17 months ago, the idea of a smartphone’s capabilities changed with the introduction of the Motorola Atrix 4G at CES, a premium device on AT&T’s “4G” HSPA+ network. The original device is one that holds a special place in my heart because it is the single smartphone that swooned me into the world of Android. Pegged as a revolutionary all-in-one device, the Atrix 4G included features like the Tegra 2 dual-core processor, fingerprint sensor and the WebTop accessory– which allowed owners to essentially eliminate the need for a laptop. Within the same year, Motorola introduced the Atrix 2, which boasted items like a TI-OMAP dual-core processor, 8MP camera and WebTop support that gave AT&T customers not one, but two appealing high-end Motorola devices to choose from in the 2011 calendar year. As appealing as the Atrix 4G and Atrix 2 have been, times change rather quickly and with the arrival of Spring 2012, both devices have quickly been surpassed by several high-end devices released in the last 3 or 4 months such as the resounding HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III smartphones. Each of those devices were released with immediate fanfare and success as they have again raised the bar for Android smartphones that feature incredible displays, impressive cameras and Android 4.0 among the noteworthy features. But what about Motorola? How can one of the world’s largest Android manufacturers sit idle and allow its competitors to literally snatch the dollars from consumers’ wallets?
Well, Motorola finally figured out it needed to get its act together and offer up a “modern” smartphone for 2012. Don’t forget Motorola’s strategy: it pledged to focus on the quality of existing devices— not bombard consumers with a ton of devices in a single calendar year. That’s a novel idea and all, but HTC and Samsung seemed to develop their now flagship devices months in advance, while Motorola seemed to sit and watch how everything unfolded and rely on the success of its existing phones like the Atrix series. Realizing it was quickly falling behind, Motorola saw the success of the DROID RAZR smartphone on Verizon’s network and came up with a new strategy for the Atrix line on AT&T’s network. Instead of developing a brand new smartphone, it looks like Motorola brought elements of the original DROID RAZR, but included up-to-date amenities such as a Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor, 720p display, an improved 8MP camera, 4G LTE radio and Android 4.0. So how does all this fare? Does Motorola’s new strategy result in an appealing option for AT&T customers? Read on to find out in this review.
Many of you may have read our initial hands-on review of the Atrix HD and had a sense of déjà vu, which is completely understandable. To the untrained eye, the device features a general likeness to the DROID RAZR. However, when looking a little deeper you’ll find some noteworthy differences. The Atrix HD has a high-end type of plastic that covers the device, but unlike the DROID RAZR’s squared or somewhat boxy corners, the Atrix HD is much smoother around the device and has rounded corners. There are no physical keys on the front of the device, so it’s all virtual buttons on this bad boy. In addition, you’ll find the clear-coated glass which contains the 4.5-inch screen that’s surrounded by the bezel. Speaking of the bezel— Motorola left a sour taste in my mouth by using up too much real estate on the front of the device by including an oversized bezel. It’s not far-fetched to believe Motorola could have easily achieved an even bigger screen by reducing the bezel. The matters are made worse with AT&T’s decision to include a fairly large logo at the bottom of the screen. The original Atrix 4G has it’s logo on the back of the device and the Atrix 2 has a minimal logo at the bottom of the smartphone, so it was quite unusual for Motorola to include an intrusive AT&T logo at the bottom of the bezel on the smartphone.
That minor annoyance aside, the rest of the phone’s design is appealing for the most part. It comes in at 8.4mm in total thickness. While that is heavier than the DROID RAZR, it feels incredibly light yet sturdy in your hands. Like most modern smartphones, the Atrix HD is definitely easy on your hands, yet doesn’t feel flimsy in the least bit. I suspect most of the 8.4mm in size comes from the “hump” at the top of the smartphone, which contains the 8MP camera as well as the non-removable 1,780mAh battery. The Atrix HD also features a heavy dose of Kevlar coating on the back which offers a nice feel and grip on the device, but is definitely a fingerprint and smudge magnet. To the bottom left side of the device are the microSD and microSIM slots which are fairly easy to open, but difficult it was difficult to insert the cards secure into the terminals since I have big hands. To the top right-hand corner are the power buttons and volume rocker buttons which are fairly easy to access when needed. To the top of the device are the HDMI-out and microUSB-out slots, which I would have personally preferred on the side or bottom of the device. Something I noticed missing immediately was a dedicated camera button, though I quickly understood why it was left out after using the phone more and more.
While the original Atrix 4G has a dual-core Tegra 2 chip and the Atrix 2 features a TI-OMAP chip, the Atrix HD features what some could argue as high-end features. For starters, it has a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor– the exact same processor found in the U.S versions of the One X and Galaxy S III flagship devices. The speedy chip is accompanied by an ample 1GB of RAM, 8MP rear camera with 1080p video and 1.3MP front-facing camera with 720p recording, WiFi Direct (though there’s the strange absence of NFC) and 8GB of on-board storage. Something I have complained about in the past is the alarming rise of meagre amounts of on-board storage found in newer smartphones. However, the Atrix HD does manage to keep up or even improve on competitive devices on AT&T’s network. The Atrix HD features expandable memory via a microSD slot. So while the Galaxy S III comes in a 32GB option and the ability to expand memory even further, the HTC One X features 16GB of on-board storage, with no microSD slot. That means the Atrix HD could hypothetically have up to 40GB of total storage (8GB of internal memory + 32GB of expandable memory), compared to the One X that is only given 16GB of on-board memory. And don’t forget, all of the “premium” features available in the Atrix HD adds up to a cost that is far less than the similarly-spec’d HTC One X, which might be pretty appealing to a vast array of customers.
The display is where the real heart and soul of the device lies. As mentioned before, the device features a 4.5-inch screen with “ColorBoost” technology that puts it right on par with other premium devices available on AT&T’s network. You can see right off the bat Motorola and AT&T decided to rid the Atrix brand of the familiar qHD displays. The end result is the Atrix HD featuring vivid colors and sharp texts on its new screen. This is due to the fact the Atrix HD features a 1280 x 720p, non-PenTile display. Moreover, the device has an astounding pixel density of 326 pixels per inch (ppi), which puts it right on par with Apple’s iPhone 4S in terms of the incredible level of detail seen on the screen. To further elaborate the Atrix HD’s high ppi count, when you zoom in on text or photo details on the Atrix HD’s screen, you won’t find a single trace of pixelation on the screen. This is complimented by great viewing angles, even in direct sunlight. Let me reiterate this again: you don’t see a single trace of pixelation on the device’s screen. Simply put, the Atrix HD’s display is in the same class as other premium devices like the One X and Galaxy S III’s display.
If there’s one negative to the display– it’s easily attributed to the again the design of the device. The Atrix HD could easily have increased the resolution of the display, even if it was minimal by reducing the intrusive bezel. At least on-screen virtual buttons don’t take up too much space which allows for a greater amount of content to be displayed on the device at once.
The software is the second-most noteworthy feature of the smartphone. This is Motorola’s first device to be shipped with Android 4.0 here in the States, regardless of carrier, so it’s only natural we spend some time talking about it. If you recall Rob Nazarian’s brief walkthrough of Motorola’s rendition of Ice Cream Sandwich on the DROID RAZR MAXX, you’ll remember he praised Motorola’s decision to keep the skinning to an absolute minimum— an act that is also seen here in the Atrix HD. While there are still some familiar elements of Motorola’s controversial BLUR UI like the contact widgets, the overall feel of ICS here feels stock. In fact— I’d argue that the phone is just about in stock form, the minor differences are minimal like the different icons used for apps such as the camera and email apps for example. Otherwise, users can look forward to the stock features such as the default lock screen, which allows you to open up various apps like your camera, phone book or messaging app in addition to unlocking your screen.
To distinguish itself, Motorola has included some of goodies that makes customizing the phone a breeze. The first item to note is the excellent Smart Actions app, which allows the phone to literally adjust itself depending on its location. This means that if you’re at home, the phone can automatically change the volume level on its ringer or even assign a default ringtone. Conversely, if you’re at the office or driving, the phone will adjust itself to turn off the ringer as well as send an automated text indicating you’re unavailable to speak or respond. The second item is on the content on the actual homescreen. Upon powering the smartphone for the first time, it’s quickly noted there’s only one default screen initially though, you can add multiple homescreens and include whatever content you might deem suitable for your needs. And of course, the last noteworthy item is Motorola’s Motocast, which gives users easy access to pictures, files, and videos from one’s home or office computer, while also streaming video as well.
And yes— the device comes with the usual assortment of AT&T bloatware, but fortunately most of the apps can be either hidden or removed completely from the device.
The device features a 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 dual-core chip, so you know it’s going to be snappy and fluid for everyday users. The device is definitely responsive and there were minimal hints or instances of slowdown. The average user may or may not care about benchmarks, but here are some benchmark scores that the Atrix HD achieved after our testing and general use of the device:
- Antutu – 6,011 (in comparison, the HTC One X scored a 6,772 during our testing)
- Vellamo – 2,322
- Quadrant – 4,856
As you can see, the device is no slouch when it goes head-to-head with the other big boys, the Galaxy S III and One X smartphones. However, the average consumer doesn’t care about benchmarks— all they care about is the fact the phone is responsive and speedy and the Atrix HD certainly does deliver.
The Atrix HD’s battery life is something that surprised even us here at Talk Android considering Motorola’s astounding pedigree. As you read earlier, the Atrix HD features a non-removable 1,780mAh battery. By comparison even the Atrix 4G had a bigger battery pack that was at least removable, so it was certainly a gamble by Motorola to decide to go the DROID RAZR route and include a non-removable battery. The result is nothing short of shocking— and not in a good way either. While mostly idle, the device lasted well over 15 to 16 hours, which is decent for the most part. But let’s face it, you’re not going to buy a phone just to let it sit idle. During my average day to day use out here in the NYC metro area, a fully charged battery at 7:00am would deplete to around 70 to 80 percent by late morning. This is shocking because of the fact that yes, the device latched onto a 4G LTE signal to push various tweets, emails and status or news updates— but the device screen was hardly on during that time and the notifications were mostly in the background. By the evening time (6:00pm or so), I found the device would be completely depleted and I would need to spend about 3 or 3.5 hours to fully charge the device again.
To confirm the Atrix HD’s poor battery life, Rob Nazarian did a standard continuous video rundown test using a 4G HSPA+ signal with the device’s screen at two-thirds of brightness. He was only able to manage an operating time of only 4 hours and 45 minutes, so the time would be roughly half if connected to an LTE signal. Motorola definitely dropped the ball on the Atrix HD’s battery life and should have perhaps spent more time optimizing the software and/or the display in order to get maximum efficiency with the device’s battery. It’s recommended that prospective owners of the device will keep a spare charger nearby if they plan on using the device on a regular basis.
The Atrix HD utilizes AT&T’s fairly new 4G LTE network. While the device does enjoy a 4G LTE signal, the speeds were average at best– nothing to go crazy about during our time spent with the device. Our use of the device was mostly in the New York City area. In case you’re not familiar— New York City by itself has a population of well over 8 million, while the metro has a population upwards of 19 million. That dense of a population means the speeds of AT&T’s 4G network would be greatly reduced when compared to other metros around the country. During off-peak hours, the Atrix HD occasionally got speeds of around 11 to 12Mbps download and 1.5 to 2Mbps upload. However, during peak hours— and I’m talking about from 7:00am to 7:00pm— the Atrix HD averaged around 6Mbps to 9Mbps download and 1Mbps to 1.5Mbps upload. Of course there are some instances where I saw faster speeds in areas like Brooklyn or Essex County, New Jersey compared to Manhattan, but the fact of the matter is I hardly saw noticeable improvements on AT&T’s LTE speeds on the Atrix HD compared to its HSPA+ speeds on the Atrix 4G.
On the flipside, call quality was terrific on the Atrix HD. That means the sound was crystal clear. There was no trace of static or hissing sounds when on a call either to your ear or on speaker. Motorola also included a noise-cancelling mic which also worked impressively well as those I spoke to were not able to hear too much distracting background noise.
This is another area in which the Atrix HD somewhat disappoints. The phone features an 8MP camera that’s capable of capturing full 1080p HD video, which sounds enticing and attractive to the average consumer. However, when taking a photo– you’ll quickly find that the camera is average at best. Many of the photos that were taken suffered from bad distortion— i.e. blues that appeared blue-greyish or over-exaggerated brightness in the colors. It looks as if Motorola didn’t spend much energy trying to optimize either the camera sensor or the various settings in the camera app as features like the image sizer are missing and would have been welcomed by even average smartphone users.
Fortunately, Motorola did redeem itself somewhat with its video settings. The colors are still a bit dull and the frame rate tends to drop at times, but the overall video quality will suffice for the average consumer— especially both Motorola’s and AT&T’s mid-range target customers. In addition to being able to record full 1080p HD video at 30fps, Motorola came through by including some what looks to be automatic focus included in the app. That means as you’re recording video, users won’t need to worry about having blurred or out-of-focus video. There’s also the ability to take full size 8MP snapshots as you’re recording video— so the Atrix HD is comparable to other top-end smartphones in that regard. So on that note— in keeping in mind that Motorola wanted to keep the overall costs of the phone down, it had to put more focus in other areas like the processor and display. Still— it’s certainly not unreasonable to imagine Motorola could have at least tweaked the software a bit more in order to get better picture quality.
Here’s a sample video in full 1080p taken from the Atrix HD’s video camcorder function:
- Gorgeous 720p screen featuring rich colors and impressive details
- MotoCast and Smart Actions takes productivity to another level
- Near-stock Android 4.0.4 software
- Snappy performance and responsiveness
- $99 price point brings high-end features to a wider window of AT&T customers
- Horrendous battery life– even for moderate daily use
- Lacks NFC
- Camera and camera software are disappointing, especially compared to the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III
- Only 8GB on on-board storage, though the total memory is expandable via microSD
So how does one classify the Motorola Atrix HD smartphone? It has premium items like a fast processor, 720p display and the latest Android software, so that should hypothetically place it into the higher-end category. Yet is priced under $100, which clearly places the Atrix HD more into the mid-range category. The problem with this is that it’s painfully obvious that the phone is missing certain details that would really position it to compete with other flagship smartphones such as it’s average camera function, its disappointing battery life and no WebTop support— though one would imagine that the absence almost certainly signals Motorola’s intention to phase out the lackluster accessory. Still, the Atrix HD gives so much value to AT&T customers looking to upgrade their smartphones. If you can afford to get a phone with more pizazz, do yourself a favor and splurge on the Galaxy S III or One X smartphones. However, if you are looking to get the most out of a mid-range phone or just want to save as much money as possible, you can’t go wrong with the Atrix HD—especially for those of you who have been longing for the DROID RAZR on Ma Bell’s network. It’s easily the best sub-$100 phone on AT&T’s network. Heck, it might be the best sub-$100 phone around— regardless of the wireless carrier.