The Motorola Atrix 4G is one of the best smartphones around, The New York Times' David Pogue and the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg wrote in recent reviews of the Android 2.2-running smartphone that AT&T will begin selling March 6. The thing about the Atrix 4G, though, is that it's hardly just a smartphone.
Motorola has hit on a dock theme-the Bedside Dock, GPS Dock-which recognizes and seeks to avoid, as Pogue explains it, that "you're buying the same components over and over again ... just so each device can perform identical functions in different situations."
The Atrix 4G is compatible, toward this end, with a Motorola Laptop Dock, sold separately or together at a discount, that looks like a black MacBook Air-brushed aluminum, 2.4 pounds, 11.6-inch display-but has no processor, memory or storage. The Atrix 4G clicks into the slot behind the faux-computer's screen, enabling users to enjoy a laptoplike experience using the smartphone's processor, memory and storage, as well as its 3G and WiFi connectivity.
When the phone is in the dock, the laptop screen mirrors the phone's screen-and all the buttons and icons seen on the screen are clickable with the dock's trackpad clicker. "It's wild: you actually see your phone in a window," writes Pogue. "All of the buttons and icons are clickable with the trackpad clicker. You can even make phone calls in this setup-the laptop becomes a speakerphone. It's a crazy, mind-blowing experience."
So, is phone-as-laptop's brain as good or simple a premise as phone-as-alarm-clock?
Pogue calls it "A powerful idea," adding that it means "first of all, that you don't have to sync anything. Everything lives on the phone; the laptop is simply a more convenient viewer."
Another perk is the laptop's always-on connectivity, since connectivity comes via the phone. Also, the dock offers 8 to 10 hours of battery life, since there's no processor draining it and-a third perk-it actually charges the phone while the phone is docked.
"I was even able to insert a flash drive into one of the dock's two USB ports and copy songs, photos, videos and documents into the phone's internal memory using the keyboard and touch pad," wrote Mossberg. "I edited and wrote text in an app called Quickoffice on the phone using the laptop dock's keyboard, and ran various other apps ... on the larger screen."
Both critics also raved about the phone on its own, with Mossberg calling it "one of the nicest smartphones I've tested," and Pogue describing it as a "beautiful, loaded, screamingly fast Android phone." To help things along when it's paired with the dock, Motorola gave it-in addition to a 4-inch quarter high-definition (qHD) screen and a fingerprint reader for added security-a dual-core processor.
"Which, in English, means 'faster than any phone you've ever used,'" wrote Pogue.
Still, all of this super-duperness inevitably comes with a few drawbacks.
While scrolling on the phone is a cinch, on the laptop display it's reportedly awkward. You also can't install applications, though you can use Web apps-such as Google Docs-inside of Firefox. Which is a major reminder that this is not really a laptop but a big display for doing more with your smartphone.
That doing more, however, doesn't always go according to plan. Pogue found watching Flash video, which the laptop does support, to nonetheless be jerky. He also found the Atrix 4G's Internet connection to be slower than on non-4G phones.
Mossberg complained that the combination of the phone and the dock "wasn't as smooth or versatile as having a real laptop." He also found the apps on the phone to be not as "polished or powerful" as typical PC apps, and "found them clumsier to use with the keyboard and touch pad, as opposed to the touch screen for which they were designed."
Finally, he found the file system on the laptop to be "primitive," noting that it's just 16GB, expandable to 48GB.
In the end, Mossberg was diplomatic, suggesting that the Atrix 4G is a "very nice Android phone" that does a limited impersonation of a laptop. Pogue, far from turned off by the flies in the Atrix ointment, as he called them, complimented Motorola's innovation.
"Above all," he wrote, "it's a really, really brilliant idea." Hoping that Motorola sticks with this team of clever engineers, Pogue has his fingers crossed, instead, for an Atrix II.
AT&T will sell the Atrix 4G smartphone for $200 and the laptop dock for $500. Buy the pair together, however, and, with rebates, they'll run you a total of $500. A second dock, meant to connect a TV or desktop monitor with the smartphone, will be available for $190.