Everyone's been saying for ages that smart phones are becoming as powerful as full-sized computers, but only Motorola has had the cojones to actually put that claim to the test. The Motorola Atrix is an Android smart phone that can be plugged into a range of docks, converting it into a sleek netbook, a media centre, a sat-nav or even a humble alarm clock.
The Atrix is available on Orange, from free on a £35-per-month contract. It's also available unlocked and SIM-free for around £500. If you want the accessories, expect to pay even more. For example, if you buy the phone on a contract, the laptop dock will cost you £300 and the multimedia dock will cost £33.
One thing that sets the Atrix apart, though, is the fingerprint reader on the top, which doubles as the power button. You don't have to take advantage of it, but it gives you the option to unlock the phone with a swipe of your finger, rather than using a password gesture or swiping on the screen. The fingerprint reader works only with your fingerprint too.
The Atrix prompts you to set up the fingerprint reader by swiping your left and right index fingers over it, and also asks you to provide a back-up password in case you go into the witness-protection scheme and have your fingerprints erased. In our tests, the biometric sensor responded to a quick swipe from either finger, so we found it fun and convenient to use. It seemed secure enough too, denying access to all of the interlopers we roped into our tests.
You have to look closely to spot the quality of Atrix's 540x960-pixel, 4-inch touchscreen. Motorola calls this resolution 'qHD', and it's higher than the 480x800-pixel displays on most other smart phones. It's almost the same resolution as the iPhone 4's 640x960-pixel 'retina display'. Indeed, the user interface looks noticeably sharper and clearer than on the, for example.
One place where sharpness really counts is in the Web browser, where you tend to do plenty of reading, and pictures abound. When using the browser, the Atrix's screen struggles to impress. Text and images don't look nearly as sharp and clear as in the iPhone 4's browser, which indicates that the Android browser needs to work harder to take advantage of the pixels available to it.
Android and Motoblur
The Atrix runs Android 2.2 Froyo, and Motorola tells us that an update to is already in the works.
Gingerbread only adds a few features to Froyo, such as SIP calling and NFC support, and those features haven't exactly blown our minds in the past. The update will be good to have, but we don't think you'll miss it too much while you're waiting.
Even if you don't give a hoot about Google's sweet-toothed updates, you'll enjoy the smorgasbord of features that the Android operating system provides. Features such as syncing your address book to your Google account or packing the home screens with live widgets are just the tip of the iceberg for this smarty-pants software.
Motorola has slapped its own skin on top of Android, which it calls 'Motoblur'. In the past, we've dissed Motoblur for having ugly, buggy widgets. But we have to give the company props for listening to our feedback and sorting out most of our complaints. For example, the social-networking widget, which used to only have a firehose of all your Facebook and Twitter updates, can now be filtered depending on exactly which social network -- and even which contacts -- you want to see. The design has been sorted out too, and the widgets fit together well on the seven home screens. We particularly like the fact that you can resize widgets to see more or less of the information on offer.
Motoblur includes more than just widgets. There's also a website that allows you to track your phone's location and wipe it remotely if it gets lost.
The Atrix's appearance isn't much to write home about, and its Android software is fairly common these days. Why, then, are we so excited about this phone? It's all about the raw power.
The Atrix has a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, which gives it amazing multitasking oomph without draining the battery. The phone also has 1GB of RAM, which is twice as much as most current smart phones pack.
In our tests, the Atrix performed as well as dual-core rivals such as the LG Optimus 2X. It scored an average of 36 in the Linpack test, which measures floating-point computing power, and averaged a blistering 3,200 in the Softweg benchmark test for CPU operations per second.
Compare these scores to those of the, Google Nexus One, and in our , and you'll see that the Atrix lives up to its super-speedy promises.
Still, benchmarks are dandy, but we're all about real-world performance. We pushed the Atrix to the limit by connecting it to its laptop dock -- more on this later -- and doing some serious surfing.
To test the Atrix's oomph, we ran apps on the phone while opening multiple tabs in Firefox on the laptop dock. The Atrix claims to be suitable for remote working thanks to the powerful Web apps that you can access through the laptop dock's browser, so we fired up processor-intensive apps such as Google Maps, Google Docs and photo-editing app Picnik.