Review: Motorola Atrix 4G
The coolest feature of the Atrix 4G isn't found anywhere on the phone itself. Instead, it is the host of docks and accessories that can be fitted to the phone. There is a standard dock that only charges the Atrix, there is a multimedia dock that lets the Atrix attach to a TV or stereo system, and there is a bluetooth keyboard and bluetooth mouse for interacting with the Atrix. There is also the laptop dock.
The multimedia dock can be used to hook the Atrix up to a TV, and thanks to the HMDI port, can share HD video. It's not difficult at all to set up. Once the Atrix is in place and an HDMI cable plugged into your TV, simply choose the video content you want to watch — be it prerecorded movies or stuff you captured with the Atrix 4G itself. Video playback at 720p on my TV was decent, but not the same quality I can get from regular HD content from my cable provider.
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The laptop dock cradles the Atrix behind the display, and will charge it when the dock is plugged in. Placing the Atrix 4G in the dock automatically launches WebTop mode. The laptop dock goes beyond simply mimicking the Atrix's display, it also offers a few extra features. We'll get to those in a minute.
The laptop dock itself is heavy and bulky. It's bigger than a netbook — it's almost as big and heavy as a MacBook Air. Those aspects alone make its worth questionable to me. The cradle for the Atrix is on the back hinge, and swings open to accommodate the phone. This rotating cradle is a bit flimsy if you ask me, and it requires a lot of effort to shove the Atrix properly onto the cradle. There are two USB ports and a charging port on the back edge of the laptop dock. The USB ports can be used to attach a mouse or an external keyboard, if you wish. They also support flash drives, which can be accessed from the Atrix 4G. The file manager tool on the Atrix can be put to use moving files between the Atrix and the flash drivers.
The screen is plenty big, and is bright and has a decent resolution. The dock has a real QWERTY keyboard, complete with a row for numbers, arrow keys, etc. It has a good-sized trackpad, and two trackpad buttons. The keyboard felt a little squished to me, but the feedback of the keys was good enough. You're not going to want to write The Great American Novel on it, but it's way better than typing on a small glass screen, that's for sure.
Overall, the hardware is OK, but not great. For a $500 accessory (yeah, I know, ridiculous, right?), it feels a bit too cheaply made. However, it does what it advertises — it gives the Atrix 4G access to a bigger display, charging station, and full keyboard. But what about the software?
The “WebTop” mode brings the Atrix's home screen to the laptop dock. You have full control over the phone, its apps, and functions. It conveniently offers quick access to 10 different functions (Mobile View, Phone, Contacts, Messaging, Media, Files, Motorola Zone, Firefox, Facebook, and AT&T U-Verse) in an array of shortcuts placed at the bottom of the screen. The Atrix's home screen can be shuttled off to a small window, or blown up to occupy the entire display of the laptop dock.
Every function you choose to perform is opened in a Firefox window (why Firefox and not Chrome is beyond me). Want to open the music player? It opens a Firefox window. Want to make a phone call? It opens a Firefox window. In fact, you can open every single application at once and simply have them arranged in a huge row of Firefox tabs.
Everything (yes, everything, including taking pictures) that you can do with just the phone, you can also do when the Atrix is in the laptop dock. Here's the problem: it's way too slow. Using a trackpad to interact with the apps and settings feels unnatural. I am so used to Android, that I just want to touch everything rather than use the (not-sensitive-enough) trackpad to move the cursor around. I admit, however, that this is something that will be overcome with regular use.
Beyond that, the apps are slow to perform. They take time to open and everything is flaky. It is way to easy to accidentally brush something and open two apps that you didn't want to. I didn't have any app crashes, but I'll tell you this, I could do everything on the phone by itself much, much faster than with the laptop dock. The only real benefit I see here is having access to a large screen and a real keyboard. If you can live without a huge screen, save yourself a lot of cash and just get a Bluetooth keyboard. They're cheap.
The idea here definitely has its appeal. For those who don't need a full laptop and only need to triage email when on the road, it might make sense. For my money, however, I'd rather have a tablet than this contraption.