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Motorola Atrix Lapdock: £299 for a halfway house laptop? Or the shape of mobile accessories to come?

The Motorola Atrix is a bit like the Optimus Prime of the mobile world. It’s a phone! *makes weird Transformer noise* Now it’s a laptop! *makes weird Transformer noise again* Now it’s a thing with loads of USB ports!

If only the Atrix actually did make that noise and morphed like in the cartoon. Come on Motorola, sort it out!

Until such technological heights have been achieved, we’ll have to make do with plugging our Atrixes into the various docks that are available for it. The most head-turning and striking of these docks is of course the Motorola Lapdock, better known as the ‘laptop dock’ which we saw earlier in the year.

It’s got an 11.6-inch screen and a battery that offers an additional 7 hours of charge. So despite the dock being ‘dumb’, so to speak, you’ve at least got an extra reserve of juice. As well as this there’s two USB ports for connecting mice, keyboards, USB sticks, whatever you want.

So how does it shape up alongside the Atrix? And does this point the way to the future of mobile accessories?


What we like

As we saw when we got to have some hands on time with it in January, you plug your Atrix into a back section of the Lapdock that flips out. It clips in nicely and securely here, like an expensive piece of Lego.

When you plug the Atrix into the Lapdock it fires up weptop, a Linux-based OS that lies dormant in the phone until it’s connected to any compatible docks.

Webtop gives you a Windows/OS X style interface, with clickable icons running along a taskbar at the bottom of the screen.

Firefox and Facebook apps come pre-loaded, allowing you to get on with browsing and Facebooking right away. You can add bookmarks on Firefox like you do on the desktop version and browse with multiple tabs open.

Facebook works exactly like the desktop version does. You can upload multiple photos (hurrah) which you can’t do from the standard Facebook for Android app on your phone. So you’d be able to take a bunch of pictures on your Atrix, slot the phone in to the Lapdock and upload folders of pics like you would on your computer or laptop.

There’s also a virtual phone display option called ‘Mobile View’. This allows you to access and navigate the Atrix’s functions and menus on a separate window on the Lapdock’s screen. So you can still get at all your Android apps and functions while the phone is plugged in.

So, like in our example pic, you can have Spotify churning out Dire Straits or whatever while you carry on with Google Docs. As well as this, the BBC iPlayer Android app also works a treat on the Lapdock’s 11.6-inch screen.

You can ably work on the Lapdock via Google Docs. The keyboard is nicely spaced out and easy to type on. The dock’s lightness and portability makes it easy for you to reposition for typing on the couch or at your desk.

There’s a pair of USB ports at the back allowing you to plug in USB sticks and access files on these. In the case of images, it usually opens up Firefox to view them. For things like Word documents, you’ll need an app installed on your Atrix – either QuickOffice (which comes pre-installed) or something like Picsel’s Smart Office.

Those corporate bods with a Citrix account can also log in from the Lapdock and access their Windows desktops remotely. Not being Citrix’d-up corporate bods ourselves, we weren’t able to test this out. But we were treated to a demo of it back in January, where a Motorola spokesperson managed to log in and remotely access a Windows PC desktop as you normally would.


What we don’t like

While the Lapdock offers you a neat compact web experience, the asking price for one raised some eyebrows here at Recombu. At £299 you could easily shop around for a notebook. Though the Lapdock does offer a lot, you wouldn’t be able to say, watch DVDs on it as there’s no drive.

Also, if you’re not used to working on web-based services like Google Docs, don’t have a Citrix account and you’d rather stick to what you know (Word, Excel) then check out a laptop first. You wouldn’t be able to install anything like Photoshop either.

Despite the Firefox app performing it’s main task admirably (tabbed browsing, bookmark saving) we were a little miffed that we couldn’t search for and install a lot of our favourite Firefox Add-ons. Specifically this British English spell checker that we’re so fond of. God knows we need that bad boy here at Recombu.

We also found that we could only really properly use the Lapdock when the Atrix was connected to Wi-Fi. Whenever we switched to 3G, things like Firefox and Facebook (on the Lapdock) wouldn’t work, but for some reason we could still access the web through the Atrix’s browser. So despite there still being an active 3G connection, we only got half of the functionality out of it. Having a look at a few other reviews of the Atrix and the Lapdock on the web (none of which mention this issue) leads us to suspect that this is a problem with our review model.

Speaking of 3G and Wi-Fi, the tethering capabilities afforded by Android 2.2 kind of undermine the USP of the Lapdock somewhat. You could always just get the Atrix, turn it into a hotspot and use it to connect another laptop to the web that way.

 

Conclusion

Opting for a Lapdock with your Atrix really depends on what you want to get out of a laptop. If you want something that basically offers you an extension of a mobile phone web experience – i.e. something to check emails, Facebook and check things like train times on the web, then it should satisfy.

If you’re wise to the ways of Google Docs and don’t working outside of the Microsoft Office box, then you should find that the Lapdock satisfies as an ad hoc working device. However, if you want a machine that you can install whatever you want on, then we’d suggest that you look elsewhere.

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