Motorola Atrix Review


01 September 2011

The Motorola Atrix was among the first of the new breed of dual-core smartphones we’re seeing in the market today. Along with an array of impressive peripherals, this was enough to give the Atrix almost instant fame in the tech industry back when it was announced. But now that we’re starting to get our hands on more and more dual-core smartphones can the Atrix stand alone as a solid contender for the smartphone crown as a stand-alone device without it’s unique optional extras? Stay tuned to find out in our Motorola Atrix Review.

Physical Design and Getting Started on the Motorola Atrix

Visually, first impressions of the Motorola Atrix are good, but not overly eye-catching. It’s a form-factor we’ve all become very used to and, without any major flourishes of style, one that doesn’t immediately strike the eye as unique. That’s not to say it’s an unappealing device; far from it. The Atrix has an extremely solid feel to it, as well as a reassuring weight when held in the hand, it's just not too aesthetically different to what we've seen before.

On further inspection the rear casing of the Atrix is actually very well designed. Instead of a rear plate that snaps off either halfway up the edge of the device, or even one that is limited purely to the back, the rear casing of the Atrix wraps up around the side and ends next to the screen. The importance of this? We can think of two benefits.

  1. The case is very easy to remove by hand, but also unlikely to come off by accident. This isn’t a huge issue for most users, but we’ve discovered that many smartphones, especially those of Android kin, can be quite worrisome to open. Some of them even feeling like they’re about to snap just as the back plate comes free.
  2. Shock absorbtion. This is definitely the most important of the two factors. With an extra layer of plastic around the edge of the device, the Atrix has a much better chance of diverting the force of an impact away from the screen when landing on its side. The fact that the sides are not directly connected to the screen means that the shock of sudden impact has somewhere else to go rather than directly in to your multi-touch display. It’s not going to protect the device from anything major, but it’s at least reassuring to know there’s that tiny bit of extra protection between you and your warrantee agreement.

That being said we would like to have seen a more rubberised, soft-touch material on the back rather than just smooth plastic. Basically grip on the Atrix is a bit more questionable than some other Androids we’ve tested, in that the smooth casing doesn’t offer as much grip as other devices. However, if you keep a firm hold on your handset then you shouldn’t have any troubles.

Other notable features are the mini USB 2.0 and HDMI ports on the bottom left, the 3.5mm headphone jack located at the top and the volume rocker which can be found on the right-hand side. The volume rocker itself is actually well designed, as we haven’t experienced any unintentional volume shifts when carting the Atrix around in our pockets.

The lock button is a special feature all unto itself. Located at the top middle of the handset, the lock button on the Atrix also doubles as a fingerprint sensor. For anyone who enjoys having a screen lock on their phone, it is possible to, instead of using a PIN number, record the index fingers on both your right and left hands in order to unlock the device. This also proves easier for regular use as well, as one press of the button, followed by a finger swipe on the same button completely unlocks the device. This is as opposed to pressing the unlock button and then swiping your finger across the screen. It’s a small thing but we found that we got used to it very quickly. We absolutely loved this feature and would like to see it implemented on more devices in the future.

Startup is a bit more complicated than on most Android smartphones, as you’ll need to create a Motoblur account in order to proceed. It’s just a few extra screens and shouldn’t provide too much hassle, so long as you have either network coverage or a WiFi connection in the vicinity. After that it’s just a simple matter of following the prompts and choosing which services (ie Facebook, Gmail etc) you wish to sync with your Motoblur account.

Power and Interface

The Motorola Atrix sports a powerful dual-core 1GHz processor. This allows for the handset to not only handle day-to-day functions with more efficiency and speed, but also multi-task with more apps open simultaneously without overall performance being noticeably hampered. Unfortunately the Motorola Atrix does come running on Android 2.2 Froyo, which means it isn’t as fast as it could be, but we found we weren’t overly disappointed and didn’t even notice most of the time.

Battery life seems mostly unaffected by the powerful CPU and 4 inch screen. We got a full day's use out of the Atrix at medium-to-heavy use and didn't once find ourselves rushing for a power socket. You certainly won't get more than a day out of it if you're a heavy user, but that's absolutely to be expected from a top-end phone in the current market.

Motorola’s Motoblur user interface (UI) itself is certainly passable as a mobile UI. It is true that other UIs have achieved much greater popularity on the web, such as HTC’s Sense UI or even the stock-standard Google Android UI, but we weren’t overly troubled by anything we experienced.

We did notice some occasional jerkiness when it came to screen scrolling, and starting an application up for the first time was, at times, slower than we expected. But overall we never found ourselves wishing any physical harm to the Atrix, as we have with some other devices.

We did find a small glitch that popped up occasionally with the multi-touch interface. It seemed that in certain programs holding one finger down for an amount of time would trigger the device to register that finger as being in constant contact with the screen, even after removing it. What this meant is that every time we swiped a finger across the screen it would register as a pinch-to-zoom command, depending on whether or not we were swiping towards or away from the spot where we initially held down a press. It also stopped single-touch commands such as typing on the keyboard from working. The only way to fix this issue seemed to turn the phone on and off again, which we must admit was a bit disappointing. However we should stress that this only happened two or three times the entire time we had the device.

Display, Web Browsing and Keyboard

The 4 inch, 540 x 960 display on the Motorola Atrix sports an impressive resolution and very crisp images. Unfortunately, due to it not being a Super AMOLED Plus screen like on the Samsung Galaxy S II, colours show up noticeably less vibrant to anyone who has used both styles of display. That’s not to say that colours are bad or washed out on the Atrix, but we definitely noticed inferior vibrancy in the colours and a lack of starkness in blacks.

For web browsing the Atrix was quite good. It was fast, supported Flash and maintained good coverage. Despite running on Android 2.2 Froyo, we didn’t actually notice a huge difference in in browser speed between the Atrix and its Android 2.3 cousins.

One small issue is that of the pinch-to-zoom functionality. When zoomed in to a specific level, say to maximise text across a screen without having to sidescroll, the screen will remain zoomed in to the same level if turned over from portrait to landscape mode. By “remain zoomed in to the same level” we mean exactly the same, rather than having the sideways zoom adjust to the new width of the display after it is turned. This means that if you’re switching between portrait and landscape mode, as we often do, you will be endlessly resizing your web pages. We also noticed some occasional jerkiness in the pinch-to-zoom functionality that we wouldn’t have expected from a dual-core device. But it was ultimately nothing to really write home about.

The keyboard on the Motorola Atrix is not the best software keypad we’ve used. It’s still quite responsive and regular users really shouldn’t notice any problems at all. However, if you’re an exceptionally fast typist then you may encounter a bit of frustration when it comes to input speed. Being phone specialists, we like to think we move pretty quickly across a keypad and we definitely encountered our fair share of skipped letters and missed spaces. Once we slowed down to a more normal speed, however, we suffered through no further misshaps.

We encountered no problems with email or messaging beyond this initial keyboard lag. Both messaging functions worked efficiently and without hassle.

Camera and Media on the Motorola Atrix

The 5MP camera takes pretty standard pictures for its specifications. That is to say: great photos in good light, but picture quality tends to deteriorate the dimmer the lighting becomes. Of course the dual LED flash helps out a lot in low-light situations, which is great for night-time shots and parties. We also experienced the very common problem of fast-movement shots, once again especially in low-light. The Atrix’s camera is more than capable of taking great photos of fast moving objects in good light from a distance, but the closer the object gets to the camera the more blurry the image is sure to become.

Exactly the same positives and negatives held true for video capture, although were more accentuated in low-light situations. This is by no means a negative mark against the Atrix. On the contrary it is well within the bounds of industry standards when it comes to 5MP cameras on mobile devices and we were in no way disappointed with the performance of the Atrix as a digital camera. We just weren’t particularly ‘wowed’, either.

The music and video players on the Atrix are solid and reliable. We didn’t experience a single problem with skipping tracks, sudden crashes or poor sound quality. Of course, as with most Android devices, sound quality for music files can be enhanced by downloading 3rd party apps (such as Power Amp, etc) but we didn’t find it necessary. It was also extremely easy to transfer files to and from the Atrix and the media players updated the new files to the in-phone playlists very quickly.

The WhistleOut Opinion

All in all the Motorola Atrix is a solid and efficient device. Its dual core 1GHz processor made short work of everything we threw at it and provided a smooth, fast and efficient experience for browsing, emailing or just day-to-day functionality.

We did find that extended use caused the back-plating to heat up a little, but we’ve experienced the exact same issue with every other dual-core handset we’ve used to date and it certainly isn’t enough of an issue to deter anyone from choosing this device.

We were a bit disappointed with the vibrancy of colours on the 4 inch display and how the keyboard tended to bug out when we typed at our fastest pace. We would also have liked to have seen an 8MP camera or higher on a high-end device like this. However, in the end we enjoyed our time with the Motorola Atrix.

As we stated earlier we did not test out the Atrix with any of its trademark peripherals, which are definitely some of the main reasons one would choose this device. So keep that in mind if you’re considering this phone when next you’re in the market to compare.

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