Motorola ATRIX Review (Part 1)

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We’ve finally got our hands on Motorola’s new dual-core smartphone, but that’s not all; we’ve also been given all the accessories that makes the ATRIX much more than any old Android smartphone…

We couldn’t wait to get some photos online and our first impression, but you’ll have to wait for the full review so we can properly test the phone, as well as the accessories to consider how useful and practical they really are.

We were given the following:

  • Motorola ATRIX phone, including HDMI cable
  • ‘Work and Play Kit’ – with HD multimedia dock, wireless mouse, wireless keyboard and remote control
  • Standard charging dock
  • LapDock – portable keyboard/screen with 11.6-inch display, secondary battery and eight hours battery life

The phone is exclusive to Orange in the UK, and the network is currently offering the Work and Play Kit for free-£49.99 (SRP £129.99) when buying the phone on certain tariffs.

The LapDock will also be available at a reduced price on selected tariffs, with a normal suggested retail price of £299.99.

First impressions

It has to be said that the phone does disappoint in the looks department. It doesn’t feature the same attention grabbing designs of handsets like the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc, Samsung’s Galaxy S II or the forthcoming HTC Sensation (a phone that will also feature the same qHD-resolution display used on the ATRIX, namely 540×960 pixels).

Besides a faux carbon-fibre battery cover on the back, the phone merely looks like a larger version of the DEFY, but without any of the ‘life proof’ features such as water and dust protection. The DEFY justified its looks because of the ‘rugged’ nature, while the ATRIX looks rather dull as a high-end smartphone that can stand its own against anything the industry can throw at it.

However, that said, the ATRIX feels solid and the understated looks may count in its favour for the business market the ATRIX is primarily aimed at.

Inside the phone sits a powerful 1,880mAh battery, which – even with a larger resolution screen and a more powerful processor – should still mean the phone performs better than the high-end smartphones that make do with just 1,500mAh batteries. It’s not a huge increase, but to quote Tesco’s tagline, every little helps.

Booting up the ATRIX is quick, and when you do so you’re presented with a Motorola dual-core logo. The phone uses NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 chipset, with two cores running at 1GHz each. This isn’t just to run ordinary Android apps faster, but to also give it the power to operate the unique feature of the phone; Motorola’s Webtop application. But more on that later.

The 4-inch screen isn’t the biggest on the market today, but it is the first phone to go on sale with a qHD display. This ups the resolution from Motorola’s traditional 480×854 pixels to 540×960 pixels. It does make a huge difference, and once you get used to this you might begin to think that all the other smartphones, bar the iPhone 4, are disappointing.

It has to be pointed out that Motorola has opted to use a PenTile RGBW Matrix LCD display (see an explanation here), similar to the AM-OLED screens used in the Google Nexus One, Samsung Galaxy S and the HTC Desire up to Autumn 2010.

The reason for using such a screen is to reduce power consumption, and in the case of the screen type used here, increase the brightness. However, it does mean you have to compromise on overall screen quality. While it may be displaying a full 540×960 pixel image, it can’t display all the pixels. Solid colours get a ‘checkerboard’ effect, similar to dithering on screens with a limited palette, or the halftone effect used in print. Small text also loses definition.

It is noticeable and may prove to be an issue for users who need to work with small text (such as working with documents like spreadsheets) but for most of the time you will be holding the phone far enough away for the effect to be minimised to the point where it isn’t a real issue. If you’ve seen or owned one of the above mentioned handsets, you’ll already know whether it is something to be worried about, or not.

Only a longer usage of the phone will decide if it’s a worthy compromise, but if it means you can use the phone for longer between charges then it is probably going to be tolerable.

Compared to other Motorola handsets, the ATRIX is fast – and it isn’t as if the others are slow (like the Milestone 2 or the DEFY, the latter running at only 800MHz but still proving to be quick and nimble). Using the standard Motorola launcher is quick, scrolling through the apps totally lag-free and things like the gallery app have been given a facelift.

The (five-megapixel) camera is now quicker to use too, both for adjusting settings and modes to actually capturing the pictures themselves. You can also capture HD video at 1280×720 pixels.