Motorla Atrix 4G: high-end phone without high-end price

The original Motorola Atrix, announced at the beginning of this year, was one of the first dual-core phones on a 4G network (AT&T’s HSPA+ network in the U.S.). With the introduction of the Atrix 2 (priced at Bell Mobility as follows: $599 with no term contract, $575 for a one-year contract, $550 for two years, or free with a three-year contract), Motorola has given the Atrix a face-lift. Although the Atrix 2 feels like a minor update to the original, it still offers a lot for that price tag.

Great Design
Sporting a 4.3-inch qHD display, the Atrix 2 is slightly bigger andheavier than its predecessor. However, unlike other 4-inch and largerphones, the Atrix 2 never feels too big or too heavy in the hand.

Motorola has replaced the slickplastic backing of the original with a soft rubber that feelscomfortable to hold and is meant to give you a better grip on thedevice. The company removed the biometric fingerprint scanner, as well;when I asked a Motorola representative about this at CTIA, the rep saidthat it wasn’t a widely used feature. To be honest, I never used thefingerprint scanner on the first Atrix, other than when I was testingout the phone’s features.

The Atrix 2 has a streamlined design, with a power button and a camerabutton that sit flush with the rest of the phone. Like other recentMotorola Android phones, the Atrix 2 hasboth a Micro-USB port and a Micro HDMI port, which you can use to plugthe phone into a variety of accessories (more on that later).

One thing to note is that the 4.3-inch qHD display on the Atrix 2 isnot a PenTile display (as we saw on the Droid Bionic). As a result,text and images look crisp on the Atrix 2, and you don’t get the samegrid effect that you see on phones using PenTile screens. In my trials,however, its colors (particularly bright hues) were not all thatvibrant. Yellows often came out greenish, and orange-tinted objectssometimes looked like a dirty basketball.

Like its predecessor, the Motorola Atrix 2 comes with a 1GHz dual-coreprocessor and 1GB of dual-channel RAM, making for better memorymanagement when it comes to running apps. In my hands-on tests, theAtrix 2 did a stellar job of handling games such as Minecraft:Pocket Edition, and the phone never got hot while jumpingthrough multiple apps. The Atrix 2 did have a few hiccups, though:Exiting out of YouTube while a video was still playing would cause thehome screen to flash for a few seconds while the app closed, andoccasionally the phone would refuse to update an app from the AndroidMarket. A quick reboot easily solved both issues, but they wereannoying nonetheless.

Call quality on the Atrix 2 was mediocre at best. The people Icalled claimed that I came through clear, but I noticed a considerableamount of static on my end. This problem occurred even when I was in anarea with full bars, though it didn’t seem to be any worse in areaswith poor reception.

Apps downloaded and installed in less than a minute, and Web content loaded without a hitch. Unfortunately, streaming high-def video over 4G didn’t go as smoothly as I thought it would. Videos on YouTube took a considerable amount of time to buffer, and the TV show I played in the Netflix app was full of digital artifacts. If you plan to stream HD content onto the Atrix 2, I recommend waiting until you’re on Wi-Fi.

The Atrix 2 has decent battery life, and in my unofficialtests it survived an entire day on a single charge. Power users mightstill want to bring a charger along, but light to medium users shouldbe okay.

Like most Android phones these days, the Atrix 2 ships with Gingerbread (2.3.5). The Atrix 2runs a toned-down version of Motoblur, similar to the one we saw on theDroid Bionic. In this version you still get widgets for your socialnetworks and contacts, but they aren’t as garish as those that appearedon the original Atrix back in February.

Webtop and Lapdock
Like the original Atrix, the Atrix 2 ships alongside a new lapdock thattakes advantage of Motorola’s Webtop software. The new lapdock (whichretails for $300) is compatible with both the Atrix 2 and the DroidBionic (on Verizon), but it doesn’t work with the original Atrix.Offering a 10.1-inch display, this lapdock is slightly smaller than themodel that launched with the Atrix, even though it looks slightlychunkier.

Plugging the Atrix 2 into the dock automatically launches the Webtopsoftware, which gives you access to a full-featured Firefox browser aswell as the apps stored on your phone. The Webtop software is largelyunchanged from previous versions (with the exception of an updatedFirefox), and it still feels clunky for basic tasks such as typing up adocument. Speaking of typing, the smaller lapdock may have better keysthan the original, but the keyboard layout is extremely cramped.Hitting multiple keys at once is all too easy, and the touchpad is ashorrendous as ever. Although I like what Motorola is going for with itslapdocks, I think they need a bit more work (particularly on theirkeyboards and touchpads) before they’ll begin to catch on.

Camera and Media
The Motorola Atrix 2 comes equipped with a rear-facing 8-megapixelcamera and a front-facing VGA camera for video chatting (or takingself-portraits). Photos that I took with the rearcamera were sharp; colors came out somewhat muted, however, and imagesturned grainy at the slightest change of light. The dual-LED flash cancompletely wash out images, so use it sparingly.

The 1080p videos I shot with the phone looked great on a larger screen,but seemed to have a minor focus problem with subjects in motion.Still, the Atrix 2 offers a relatively decent HD video camera, andMotoblur makes it easy to share videos with various social networks.

Thanks to the larger screen on the Atrix 2, the phone is great forwatching video. As I mentioned earlier, though, streaming HD videosover 4G is something you won’t want to do often. Audio is nothingspecial, but it’s loud enough that you can listen to music withouthaving to use headphones.

Bottom Line
For the price, it’s hard to say no to the Atrix 2. With a dual-coreprocessor and 4G speeds, the Atrix 2 is great for people who want ahigh-end phone, but don’t want to pay a high-end price. Althoughputting down the extra dough for the lapdock might not be a worthwhileinvestment, the Atrix 2 is definitely a solid device and a greatstarter phone for anyone new to Android on Bell Mobility. Overall, theAtrix 2 is another great entry into Motorola’s Android lineup.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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