Motorola ATRIX 2 review

When BGR Editor-in-chief Jonathan Geller first reviewed the original Motorola ATRIX 4G in February, he called it “one of the best smartphones to ever be available from AT&T.” Now I have that phone’s successor, the Motorola ATRIX 2. It offers a few improvements over the original, including support for faster data speeds, a slightly larger display and a beefier camera. I’ve been using the ATRIX 2 and a number of its new accessories for a while now; is it as big of a deal as the original was? Can it compete with higher-end devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S II? Those questions and more are answered in my full review, which follows after the break.

Hardware

I was not a fan of the ATRIX 2 hardware design when I first took it out of the box, but the build has actually grown on me a bit. It is bulkier and heavier than the original ATRIX, but also feels more sturdy. The back is covered with a soft-touch rubber coating that looks cheap though, just like the back of the CLIQ XT did. The display measures 4.3-inches diagonally, which is larger than the original 4-inch screen on the first ATRIX, and it maintains the same ultra sharp 960 x 540-pixel qHD resolution.

Motorola decided to ditch the fingerprint reader on the original ATRIX and instead added a useful quick-launch camera key on the side of the phone. The back of the ATRIX 2 is home to an 8-megapixel camera capable of recording 1080p video, a step up from the 5-megapixel camera on the ATRIX 4G. The power button is in easy reach on the top right of the phone and is flanked to its lower-right by volume keys. The left side of the device is home to a microUSB port and a mini-HDMI port, and both are used to connect the phone to an optional media dock or lapdock. More on those later.

Under the hood the ATRIX 2 is powered by a 1GHz dual-core processor, not unlike the chip found in the original. There’s also a 2GB microSD card, 4GB of internal storage and 1GB of RAM. The 1GHz processor was beefy enough for moving around the operating system, but I wonder how much faster the phone could have been if Motorola had added a more modern 1.2GHz or 1.4GHz chipset.

Software

The ATRIX 2 runs Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread) and the dual-core 1GHz processor had no issue taking most tasks I threw at it. Generally, every movement was fluid and quick, and I rarely saw any lag on the phone. Motorola has ditched its traditional MOTOBLUR user interface, thankfully, and instead offers a number of custom widgets and icons that aren’t as in-your-face.

I absolutely cannot stand the browser icon, which is represented by an AT&T logo. It’s a small annoyance I suppose, but I can’t figure out why Motorola would branch away from a globe icon, which is a fairly universal browser logo. Good thing there are great third-party browser options like Dolphin Browser and Firefox to replace it.

There is plenty of AT&T bloatware installed, but a lot of it is easily removable. I love how I can just long-press any application in the main menu for a quick option to uninstall it from the phone — more Android devices need to follow suit. Motorola also added a DLNA app for sharing media with an HDTV or another DLNA-certified device. In addition, there’s a Phone Portal application for keeping data in sync with your PC via Wi-Fi or USB and a few other apps.

Call Quality / Data

Motorola gave the ATRIX 2 support for 21.1Mbps HSPA+ networks, an improvement over the 14.4Mbps support on the original ATRIX. In New York City, however, I couldn’t see a difference. AT&T’s HSPA+ “4G” speeds were mediocre on the upper east side and I averaged 1.53Mbps down and 1.51Mbps up. The ATRIX 2 also supports hotspot sharing option, which allows it to share its data connection with other Wi-Fi-enabled devices; it worked quite well for me when I used it to connect my laptop to the internet.

Calls placed on the ATRIX 2 were really, really crisp. I didn’t have any complaints from the few people I called and voices were fantastically clear on my end. When I switched to speakerphone the speaker was nice and loud as well, without much distortion, but my caller said she could tell I was using speakerphone and that I wasn’t speaking directly into the handset.

Camera

The ATRIX 2 camera took several solid photos, but the shots didn’t come out as well as they did on the Galaxy S II, which remains one of my favorite cell phone cameras to date. It takes a few seconds to auto-focus onto a subject and photos are usually washed out, lacking the eye-popping colors that better camera sensors offer. When I tried to take a picture of a car driving down the street, for example, the tail lights were the only part that ended up in my picture. Having just bought a new point and shoot camera, I can say I’d definitely still keep it around instead of relying on the ATRIX 2.

While I love the addition of a quick-launch camera key, the button on the ATRIX 2 is so stiff that when I pressed it to take a photo it often caused me to move the phone and blur the shot. In the end, I found myself using the camera key to launch the camera app and I used the on-screen shutter button to snap photos. 1080p videos taken with the ATRIX 2 looked fine when I played them back on my HDTV although, again, the colors looked a bit washed out.

Webtop

Motorola’s Webtop application separates Motorola’s ATRIX 2 and other Motorola smartphones apart from the competition. While most devices may provide an HDMI-out port, there isn’t much you can actually do with it. Sure, you can connect it to a TV to show off pictures or video from a recent vacation, but the experience is often lackluster.

Motorola’s Linux-based Webtop environment, however, allows you to plug the phone into a TV or a Lapdock accessory and actually surf the web in a full browser, access your applications and view them full-screen, manage your address book, send or receive/texts and emails and more. I loved sitting back and playing X-Construct on the ATRIX 2 with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse while sitting on my living room couch. Additionally, I enjoyed being able to stream my favorite television shows using Flash or Netflix on my big screen. It’s pretty incredible knowing that the ATRIX 2 is powering it all. The interface is still a bit sluggish, but I hope Motorola continues to build on the idea. I don’t think a new application store is necessary, I just wonder how much more powerful and useful Webtop could be with a few additional applications.

Accessories

There are a ton of accessories available for the ATRIX 2, and Motorola sent us most of them. The most noteworthy of the bunch is its new Lapdock 100 device, which serves as a netbook-style device that can be fully powered by the ATRIX 2. If you want a bigger screen, there’s also a Lapdock 500 accessory.

I understand the attraction to to these accessories but I haven’t found a viable use for them yet. Certainly a road warrior might like the option to draw up a presentation using the power of the ATRIX 2 and then pack the dock away and have everything readily available on the phone. Personally, I need a full powered notebook or at the very least a netbook.

In any case, the Lapdock 100 feels much more sturdy than the original, is a bit lighter and has a revamped touchpad with support for two-finger scrolling. The dock replaces the original phone dock with a stowaway wire that can plug into the back of any Webtop-enabled smartphone from Motorola. There’s a small area for tucking the phone into as well, so that it doesn’t fall if you get up and walk around with the accessory.

Motorola also passed along a new Media Dock, which is nearly identical to the original ATRIX dock, but it fits the larger form factor of the ATRIX 2. It easily connected to my television for displaying HD content or accessing the Webtop environment, although I preferred keeping it on my desk in its Desk Mode for easily viewing calendar events, the weather and more.

Battery Life

The ATRIX 2 has a 1,735 mAh battery, which is quite large. I was able to get through the better part of a day with a full charge using the ATRIX 2 as my primary phone. However, I left it on my bedside table with about a 50% charge when I went to sleep one night and woke up to find it completely dead. Most of the phones I’ve tested recently are quite good at idling, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with the ATRIX 2. Perhaps further testing will yield better results, but for now the battery life is somewhat unimpressive.

Final thoughts


The ATRIX 2 is a no brainer for $99 with a new AT&T contract. That said, it isn’t nearly as revolutionary or as exciting as the ATRIX 4G, which launched as one of the first dual-core smartphones and introduced Motorola’s unique Webtop experience.

The camera on the ATRIX 2, though updated, still leaves a lot to be desired. But otherwise, the hardware is solid, the call quality was excellent and the data speeds were satisfactory. I find the Lapdock accessy unnecessary but would probably splurge for the media center dock. And even though I didn’t find much use for the Lapdock, it’s still a good sign to see that Motorola is improving the accessory to address the shortcomings of the original model.

If you want to spend a bit more cash with AT&T, I would suggest buying either the Samsung Galaxy S II for $199.99 or the iPhone 4S, which starts at $199.99 as well. At its $99 price point, though, the ATRIX 2 is a fantastic phone.

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