The original Motorola Atrix 4G helped kickstart the superphone resolution by being among the first handsets to sport a dual-core processor. The device also stood out because it could plug into a laptop dock, letting users surf the full web using Motorola's webtop software. The Motorola Atrix 2 ups the ante with a bigger and more vibrant display than its predecessor (4.3 inches vs 4 inches) and a sharper 8-megapixel camera (up from 5-MP). Motorola also offers a redesigned Lapdock with a better keyboard. At $99, the Atrix 2 is certainly affordable, giving the iPhone 4 a run for its money for AT&T customers. Read on to find out how just how satisfying this sequel is.
Yep, it's a black slab with a screen dominating the front, but the Atrix 2 has a little flair. A small chrome speaker grille and dark chrome trim lends the device some elegance, while a texturized rubber-coated back makes the Atrix very comfortable to hold. Gone, though, is the fingerprint reader from the Atrix, which we thought an innovative security feature.
Measuring 4.96 x 2.59 x 0.4 Inches and weighing 5.2 ounces, the Atrix 2 is a bit bigger than the original, but that's because it's sporting a larger 4.3-inch display, as opposed to the 4-inch panel on the Atrix. More or less the same size as the Samsung Galaxy S II, the Atrix 2 weighs about an ounce more, but doesn't feel bulky. The added heft made it feel more substantial.
The back of the phone has an 8-megapixel camera with flash, while a microUSB and microHDMI port are on the lower left edge. The top has the power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the left edge has volume controls and a camera button--a feature that should be on every phone.
The Atrix 2's 4.3-inch qHD (960 x 540) display is one of the best and brightest we've seen yet on a smartphone. Not only was text and movies crisp and highly detailed, but brilliant. The Avengers trailer streamed from YouTube was almost as good as watching it on a real notebook. In fact, the Atrix 2's display outshone that on its keyboard dock. Using an AEMC CA813 Lightmeter, we measured a brightness of 518 lux, which is nearly as bright as the iPhone 4S (549 lux) and more than twice as bright as the AT&T Galaxy S II (213 lux).
On the other hand, the S II's Super AMOLED Plus screen offered wider viewing angles and better contrast when we put the two devices side by side.
The single speaker on the back of the Atrix 2 kicked out a ton of sound while playing music or when using the device as a speakerphone. However, if the Atrix is lying on a desk, sound does get muffled.
Typing on the Atrix 2's virtual keyboard was easy, as the large display and light haptic feedback made entering letters and numbers a cinch. For those who prefer it, Swype is also offered as an input option, enabling you to trace a line between multiple letters for faster text entry.
Motorola has only lightly skinned the Android 2.3.5 OS with a few additions. You get five home screens, versus seven for the Galaxy S II. Pressing the home button shows them all in a thumbnail view. We like that you can resize widgets, such as Weather, Friendstream, and Gallery, and that they update with new updates and photos.
Motorola has tweaked the apps menu a bit. You scroll through them horizontally, rather than vertically, and you can group apps into different folders, accessed through a menu option in the upper left of the app menu. It's a nice addition, and we like that you can easily name the folders. However, we don't like that it takes an extra step to add app shortcuts to the homescreen; you press and hold an app, then click on Add to Home or Add to group.
Motorola swapped the Nvidia Tegra processor inside the Atrix 4G for a TI OMAP4430 CPU in the Atrix 2 and paired it with 1GB of ROM. As a result, the Atrix 2 returned good, but not great scores.
The Atrix 2's Linpack Multi-thread score of 64.8 was about 20 points below the Galaxy S II, and its Benchmark CPU score (2,863) was about 500 points less than the Galaxy S II. Still, the Atrix 2 outpaced its predecessor in the CPU test by nearly 500 points. The LG Thrill, which has the same 1-GHz TI OMAP 4430 processor, scored a slightly lower 2,611 on the same test.
On AN3DBench, the Atrix 2 notched 7,136, about 900 points higher than average and better than the Atrix 4G (6,305). However, the LG Thrill 4G notched 7,442, and the AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II beat the Atrix 2 by about 600 points.
Overall, the phone felt snappy when swiping through menus and playing games. But we did notice lag here and there, such as when going form the home screen to the app menu.
Among the apps pre-loaded on the Atrix 2 is Motorola's ZumoCast, which lets you stream multimedia from your home PC to your phone. While it works with both Macs and PCs, it's only accessible for the Atrix 2, Droid Bionic, and Droid 3. We had to install a client on our notebook as well and create a free account. We were then able to easily access the content on our notebook from our phone. However, we couldn't play video over the 4G network, only over Wi-Fi.
Motorola offers its own spin on the Android Gallery app. The top of the window shows a collage of photos, underneath which are five options: Camera roll, My Library, Online, Friends, and DLNA servers. My Library and Camera Roll are pretty much the same, just presented differently. Online links to your online albums in Picasa and Facebook (provided you've connected to those accounts), while Friends shows a list of your contacts and their albums.
The top of the Music app has CoverFlow-like panels with music-related news. Under the panels are options to show what's playing, My Library, Podcasts, Internet Radio, and FM Radio. We especially like the Podcast feature, which let us search for and subscribe to streams.
Other preinstalled apps include Let's Golf 2, Music Store, Qik Lite, QuickOffice, and Social Location, which lets you check in to stores and shops, and find local deals.
AT&T apps include FamilyMap, CodeScanner, Navigator, and LiveTV.
The 8-MP camera on the back of the Motorola Atrix 2 is capable of taking some truly stunning shots. A closeup of a rain-soaked rose showed wonderful levels of detail, and colors were vibrant, from the pink hues of the flower to the darker green of the leaves. The camera was also quick to snap a photo, certainly faster than the laggy Droid Bionic. We really like that the Atrix 2 sports a dedicated shutter button. Sometimes, though, the camera took a shot before it focused, resulting in a blurry image.
When compared with the Galaxy S II, the Atrix 2's photos were warmer, but lacked the same amount of crispness as on the Samsung device. We were able to see a much greater level of detail on buildings in the Manhattan skyline.
Full HD (1080p) video shot with the rear camera was also filled with detail, and the lens was able to adjust from light to dark fairly quickly. Here too, though, the Galaxy S II performed a bit better, exhibiting greater detail.
Using the front-facing camera, we could only perform video chat over Wi-Fi; Google Talk would not let us use the 4G network. Over the same network, though, the camera delivered warm-toned and detailed images. There was a touch of lag, but video and audio remained in sync for the most part.
4G and Web Surfing
The Atrix 2 rides on AT&T's 4G HSPA+ 21 Mbps (Category 14) network, but we saw dramatically different speeds just a few miles apart. In our office near Madison Square Park in New York, the Atrix 2 averaged download speeds of 2.7 Mbps and upload speeds of just 313 Kbps. That's pretty mediocre, but better than the original Atrix 4G (1.4 Mbps down, 290 up) and about the same as we saw with the Samsung Galaxy S II.
However, in Jersey City, we averaged downloads of 3.8 Mbps and uploads of 1.4 Mbps, maxing at 4.9 Mbps down and 1.6 Mbps up. Here, mobile sites for ESPN and the NYTimes loaded in an average of 7 and 6 seconds, respectively, while the full Laptopmag.com side loaded in an average of 16 seconds. All of these are good times, but they're slower than what Verizon's 4G LTE phones offer.
Like the Galaxy S II, the Atrix 2 can serve as a hotspot for up to five devices.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Phone calls on the Atrix 2 were generally very clear; a caller detected a slight bit of fuzziness, but it went away. We could hear them loud and clear as well.
Despite its bright display and smaller capacity battery (1785 mAh as opposed to 1930 mAh on the Atrix), the Atrix 2 lasted a respectable 6 hours and 51 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via 4G). That's about an hour and a half longer than the average Android phone, but about 50 minutes less than the Galaxy S II.
Where the Atrix' keyboard dock looked like it could be a precursor to an ultrabook, the Atrix 2's Lapdock 100 accessory ($299) looks more like an early netbook. Gone is the slick black design, island-style keyboard, and large touchpad. Instead is a silver plastic chassis with a black keyboard with traditional-style keys. You're also sacrificing some real estate: The original dock had an 11.6-inch display, and the newer dock has a 10-inch panel. Thankfully, its resolution remains the same, at 1366 x 768.
Measuring 10.5 x 9.2 x 1.2 inches at its thickest point, the newer dock has a slightly smaller footprint, but is thicker than the original Lapdock (11.2 x 9.4 x 0.6 inches). Its chunkier design can be attributed to the fact that it's slightly angled so that the keyboard is tilted towards the user. Weighing 2.2 pounds, the Lapdock 100 is 0.2 pounds lighter than its predecessor.
Despite the more antiquated look, we were able to type fairly comfortably on the Lapdock 100, as the keys has more travel than the original dock. We were bummed that the touchpad was considerably smaller, just 3 x 1.75 inches, as opposed to 3.9 x 2.2 inches on the original, but liked that two-finger scrolling is now enabled.
One of the drawbacks of the original Lapdock was that its design could only accommodate the Atrix. To get around this, the back of the Lapdock 100 uses a rubber cable that pops out the back of the dock, and plugs into the phone's microUSB and microHDMI ports. Then, the phone simply rests in a slot with a rubber bumper. While the Lapdock 100 can be used with the Atrix 2 as well as the Photon 4G and the Droid Bionic, it's far less elegant than the integrated prongs in the original dock.
Also on the back are two full size USB ports for connecting peripherals such as external mice.
As before, plugging the phone into the dock launches the webtop interface on the 10-inch display. Along the bottom are icons split into two groups. On the left half are Mobile View, Dialer, Contacts, Messaging, Music, and Gallery. On the right are icons for the File Manager, Webtop Apps (merely links to sites such as Pandora and Dropbox), Firefox, Facebook (another bookmark), and AT&T UVerse.
Using Webtop was pretty much the same experience as on the original Lapdock. It was nice being able to watch Hulu and YouTube videos as we would on a notebook, and were pleased that audio and video remained in sync even when streaming over 4G. However, when typing portions of this review in Google Docs, we noticed lag that went away when we switched to a Wi-Fi connection. A netbook this isn't. With just five tabs open in Firefox, we got a low memory warning.
Atrix 2 owners can also port their phone's content to a big screen using the $99 HD Station, which comes with three USB ports for plugging in a USB keyboard and mouse, as well as a media remote. Plugging the phone into this dock also brings up the Webtop interface automatically.
Plans and Pricing
Data plans for the Atrix 2 start at $15 per month for 200MB of data, and $39 per month for 450 minutes of talk time. Stepping up to 2GB of monthly data costs $25, and the 4GB DataPro plan costs $45 per month.
For $99, you're getting a lot in the Motorola Atrix 2: A brilliant qHD display, sharp 8-MP camera, and strong dual-core performance. No, the 4G speeds aren't blazing, but this smartphone offered faster downloads and uploads than its predecessor. If you're in the market for an Android smartphone in this price range, the $99 LG Thrill 4G for AT&T offers a unique 3D display, but it has a bulkier design. Bottom line: AT&T customers looking for a powerful Android phone at a great price should not hesitate to pick up the Atrix 2.