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Motorola Atrix 4G review: Motorola Atrix 4G

Motorola Atrix 4G

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
12 min read


Motorola Atrix 4G

The Good

The <b>Motorola Atrix 4G</b> features a dual-core processor and a sharp qHD (quarter HD) display. The Android 2.2 smartphone has a sleek design and a 5-megapixel camera, a front-facing camera for video calls, and an HDMI port.

The Bad

No 1080p HD video recording or playback at launch. You can't install non-Market third-party apps. We didn't experience great HSPA+ 4G data speeds.

The Bottom Line

The laptop dock is a decidedly cool (and pricey) feature, but the dual-core Motorola Atrix 4G has plenty to offer on its own. The smartphone packs speed and high-end features into a sleek package and earns its place at the top of AT&T's Android lineup.

Editors' note: In addition to the review below, we also have an in-depth look at the Atrix's laptop accessory.

The review has also been updated with a clarification on third-party apps and more information about the slow upload speeds.

To say that AT&T's Android lineup was lacking would be an understatement, but fortunately, it looks like the company has finally gotten the memo. The carrier introduced three new Android handsets at CES 2011, but the one that impressed us the most was the Motorola Atrix 4G. The Android 2.2 smartphone boasts a dual-core processor (Nvidia's Tegra 2 chipset), 4G support, a 4-inch quarter HD display, and a front-facing camera that enables video calls over a cellular or Wi-Fi network. But wait, there's more.

Motorola designed a laptop dock and software to work with the Atrix that would allow you to still access the contents of your smartphone but provide you with a more PC-like experience. It's why we awarded the Atrix 4G our Best of CES Award in the cell phones and smartphones category, and it's why we were so thrilled when we finally received the devices to check out.

In this review, we'll focus on the Motorola Atrix 4G as a smartphone. (We've made some general observations about the laptop dock here, but CNET's laptops and Netbooks editor, Scott Stein, has delivered a closer look at the accessory to see if it's worth its steep price tag.) We can say that the Atrix excels as a smartphone. The dual-core processor delivers, and the Atrix finally brings some of the higher-end features that AT&T customers have been missing out on, such as video calls. Certainly, the laptop dock is a big selling point for the Atrix, but whether you decide to get the dock or not, you're still getting one of AT&T's best Android smartphones to date.

The Motorola Atrix 4G is expected to ship March 6 or sooner. The price for the phone alone is $199.99 with a two-year contract. AT&T will also offer a bundled package that includes the phone and laptop dock for $499.99 with a two-year contract and tethering add-on and after a $100 mail-in rebate. If you'd rather not sign up for the tethering plan, you can buy the dock separately (and use a Wi-Fi connection) from the phone for $499.99.

Touch-screen smartphones are a dime a dozen, and it may seem like if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all, but that's not necessarily true. Each design has its highs and lows, and the same holds true for the Motorola Atrix 4G. Thankfully, there's much more to like than dislike here. The Atrix is sleek and lightweight at 4.6 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick and 4.8 ounces. The handset's slim profile makes it easy to slip into a pants pocket, and the rounded corners and tapered edges make it comfortable to hold.

The Motorola Atrix 4G is a compact and sleek device.

However, compared with the company's other recent handsets, such as the Motorola Droid X and the Motorola Cliq 2, the Atrix doesn't quite have the same premium feel to it. It's still very much a solid device but just lacks some of the finer details like a soft-touch finish on back.

On the front, you've got a 4-inch qHD (quarter high definition) capacitive touch screen with a 960x540-pixel resolution. It's comparable to the iPhone 4's 940x640-pixel Retina Display, but since the Atrix has a slightly bigger screen, the pixel density isn't as great, so text and images don't look quite as smooth as they do on the iPhone. Still, the display is sharp and vibrant. As is typical, the screen washed out a bit in bright sunlight, but we were still able to see what was on the screen.

The touch screen is very responsive, both in terms of registering our touches and switching between portrait and landscape mode. And thanks to the dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset, general navigation felt zippier compared with any smartphone we've tested recently. Even a simple task, such as pulling up the app menu, was noticeably faster than on the HTC Inspire 4G, which uses a 1GHz Snapdragon processor.

Below the display are the standard Android shortcuts: menu, home, back, and search. There's a volume rocker on the right side, and a Micro-USB port and an HDMI port on the left side. The camera and dual-LED flash are on the back, as well as the power/lock button, which sits at the top center. It's a bit of an awkward location, but the button can double as a fingerprint scanner for extra security (to use, go to Settings > Set up screen lock).

The $189.99 Entertainment Access Kit includes an HD Multimedia Dock and remote control, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a wireless mouse.

AT&T packages the Motorola Atrix 4G with an AC adapter, a USB cable, an HDMI cable, and reference material. Aside from the laptop dock bundle, which we'll talk about a bit later, AT&T also offers an Entertainment Access Kit for $189.99, which includes the Motorola HD Multimedia Dock and remote control, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a wireless mouse.

User interface
The Motorola Atrix 4G runs Android 2.2 with Motoblur. Though we weren't huge fans of Motorola's custom user interface when it first launched, the company has toned down the UI quite a bit and enhanced the customization abilities, so that it's much more useful and reduces the information overload aspect of the previous version. One thing that does irk us is that you have to sign up for a Motoblur account when you first set up the device. Afterward, you can sign in to all your other e-mail and social network accounts to import your contacts, messages, and calendar appointments.

You get seven home screens that you can personalize with various widgets and shortcuts, such as a social network feed, weather widget, and mini media player. Interestingly, Motoblur now has a function very similar to HTC's Leap screen feature where you can view all of your home screens in thumbnail view--not that we mind, since it allows you to easily switch between the screens.

For more about Motoblur, you can check out our review of the Motorola Cliq 2.

Obviously, one of the big draws of the Motorola Atrix 4G is the dual-core processor. The smartphone is equipped with Nvidia's Tegra 2 chipset, and if you want to get technical, this includes dual ARM Cortex A9 cores clocked at 1GHz and an ultralow-power GeForce GPU graphics processor--all this backed with 1GB of RAM. What this means for you is that you should experience snappier performance, faster browsing, and better gaming graphics, among other things.

Though we've only had the device for a short amount of time, we've certainly been impressed with what we've seen so far. In comparing the Atrix 4G with the HTC Inspire 4G, the difference in overall performance isn't significant but it is noticeable. The Atrix was always just a tick faster than the Inspire when loading apps, menus, and tasks. Games were also snappier to load, and the gameplay was quicker-paced and smoother as well.

The Atrix also handled Flash content well. Though the Atrix and Inspire loaded the media--in this case, a CNET TV video on the phone's WebKit browser--in roughly the same amount of time, the Atrix went on to play the video playlist without problem, whereas the Inspire couldn't play it at all. We'll continue to do more in-depth performance testing, but we wanted to give you an idea of what we've experienced so far.

Another feature supported by the Nvidia's Tegra 2 processor is full HD 1080p video recording and playback via HDMI. Unfortunately, this feature will not be available at launch; instead, it will come at a later time through a software update, so for now, the Atrix can only handle 720p HD video capture and playback through HDMI.

Aside from 720p HD video recording, the Atrix's 5-megapixel camera also offers a dual-LED flash, autofocus, and digital zoom. Editing options in the camera app are rather limited compared with competing products. You can select from one of five picture resolutions and a variety of scene modes and effects, but there are no white-balance controls, ISO settings, or the like. The options are pretty much the same in camcorder mode.

The Atrix's 5-megapixel camera consistently produced clear images, but they were a tad grainy. Colors also could be richer.

Picture quality was decent. Images came out mostly sharp, but there was some graininess and colors could have been brighter. Video quality was above par. Clips recorded at 720p looked sharp, even with action scenes, and there wasn't any cloudiness or weird hues ruining the picture.

The Atrix offers 16GB of onboard memory with the option of expandable memory; the expansion slot supports up to 32GB cards, so that should be plenty of storage for your photos, videos, and music. The smartphone's media player is compatible with multiple audio and video formats, including MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, AAC+ Enhanced, AMR NB, 1080P MPEG4 (with the exception noted above), H.264, WMV, and Xvid/DivX at 30 frames per second.

Since the Atrix features an HDMI port, you can use the included cable to connect your device to your TV; what's cool is that the smartphone turns into a remote control, which you can use to peruse the phone's multimedia gallery. The attractive and easy-to-use interface is an added bonus.

In addition to the 5-megapixel camera, there is a front-facing VGA camera, which you can use to take self-portraits and make video calls. The Atrix doesn't come preloaded with a video chat client, but you can visit the Android Market and download an app of your choice, such as Fring or Qik. Whether you can make video calls over the cellular network or Wi-Fi is dependent on the app, but AT&T does not put a restriction on either method.

For regular voice calls, the Motorola Atrix 4G offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling, voice dialing, and text and multimedia messaging. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, (802.11b/g/n), and assisted GPS are also onboard, as well as 4G over AT&T's HSPA+ network. The Atrix can be used as a mobile hot spot for up to five devices. To use this feature, you need to pay an additional $20 per month on top of the Data Pro plan, so $45 per month total for 4GB of data.

With Android 2.2, the smartphone supports such features as those outlined in our Froyo article here and Google's various services, including Google Maps Navigation. The Atrix can also sync up with multiple e-mail and social networking accounts, and offers a unified inbox and shared calendars.

The handset ships with a few preloaded apps: Quickoffice, Vlingo's voice recognition program, and the Blockbuster Video mobile app, to name a few. Of course, you've also got your obligatory AT&T services--AT&T Navigator, AT&T FamilyMap, and AT&T U-Verse Live TV--on there, but for once, you can actually uninstall any of these apps if you wish. No change of heart on third-party applications, as that feature is disabled on the Atrix. Unfortunately, AT&T does not allow you to sideload third-party applications that aren't in the Android Market.

Laptop dock
The dual-core processor is certainly a big part of the Motorola Atrix 4G's story, but it's not the complete story. As we said before, one of the reasons why we gave the handset our Best of CES Award in the cell phones and smartphones category is because of its unique laptop dock.

The laptop dock is a smart and cool way to extend the capabilities of the smartphone, but it comes at a cost.

With this accessory, you can dock the smartphone to a laptop shell to continue using it but with a full keyboard and 11.5-inch screen. A window will appear onscreen to show you a mirrored view of your phone's home screen, where you can interact with it just as you would if you were holding it in your hand. You can make and receive calls using the dock's speakers or a Bluetooth headset, send text messages and e-mail, download apps from the Web-based Android Market, and more.

Also, the combination of the smartphone's dual-core processor and the Webtop app developed by Motorola allows you to have PC-like functionality, including a full Firefox 3.6 browser and Adobe Flash Player, with just this 2.4-pound dock and your smartphone. There's also an integrated Citrix application that gives account holders access to their virtual desktops.

The laptop dock is beautifully designed. It's lightweight while still feeling solid. The screen is brilliant and crisp, and the keyboard is very reminiscent of the MacBook Air. It also features two USB ports in the back. The battery is rated for 8 hours of battery life, and it will charge the phone while it's connected to the dock. You can get online by connecting via Wi-Fi or AT&T's tethering plan.

We had a quick go with the laptop dock and absolutely loved this added functionality. It's an intelligent and well-executed way to expand the capabilities of the smartphone, and we applaud Motorola for it. The integration was seamless, and it was wonderful to be able to type messages with a full keyboard and get the full browsing experience. However, this privilege comes at a big cost.

As we mentioned, there are two purchasing options. One is a bundle package that includes the Atrix 4G and the laptop dock for $499.99 with a two-year contract, Data Pro data plan, and tethering add-on, and after a $100 mail-in rebate. If you'd rather go the Wi-Fi route and not deal with the tethering add-on, you can buy the dock alone for $499.99. Either way, it's a large chunk of change that will certainly be a turnoff for many.

As we said at the beginning, we'll be handing the Atrix and the laptop dock over to CNET's laptops and Netbooks editor, Scott Stein, so he can give it a full rundown and see if it's worth the money. Check back soon for his review.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Motorola Atrix 4G in New York using AT&T service, and call quality was fair. The audio on our side of the conversation was mostly clear with good volume, but there was some slight background hissing. Voices occasionally sounded garbled as well. Friends had positive things to say about the sound quality. Most said all was clear on their end, but a couple of callers mentioned some muffled sounds, though nothing bad enough to disrupt the conversation.

Motorola Atrix 4G call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone quality was largely similar to regular voice calls: clear but with a faint background hiss. There was enough volume to have a conversation in a louder environment. We successfully paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones and were able to make calls and listen to music through them.

As we experienced on the HTC Inspire 4G, we didn't get the most impressive speeds from AT&T's HSPA+ network. Using Ookla's Speedtest.net app to measure and record network speeds, we averaged download speeds of around 1.40Mbps and upload speeds of 0.18Mbps. The speeds, particularly for uploads, were less than impressive, but there's a reason for that. AT&T admitted recently that the HSUPA radio on the Atrix was not enabled at launch. The carrier has promised to provide an update in April to turn it on, so we will retest the device then. For now, with existing speeds, CNET's full site loaded in 30 seconds, and the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 11 seconds and 10 seconds, respectively.

The Motorola Atrix 4G ships with a 1,930mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 9 hours and up to 10.4 hours of standby time. In our battery drain tests, our final results got us between 7 and 10 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. The duration was dependent on the strength of the 4G signal we were getting, as a stronger signal meant that more battery being depleted. This is typical of most smartphones today, but the Atrix has one of the biggest batteries, if not the biggest, we've seen in a smartphone. That said, we should note that we were using the device heavily to try to test as many features as we could. Here are our official CNET Labs tested results. More smartphone testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours) Audio battery life (in hours) Boot time (in seconds) Web page load time (in seconds)
Motorola Atrix 4G 7
12.3 48 6

According to "="" rel="follow" target="_self">FCC radiation tests, the Atrix 4G has a digital SAR rating of 1.47W/kg.


Motorola Atrix 4G

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 9