AT&T’s Motorola Atrix 4G is one of the first phones to hit the market with a dual-core CPU — in this case, it’s NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 platform that powers this beast. Continuing the cutting-edge trend is a 960 x 540 qHD display, fingerprint scanner and unique webtop capability.
Despite having this cutting-edge smartphone only a short time, I’d like to share my first thoughts on it. An in-depth review will be available when I’ve had more time for testing.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Atrix could be the poster child for the new breed of smartphones: sleek, black and gorgeous, this slab of plastic and glass is fairly typical for high-end phones. It’s thin, but it suffers from a problem that many of these phones do — unless you’re holding them side-by-side, it just doesn’t look that different from the alternatives.
The back of the device is a slippery, high-quality plastic with a faux carbon fiber texture. It feels really great in the hand, though perhaps a bit more ‘grippability’ would be an asset. Fortunately, the whole front of the phone is covered in Corning’s super-strong Gorilla Glass, a welcome feature that’s been spreading through high-end devices recently.
The Motorola Atrix takes a page out of Apple’s iPhone (sorry, but the comparison was bound to come up sooner or later) and uses a high-resolution display that the industry is terming “qHD”. qHD stands for quarter-HD, or ¼ of standard 1080p resolution. For those playing along at home, this works out to 960 x 540 pixels.
At four inches diagonally, this display provides a superb experience for viewing photos, emails or just browsing the web. Despite the high resolution, it can appear oddly pixelated at times, but text is crisp and easy to read. Next to an HTC EVO (4.3 inches, 800 x 480), web pages looked noticeably clearer, with the EVO’s reduced pixel density making text look softer.
Other Buttons & Controls
On top of the phone is a combination power button / fingerprint scanner and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The power button is recessed into the phone and set at an angle. This makes it useful to both hands, regardless of how you hold the phone.
In fact, when you set the phone up to recognize a fingerprint, it actually makes you scan both left and right index fingers. The software says that it will take somewhere between three and ten swipes of each finger before the print is properly recorded, but it only took three for each of mine.
After enrolling your digits, the unlock process is simple: hit the power button and swipe a finger. Motorola requires you to record a passcode to unlock the phone if the scanner is unavailable, so in fact having the scanner does little to make the phone more secure — merely more convenient.
Motorola wasn’t about to let its new king of the hill leave the factory without being thoroughly dolled up in its custom MotoBlur overlay. The phone itself runs Android 2.2, or Froyo, but MotoBlur extends its fingers deep into the phone and changes how you make calls, manage your home screen and follow your friends online.
MotoBlur has typically been panned on phones by reviewers because it can slow things down, and in most cases, that results in a reduced user experience. On the Atrix 4G, however, that’s not even close to a problem.
Things scream from the moment you unlock it, and Motorola’s software doesn’t — for the most part — get in the way. Some of the more involved additions are with regards to social networking, so Motorola includes widgets to follow your friends on Facebook and Twitter, for example, and inject this functionality directly into your contacts’ information.
These things work, but for the most part there are dedicated applications for each service that do the job better, for free, so there’s not much of a point.
Swype is pre-installed on the Atrix, which is a nice addition – but unless you know it’s there, you’ll never encounter it since it requires manually switching over. The default keyboard is a multitouch-enabled QWERTY setup that actually functions very well.
The only downside to this keyboard is Motorola’s absolutely infuriating choice to remove Google’s stock Android voice recognition button and replace it with Vlingo’s alternative. This requires you to accept a completely separate terms of service before you can even access the software. If you were in the middle of sending an email or text message, sorry — you’ll have to wait.
Among the terms of service required by Vlingo was this gem: “Unless expressly authorized by Vlingo in writing, you may not: communicate in any way the results of any product testing, competitive benchmarking or other product evaluation outside of your own organization.” Yeah, right.
While you can’t remove Vlingo without root, you can fortunately keep it from stealing your keyboard’s voice recognition spot.
The Atrix comes with two cameras: one front-facing camera, VGA, and one rear-facing camera, which is 5 megapixels. The front-facing camera will be a welcome addition for the extremely vain or those who wish to video chat, but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any software pre-installed for video chatting. The Android Market is of course just a tap away, but having something ready from the get-go would be nice.
The rear camera has two white LEDs sitting below it, which work moderately well as close-range flashes. In my brief first look, the camera seems functional, though not exceptional, with pictures coming out well in bright light, if a bit soft. The full review will look at this functionality in depth.
One of the biggest reasons why the Atrix 4G immediately attracted such a buzz at CES wasn’t for the Tegra 2 chipset, though that CPU and GPU combination is pretty impressive. It wasn’t for the 960 x 540 resolution display either, though that too is nice.
No, what got so many people talking about the Atrix 4G was the webtop functionality that Motorola implemented. With an additional laptop dock or media dock, this smartphone can turn into a fully-fledged notebook or desktop computer, replete with external keyboard, mouse and display.
As part of the webtop functionality, Motorola pre-installed a desktop version of Mozilla’s Firefox web browser, which means you’ll be able to see the full desktop version of the Internet. It’s definitely a compelling feature, but you’ll have to come back and read our full review for more information about it.
I can sum up the Atrix 4G with three words: fast, fast, fast. It’s fast and furious, and just might set the new standard for phone performance. In my first day with the phone, it’s obvious that Motorola has put a lot of work into making this a competitive phone with a lot to offer to any user.
There are a few bugs with the phone, as well as some confounding choices (Vlingo!) that I’ll cover more completely in the full review. For now, though, it’s safe to say that while Motorola flung Android into the spotlight with the original Droid, they’re continuing the fight with the Atrix 4G. It feels like a worthy addition to Moto’s superphone stable.