will be obvious that the resolution is a quarter of the resolution HD (1920 x 1080) and in practise this looks fantastic. Albeit the icons are smaller than on the other Android devices I have had the privilege to use in the past, but at this resolution, text is remarkably clear even when zoomed all the way out on web pages.

Perhaps beating the qHD resolution is the fact that the screen on the Atrix is made out the material that has descended from the Gods: Gorilla Glass. This, for the unfamiliar is a special type of reinforced glass that is almost impossible to crack, nick or scratch; Reassuring for users who have butter fingers and although I have never done it with any review units I have tested, some phones do just tend to fall out of my extremities – largely they do not fare well.

motorola-atrix-europe
Another perk of Gorilla Glass is that it is super clear and that quality really shows when viewing the device both indoors and outdoors. Although with the latter you will need to turn the brightness up high to have any hope of reading whatever is on the screen.

Below the screen are the compulsory Android buttons. They are of the now standard touch sensitive type buttons and perform as designed with no hiccups or lack of recognition that I have experienced.
The build quality of the Atrix is … hmmmm .. not exactly desirable. As the entire back panel of the phone is made out of plastic, it gives a feeling of cheapness (although the weight of the device seems to balance the quality or lack thereof and it does creak and squeak when you put pressure on the back or sides of the device. This happens when typing with one hand or when playing a particularly intensive/addictive game; Take Angry Birds as an example.

Staying on the back side, in the top centre is the finger print scanner, which is the first gimmick I noticed while setting up the Atrix for the first time. While it could have practical uses in the enterprise, I found in day to day use, this was quite inconvenient and I feel like there wasn’t any good  reason to justify why this feature in particular was included in this phone. Although, I did like the novelty aspect of unlocking the phone with just a swipe of my fingerprint; Made me feel like James Bond!

Dual-core is the buzz word of the moment and the Atrix is yet another phone with the ability to truthfully say that statement. Whilst being the third phone released with two processing cores, it’s the one Ion which I’ve not actually noticed the supposed speed increase. Simple things that should be seamless are laggy, jerky and sometimes even unresponsive.

The quadrant benchmark scores reflect this as well. At 2629 it may be higher than the rest in the line up, but compared with the 3500+ score from the Galaxy S 2 it seriously lacks behind. But do remember, these are just benchmark scores and do not necessarily represent true world performance.

The Atrix may be dual core and boast the hardware specs but the software tells a different story. As you may already know the Atrix is an Android device but it has Motorola’s custom UI skin named Motoblur and it is widely known to be one of the worst Android skins out there. As I had never used Motoblur before I had pretty low expectations based on what I had previously heard about Motorola’s Android skin. Motoblur maybe one of the least liked Android skins but it does seem to be the closest to vanilla Android as many aspects are unchanged whereas with other skins such as HTC’s Sense and Samsung’s TouchWiz,  are all altered from what comes from Google.

Unusually, there are 2 ways of unlocking the Atrix compared with other Android devices. The first is the standard way of sliding the bar from left to right, and then entering a pass code or pattern if you have one and the second is by using the fingerprint scanner that I mentioned just a few paragraphs ago.

lockscreen

There are 7 homescreens available for users to place widgets, apps, shortcuts and folders on Motorola’s Motoblur skin and you can do this the usual way: long pressing on the homescreen.

 homescreen1 homescreen2 homescreen3 homescreen4

homescreen5homescreen6homescreen7  

Motorola has included a plethora of widgets of its own, ranging from social networking to photos to system toggles. Now many manufacturers have included their own widgets in their skins before but what sets Motorola’s above the rest is that you can resize most of them to any size you wish; From one space to an entire homescreen.

At the bottom of the screen there are 3 buttons: Phone, app drawer and contacts. I have previously portrayed my feelings on these two buttons together, i.e. it is pointless for both being there as you can access the contacts from the phone app but I digress, they are there.

The first thing I have to complain about Motoblur is when you slide between screens, an indicator of which screen you are on pops up from the bottom of the screen, blocking the Phone, Contacts and app drawer buttons. To be fair it does go away after about 2 seconds, but it seems too long. It is a menial and stupid complaint, however  this is a trend I have noticed throughout using the Atrix. Everything just seems to take slightly longer than it should.

switchingscreens

The app drawer has no fancy features and doesn’t have a cool interface either; It is just a vertical scrolling list of all the installed apps on your device.

appdrawer

The Motorola Atrix is exclusive to Orange’s network here in the UK and that means that it is a phone, so before we jump into all the fancy features that make the Atrix rise to the title of smartphone, here is the phone app.
The dialer is basically the standard Android 2.2 Froyo dialer however it does have a rather smart and useful feature that is becoming standard. This is when you dial, it searches through your contacts and checks to see which ones match the number that you are dialing. It works with both numbers and names and this is especially helpful when you have over 500 contacts such as myself.

dialer

One of the things that has remained unchanged from vanilla Android is the notification bar. This for the unfamiliar is where all the notifications store. Obvious names are definitely Google’s forte. Anyway, you access it by swiping your finger down from the top of the screen and all of the apps that need your attention will reside here. I have applauded Android’s notification system before, along with almost everyone else and I am glad that iOS and Apple have adopted it.

notfications

Motorola is yet another manufacturer to use/copy HTC’s leap feature which with a pinch of your fingers outwards on the homescreen display all of them. While a nice feature, I have never really had a that big of a need for it, nevertheless, it is most welcome.

leap 
Motoblur is definitely one of my least favourite Android skins that I have used, mainly because it is neither here nor there. What makes fully fledged Android skins such as HTC’s Sense UI and Samsung’s TouchWiz such a success is that there is a consistent look and way of doing things in each of these skins, call it polish if you will but this is something that Motoblur just seems to lack. Now, there are some other things such as it being laggy at times that make Motoblur less desireable, however, I really do feel like that the polish of a skin makes it great. So if you do pick up the Atrix, I highly suggest that you immediately get a replacement launcher to something like ADW Launcher or Launcher Pro to make the Atrix a little more usable; Both available in the Android market.

Text Entry

As with every Android handset, there are many ways of entering text into the Atrix, but unusually more than most others. The first is the standard portrait QWERTY keyboard from Motorola. This is a rather pleasant keyboard: the keys are a good size, the tactile feedback is very good and the sounds produced when you start typing are rather pleasant to the ears. It is being marketed as a multi-touch keyboard but in practise that appears not to be the case. It seems to stick on certain letters for around a half a second when going at full throttle, throwing you off rhythm as the letters do not appear in the text box. Then, they emerge just after you stop typing for some unknown reason, making it near impossible to type at any good rate. As for auto-correct, all I can say is that it is present I haven’t had any horror stories to report and seems to work well. Nothing else I can report.

keyboardportrait

As usual, the landscape variant is practically identical to the portait one, aside from the obvious fact that the keys are bigger.

keyboardlandscape

The third way is voice entry. I have previously stated that this is probably the best and easiest way of entering text but I have never really used it day in day out before now. As I outlined earlier, I got extremely frustrated with the pre-installed keyboard so I decided to install my personal favourite: the stock Android 2.3 Gingerbread one. However, because the screen resolution is qHD, it means that the keys on my keyboard of choice are really small, forcing me to use Motorola’s one. I was having none of that so I turned to my savour: voice-to-text! In day to day use, I have really come to appreciate how good a tool this is. I use it for almost everything: text messaging, searching and even taking notes. It really is one of the best and unique features of Android.

Unlike most other Android handsets, the Atrix also comes pre-installed with the Swype keyboard. For those unfamiliar with it, this keyboard is supposed to be one of the fastest text entry methods around because you enter words by swiping your finger around the screen, passing quickly over the letters in the word you are trying to spell. For some people this makes complete sense but my brain just gets confused by it. After you finish spelling the word, you have to lift your finger off the screen and press the space bar to continue with the sentence. However in my mind, it’s like patting your head while rubbing your stomach, though that could just be me, but if you are a fan of this keyboard, on this phone you don’t have to download it from the Android market, which will save around 30 seconds of your life.

swypeportrait swypelandscape

Internet

Web browsing on the go is one of the most attractive feature of a smartphone  and the Atrix excels at this. Unusually for a dual-core phone, web pages load relatively slowly, even though the browser is the same as those on most other Android handsets. It supports multi touch, text re flow and pinch-to-zoom. Like I said, it is the standard Android browser so there isn’t much else to report.

browsertextreflow browserlandscape browserportrait

As the resolution of the Atrix’s screen is qHD, text and images both look absolutely fantastic,  especially when zoomed in but it is still just about readable when fully zoomed out.

As you would expect, the browser on the Atrix takes advantage of the built-in accelerometer which means you can view the web page that you have loaded in any orientation that you want.The latest version of Flash 10.3 is supported in the browser (just like every other phone running Android 2.2 or above) and it works as well as it can on a phone/touch screen but I still think that Flash doesn’t have a place on phones.

 

Media

Android has been traditionally bad with music but despite Motorola’s slight modifications, it is still lacking in this department.

music 
The Atrix comes with the YouTube app that is exactly the same as any other Android device. You can browse through videos in a number of different categories such as most popular, discussed and most featured. You can also navigate to specific YouTube channels or videos by using the search bar. In terms of video quality, you can either choose between HQ (which is the default when viewing videos on Wi-Fi) and standard quality (which is the default when viewing videos on 3G) but they do playback smoothly most of the time on both of the internet connection types.

youtubelandscape youtubeportrait

You can either view the videos in portrait or landscape. In portrait, the video is at the top and the video information such as the description; comments and related videos are at the bottom of the screen. But landscape is focused on just watching the video. In this orientation, the video fills the entire screen with no disturbances or distractions. You can go between these modes by either turning the handset in the desired orientation or by double tapping the video itself.

 

Google Services

One of the best things about Android in my opinion, is it’s integration with Google services . Everything from email to calendar through to contacts is all natively built into the Atrix and all work great.

Two email clients come pre-installed on the Atrix: Motorola’s one and the Gmail one. The latter is my favourite as I am full emerged into the Google universe but if you have Microsoft Exchange or any other IMAP or POP email service such as Hotmail or Yahoo!, you can use Motorola’s email client for all of your email needs.

gmail

The calendar on the Atrix is also a very good experience. You can either view appointments in an agenda, day, week or month view. This can sync with your Gmail account for ease of use and just in case the worst happens, all of your appointments are stored in the cloud so you will not lose them.

calendar

Contact syncing is one of the all time great things to have come out of Google. Those who have read my other reviews, will know that I have lost/broken/smashed many phones and I have lost all of my contacts way too many times. So with Google to the rescue, it doesn’t matter if you drop this off a cliff, you will still have your contacts saved with Google.

 

Camera & Video Recording

The Atrix’s camera UI is another app that has gone under Motorola’s makeover and it is rather simplified. Only the shutter button and camera roll are present on the main screen, probably too make people see more of what they are taking a picture of. But all the usual settings are here too; Just press the screen and they will slide out from the left. There are scenes, effects, flash settings and switching camera buttons as well.

Olympus_FrontHor_2, 10/25/10, 4:14 PM,  8C, 4800x2700 (602+2749), 100%, bent 6 adjuste,  1/20 s, R66.9, G51.0, B78.7
camera

The 5 MP camera on the Atrix is surprisingly good. I even trusted it on my recent trip to Berlin for all of my holiday snaps. Check out some samples below:

2011-05-30_16-52-18_596

 2011-05-30_19-30-27_439 2011-05-31_17-28-57_178

2011-06-01_16-54-18_543

 

Laptop Dock & Webtop

One of the reasons I was so attracted to this handset 6 months ago was the optional laptop dock that you can purchase to dock the Atrix and transform both devices into a "laptop". The laptop dock is basically an screen, keyboard, track pad and a battery as the Atrix is the one who is doing all of the heavy lifting.IMG_20110620_215358

Once you dock the Atrix, it boots up and after around 20 seconds, it boots up displaying a custom version of Linux. That is unless you have a password set up. From there you are greeted by a very Mac like interface. i.e. a row of docks on the bottom of the screen. On the left, you have all of the phone-style apps: the mobile view (where you can control the phone from the laptop dock), dialer, contacts, messaging and the entertainment centre. Whereas, the file manager and Firefox and any other web shortcut you want.

807ae__motorola_atrix_webtop-420x371

The main purpose of this dock seems to be truly down to web browsing and as even though the laptop dock appears to only have one function, it performs rather poorly at this. Normal, text web pages load and scroll just fine but if you venture into more exotic content such as pictures, videos or anything flash based, the laptop takes a dump so to speak.

But the slow browsing speeds aren’t the only negative things about this dock. The hardware, if you can call it that as it entails just a screen, keyboard, trackpad and a battery are also quite poor. The screen is just a standard LCD screen and nothing stands out as either good or bad but the keyboard is a whole different story. There are five rows of keys: one row for numbers, three for letters and the last is for the space bar, arrow keys and CTRL, ALT and FN keys. The big problem is that they are just so small; It is incredibly hard to comfortably type on these small keys. But if you do ever get used to this small keyboard, you will probably find it quite nice as the keyboard does have good tactile feel.

The trackpad may not be Macbook quality but it does do the job. It is quite responsive and the buttons are good but slightly harder to press than it needs to be. In the top left hand corner, there is a little light which indicates whether or not the trackpad is active. You turn the little light on and off by double tapping it. This is especially helpful if you have left the trackpad on and you start typing. In this case your resting hands touch the trackpad, making you type where ever the cursor is placed. This is extremely annoying and therefore I am very grateful that the on/off button is present.

As for the idea behind the laptop dock, it is very good. Having all of your documents and information on both your phone and laptop is very appealing. However the execution does not live up to the theory. The dock is too slow, too small and too awkward to justify the huge price tag, or to justify anyone using it at all. Rather disappointing I may add.

 

HD Multimedia Dock & Entertainment Centre

The media dock is another dock for the Motorola Atrix and, I assume from the name that you can work out what this accessory is for. You dock the Atrix, plug in the included HDMI to micro HDMI cable in the back and connect the power cable and you are ready to go.

From there, a pop up on the Atrix itself comes up and asks you which mode you want it to be in: Webtop (the same UI  as the laptop dock), Entertainment Centre, Widget Clock or you can do nothing but I expect the second will be most used with this dock.

IMG_20110619_174840

Once the short boot up sequence has been completed, you are greeted by five panes that are Music, Photos, videos, Webtop and settings.

IMG_20110619_180514

The first is for listening to any music MP3 files on the Atrix (no prizes for correct guesses there!). You can view them by either songs, artists, albums or playlists. Once you play one of the songs, it instantly starts playing through either headphones or through the TV speakers.

The second is where you can view all of the photos stored on the Atrix  in, ordered of where they are stored. You can see photos in the camera roll, SD Card, DCIM or download folders. There are slideshow modes as well that will transition between photos at a specified time interval.

Last but not least is videos. This for the brain dead or those who are reading this early in the morning (no difference really), is where you can play all of the video files stored on the Atrix. Video playback looks great as long as the file is good quality, so not much else to talk about.

 

Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

These are the last accessories available for the Atrix and these are pretty self explanatory.

Atrix_Keyboard_2__72699_zoom

The keyboard is much better than it’s laptop counterpart: both the keys and the tactile feedback are much better.

The mouse is a little small for my liking and a little sensitive too but not that bad.

19178547_300x300_1

Battery Life & Heat

For a dual-core device, the Motorola Atrix does have remarkably good battery life for the enormous power house inside. It easily got me through an 8 hour day with average use and still had around 30% remaining. And it also recharges rather quickly as well.

As for the heat problems, I mainly noticed it when I woke up in the morning, after it had been on charge all night. Although still cool enough to touch, it was still much hotter than you would usually expect. I also noticed it when I was doing a lot of things at once: browsing the web while on the phone or listening to a podcast when it is charging or things of that nature.

 

Conclusion

During the announcement at CES I thought the Atrix would be my next phone but I am now thankful that I got the chance to review this before I splashed the cash on it.

The hardware, while "next-gen", is nowhere near the speed and quality of the Sensation and Galaxy S II. It creaks, squeaks and the speed from the dual-core processor is not being fully taken advantage of because of the software. I got a sense of using the Atrix that everything just took a little longer than it should: unlocking the device, moving between homescreens or even loading a web page. A fraction of a second longer but definitely noticeable.

And the gimmick levels shot through the roof with the Atrix: Fingerprint scanner, laptop dock and the multimedia dock are all cool, but unnecessary. I see this as an almost desperate attempt by Motorola to distinguish their phone from the rest, but also an attempt to draw users away from better phones with the promise of shiny new toys.

Don’t take this the wrong way though, the Atrix is a much better handset than what was released pre-2011, however, this year’s phones from manufactures such as HTC, Samsung and Sony Ericsson blow the Atrix from the water. I guess you should never meet your heroes.

 

Review by: Patrick

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