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Motorola Atrix HD (AT&T) review:

Motorola Atrix HD (AT&T)

Motorola Atrix HD
Motorola provides special templates for adding Android home screens. Sarah Tew/CNET

I do like the funky Circles widget on the home screen that combines clock, weather information, and battery and memory status in one slick and interactive graphic. Flicking each of the widget's three circles rotates the view to display different information.

This Circles widget is fun and functional. Sarah Tew/CNET

Noteworthy third-party applications preinstalled include the Kindle eBook app, Quickoffice for viewing common MS Office files, and Facebook. For more software, again, the Google Play store provides access to the over 600,000 app titles in the constantly growing Android ecosystem.

AT&T made sure to liberally sprinkle its own selection of bloatware onto the Atrix HD. Tucked inside of a folder on the home screen are shortcuts for a total of nine applications. These include MyAT&T for looking up account information, U-Verse Live TV for watching over 4G, and the YP Mobile search app. Much of the software can thankfully be deleted, but a few such as YP Mobile, the AT&T Code Scanner, and AT&T Navigator can't be.

One big annoyance I ran into is how the People application displays contacts from the AT&T Address Book service. I had to mess around with the app's settings to make my Google Contacts the default, as any Android user should. Honestly that seems like a sneaky way to get people to use a service they likely never would otherwise. I also don't like how I had to download and sign in to the Twitter app for it to appear in the "Accounts & sync" area of the Atrix HD's settings menu. That's not a seamless way to integrate social networks into Android.

Motorola made another tweak to this Atrix by cutting something out. Unlike the Atrix models before it, the Atrix HD will not connect to a laptop dock and run a Webtop interface. Apparently the company has decided to drop its modular computing efforts for the time being. The phone will link to optional car dock and HD dock accessories, though, to add extra functionality.

I was really excited when I first fired up the Motorola Atrix HD's camera app. I immediately noticed how fast the phone's 8-megapixel sensor fired off shots, at under a second. The Atrix HD's autofocus system also managed to lock on in the same short length of time.

I was also impressed by the number of settings and extra features the camera comes with. Inside the menus are multiple capture modes including panorama and Multi-shot (burst). You can also manually adjust the exposure settings and choose from a list of eight special effects, plus four scene presets.

Unfortunately the Atrix HD's image quality didn't deliver. While snapping still-life pictures indoors, the phone's auto white balance had trouble choosing the correct lighting setting. Details were soft in these shots as well, drab and muted colors. Additionally, shooting images of fast-moving subjects under low light resulted in lots of blur.

In indoor still-life shots, details were soft. Brian Bennett/CNET

The situation improved when I carried the Atrix HD outside, but not much. Colors were moderately vibrant under strong sunlight with pleasing green tree leaves and red and purple flowers. Details though were not very crisp and became especially lost in shadows.

Dancing babies in low light were blurry. Brian Bennett/CNET
Outside colors were acceptable but details lacked crispness. Brian Bennett/CNET

Movies I shot with the Atrix HD, which can record video at full 1080p HD, were clear but colors looked bland and lacked punch. The phone picked up sound well though, easily capturing birds chirping, sirens, and splashing water while I stood in a nearby park.

Driving the Motorola Atrix HD's software is a swift 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, the same CPU used in the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3. To get an idea of the speed of this new Atrix, I had the phone run the Linpack bechmark (Multi-Thread). The Atrix HD turned in a high score of 187 MFLOPs completed in a quick 0.9 second. The HTC One X managed a faster 205.7 MFLOPs finished in 0.82 second. The Sony Xperia Ion on the other hand coughed up a low 82.6 MFLOPs and finished in a much longer 2.04 seconds. Everyday use backed up these benchmark results. The Atrix HD felt very nimble, flipping through home screens and launching apps with high velocity and no perceptible delay.

I tested the Motorola Atrix HD on AT&T's cellular network in New York. The handset delivered good call quality with callers telling me they couldn't tell I was calling from a cellular connection. They also didn't report any hiss or other distortion during calls. I had a similar experience, with voices sounding rich and lifelike. My only complaints are the phone's earpiece and speakerphone, neither of which provide much volume.

According to my New York tests, you won't likely lack for a fast data connection using the Atrix HD. Connecting to AT&T's new 4G LTE network, the handset notched an average download speed of 19.6Mbps. Upload throughput was impressive too, with the Atrix HD pushing files up to the cloud at a rate of 15.2Mbps.

Motorola Atrix HD
The Motorola Atrix HD surfed with impressive 4G speed. Brian Bennett/CNET

Sadly almost every smartphone has an Achilles' heel, and the Atrix HD's is short battery life. In my anecdotal drain tests, the handset played an HD video file for 5 hours and 14 minutes. The HTC One X hung on for 6 hours and 35 minutes during the same test, while the Sony Xperia Ion ran for 7 hours and 57 minutes. None of these handsets came close to the Samsung Galaxy S III's showing of 9 hours and 24 minutes.

For a sensible $99.99 price, the Motorola Atrix HD definitely offers a big bag of features such as an agile processor, quick 4G LTE data, and a massive and bright screen. It's not perfect, though, and the phone's camera is a good example. While it packs in tons of settings, its lackluster image quality can't be ignored. The same goes for the smartphone's short battery life. Still, if you only have $100 to spend on an AT&T handset, the Motorola Atrix HD is currently your best option. I'd snap this phone up over the $99.99 Sony Xperia Ion any day. For those who have no ties to Android, the $99.99 Nokia Lumia 900 may also fit the bill.

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