The dual-core handsets are beginning to come thick and fast now as the major phone manufacturers jump on the high-power, high-speed bandwagon. But Motorola has even bigger ideas than most, with a range of accessories designed to turn your humble smartphone into a laptop and a media centre – a PC for your pocket, no less.
Design and build
Other dual-core phones we've seen recently have been based around cramming maximum processing power into as skinny a package as possible.
The Atrix doesn’t bother with such aesthetic trivialities, plumping (quite literally) for comparatively rotund dimensions of 118 x 64 x 11mm and weighing in at 135g. It still manages to look fairly classy, though, with glossy black plastic all round.
All four Android buttons sit below the screen on a touch-sensitive strip and on the sides are volume buttons, microUSB and mini HDMI ports, with a 3.5mm headphone jack on top.
The back features the lens for the 5-megapixel camera with its dual LED flash and also an unusual biometric fingerprint security pad towards the top, which doubles as the power/sleep button.
It’s tempting to see this as a gimmick but it worked surprisingly well. Once it’s identified your fingerprint you simply drag your finger across it and it lets you in.
It worked almost every time, with just a couple of retries necessary, and it never let in any strangers by mistake. Once you get used to it, it’s quicker than entering a PIN key, though that option is also available as back-up.
The 4in screen comes with what Motorola calls qHD (quarter hi-def) resolution, with its 960 x 540 pixel count falling just short of the iPhone’s class-leading 960 x 640. Comparing the two there’s really not a lot in it, though the iPhone is perhaps just a wee bit sharper.
Interface and OS
The Atrix is packing the not-quite-up-to-the-minute 2.2 Froyo version of Android, so you’ll be missing out on SIP calling and NFC (Near Field Communication) capabilities, at least until the update comes along.
It comes with the company’s Motoblur service and interface, which includes widgets which you can resize to your taste. It will also push your social networking updates to you in a variety of ways, including a single stream and personalised updates from your favourites.
For its first dual-core device Motorola has refused to push the pedal to the metal, providing a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor (most of the others so far have been at least 1.2GHz) but in this case backed by a full 1GB of RAM. In use, it’s certainly fast, powering between apps, browsing the web and watching movies were all accomplished without a hint of lag.
Most of the other dual-core handsets we’ve seen so far have offered 8-megapixel cameras, but once again Motorola has played it cool with a 5-megapixel model.
It’s a pretty decent one, though, offering handy features like flash and autofocus, plus a variety of scene modes, including macro. Pics generally look good too, though detail can be quick to suffer in less than perfect light conditions.
It will record video in 720p HD, again a step down from other dual-core handsets that take advantage of their dual-core processing power to step up to 1080p HD.
Apps and browser
But what really makes the Atrix stand out is the accessories that Motorola has produced for it. The batwing boys want you to use that extra processing power to think differently about your mobile phone, and consider it as your all-in-one PC and media centre.
The Lapdock looks like a slim netbook, but contains a dock for the Atrix, from which screen and keyboard draw their computing power. Usefully, it has its own batteries, so you don’t cane the one in your phone, and while in use it’s noticeably slower than using the phone on its own, it’s not too much of a hindrance.
Confusingly, though, it runs on the Linux-based ‘Webtop’ OS and while you can view the phone’s Android layout on the screen, in practise you tend to have to jump between the two. At the moment there isn’t a lot of functionality available to it either, so you’ll mostly be browsing the web using Firefox or handling your messages.
There’s also a wireless mouse available to go with it and two types of dock: the standard one charges your phone and lets it act as an alarm clock, but the multimedia dock comes with a remote control as well as three USB ports and a pass-through HDMI port allowing you to control your music and movies through additional speakers and on your TV.
It’s a great concept, but not a cheap one at the moment. The Lapdock retails for around £300, virtually what you’d pay for a netbook with built-in smarts, the multimedia dock and remote are £76, standalone keyboard powered by two AA batteries is £75 and the standard dock is £33.
The Atrix is exclusive to Orange to begin with, and if you’re already with them, you can blag a free ‘Work and Play’ kit with keyboard, multimedia dock, wireless mouse and remote if you upgrade to the Atrix.
Media and connectivity
That qHD screen shows off films to good effect and the media player is a step up from the standard Android version, with options to search for related videos online, a track ID service and the ability to download and view lyrics while songs are playing.
TuneWiki networking also offers track choices and allows you to spread the word about your favourites. The supplied headphones are better than average quality but there’s no FM radio on board.
Performance and battery life
The Atrix is certainly in the speed zone with the other dual cores de jour, though benchmarking tests rate it a little below the likes of the premium Samsung Galaxy S. Battery life held up well, though, delivering a solid day and a half of heavy use.
- 4in qHD touchscreen
- Fast and powerful
- Wide range of specialist accessories
- Not the latest version of Android
- Accessories are quite pricey
- On the chunky side
Verdict: Motorola’s first dual-core smartphone may not be sleek, but it’s powerful, and comes with a future-defining range of accessories.
More info: Motorola Atrix spec
Price: From free on contract; £500 SIM-free