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Motorola Atrix Review: In Depth

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The Motorola Atrix is finally here. Motorola’s first dual-core superphone seriously wowed us with its secret agent-style fingerprint unlocker and array of docks when we saw it back in January.

But now it’s here, and it’s up against an increasing array of other dual-core beasts. Does the Atrix have what it takes to remain dominant among the Android smartphone pack? Read on to find out whether you should take the red pill or the blue pill.

[Note: this review focuses on just the Motorola Atrix. For reasons of space, and to just judge the phone on it’s merits alone, we’ve published separate articles on both the Lapdock and HD Multimedia Docks here and here.]

 

What we like

The Sony MGM tie-in may mean that we’ll never see any Motorola product placement in a Bond film. But we reckon that 007 might be tempted to reach for the Atrix if it were up to him, if only for the fingerprint scanner that unlocks the phone.

Yes that’s right - the Motorola Atrix unlocks with a swipe of an index finger. When you first set the phone up, you’re asked to scan in your left and right index fingers - once it’s got three good readings of your prints, it’s done.

The Motorola Atrix’s 4-inch display is super sharp and very responsive. This makes it really easy to type/text on, correct typos and the like despite the (for now) lack of Gingerbread, and the refined copy and paste solution that Android 2.3 brings.

It’s easy to correct typos thanks to the magnifying glass tool which pops up whenever you long press on the red target-shaped cursor. This allows you to easily hunt for and correct mistakes.

Alongside a standard multi-touch keyboard you get Swype pre-installed too. So if you’re taken with the gesturey way of texting then you’ll be pleased to see your fave Android input method available out of the box.

The sharpness of detail offered by the qHD screen means that web pages, pictures and magazines downloaded on the Zinio app all look fab - even really tiny text on magazine pages is easily legible when you do a full page view zoom out.

We were really impressed with the internet experience the Atrix offered. Thanks again to the screen’s responsiveness, we were easily able to hammer in URLs and search requests, hit Go and watch the Atrix power through pages without breaking a sweat. We found the Atrix easily able to juggle four pages at any time over 3G without showing any sign of slowdown. Over a decent Wi-Fi connection the Atrix could handle eight pages open - the maximum allowed by the stock Android browser - with no noticeable slowdown.

The Atrix had no problem loading up big pages with large amounts of Flash content either. Flash stuff would still give off that characteristic ‘wobble’ when you pinch zoomed, though this seems to be typical of Flash on any Android phone, not just the Atrix.

The whole Atrix experience is one that’s pretty darn fast indeed. Hopping to and from homescreens, loading up games and apps to searching on Google Maps, was all fast as you like and as breezy as you’d hope things to be on a dual-core phone.

We were also really impressed with the Motorola Atrix’s battery life. Most Android phones are battery hungry little things and a good daily charge is a matter of course. But we were able to easily get a good day’s use out of the Atrix (using all of it’s multimedia functions like Spotify etc) and still have over half a tank full. You couldn't in all honesty say this about Android smartphones that were out a year ago.

Lastly, we thought we’d briefly touch on the Motorola Standard Dock here in the What We Like section. Yes, this contradicts our caveat at the start of the review somewhat. But that’s more because the Standard Dock is essentially a nice charging cradle that lets the phone act as an alarm clock/digital picture frame.

It’s a nice additional device, well built and solid, but doesn’t offer any of the extra functionality that the more advanced Lapdock and HD Multimedia Docks do, hence why we’ve included it here and not in a separate piece.

 

What we don’t like

As nice as the fingerprint unlock mechanism is, it can actually be kind of fiddly; if you swipe your finger too quickly, the reader won’t detect it. Half the time, it’s actually quicker just to unlock the Atrix using the 4-digit pin system.

Seeing as the Atrix is being pitched as a cutting edge dual-core monster, we don’t get why it’s running on Android 2.2 and not the latest version, 2.3. Though we understand that an upgrade to Gingerbread is in the pipeline we’d have much preferred it if it was running on the Atrix out of the box.

We’ve never been especially great fans of Motoblur and the Atrix does little to change this. The Motoblur user interface adds a lot of potentially useful features (like the contact widgets) but still retains one annoying quirk that’s plagued us since the days of the Milestone.

When you scroll left and right between homescreens, the launcher icon at the bottom is temporarily replaced with a button that jumps you back to the central homescreen. Obviously, this is here to allow you to nip between screens, like the much vaunted ‘leap mode’ on HTC Sense.

But what happens more often than not is that you’ll end up accidentally tapping the ‘home’ shortcut when you meant to tap the app launcher. This is especially annoying when you’re hunting for some homescreen real estate to drop a shortcut to your favourite new app or widget; you accidentally tap the wrong icon and get dragged back to square one.

Maybe it’s because we’re used to using other Android phones with slightly different layouts. If you’ve never used an Android phone before, chances are you’ll quickly learn the ways of the Motoblur. But if you’re coming to the Atrix from say an HTC Desire or a Samsung Galaxy S, then it could be frustrating.

The Motorola Atrix’s camera isn’t terrible by any stretch. But it’s curiously lacking basic settings like white balance and exposure action (we found no option in the settings that allowed us to manually adjust for either), things that you get on most Android phone’s cameras. Compared to the ones on LG’s Optimus 2X and Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc, the Atrix’s camera simply didn’t wow us as much.


Conclusion

The Motorola Atrix is a solid Android smartphone that’s easy to get to grips with and provides a great web browsing experience. The camera isn’t as amazing as those found on rival smartphones, but it does the job.

A lot of what makes the Motorola Atrix really stand out from the pack is down to the extra functionality offered by the Lapdock and HD Multimedia docks - for reasons of space we’ve published separate articles on both of them here and here.

As a phone on it’s own though, the Motorola Atrix impresses, but doesn’t totally amaze or dazzle.

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