We love
Great screen, remote desktop powers of lapdock are impressive
We hate
Motobloodyblur, HDMI doesn't screen mirror
Verdict
It's a great phone, but everything it does the Galaxy S 2 does better.
Launch Price
£Varies

Motorola Atrix review

The Motorola Atrix absolutely blew minds when it debuted at CES in Las Vegas at the start of January. It was a gadget fiend’s wet dream. Not only were all of its specs cutting edge – bigger battery, sharper screen, more memory, dual-core CPU – but you could even use the thing as a damn laptop.

Of course since then, we’ve seen plenty more dual-core phones, and some of them have proven to be even more insane. And then of course, Motorola’s still sticking to its guns with its software skin, Motoblur, atop a now out of date version of Android. So is this still the killer phone hardcore tech addicts have been waiting for? Read our Motorola Atrix review and find out – our thoughts on the insane lapdock are included!

It’s not that the Motorola Atrix is a bad phone – far, far from it. It’s just that all the tweaks you can make to improve the experience are defaults on rival handsets. If you’re a business user though, you may still love it – let’s take a look.

Hardware and design

If anything, the build of the Motorola Atrix is by far the most boring element of the whole experience. It’s just a touchscreen with a black plastic casing. It’s sturdy. it’s smooth. Bar the striped black and grey back casing, it’s bland. And that’s fine, when it’s so powerful. Sure, it’s not as we-need-an-intervention thin as the Samsung Galaxy S 2, but we get that not everyone wants that – it doesn’t stretch your fingers in quite the same way either, which is welcome. So it’s all good, plus there’s an LED notification light, which we know some of you love.

Actually, that’s not quite true – see that button behind the display? That’s a fingerprint sensor as well as the power button. It actually works, and you soon find that slowly swiping your finger to unlock the phone is quicker than typing in a PIN and then pressing OK – which to keep your Google account secure, you should do on any Android smartphone.

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We think it could have been more sensibly placed, as pressing down on it to lock the screen with one hand actually requires you to squeeze the screen with your thumb, which we don’t like. But it’s a minor fault – we welcome fingerprint technology on smartphones, as it’s fast and no one else we gave it to could unlock the Atrix with it in place.

Screen

The Motorola Atrix’s 4-inch screen is one of the very first ever (iPhone 4 aside) to offer a qHD resolution – 960×540 pixels, as opposed to the previous high watermark of 800×480. As such, everything is superbly sharp. Videos look fantastic, and you can see more emails on screen at one time. It’s the future, so get used to it.

That said, its colour reproduction can’t compare with an AMOLED display, like those that Samsung deploys. Blacks still sport those dark purple hues a backlight inevitably gives. But on the flipside, the Motorola Atrix is noticeably more easy to sue in bright sunlight than a Samsung phone with an AMOLED screen, so you’ll still be very pleased with the results.

Android 2.2

Motorola says an Android 2.3 update will come to European Motorola Atrix phones, but truth be told, Android 2.2 on a new phone isn’t a kiss of death. In fact, with a quick install of the Android 2.3 keyboard, you’ve got the single biggest benefit right away – not that Moto’s onscreen keyboard is bad by any means. And you know we love Android itself. It’s so flexible, with so much potential – if you don’t believe us check out our best Android apps all time top 100.

But, and you probably saw this coming, we really have some issues with Motoblur, Motorola’s software skin. We’ve been moaning about it since 2009, and we still hate it. While there are some nice benefits to it, such as an easy to use DLNA streaming app, a speedy browser that adjusts text to fit the screen, preloaded file manager and LinkedIn integration, there are a lot of reasons why it’s really, stunningly stupid. In fact, here are a few, bulletpoint style:

  • When you swipe through your homescreens, the call, contacts and menu button disappear for a second or more, leaving you waiting if you want to make a call or open an app. Arg!
  • Why on earth is there a huge widget that show my own face and what I last tweeted? I know what I look like, and I know what I just said because it was me who said it.
  • When I click the widget to read a tweet, where is the Reply option? Two clicks away? Too long!
  • Every few hours, Motoblur informs me that I have 20 new Twitter messages. No I don’t. Stop telling me that I do.
  • Why does it take so long to thumb through tweets and Facebook updates when this phone uses a top of the line dual-core Tegra 2 1GHz processor and plays games perfectly?
  • Why does Motoblur use 25 percent of the battery? The only option to reduce this is to sync over Wi-Fi only, which is helpful, but not enough.
  • Why is that when I realise I don’t like Motoblur, I can’t remove my account and I have to factory reset the phone?
  • Why doesn’t the screen always timeout in the amount of time it’s supposed to?

And the list goes on. There’s an all pervading sense that nobody at Motorola has actually tried to live with a Motoblur phone: we know this isn’t the case, so we can only assume people are too afraid to speak up. Moto, it’s this simple: as long as you continue to push Motoblur on unwitting customers, we can’t give your phones five stars. It’s that bad.

Check out our best Android phone Top 5 here

The thing is, you can simply remove these problems by deleting the widgets, installing LauncherPro to revamp your homescreen, and never signing into a Motoblur account. The problem is not everyone who buys this phone will know to do this, and worse, Motorola still sees it as a selling point. We spoke to executives at the company this week who insisted it was here to stay – depressing, since Motorola launched one of the handful of vanilla Android phones ever to hit the UK, the Motorola Milestone.

Oh, as a quick aside, Orange has done its usual trick of sticking in some pointless bloatware as well. Hilariously, some of it didn’t even work: Orange Maps just crashed every time we tried to open it. It wasn’t missed, but at least you never have to use any of it if you don’t want to.

Performance, battery life and call quality

Within apps, the Motorola Atrix is a sterling performer, turning in a very healthy 1844 benchmark on Quadrant Standard – and installing LauncherPro removes any lag problems. Games look beautiful, and we love firing up Nvidia’s Tegra Zone app to see which titles will really look great on it. Battery life too is healthy: even with Motoblur slurping through juice it still clears a day of solid use – though it should be said that the Atrix has an extremely high capacity battery (2000mAh) to achieve this.

Call quality too was exemplary: we never expect anything less from Motorola and on this front it delivers, with a crisp mic and speaker. Moto should be proud of this at least.

Camera

The five megapixel camera turns in respectable shots in daylight, though we do miss the vast number of settings you can tweak on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc and Samsung Galaxy S 2. And while there have been some complaints about the video camera “only” shooting 720p HD video, we can’t complain when it looks this great:

This is normally where we’d wrap a review, but there’s plenty more to talk about with the Motorola Atrix and its accessories:

Lapdock

Yup. The Motorola Atrix is the first smartphone to come with its own laptop accessory. It’s well engineered, with its own seven hour battery that charges the phone, while the Atrix provides the 3G connection and processing power.

Pop the Atrix in the slot behind the lid, and a special Webtop OS fires up on the screen in a matter of seconds. It looks like a regular desktop, but your phone appears within one window, and you can open a file explorer, or a fully fledged version of Firefox through which you can install plug-ins (Awesome) or play back standard definition Flash video smoothly.

We love the build of the lapdock itself: it’s surprisingly long, but very thin (just thick enough to house a couple of USB ports), and mostly made out of solid metal, with lovely island keys that don’t sag down in the middle when pressed. We also love how the state is saved when you pull the Atrix out – you can either open your viewed web pages on the phone with one tap, or simply keep them there to re-open immediately when docked again. USB devices work, and you can pair a Bluetooth mouse.

We also love how easy it makes remote desktop working. Citrix is frankly superb – if your business uses it, you can go ahead and add on a star to the score. However, there’s not a great deal you can do otherwise. It’s a pity Android apps open as a tab in the phone window, rather than as separate scalable window, and we had issues with the trackpad – no matter how we adjusted the settings there was always an irritating bit of lag.

As a result, it’s not quite the no brainer the Asus Eee Pad Transformer‘s £50 keyboard/laptop shell is, priced as it is at £299. For certain business users, it’s an absolute must buy, but for everyone else, it’s probably not worth the price of admission.

Work And Play kit

For a much more reasonable £50 (if bought through Orange), you can get a dock which gives you the same Webtop experience when plugged into an HDTV, and even the ability to plug three USB devices into the back. When paired with the accompanying Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, it gives you full internet access on any TV, which if you don’t have a PlayStation 3 or smart set top box, is absolutely worthwhile. We love internet TV on the TV, even if it isn’t HD. Note you’ll need this to display an Android app in full screen on your TV – plug the phone in directly by HDMI cable and the barebones entertainment centre software launches, which only plays video files Android natively supports.

Charging dock
Fairly pointless unless someone just stole your alarm clock. Don’t bother.

Verdict

With the Motorola Atrix, Moto has once again turned in a stupendous piece of hardware. Unfortunately, for all its efforts, it’s still not delivering a sensible UI, and more crucially, a fun software experience. HTC has nailed it. On its Galaxy S phones, Samsung has nailed it. Until Motoblur is addressed, those two manufacturers will continue to dominate our Android phone charts.

On the other hand, this is quite possibly the best business Android phone ever – if you’re on Orange, use Citrix for work, and don’t already have a means of watching BBC iPlayer on your TV, this is essential. But how many people fall into that niche?

  • Beaker491

    So if it wasn’t for motoblur, would this be a 5 star phone, in Electric Pig’s opinion?
    Thanks

    • Anonymous

      Just – it’s not a five star, goes straight in at number one in our top 5 Android phone list sort of handset, like the Galaxy S 2 is. It’s probably the best business Android phone we’ve tried so far though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rollin-Shultz/100000397952501 Rollin Shultz

    I switched from a 3gs to the atrix, but I have found inexcusable problems with the OS. Let me begin by explaining how I use my phone and the priorities I have for functions. I do some surfing and a little map look-ups, and even some radio stations, but the function I count on the most is listening first to my podcast, and then to my music, which with IOS has the Ipod and I am able to use my bluetooth stereo headphones to pause/play flawlessly. That is due in part to Apple’s excellent command of how programs interact with the hardware. Android in it’s objective of freedom creates problems for the end user because programs do not play well with each other or the hardware.

    Example: I use stitcher for podcasts, it updates nicely, it plays through my headset nicely, but every day I must deselect bluetooth controls and play, then pause and reselect bluetooth controls to get pause play functionality from my headset. I consider that to be inexcusable for a top rated podcast program. Even after that tediousness, if I decide to pause at some point to listen to someone speaking to me, or engage in a discussion, when I press again to unpause, it starts a media player instead, press again and the media player pauses and the podcast starts, now what do I do if I need to listen to someone?

    Example: While evaluating media players in search of one that actually works properly, I have had as many as three or four start playing while I am trying to get pause/play to work on one of them. Again an inexcusable lack of control vs freedom issue. This never happens on iOS.

    Example: I have been searching for 2 weeks for some combination of players which would allow me to play podcasts, music, and videos, because Android does not have a workable app to do what the iPod app has been doing for years now.

    I like my Atrix for its fast and high resolution hartdware, but the only thing holding it back is the OS, I wish I could put the iOS on this phone because there are still far more excellent apps available for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rollin-Shultz/100000397952501 Rollin Shultz

    Why is it, no reviewer I have seen, tests for bluetooth stereo headset control on any phone?

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