Since the Motorola Atrix 4G is one of the first mainstream phones to launch with NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 system-on-a-chip (SoC), performance is probably the most important aspect of this device. It’s also the first phone from AT&T and Motorola to launch with 4G branding, indicating that it supports some flavor of faster-than-3G cellular networking.
Let’s tackle the second aspect first: in its current iteration, calling the Atrix a 4G phone is nothing less than an outright lie.
Well, that’s slightly incendiary. The fact is, however, AT&T and Motorola ship the Atrix to show an H+ (indicating a 4G-esque HSDPA+ connection) even if you’re in an area that doesn’t support the standard — which, for the moment, is pretty much everywhere. An enterprising user peaked into the system files and found that there is no 3G icon to be found.
Reports are flying in from all over the Internet that users are extremely unhappy with the network performance of the Atrix 4G. While the situation seems similar to Sprint’s launch of the HTC EVO 4G last year before its network was ready, Sprint didn’t put an icon on the phone intimating that users were experiencing 4G connectivity without 4G speeds.
Over a several-state road-test of the Atrix through the midwestern United States, I averaged 2.515 Mbit/s down and a dismal 0.15 Mbit/s up. All the time, the H+ icon beamed happily from the notification bar at the top of the screen. Download and upload tests peaked at 3.35 and 0.22 Mbit/s, respectively.
Something else to keep in mind is the phone’s 3G performance. Forgetting about HSPA+ for a moment, the Atrix isn’t currently able to take advantage of AT&T’s HSUPA speeds because the carrier disabled HSUPA on the phone for now. The iPhone 4 and iPad 2 both support the faster upload speeds, but not the Atrix. Fortunately, when AT&T decides to turn it on, they can do it through a firmware update.
Happily, system performance doesn’t rely on AT&T and it’s here where the Atrix truly shines. I can state, without hyperbole, that the Motorola Atrix is the fastest phone I have ever used. It’s arguably the fastest, or tied for the fastest, phone available on the market.
|NenaMark 1||39.6 fps|
|SmartBench 2011||gaming: 2374
Menus fly open, icons blow by when scrolling, web pages load with alacrity and the phone is just extremely responsive. There are a few shudders sometimes, but it’s a limitation of the operating system and not the phone’s hardware.
The Tegra 2 chip inside is based on a Cortex-A9 dual-core ARM CPU, with both cores clocked at 1GHz. The GPU is an NVIDIA GeForce ULV graphics subsystem. Having a strong GPU means that the Atrix can play 1080p videos and some fairly amazing games with ease.
To showcase some of the capabilities of the Tegra platform on top of which the Atrix is built, Motorola includes a limited copy of the popular racing game Need for Speed: Shift. The game looks fantastic, and plays with extremely fluid framerates.
The Atrix also ships with a whopping 1GB of RAM, which means users won’t need to worry about having a lot of webpage tabs open, among other uses.
Using a smartphone as an actual phone is often given second preference these days, with call quality suffering for it. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to really be an issue with the Atrix 4G. Even in noisy environments, calls were clear and audible, with both parties able to understand the other. Speakerphone performance was also superb, with the Atrix capable of delivering loud, clear communication.
The Atrix runs on Android 2.2.1 and comes with Flash pre-installed. As mentioned, performance is generally extremely snappy, with no real issues. Web browsing, both over AT&T and especially over Wi-Fi, felt very fast, with pages loading quickly.
Flash is a bit hit and miss; on some sites, it works all right, while on others, it’s pretty miserable. Most Flash content is still not a good fit for a touchscreen-only usage model, and while a few videos we tested played fine, a few others were jerky and stilting.
Simply put: as a smartphone, the Atrix is a joy to use.
Motorola has loftier plans for this device, however, that go far and above the usual smartphone. The Atrix is the first phone to use Motorola’s new webtop technologies. With a number of accessories, it can turn into a pseudo-desktop or notebook experience, replete with full-sized keyboard and mouse.
Basically, the first time you launch the webtop environment after booting the phone (and every time after the phone is completely powered down), the Atrix will launch a virtualized Linux environment. It comes with a desktop version of Firefox, the second most popular web browser.
Choosing Firefox over Google’s own Chrome is an interesting and mystifying choice; I also wonder if the linux webtop environment will be replaced with some version of Chrome once that OS reaches maturity.
Despite the fact that the Firefox web browser is a desktop version, a few sites still defaulted frustratingly to their mobile versions. Performance was just okay; it probably won’t be something that replaces your notebook or desktop anytime soon.
I’ll cover more about the capabilities of the webtop environment in my upcoming reviews of the Atrix’s accessories, but it’s a unique capability that really gives an exciting first look at what is very likely the future of mobile devices. Motorola has said that it plans on adding the webtop functionality to all of its high-end Android phones from here on out; given how expensive the accessories are, hopefully that means that they’ll be compatible, too.
One downside to the webtop environment: using the Firefox web browser requires a separate data plan enabled on your account. Every time you launch the browser, it checks your account to make sure you have access.
In order to use it, you’ll need the Atrix 4G, one of the docks, a voice plan, a data plan and another data plan, like the one reserved for laptop tethering. This is all despite the fact that the webtop browser is frankly never going to use as much data as a true tethered laptop. That’s an expensive proposition.
The Motorola Atrix 4G ships with two cameras: a front-facing 0.3 megapixel cam designed for video chatting, and a 5 megapixel rear camera that supports 30fps 720p video recording as well as 5MP stills with a dual-LED flash.
Despite the fact that the Atrix supports video calls, there doesn’t seem to be any software installed from the factory to support it. That’s a shame; given the fact that the Android Market still suffers from serious search issues, it can be difficult to find good software.
Pictures taken on the rear camera are adequate, if not amazing. Under good lighting conditions, like outdoor daylight, or strong overhead lights, the shots can be very nice; under low lighting conditions, less so. The dual-LED flash is more than capable of lighting up a dark environment, but the results look garish; you probably wouldn’t want to post them on Facebook.
As mentioned, the camera is also able to record up to 720p video at 30 frames per second. Performance is similarly decent, but you’ll know it comes from a cell phone (that’s not really intended to be derisive; it’s pretty amazing that these phones can do all of this).
The biggest criticism I can find with the camera’s performance is that it doesn’t do tap-to-focus, letting you decide which part of the scene on which to focus. What it does have is a number of built-in filters to process your image, if you want to go that route.
With Wi-Fi off and GPS on, I made it through a full day of use with room to spare. Of that time, roughly an hour of calls were made (mostly on the speakerphone), with a little web browsing and location app use, like Foursquare.
So with light usage, the phone will definitely last a full working day and then some. With heavier usage, you’ll probably want to top up at some point during the day, since the phone is capable of performing some pretty advanced tasks.