Smartphone sequels seem to run out of some steam after each refresh. The new $99.99 Motorola Atrix HD doesn't quite follow the same script. It would be more apt to say this latest Atrix is less ambitious than its two previous incarnations, the Atrix 4G and Atrix 2. Gone are Motorola's plans to make a phone that also morphs into a laptop or even run its Webtop software. That doesn't mean the Atrix HD lacks power, speed, and poise. Indeed, while it's not without faults, the Motorola Atrix HD offers all three in an attractive package and at a price that's not stratospheric.
If you're an Android and Motorola fan you may do a double take when you first see the Atrix HD. That's because this handsome phone looks very similar to the Motorola Droid Razr right down to its curved top-heavy hump around back and the Kevlar coating that resists scratches. Frankly I love this surface, which feels soft yet helps my fingers grip securely and repels prints.
Available in colors of White and Titanium, the Atrix HD definitely feels well-crafted, but a bit plasticky and not as premium as the more metallic Motorola Droid Razr phones on Verizon.
Measuring 5.26 inches tall by 2.75 inches wide, the Artix HD isn't small. At just a third of an inch thick at its trimmest point, though, it's pretty thin. The phone features a big, bold, and bright 4.5-inch LCD screen with an 720 HD resolution. Motorola says the display uses something called HD ColorBoost, which I suspect is a form of image processing and possibly a special filter designed to pump up colors and contrast.
However the display works, I can confirm the screen serves up good image quality with higher contrast than the Sony Xperia Ion and even the HTC One X when viewed side by side. To be fair, the Atrix HD's display produces colors that definitely pop but are way oversaturated, and can look garish and even cartoonish at times. For example a pair of hot-pink pants in a recent photo I took, don't ask, was so intense it practically stabbed my eyes. The color in pictures of the same view appeared more lifelike and less neon taken with both the One X and the Xperia Ion.
I commend both the Atrix HD and One X for their wide viewing angles. Tilting the Xperia Ion slightly in any direction other than head-on immediately caused colors to wash out and its brightness to dim significantly.
Above the Atrix HD's screen is a 720p HD front-facing camera for taking vanity shots and participating in video chat sessions. Below the display there's, well, nothing unless you count the small AT&T logo. The typical capacitive buttons or physical keys usually placed here are absent. Instead, once the screen is active a trio of symbols for back, home, and recent applications appear on the display's bottom edge.
On top of the phone are ports for Micro-USB and Micro-HDMI along with a headphone jack. The right side holds a tiny power button and small volume rocker. Located on the Atrix HD's left edge is a flap that covers slots for micro-SIM and microSD cards.
One disappointment is the Atrix HD uses a relatively low-capacity 1,700mAh battery, which is not removable. That means you won't be able to swap it out yourself for a fresh one if it runs dry or malfunctions completely.
Typing on the Atrix HD's software keyboard is an enjoyable and comfortable experience. Its Motorola-designed virtual keyboard looks practically identical to the stock Android 4.0 ICS layout. There's a decent amount of spacing between letters, and tapping keys provides a light buzz of haptic feedback. Long-pressing the spacebar also pulls up a window for switching over to Swype, an input method that lets you draw lines through letters to form words quickly.
You may not expect much in the way of features considering the Motorola Atrix HD's midrange price of $99.99. I'm happy to say this phone packs in plenty of premium capabilities typically found on more expensive devices.
Waking up the handset launches its lock screen, which displays the time and date in cleanly drawn numbers and letters. From here you can toggle the phone's sound on or off by sliding a virtual switch at the top of the screen.
In the center of the display is a pulsating key icon that you drag right to unlock the Atrix. Pulling the key left, up, or down will whisk you directly to the camera, phone, or messaging functions respectively.
The Atrix HD runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, one step below Google's latest version, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Android brings support for all the Google services you know and love such as Gmail and Google +, along with Google Play stores for music, books, and movies.
Motorola does graft its own skin on top of Android, though it doesn't admit that or even refer to the UI at all. However you describe it, this is the remnant of the Motoblur interface of old. To start with there are two home screens but you can add up to five additional for a total of seven. The Atrix HD even offers a choice of blank screens or picking from four canned templates. Don't get your hopes up, though, as they consist of unimaginative titles such as AT&T Services, Social Networking, Entertainment, and On The Go. They are also filled with applications that are already in the phone's app tray.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.