Motorola ATRIX 4G Review

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Introduction and Design
Introduction:

Let’s reminisce for a bit shall we? It was roughly a year ago when we were all finally entertained as AT&T ushered in the era of Android as the carrier introduced the socially right round Motorola BACKFLIP. Being the last of the major carriers to enter the Android game, customers were probably hoping to be entertained by some kind of high caliber device, rather, they were only subjected to the mid-range offering. Since then, and up to the beginning of the New Year, customers had to endure and wallow with a sea of forgettable devices from Motorola’s camp – such as the BRAVO, FLIPSIDE, and FLIPOUT.

Call it an injustice or whatever you want, but now they aim to erase all prior memories as we open up our arms and embrace all the loveliness that the Motorola ATRIX 4G is about to offer. Not only it is the first truly respectable offering from Motorola’s camp for AT&T, but it’s gunning to position itself as the best smartphone device in its class amongst the carrier’s lineup. Naturally, there are plenty of goodies strapped in for the ride. But it’s taking things into new territories that haven’t been explored yet. But in the end, will these new ventures actually transition to something that consumers want?

The package contains:

  • Motorola ATRIX 4G
  • microUSB Cable
  • Wall Charger
  • microHDMI Cable
  • Quickstart Guide

Design:

With all the impressive hardware under its hood, one can easily overlook the less than tasteful design it’s sporting. There’s no arguing about it, but when it’s compared to some of Verizon’s babies, say the Motorola DROID X, the ATRIX 4G doesn’t come off as boasting a stellar design. Rather, it resorts to a minimalistic approach that’s rounded on the corners and is constructed out of some marginally acceptable plastics. At the same time though, it’s very lightweight (4.76 oz.) thanks to its plastic housing, while still tucking away easily in the pockets due to its slim (0.43” thick) looks.  However, we do find its back cover intriguing thanks to the pattern painted on here that provides a shimmering effect when the handset is tilted at various angles. It’s not sexy by any means, but its design is tolerable enough to accept.



You can compare the Motorola ATRIX 4G with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Looking past its design, our eyes are greeted to an illustrious 4” qHD (540 x 960) LCD display that packs plenty of crisp details that make even the tiniest of text extremely visible to the naked eye. Moreover, color output is fantastically natural looking and luscious to behold without having the over-saturated looks of an AMOLED display. In outdoor settings under the gaze of the sun, it’s still workable without the need of being shielded thanks to its strong luminance output. Plus, viewing angles are actually good with the handset since colors retain their level even at some extreme angles. And lastly, the display is quite receptive in registering all of our gestures and presses.



As always, the usual set of capacitive touch Android buttons line the bottom area beneath the display. Though, we still had a tendency of accidentally pressing on them since they’re placed somewhat close to the edge. Next to the earpiece, the 0.3-megapixel front facing camera is perched nearby, while the proximity and light sensors are there as well.


Placed alongside one another, we find the microUSB and microHDMI ports built into the left edge of the phone. The tandem enables the handset to offer some new innovative features that truly deliver in making the ATRIX 4G a great handset, but we’ll explain more about that later on.

Now the only thing found on the right side is the ample sized volume rocker that provides a reasonable amount of feedback when pressed.


While on the top, we’re presented with the 3.5mm headset jack with the dedicated power button placed awkwardly towards the back and at angle. Rectangular in shape, some might be thrown off by it, but it actually doubles as a finger print reader which is used to unlock the device. Definitely adding yet another level of peace of mind, we like its tactile response and ability to unlock the device – which is still rarely found on most of today’s smartphones. Additionally, the noise cancelling microphone is found close-by as well.


Turning it around to its rear, we’re greeted with its unmistakable 5-megapixel auto-focus camera with dual-LED flash, while the speakerphone grill is found towards the bottom portion. Removing the back cover is simply done by yanking it off from either the top or bottom edges, and once that’s done, you have access to its larger than normal 1930 mAh battery, SIM card slot, and microSD card slot.

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Motorola ATRIX 4G 360-degree View:





Interface:

Given the prestigious title of being “the world’s most powerful smartphone,” the Motorola ATRIX 4G is able to back it all up since it carries along a sweet 1GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor with 1GB of RAM. So if speed it something you want, then that’s exactly what you get with the handset as it blazes through the simplest of operations without much fluff. Although we experienced just a tiny bit of slowdown initially, which seems as though it was getting itself all adjusted to being powered on for the very first time, it soon offered a tight responsive feel that resonates throughout every aspect of the device. From scrolling between its homescreens with a live wallpaper activated to playing 3D intensive games, the Motorola ATRIX 4G is one beast of a phone in handling the most demanding things.

Whenever we’re checking out some Android powered Motorola device, the first thing that comes to mind is why MOTOBLUR? Well, at this point, it’s pretty much the expected thing – so we really can’t complain much about at this point. Yes, some will pledge that it’s absolutely fantastic, while others will downright say it’s horrible. But to us, it gets the job done as it offers all the elements you’d expect out of any Android phone out there. Sure it has a somewhat cartoonish appearance, but the nice thing about it is the customized Motorola widgets that will adjust accordingly whenever you re-size them. Furthermore, there’s still this traditional level of personalization with Android since you can add in a bunch of useful widgets, activate an eye catching live wallpaper, or simply throw up some kind of shortcut.

There’s a total of 7  homescreens available, and similar to HTC’s helicopter view with their customized experience, you can view all of them at once by simply pressing the home button while on the main homescreen. On the surface, there are a handful of Motorola specific widgets that offer additional functionality without the need of running  dedicated application, however, you can always fall back on the usual Android ones.


Since its inception, MOTOBLUR has always been known to take kindly to social networking, but we’re greeted to a familiar experience. Motorola’s social networking widget will display related content from your account all in one place – which is nice seeing you can view them all at the homescreen. Additionally, you can simultaneously compose a Twitter and Facebook post all from the widget. And if you happen to have a slight itch to run an app, you can still get your fill by simply running the dedicated “Social Networking” app which basically accomplishes the same items as the widgets.

Phonebook:

Nothing has really changed with the address book on the Motorola ATRIX 4G, but that doesn’t stop it from being extremely usable. Specifically, it combines local contacts with those found with your social networking accounts, while still enabling you to associate pertinent information with each person. In addition, relevant social networking content will load up with each person – meaning, you can quickly read up their latest posting within the address book. Last, but certainly not least, all of your contacts are synced with your Google account so you’ll never have to worry about some catastrophic problem wiping out your hard work.





Organizer:

Employing the stock Android Calendar app, it syncs with multiple accounts and presents itself with all the customary features we’d come to expect by now. You can easily jump between varying views, such as a weekly or monthly presentation, which will break down all your appointments. And finally, there’s plenty of material to include with each appointment in your calendar – keeping you in the constant loop of things.


Naturally, you can set up multiple alarms on the handset via its Alarm & Timer app, but it’s missing some of the more intuitive functions such as being able to act as a desktop clock. However, if you really want that functionality, you’ll need to purchase its multimedia dock in order to experience its abundant set of features – like being able to view the weather and temperature on it.


Additionally, we find a timer app, but it’s strangely missing other components such as a world clock or stopwatch. But since this is Android we’re talking about, it’s not all that disappointing since a quick trip to the Android Market will remedy the problem. Still, it just would’ve been nice to see them available from the onset; rather than having to download them later.

Not surprisingly, we’re treated to the usual looking Calculator app that we’ve grown to accept. It’ll get the job done in computing some basic functions, but you’ve also got some advanced functions at your disposal.


Last, but certainly not least, the Motorola ATRIX 4G includes a basic file manager app that will quickly enable you to move around files stored locally on the handset to some sort of external storage. Definitely a nice touch considering you don’t have to be bothered with connecting it to a computer of some sort.

Messaging:

Partly because of its above average sized display and undeniably swift dual-core processor, the messaging experience is top notch with little to no complaints at all. Offering both the multi-touch and Swype keyboards, we find the experience to be uplifting with either since it’s extremely responsive – especially in keeping up with our quick fingers. Granted that the portrait options may still be cramped for some people, the landscape one has plenty of room to accommodate even the largest of fingers. Speed typing is obviously quickly accomplished with little adjustment in getting a feel for the device, but we found ourselves typing away with relatively few mistakes.


Being the Android powered smartphone it is, the Gmail experience is undoubtedly polished all around which brings all of the engaging features found on the desktop version. Packaging along features like threaded view, labeling, and the ability to search through all your emails, there’s nothing rally you can’t accomplish with it since the overall experience is perfectly translated over. Moreover, you can also set up  additional Gmail accounts and switch between them at any time – while still preserving all of their respective folders.


And if Gmail isn’t necessarily your kind of thing, the email app is there for all your needs. Its presentation is pretty much similar to the Gmail app, but it doesn’t offer things like threaded view – meaning, it displays emails between you and another person in the usual stacked listing view. Setup of generic email clients only requires your email address and password, but for those obscure ones, it’ll ask you for additional pieces of information – like server addresses and ports.

Connectivity and Data:

Placing phone calls in all corners of the world isn’t a problem for this quad-band (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) GSM and tri-band (850/1900/2100 MHz) UMTS handset, but it’s also packing support for AT&T’s HSPA+ network. Though, it seems to be affected by the same thing that’s preventing the HTC Inspire 4G from obtaining HSPA+ like upload speeds. In fact, we’re only able to obtain average upload speeds of 150 kbps – which is a far cry from its potential. Nevertheless, the ATRIX 4G includes 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi as an alternative data connection when cellular is unavailable. Moreover, Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR is offered so you can connect various wireless devices with it.

Without hesitation, we knew going into it that the Motorola ATRIX 4G is going to excel in the web browsing department seeing that it packs support for Flash Player 10.1 – which tastefully adds the elements to rival the desktop experience. However, we’re easily impressed with its performance because it offers smooth kinetic scrolling, responsive pinch gestures for zooming, and renders pages perfectly on its admirable 4” qHD display. Also, complex web sites like ours are able to load up in a timely manner without much wait – enabling you to see relevant content very quickly.





Camera:

Even though there are some things left to be desired with its camera interface, as a whole, it suffices in capturing photos without much work. Specifically, there aren’t that many manual controls found with it, but there are still a few modes that you can switch on to that add some novel results. Taking a photo is accomplished by simply holding down on the on-screen shutter key, which then kicks in the focus, while letting go will capture the shot.


We're quite excited to see the Motorola ATRIX 4G perform more than satisfyingly in the photo-taking department. Belonging to the upper echelon of cameraphones, the ATRIX 4G's 5-megapixel shooter captures some pretty good shots with neutral looking colors and fine details. We're also impressed with how well it handles in low lighting situations; albeit with some soft evidence of noise at times. If you plan on using the Motorola ATRIX 4G as a substitute for your point and shoot though, keep in mind that its dual-LED flash is actually far from powerful enough in order to light up completely dark environments.



Aside from its inability to offer continuous auto-focus while shooting 720p videos, we’re nonetheless more than satisfied with its performance. Granted that close-ups can look a bit out of focus, it’s actually more than able to capture a decent amount of detail – while shooting at the smooth rate of 29 frames per second. At the same time, we’re also pleased with the realistic looking colors present with its recording. However, there is some noise evident with shots taken in low lighting, but it doesn’t detract from its overall good looking capture. While it's a bit of a setback that the Tegra 2-powred ATRIX 4G can only shoot 720p video as of now, it's worth noting that Motorola has promised a future update that will unlock 1080p video recording.



Well it’s about time that we find an Android device on AT&T’s lineup that offers the ability to do video chat! Thanks to its front-facing 0.3-megapixel camera, we were able to use Fring to video chat with another user. It isn’t pretty, especially when it’s on the pixelated side of things, but at least we’re able to comprehend our conversation without much falter. Indeed, it’s definitely nice to finally see video chat on an AT&T branded Android smartphone.

Multimedia:

The Gallery app is your one stop destination for all of your photos and videos, but as usual, there isn’t much new in this area with the Motorola ATRIX 4G. Content is placed in a grid-like view, however, it transitions to a 3D camera roll when you’re in landscape – which is nice considering its fluid movement in viewing images. Of course we’re presented with a treasure trove of sharing options, but we’re even more excited about the depth of editing features on board.


Nothing particularly new with its stock music player experience, which is rather surprising for a device sporting a dual-core chipset, but it nonetheless acts quite functional at its core. Although we were hoping to see some kind of heavy 3D interface of some sort, it decides to take the usual approach with its presentation. While playing a song, it displays the album cover, track information, and on-screen controls – and no, there are zero visualizations available. However, we find a handful of equalizer options for both the wired connection and speaker output. And when it comes down to audio quality from its speaker, it’s quite powerful and glaring to the ear, but there is subtle amount of crackling at the highest volume setting.


Playing high definition videos is a piece of cake for this peppy one, but it’s even more satisfying when there is plenty of room for your eyes. After starting up a video encoded in MPEG-4 1280 x 720 resolution, we’re treated to an enthralling experience with its smooth playback, rich details, and tantalizing color production. So whatever you throw on it, you can pretty much expect a high level of performance in watching videos.


Using the included microHDMI cable, you can easily share content stored on the device with your high-definition television set. When you connect it, you can essentially run the entertainment center experience which transforms the handset to a mini control scheme – with navigation and various playback buttons. From here, you can browse through videos photos, and music all directly on your television. With the music player, there is a pleasant looking visualization that runs while a song is being played. In addition, it didn’t have any problems in playing a 720p video on the big screen as well.

However, the true potential of the Motorola ATRIX 4G is found by using its optional multimedia dock. When it’s placed in there, you can switch from running its widget clock, the entertainment center experience, and finally, the best part about it all – the Motorola webtop app! In this mode, it unlocks some innovative functionality that we have yet to see on any other device. Not only does it emulate the handset’s experience on the big screen, as you control it using the now transformed trackpad layout of the handset, but its expanded interface plays host to Mozilla’s Firefox web browser. In summing up the experience, it’s rather engaging since you can quickly get into it – plus, it operates at a tolerable rate.

Finally, there is also a laptop dock which is priced at $500 if your purchase it separately from the handset, or $300 when bought together as a bundle. Basically, it features an 11.5” display, 2 USB ports, stereo speakers, chicklet style keyboard, and an oversized trackpad with two physical left & right buttons. Essentially, you place the handset into its dock, which is located in the rear of the laptop, and from there, it offers the same webtop functionality that we described with the HD dock. Sure it might seem like a novel thing, but this add-on essentially transforms an ordinary smartphone to something a little more – which is nice to say the least, but we don't appreciate the price tag, which is quite steep.


With 16GB of internal storage, it should be sufficient to satisfy the needs of most individuals out there, but if you’re hungry for just a little bit more, more can always supplement its capacity by throwing in a microSD card up to 32GB in size.

Software:

Supplementing its depth of content sharing, the Motorola ATRIX 4G comes preloaded with quite a few apps that’ll get your multimedia content onto other devices. For starters, we’re presented with the DLNA app that’ll enable you to stream things like photos, videos, and music with other DLNA certified devices; such as television sets. Furthermore, the Media Share and Phone Portal apps accomplish the same things – with the latter managing your phone’s content via USB connections to your computer.


Google Maps and all of its rich set of enticing features are all in tow, naturally, but the handset’s dual-core process is able to smoothly traverse through the heavy graphical showcase of 3D map view. Moreover, you’ve got free voice guided turn-by-turn directions courtesy of Google Maps Navigation. Although there is nothing new out of the Google Maps experience, it’s nice to see it running ever so flawlessly on the ATRIX 4G.

Also, preloaded third party apps include things like Quickoffice, YPmobile, Blockbuster, Need for Speed Shift, and Vlingo. And since this is an AT&T branded device, it’s packed with things like AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Navigator, and the myAT&T app.


With the Android Market, you can always download all of your favorite third party apps to increase its potential and functionality, but sadly, AT&T seems to have the last say on what apps actually make it into the market. Much like previous AT&T Android smartphones, like the BACKFLIP, you’re unable to side load apps onto the device. Additionally, there are specific apps that aren’t available with the handset – in fact, tethering apps like June Fabric’s PDAnet is conspicuously missing. Yes, it’s Android and regarded as an open platform, but in this classic example, it goes to show how carriers still have some say in what apps make it to customers.



Performance:

Calling quality is average at best due to the prominent level of static heard in the background during phone calls on our end; though, we’re content with the boisterous output of its earpiece. Aside from the static interference, voices through the earpiece are neutral in tone and still audible, however, our callers did state that our voice sounded choppy on their end. Lastly, the speakerphone is more than prominent in volume, but there is still some noticeable static noise that muddies things down just a bit.

Luckily, we didn’t experience any dropped calls during our testing in the greater Philadelphia area. Meanwhile, it manages to retain a solid connection to the network with no adverse fluctuations in signal our review.

Carrying along a massive 1930 mAh battery, which complements its ridiculously fast dual-core processor, we’re glad to see some extended usage with the handset. After being fully charged, we managed to get 1 ½ days of normal use before the handset’s battery completely dissipated. With that, light users should easily get close to the two day mark, while heavy users can rest knowing they’ll get close to a day without having the urge of getting a refill.

Conclusion: 

We’ve got to hand it to Motorola once again as they carefully planned and thought out every aspect of the ATRIX 4G. Is it revolutionary? We wouldn't go that far, but it's downright awesome! This isn’t just another high-end Android smartphone out there on the market, it dives into new territory and takes the leap of faith by adding in some interesting new functionality that unanimously chops down borders with its webtop app and optional docks. For $199.99 on-contract, this is hands down the best Android smartphone on AT&T’s lineup. Sure we would’ve loved to see a better design for the handset, but considering that it’s crowned as “the world’s most powerful smartphone,” it’s quite a fitting remark – especially when its 1GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra2 processor makes it fly so rapidly in almost everything it does. Additionally, we love the new functionality that comes along with its multimedia and laptop docks. In fact, it’s daring and impressive at the same time! So if you’re looking for a smartphone right now, there is no reason why the Motorola ATRIX 4G should be on the top of your list.

Software version of the reviewed unit: Android 2.2.1, Build OLYFR_U4_1.2.6, Baseband N_01.77.05PPerformance:

Motorola ATRIX 4G Video Review:





Pros

  • Innovative new functionality with its docks
  • Speedy dual-core NVIDIA Tegra2 processor
  • Sharp looking qHD display
  • Plenty of ways to share content
  • Above average battery life

Cons

  • Not that great HSPA+ upload speeds

PhoneArena Rating:

9.5

User Rating:

9.3
31 Reviews

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