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Motorola Atrix review: Motorola Atrix

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The 5-megapixel camera performs well in low light.
(Credit: CBSi)

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We liked the macro shooting mode in the camera settings.
(Credit: CBSi)

Multimedia and the web

As far as we can tell, Motorola has left the stock Android web browsing untouched in this release, and if it has modified some part of it, the changes are so subtle as to go unnoticed. This is fine by us; the stock Android web experience is first class. Motorola has paid much more attention to its multimedia offering, with cute usability tweaks across the gallery and music player. You navigate images saved on the phone's memory using a funky 3D photo parade, with full pinch-to-zoom present.

The music player is even better. When you choose an artist or an album to play, the Atrix uses TuneWiki to source cover art and lyrics for every track that it can recognise. If you feel as though your music needs some visuals, you can choose to search YouTube for all videos of the artist performing the track that you're listening to.

Hearty hardware

If you know anything about this phone already, then you're probably aware that the Atrix has not one, but two 1GHz processors under the hood. Motorola has chosen the Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset, which includes a GeForce graphics processing component and 1GB RAM. This just about doubles the power and memory of most of the phones we saw last year, but, strangely, it doesn't seem to actually double performance. We saw a huge increase in the results of Android benchmark tests, but everyday tasks seem to be just as fast as on systems running single 1GHz processors. One of the exceptions to this observation, along with HD video playback mentioned earlier, is when the Atrix accesses apps, drawing information from a database — like opening your address book, for example. The Atrix does seem especially quick at compiling these long lists.

But the speed of app execution of the fluidity of video playback seems irrelevant when the phone's software crashes or becomes unresponsive during an extended lag spike. This occurred several times during this review, sometimes when we attempted to power the phone on after standby, and other times when we exited applications. After a week of these issues, we performed a factory reset to clear out any apps or processes upsetting the core system, and while this cleared up 90 per cent of the problems, we still saw a few performance bottlenecks. That said, we shouldn't have to wipe the phone to restore performance after just a week. All of the apps that we cleared off the Atrix were downloaded through the Android Market, and an Android phone that struggles with these apps obviously needs a bit more time with the bug fixing team.

Also, one of the key promises of the Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset was that a dual-core system should use less power by sharing the workload over two processors, and that battery life is increased as a result. This certainly isn't the case with the Atrix. Even with Motorola slipping an enormous 1930mAh capacity battery into the mix, we've struggled to get through a working day with this handset. With our standard mix of usage — an hour of calls, two hours of web use and constant push-email — we barely got the Atrix back to a charger before the end of the day. We've also noticed that the battery can get quite warm during use. We don't think that this is indicative of something going wrong, but it can get uncomfortable on long calls.

Overall

Perhaps we set the bar too high when we approached the Atrix, or perhaps Motorola should have jumped a little higher. The Atrix is Moto's best attempt at an Android, but for the same price there are better, more stable options to choose from. Atrix brings some unique new features to the smartphone world, with its fingerprint scanner and docking solutions, but our praise of these innovations has be dampened by our experience with the Atrix as our everyday phone. Lag spikes were noticeable, and we resorted to pulling the battery out on more than one occasion — something that we never have to do with phones we review from other major Android phone makers. Its short battery life is also a concern for a product so obviously geared towards business use.

When it works — and this is the vast majority of the time — the Atrix is a good smartphone, but there are niggling issues with its software that need to be ironed out before we could call it a great smartphone.

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