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MobilityDigest Review: Motorola Atrix

The mighty Atrix has finally arrived, in all it’s glory. This phone has managed to generate a fair amount of buzz within the gadget crowd for more reasons than one. Although I feel that most of the hype is justified, can this device be a natural fit for the consumer among us? Let’s find out:

Most important is the hardware; The Atrix is without a doubt one of the best designed Android phones I have seen in a while. This was somewhat of a surprise, given Moto’s previous models. I wasn’t a fan of either offering from Moto, but there is something different about the Atrix; almost immediately it demands your admiration.

Oddly enough, there is nothing about its design you haven’t seen before – standard slate form factor, black coating and a nice carbon fiber patterned battery cover. Doesn’t sound like much on paper, but it comes together well when you see it for the first time. On the phone’s left side, you’ll find the Mini USB port and below it the interesting HDMI out port. To the right, you have just the volume buttons. At the top you’ll discover something partially cool – the power button \ finger print reader. Yes, that’s what I said! More on that later.

To the back of the device you’ll find the camera cluster including the dual LED flashes. On the front you will find another nifty addition, the Front facing camera; a status light, four “love them or hate them” captive buttons and a beautiful 4” screen.

The Screen on this device is a sight to behold. At a resolution of 960 x 540, the Atrix’s qHD display is fairly close to apple’s famed retina display and it shares a similar gripe. The screen on the iPhone 4 is so good, it really makes you wish it was a tad bit larger, likewise with the Atrix’s display. Had this thing been a 4.3” offering, all would have been well in geeksville. Wishful thinking aside, the screen is beautiful to look at and to use on an everyday basis.

The aesthetics of the Atrix is worthy of mention on its own, but it does not stop there! Moto designed this device with a few really cool accessories. There is an Entertainment Center pack and a Lapdock option. In the Entertainment Center pack, you’ll get a wireless mouse and keyboard, and a HDMI dock to sit the device in; which can then be displayed to any HDMI compatible display. The Lapdock, which stands out as the more interesting of the two, is just a dummy laptop mold with a dock for the phone at the back. Moto has designed their own interface called WebTop to accommodate both instances. I purchased this phone as a personal device, and didn’t really feel the need to pay for either option, but it isn’t too difficult to see where some consumers would find them useful.

Now, on to the inner components of the device. I would like to introduce you to your next generation hardware device! On board is a dual core Tegra 2 processor running at 1 GHz per core! Need I say more? Accompanying that is 1 gig of ram, 10 gigs of storage space, 5MP camera at the back, front facing camera, a decent sized 1880 MAH battery and last but not least, support for AT&T’s new “4G”network.

Let’s just go ahead and get the obvious out of the way, THIS DEVICE IS FAST! The dual core chipset makes itself known in every way possible. From simple home screen navigation to graphically intense apps and games, nothing ever misses a heartbeat. I found everyday tasks like browsing the web were really enhanced by the processor; pages would render with unbelievable speed.

Multimedia also has a huge benefit here. Flash videos in the browser seemed a bit smoother and playing HD video was not a problem either. Browsing a huge directory of pictures was also a joy, thumbnails loaded up as quickly as you could scroll them within view. In fact, the chipset seemed to handle everything the way it should without ever taking itself seriously. As of now, there aren’t too many applications to take advantage of the dual core goodness, but I fully expect that to turn around in the coming months.

Moto has gone ahead and blessed us with their newest version of Motoblur. A year ago that last statement would have been oozing with sarcasm, but this time around the experience is a little more mature and really isn’t that bad. If you are unfamiliar, Motoblur is pretty much a skin that sits on top of Android’s default UI; much like HTC’s popular Sense. I found very few annoyances and instances where I thought to myself “why the hell…” throughout the experience.

The finger print reader is an awkward but cool addition; bundled alongside the mentioned accessories, it offers one more use case for corporate users. It was fairly easy to setup and is presented to you at the lock screen. Swiping your finger correctly will just unlock the phone and you can do as you please. If you do it wrong, the info will be displayed as to if you’re doing it too slow or too fast. Not to worry though, you’ll have a pin code for back up use in case the phone refuses to recognize your finger print. I got used to it and actually prefer it to the lock patterns.

The 5MP camera is as good an offering as you’d expect. It’s certainly not the best I’ve had the pleasure of using, but it will do its job without fuss. I still have mixed feelings about the front facing camera. Although it is cool to have, the lack of a proper Google implementation is frustrating. I have played around with 3 well known video chat apps and they all remind me of AOL dial up web cam days all over again. But for what it’s worth, you have the ability to perform video calling.

Battery life on the device is a mix bag. With a 1880 MAH offering, you would expect this thing to last the next 4 weeks without a charge. But then you remember its Android you’re talking about, so you settle for 4 hours. Surprisingly, even with those two cores working hard at your command, the device can make it through the day. It’s still nowhere close to the iPhone 4 or some of the Windows Phone devices, but for an Android device, it’s a step in the right direction.

And now we come to the down fall of the device. You didn’t think you would run out and purchase the perfect device did you? Allow me to introduce AT&T. I know what you’re thinking, you’re saying to yourself “ah yes, I already know, it’s the bloatware.” YES! It is the bloatware! Why does AT&T feel the need to tattoo every device that goes through their store? Here’s a hint AT&T, Google saw you coming and they have devised something called Google Navigation, so there will be no more polling customers for half -ass GPS directions! So, you shouldn’t even bother loading it up on the device. Neither should you bother with all the other crap you went out of your way to load.

But wait, that’s not the end of the buffoonery. Ya’ see, the Atrix is one of AT&T’s first 4G phones, which means it is capable of running speeds delightfully faster than 3G, right? Wrong! AT&T’s current 4G model is nothing more than HSDPA. HSDPA is nothing more the HSDPA to 3G as Edge is to GPRS. I would like to thank Sprint and T-Mobile for starting this nonsense. First Sprint with the WiMax ignorance, then comes T-Mobile with HSDPA, so what does AT&T do? Hop on the bandwagon, of course. And when Verizon rolls out LTE and damn near triples everyone’s speed, what will you tell consumers now? Will you expect them to feel peachy about their Atrix “4G” pulling in speeds of 2.8 mbps when Verizon phones will be sailing at 20mbps? I thought you were better than this AT&T. But, when it is all said and done, the little speed bump is welcomed.

When you add this all together, you’re left with a hell of a phone. Although I am a well-known Microsoft fan boy, I have no issues telling you this phone is golden. Its solid hardware makeup, technical specs and $199.99 price point make it top of its class. The Atrix should easily enjoy the type of success and longevity factor the Sprint EVO did in its day as “top of class in its generation” If you’re looking for a smartphone or even the next best thing on the Android platform, the Atrix will serve you well!