Motorola Atrix 3 Stars

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Motorola had an idea; with so many of us carrying around both smartphone and computer,  why not combine the two, using a smartphone as the base and then introducing a set of accessories to undertake the conversion – rather like a Transformer. Motorola’s idea has come to life in the form of the Atrix, a powerful, dual-core handset with a USP in the shape of a separately available set of accessories that turn the phone into a media centre or laptop.

Hardware

 

The Atrix sits quite nicely in the hand – measuring 117.8x63.5x 11mm – and is a bit on the weighty side at 135g. We particularly like its power button, which sits on the reverse and has a dual use as it can also be used as a fingerprint sensor – really handy if you have any issues about the security of your phone – which is used to biometrically unlock the device. This sensor works efficiently and unlocks the device quicker than any other method we have seen. There’s also a back-up PIN.

Despite its Transformer-like qualities the Atrix looks pretty much like any other phone – its made of black plastic, has rounded edges and a 4in touch display and features the likes of 1GB Ram, dual-core 1GHz chip and a five-megapixel camera that can record HD video. An HDMI port lets you view content on a TV, a small VGA lens offers the facility to make video call, and there a microUSB port for charging and file transfers.

Gingerbread

The Atrix has Android Gingerbread as its OS, which has been tarted up with Motorola’s Motoblur skin. The widgets are reminiscent of those on Windows Phone 7, and icons and wallpaper look clear and sharp on the 540x960 display.

Unlike on Android phones you can actually make the widgets larger, so you can see more info – however this is not a smooth process, despite the high level of responsiveness from the screen. When we had managed it we liked how the widgets looked, and were pleased to see they lacked the pixelation we had seen on previous Motoblur handsets.

Its clear that design was not top of the list when Motorola was putting together the Atrix – it’s pretty functional-looking, apart from the checker pattern found on the back.

Apps and widgets

When you first turn on the Atrix, you will be prompted to add detail for email, Twitter and Facebook, and it will sync automatically with your phone book. It’s a pity that it doesn’t let you choose only contacts with phone numbers, because it means you end up with a lengthy list of contacts, even if you only have an email address for many of them. However, the good news is that to use either the dialler or email apps, you only have to type in the name of the relevant contact and all their info is automatically filled in, so it’s not too much of an issue.

If you’re a first-time smartphone owner, the experience is made easy thanks to a number of preloaded widgets. Social networkers have widgets that let you see what’s happening on your Twitter and Facebook accounts, another widget will show what you last wrote – simply tap on it to share.

If you want to back up and manage your snaps, contacts, message and phone info such as missed call, use the Motorola Phone Portal, which can be accessed via Wi-Fi or USB.

Accessories

What you probably most want to hear about is that accessory pack – so let’s get to it. You can plug the handset into a number of accessories but we were most interested in the Lapdock – a plastic replica of a real laptop. The Lapdock features a battery, microUSB plugs that fit into the handset, and HDMI. Once the Atrix is plugged in, the Webtop app starts up straight away and shows on the screen of the dock. What you’ll see is a browser that offers shortcuts for the likes of dialler, contacts, message inbox and entertainment centre.

The accessory pack is sold separately, and in use, we encountered a lot of software freezes, when the touchscreen would not respond and pop-up windows could not be closed. To get going again we either had to turn the screen off and on, or shut down the whole thing.

You are also able to browse files on the handset, but the file manager isn’t great – just a long list of all files – many of which shouldn’t be used unless you’re really adept at poking around in the depths of a mobile phone. This has always been an issue with Android – while there’s plenty of tweaking to be done if you’re tech-savvy, the average user will just be totally confused.

We actually found that we forgot we were using a phone when it was plugged into the Lapdock, which made it rather frustrating when we kept encountering lag in some programs. The preloaded QuickOffice is a case in point – it should offer a good way to work on documents and spreadsheet, but was just too slow. The lack of a cursor means you don’t know where you are, and the lag between inputting and action makes it even harder to keep track. We also found the Lapdock’s touchdock too big and we kept swiping it by mistake – sending the invisible cursor off to who knows where.

 

However, if you can get used to it, it can be a handy tool if you want to type email or texts. To take an incoming call while using the Lapdock, you can use its speakerphone and mic.

Video stars

The Atrix has an onboard video player that supports most common file formats such as the increasingly popular DivX/Xvid. You can playback high-def, however, much of that we found was in MKV format, which the video player does not support. Watching video on the laptop dock was smooth but we were disappointed by the vibrancy and colour, thanks to the 1366x768 pixel resolution of the screen. However, because there is an HDMI port, you can connect the phone to a screen or HDTV to watch your video content.

The camera can be used to record HV video and shoot still images – however both suffered from some overexposure – but the resulting images were fine for posting on Facebook. Low-light snaps weren’t bad, thanks to the dual flash.

Internet

We had a smooth net surfing experience using the phone and the Lapdock – we liked the way the browser’s desktop-like features displayed on the 11.6in screen. Once you unhitch the phone from the Lapdock, it ‘remembers’ what you were doing, so it is possible to continue browsing on the phone.

 

The verdict

The Atrix from Motorola is a powerful phone, but it won’t be able to compete with the superphones that are due to be released later in the year. Its big selling point is the ability to transform into a laptop, but while Motorola had a great idea, it doesn’t work too well in reality. Even just as a handset, it has those disappointing software freezes, and it just doesn’t do a good enough job as a computer. Motorola has certainly had the right idea and we expect to see more phone/computer combos hitting the market in the future, but for the moment, if that’s what you’re after we think you should opt for using a Bluetooth keyboard with your existing handset.

Pros:
Fabulous touch-display, slick interface with social networking facilities, good email and web, HDMI out.
Cons:
Too many software freezes, very average design, accessories are dear, but build quality is cheap.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 3 Stars
  • Ease of use 4 Stars
  • Features 5 Stars
  • Performance 3 Stars
  • Battery life 3 Stars

Final verdict: 3 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice