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Review of Motorola Atrix 4G
Live photos of Motorola Atrix 4G
In September of 2010 when we celebrated the birthday of our website Eldar (our editor-in-chief) answered the question about Apple prospects and remarked that phones will become computers. In other words you connect a screen, mouse and keypad to it and start working. At the time the idea sounded fantastic and far removed from everyday life. Nevertheless, one of MacOS X updates confirmed this approach indirectly. The interface of Apple computers borrowed heavily from iOS created for iPhone and iPad. Nobody expected this idea to be implemented so soon and by Motorola from all people. Apple is at the peak of its might now, but the creator of the original mobile phone managed to steal the show in this case. Since 1984, when the mobile phones appeared in shops for the first time, their functionality has been enhanced several times only. 1990s brought such milestones as smartphones and PDA built around Windows Mobile. In January of 2011 Motorola made another breakthrough. Nobody knows what will happen next, but we do not need this answer now. Let's speak about the future, which is already here. Meet Motorola Atrix 4G.
Unfortunately, the phone can be currently purchased only in the US from AT&T. In a simple orange-white box you can find the following elements of the package:
The unlocking was just a breeze. You only have to order an unlock code on one of specialized websites for $10-30 payable with the banking card. The code is generated on the basis of a unique IMEI number, so every phone has a special code to be delivered within several days. In my case the code was 71538279. Enter the code and Atrix will work in any network.
Atrix looks more like a small tablet rather than a phone. Modern phones feature largely screens shifted vertically from the center of the body. This solution is traditionally chosen due to controls located in the bottom part. In Atrix the screen is located centrally, which is more convenient when you enter the text in the album mode.
Dimensions of the model do not differ much from prevalent market indicators.
A more fair comparison with other dual core models will yield the following results:
The main body material is shiny non-glossy black plastic. Fingerprints are not easily spotted and can be taken away with a standard wiper. The back side has a carbon-like decorative image. Plastic does not feel expensive, but you cannot call it cheap either. Body edges are smooth without any sharp surfaces. The battery cover closes the entire back side together with upper and lower parts of the body.
The front side is completely covered by Gorilla Glass. At the top you see a frontal camera and a speaker. Under the screen are located four standard Android touchscreen keys (Menu, Home, Back and Search). At the very bottom one can spot a microphone.
At the back we get a fingerprints sensor paired with an activation button. It is located at a 30 degrees angle. To the right comes another microphone.
In the top left hand corner there is a camera lens and a paired LED flash. Plastic grill covers a ringtones speaker.
Near the left side at the bottom we have microUSB and miniHDMI jacks. Volume rocker is on the right side at the top.
The build is good and we have not noticed squeaking or looseness whatsoever.
Comparison with Motorola V3xx:
Comparison with Samsung Wave:
One of the advantages of the model according to many reviewers is a fingerprints scanner, which is paired with the activation button as I have already noted before. In the settings you can customize it for pointer fingers of both hands. You will be immediately offered to enter a four digit code to unblock the phone if the scanner does not function. Press the activation button to start the screen and then hover a finger against the scanner and in half a second required for identification the handset will be ready to operate. I cannot label this solution as ideal for everyone as you have to take several things into account. For example, you have to move your finger at a particular speed, which is not always convenient. It is much faster to unlock the phone with the help of a traditional combination of power button and a screen move. There are some more points. It is easy to guess from the location of the button that it can be pressed only when you hold a phone in a traditional way. Other approaches will not work.
Volume control buttons are small, but there is no problem to find them by touch. Easy pressing gives a muted click, but they are easy to use. Sensor keys are above criticism as well. Hardware ones would have been more preferable, but I do not have any complaints here anyway. Keys work every time we use them and the distance from the screen is enough not to make mistakes.
One of serious advantages of the model is represented by its 4″ qHD (960x540) screen. The matrix is made with the use of PenTile technology, which is a downside. In the review of Samsung Wave in Use I have already mentioned the disadvantages of the approach, but I will repeat it again. Instead of classical location of sub pixels red, green, blue PenTile adopts another order Ц red, green, blue, green. Green sub pixels are two times smaller than red and blue, so the color scheme remains the same. It seems quite normal, but due to asymmetrical color grid the reproduction of horizontal and vertical lines has been changed dramatically. If you compare screens in Atrix and Milestone the difference will be quite obvious. It is especially visible if you look at the green battery charge icon in the top status bar. It contains green checkerboard squares, which could have been avoided with the help of a traditional approach.
Fonts on an Artix screen look a bit "rough" in comparison with traditional displays, but higher resolution and bigger screen do the trick and the difference is not that vital.
Sometimes fonts can turn into a mess, which can be easily spotted, especially if the background is, let's say, yellow.
This is caused by PenTile technology and it can also be observed on numerous AMOLED or SuperAMOLED screens (Samsung Galaxy, Galaxy S, Wave, HTC Nexus One, etc). Viewing angles are in line with the current market tendencies and we have no complaints whatsoever. Colors inverting is marginal and the brightness is also enough for any light conditions. The latter parameter is on par with iPhone 4. We should separately mention erroneous colors reproduction. A color scale is slightly out of position, which is clearly seen on screen pictures (screen shots are not a good indicator, because the distortions are caused by the screen itself). On our sample the yellow color is definitely displayed differently from a traditional approach. We get a muddy yellow with a tinge of green. The same applies to other colors. After several days the disadvantage becomes less obvious and during intensive use you will not pay attention to it at all. If you own an Atrix the difference will be visible only if you compare it with similar models.
A typical feature of Motorola models for the US market is the presence of the MotoBlur shell predominantly aimed at social networks and services. During the first run you will be offered to open an account in MotoBlur. This step cannot be avoided. The following social services are available to be added: MySpace, Facebook, Last.fm, Twitter, Email, Corporate Sync, Picasa, Photobucket, LinkedIn, Yahoo! Mail. Alternatively, we can add Gmail only.
Apart from altering standard apps (we are going to mention it later), proprietary widgets were added as well.
Despite the presence of a dedicated Android widget for wireless networks Motorola came up with their own one featuring following modes: Flights, Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi. Their advantage is in boosted size and separate nature.
There is also a calendar widget, which can be scaled in distinction from current Android widgets. It can take one line or the entire free area of the desktop. The same applies to other widgets. For example, a standard sized contact widget has two slots for a number dialing, SMS, e-mail, messengers and social networks. Drag to take up the entire screen and the number of slots increases to eight. If you wish a quick access to all communications with particular contacts can be set.
The widget of date and time can take up one slot (for time display only) or 16. In the maximum dimensions you can also enter date, month, day of the week and calendar. The messages widget can display not only incoming SMS, but your messages from Facebook and Twitter. If you wish the name of the widget can be changed to, let's say, Twitter and it will display only the information from this social service.
News from RSS feeds can be shown on the desktop courtesy of an appropriate widget. You can locate there several widgets with the subscription for different feeds and give them convenient titles. When you click such a widget a pop-up window appears to access detailed information and the link to the source.
A photo widget is almost a carbon copy of the standard Android offering, but it also provides an additional feature of scaling. Picture Frame Puls is a much more intriguing widget. Apart from displaying the picture it has buttons to start a camera, go to the gallery or initiate the slideshow on the desktop.
Unsurprisingly, we have a social networks widget, which shows the body of the message alongside with the avatar of the sender. If you click on the latter a pop-up window will appear to answer the sender, add the message to the favorites or retweet
To update the status in social networks use a handy wizard. Click on it to go to the window where you select services for status update. Notes widget deserves special mentioning. It is a simple and useful instrument for everyday use. Its size can be customized depending on your needs. The headline and the color of the note can be easily altered. From my point of view it is the most beautiful and appropriate tool in this market segment.
On the other hand the weather widget is not so useful and informative. Additionally its maximum size is limited to four slots on the desktop. If clicked on a window with additional information appears though.
All in all I got a positive feeling from the implementation of widgets by Motorola. I could not adapt first due to their feature rich character, but after some time I managed to get adjusted. The main attraction here is again scaling, simplicity and clear design. Sadly, these widgets are not available from the Market, but I advise you to try them.
Now let's mention interface changes. The first thing you notice is the changed icons for various standard apps. To my mind it is even better that Motorola customizes the interface on this level too as the standard widgets look boring.
The second point is the bottom screen keys: dialer, menu and contacts. When you browse screens they are turned into the bar of seven desktops. Their representation is the most successful among all available shells at the moment. The dialer has three more sections: calls history, contacts and favorite contacts.
There are no dramatic changes here, but the calls history is more attractive this time around. Apart from the avatar and the name of the caller you see a number in question, its type (home, mobile and so on), time, date and the call duration. On the right there is a phone receiver picture, which must be clicked to start dialing. If you wish the list can be filtered (all calls, missed, received and outgoing). Contacts look simplified here and we will discuss them in a separate paragraph. The list of favorite contacts is generated automatically depending on your activity.
The contacts list is quite ordinary and is hardly any different from the standard Android contacts list.
If you scroll the list to the left you get to the call and message log.
Scrolling to the right will get you to the feeds of your contacts from social networks.
When you select a contact at the top you see the contact's latest tweet, Facebook message etc. Below you see the list of the contact's phone numbers with call button, new message icon, email, logins to messaging clients and social networks from which you can immediately jump to writing a new message or to the contact's profile page. Here you can also view the address, homepage and the birthday. You can merge contact entries in case you have doubles.
Scrolling to the left and to the right gets you to the call log and social networks activity of the single selected contact.
This menu displays shortcuts to your SMS, social networks accounts and email. The Universal Inbox icon stands for a unified client for all your accounts.
I want to make a not here: the American version misinterprets SMS encryption and USSD requests so they are displayed incorrectly. I recommend installing Handcent SMS as a remedy for SMS. As for USSD Ц I have not been able to crack this problem so far.
The preinstalled file manager features basic functionality. You can browse the phone memory and the memory card. You can create folders, select multiple items, move and delete items. You can also copy, rename and configure access and info display settings for a single file or folder. You can view items as a grid (3xX), sort items by name, type, by the time created/last modified and the size. Items with specified access settings are grouped in dedicated folders.
The task manger has a basic functionality and a rather slow performance. It displays CPU and RAM usage for running applications. You can select multiple items and either end them or add to the Auto End list; you can also uninstall applications from here.
It is a more functional and informative analogue of the DLNA application. Here you can select the device type you can connect Atrix to (PC, network storage device, phone, TV, gaming console). After choosing the connection type you are prompted to select an action: sync data, copy or open it.
You might know this application from Motorola Milestone. I love it because it starts automatically. That is, when the phone is within range of the home Wi-Fi network your PC automatically starts the service Ц you do not need to do anything: you can immediately view your contacts, SMS, photos and copy them via your browser Ц very handy.
There is a bunch of changes worth mentioning.
You can now adjust the performance of the noise-cancelling function (on, normal, and high noise-cancelling).
In the Data Manager menu you can adjust the work of the automatic update including for social networks clients.
In the security settings you can now tweak the fingerprint scanner.
You can assign any action for the double click of the Home button Ц open browser, contacts, email, maps and so on.
The battery manager how features battery saver function that can adjust the data updates frequency and their time as well as the screen brightness.
All in all, MotoBlur leaves a good impression. The widgets are more convenient than the standard ones, the preinstalled file manager and the task manager are up to their job for an average consumer. The Phone Portal and Entertainment Center services turn out to be very handy and useful. The downer here is the system requirements Ц naturally, the dual0core NVIDIA processor easily handles it but I bet the battery life would be significantly longer without it.
Let's start from the preinstalled content. There are few applications like AT&T Navigation, bar code scanner etc. All of this I managed to uninstall by using normal procedures (without root access). We find a few changes in the settings either: you cannot sort the list of contacts by the last name which I think is a downer. Also, in the settings you cannot switch to "2 only" or "3G only". The phone automatically connects to the third generation networks. You can fix this by entering *#*#4636#*#* in the dial mode, then press Phone Information, scroll down and in the drop-down menu Set preferred network type choose GSM only (PRL).
You won't be able to download certain applications (mainly music and video downloaders) from the Market unless you unlock the phone. You won't be able to install applications from the phone memory unless you get root access and by means of a third party software fix it
Atrix uses the standard Android 2.2 music player as the default player. You can arrange your music by artist, album or track names. There such functions as Random and Shuffle and a number of equalizers both for headphones and the speaker. There are also a bunch of volume effects.
In the first glance I told you that Atrix has a poorer sound quality than iPhone and I was wrong. Ilya Tarakanov, our "sound chief" helped me with reviewing the sound quality of Atrix. So, according to Ilya, Atrix provides an excellent panorama Ц far better than competitors. There is a bunch of sound enhancers that cannot be turned off. The lower range is a bit elevated; the bass is soft which negatively affects fast music. The high range is somewhat too bright. But all in all, and I'm quoting Ilya this sound will satisfy most users. The corollary is simple Ц Atrix sounds better than any other phone on the market (including iPhone). And if this is thanks to the NVIDIA processor than LG Optimus 2X will have the same sound quality.
The phone supports all the basic DivX\Xvid codecs and the processor is more than capable of playing FullHD video so in most cases you won't have any problems with playback. However, the preinstalled player has a rather limited functionality. There is the play/pause button, the seek bar and info on the video and that's it. It's not a big deal since there are plenty of free players in the app store that will satisfy most users.
I must say that cameras have always been Motorola's weakness except for Motorola MOTOZINE ZN5 which was developed in partnership with Kodak. As you might have guessed the history repeats itself in Atrix and the camera has a rather mediocre picture quality: a lot of digital noise, poor color gamma and the flash tends to overexpose the object close to the camera.
The camera capabilities are quite basic. There are six scene modes available:
You can switch to the front camera or the video mode in the settings quick access panel. By pressing the menu button you can view the full list of settings. The following resolution is available:
You can set up automatic upload of your videos to a number of services. You can set the picture preview time to: none, 2, 4, 6 seconds. You can save your videos either to the phone memory or the memory card and turn the shutter sound off.
The video quality is on a par with photo quality. The camera is slow to react to changing lighting. The video and picture quality is dramatically worse as compared to iPhone 4.
Three modes are available:
The available effects are the same as for photos. The flash can work as a torchlight when you shoot a video.
The front camera resolution is only 640x480 so the video quality of the front camera is VGA.
The phone uses a 1GHz dual-core Cortex A9 processor NVIDIA Tegra 2 which is capable of FullHD playback on the fly. The 3D potential of this hardware will be realized through new games developed specially for Tegra 2. There are 5-6 applications already available with interesting but not yet satisfying graphics.
Judging by synthetic tests the performance of the NVIDIA platform is almost two times higher than other top Androids on the market.
When the OS is updated to Android 2.3 (which also does not support dual-core processors) the phone will receive a performance boost and extra functionality. But I would like to tell you my impressions of the performance.
The interface works much faster: scrolling through lists is much smoother (as compared to HTC Desire), games and applications are also loaded much faster. The browser works great Ц you can play flash games. Of course, you should try Tegra Zone apps. However, there is a downer Ц sometimes (rather seldom) it takes 4-5 seconds for the browser to start. I am sure it is a glitch of the firmware and I am sure it will be fixed soon. This was the only problem I could find, as for the rest, the performance is fantastic.
The American version of the phone is not very different from the European and works fine within Moscow 3G networks. The following standards are supported: Bluetooth 2.1+EDR. WCDMA 850/1900/2100, GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSDPA. 14Mbps (Category 10) Edge Class 12, GPRS Class 12, eCompass, AGPS. The phone also works fine in 2G networks GPRS and EDGE.
Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n) Ц the Wi-FI module works fine. The phone automatically connects to available networks. You can adjust the Wi-Fi mode when the phone enters the sleep mode.
The phone can work as a router and supports connection of up to five devices.
Motorola seems to have dropped the MOTONAV application that we saw in Milestone. The functionality of the Google maos is regular and is not any different from other Android 2.2 phones.
You can find more advanced navigation apps in the app store.
The number one competitor is LG Optimus 2X. This phone is built on exactly the same NVIDIA platform thus its performance is similar to Atrix. The screen similarly sized only the resolution is 480x800. The phone has only 8GB of inbuit storage space and only two thirds are available but there is a microSD slot. The main camera is 8MPix, the front camera is 1.3Mpix, FullHD video recording is supported. The battery has the capacity of 1500mAh which means a shorter lifetime.
The second competitor is also impressive Ц Samsung Galaxy S II. It has a SuperAMOLED screen (without PenTile), a 4.27" screen and the resolution of 480x800. It is shipped with 16 or 32GB of storage and it does not have a microSD slot. The main camera is 8MPix, the front camera Ц 2MPix. FullHD video recording. It has Android 2.3 out of box. The capacity of the battery is 1650 mAh.
With such a capacity the battery demonstrates record performance as compared to other Androids. At a normal workload the phone can work two days on a single charge. During the test the workload was very significant and other phones like HTC Desire, Desire Z could last only 10 hours. I often had to turn data transfer off to make to the electric socket. While with Atrix it is a different story Ц the phone makes it through a day with at least 20% charge left. Even with my excruciating workload the phone can work a whole day Ц an excellent result you are unlikely to see in any other phone. You can increase the battery life time by adjusting the energy saving options which will turn data transfer off on schedule and adjust the screen brightness.
Firstly, let's consider the strong points of the phone. One of them is, of course, the NVIDIA Tegra 2 platform. One of the longest lasting batteries among similar gadgets ensures the longest life time on a single charge. I think this is one of the biggest advantages of this phone. The fingerprint scanner, I believe, is more convenient than a four character PIN code but most users won't use it anyway. Also, 16GB of phone memory and a microSD card slot with the total maximum storage space of 42GB. The Entertainment Center mode proved to be handy with a TV Ц you can use your phone as a video player. And, of course, a unique set of accessories Ц mice and keyboards, dock stations including the remarkable Laptop Dock.
The screen is not a strong point of this phone despite its resolution. But the voice quality and reception strength are traditionally Motorola's strong points Ц no problems here only first class quality. The volume of the call speaker is sufficient with a margin. The ring speaker is also loud enough and similar to that in Motorola Milestone. I will also add Phone Portal to the strong points since this service is really very handy. And the music playback quality Ц Motorola Atrix is the best phone today in terms of the sound quality.
The weak points. I think the minimalism of the body, lack of metal, the screen, problems with SMS and USSD requests. If the quality of the screen is not critical for you this phone is worth purchasing Ц it is a real quality product.
Despite all the downers Atrix is a unique phone on the market that creates a new phenomenon, new phone use scenarios as a PC. I have no doubts that sooner or later other manufacturers will offer similar products and probably make them better but Motorola will remain the pioneer of this field.
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Published 18 April 2011
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