Tech Flash – Motorola Atrix
Welcome to the inaugural technology flash review. In this weekly review segment I will look at the high and low points of a product or service. Without further ado I introduce this week’s candidate for the flash review: the Motorola Atrix 4G.
The Atrix 4G, the latest smartphone offering from Motorola, was released in Canada on March 17th and continues to be one of the strongest smartphones available on the market. It launched exclusively to Bell who has been working to build and promote its new 4G network in Canada. An impressive piece of hardware with such attachments as a laptop docking station which converts the Atrix into a fully functional laptop system, this piece of hardware is ahead of its time.
The hardware designers definitely had performance and hardware longevity in mind when designing the Atrix. Sporting a 4 inch, 540×960 pixel touch screen, a fingerprint reader and rear and front cameras, this device has all the luxuries we’ve come to expect from a high end smartphone and more. The impressive features don’t end there as its internals are ready to power whatever game or application currently available in the marketplace.
The Atrix sports an nVidia Tegra 2 GPU for incredible 3D graphics performance in games with very low power consumption. The CPU is a ARM Cortex-9 dual core processor running at 1GHz. To meet the requirements for power hungry applications, this killer CPU/GPU combo is matched with 1GB of available RAM, about double what was currently available on the market at the time of release. The Bell version of the phone came with essentially a nice tech demo of the performance called Asphalt 5, a racing game that shows off the graphical capabilities as well as the finely sensitive gyroscope.
A place where smartphones often seem to let me down is the provided internal storage and expandability options. Motorola did not disappoint, with an acceptable 16GB of onboard flash storage with a microSD HC expansion card slot capable of supporting up to an additional 32GB of storage space. Some of the initial 16GB is required for the Android operating system and preinstalled apps from Bell. This storage will become necessary quickly as I found since the phone can shoot 720p HD video and is capable of transmitting 1080p video via its mini HDMI connector.
Originally shipping with Android 2.2, the phone has since seen two updates to 2.2.1 and finally 2.2.2. Both were primarily bug fixes for touch screen sensitivity and network connectivity issues that will be discussed shortly. It was announced for AT&T and for Bell that we will hopefully be seeing Android 2.3 this fall running on the phone and potentially Android 2.4, which is where the phone will finally be unlocked. Currently Android is not optimized for multi-core phones, so while they do offer greater performance, there are still gains to be had through tuning.
Physically the phone is very solid; they did not waste a millimeter of space when designing this phone. It is thin and relatively light and for such a high performance phone the battery life is surprisingly good. Between charges I can manage about 3 days of light use or 2 days of heavy use. Compared to my HTC Dream which had issues holding a charge for much more than a day the Atrix was a welcome upgrade. Granted I am in a high availability area with plenty of strong signal coverage, so your mileage may vary in low or no signal areas as it has to try and seek for a network.
In software there were some serious issues prior to the Android 2.2.2 update made available last month. The latest update still has some network speed performance issues from my perspective as even on off peak usage periods, the phone can only average about 3.5Mbps downlink and 1.5Mbps uplink speed. The 2.2.1 release fixed some usability issues with the MOTOBLUR widgets on the home screen as well as at least a perceived improvement in touch screen responsiveness; however it introduced network connectivity issues where the phone would completely lose its data connection, requiring a complete phone reboot. The good news is that with 2.2.2 out and 2.3 on the way, these issues should be gone for good.
As for the MOTOBLUR and Webtop applications, both are quite solid but definitely subjective to taste. The main complaint is that they are relatively inflexible in comparison with the smooth feeling of Android feeling in some cases as more of an afterthought. The real issue though is that you are unable to remove stock applications and thus cannot remove the MOTOBLUR application components or for that matter the default applications that come installed by Bell without rooting the phone.
In short, I feel that the Motorola Atrix is a solid phone that is definitely a next generation device. Many devices coming out in the following year will still be playing catch up with this device and since Android is a multi-device platform, developers still have to design software to work on a wide variety of phones, meaning that applications will perform very well for the foreseeable future. Since the Android 2.2.2 update, the software is stable and performance is consistent. I would recommend this phone to any geek looking for performance that few phones can match and hacking edge that only Android delivers.