Motorola Atrix 4G: ATandT's First Fine Android Smartphone

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-02-27

Motorola Atrix 4G: ATandT's First Fine Android Smartphone

The Motorola Atrix 4G, which launched earlier this month on AT&T for $199 with a two-year agreement, is a powerful smartphone that is clearly the best Android handset to grace AT&T's lineup.

Finally! I've been testing Verizon Wireless' Droid phones since November 2009, and while I've played with a few Android gadgets at AT&T's stores I haven't really found one that I'd wanted to spend a lot of time testing.

With Apple's iPhone 4 catching attention at Verizon Wireless, the Atrix 4G changes that mindset. I've been using the Android 2.2-based Atrix 4G for the last several days and it's a joy to use.

Supported by AT&T's HSPA+ network, the Atrix 4G is super fast. The only Android device I've tested to date that was comparable was the Android 2.3-based Samsung Nexus S on T-Mobile.

The Atrix 4G is 4.6 inches long, is 2.5 inches wide and 0.4 inches thick, the perfect size for my hand. At 4.8 ounces, it's heavier than it looks, but not so heavy you'd fumble it in surprise. The phone's corners are rounded, much like the Samsung Galaxy S devices I've tested.

The 4-inch screen sports another new technology from Motorola: Quarter high-definition (qHD), with a 960-by-540 resolution. While the Atrix 4G screen won't be mistaken for a great Samsung Super Amoled display, it's close. Very crisp, very bright. I could really tell the difference in screen quality holding it next to the Droid X.

Angry Birds, for example, on the Atrix 4G was gorgeous, both faster and crisper on the screen. In fact, every app I tested appeared to zip better than on my Droid X.

I'm counting Facebook and Twitter for Android, YouTube, Google Places, Google Latitude, which is actually preinstalled in the app launcher, Google Maps, Gmail, and several other apps performed well.  

As for the OS, I'm more than comfortable with Android 2.2, which in my opinion is the first decent Android smartphone OS build. The touchscreen keyboard is something I'm very used with my Droid x, but others have found the keys too narrow for their taste.

Motoblur, with all its Gmail, Facebook and other social network aggregation that stitch together users' accounts on the phone, also rules the Atrix 4G. If you don't like the Motobur UI for whatever reason, don't buy this phone.

Good news: Motorola said it's getting the bump to Android 2.3 later this year. The Gingerbread  keyboard is certainly superior to the one in Froyo devices.

Atrix 4G Camera, Call Quality Up to Par

The Atrix 4G camera is a 5 megapixel tool with digital zoom and LED Flash. Pictures were crisp and bright, and snapping shots was actually quicker with this handset than on my Droid X, whose 8-megapixel camera suffers from some latency.

There is a VGA camera for video worked okay with the Qik for Atrix app, which I had to install from the Android Market. There is as of yet no native video chat app for the Android handsets. The only good mobile chat experience I've seen has been on my wife's iPhone 4 Facetime app.

The Atrix 4G captures video in 720p, with playback at 720p at launch, but Motorola said this will be upgraded to 1080p over the air later.

Call quality was fine. AT&T's network is fine here in my stretch of Fairfield County, Connecticut. I'd been an AT&T customer since it bought Cingular so I'm quite comfortable with where the network works in this state and where it doesn't.

Battery life for these smaller Android handsets keeps getting better and the Atrix 4G (uses a 1930 mAh) was better than my 4.3-inch screen Droid X, which tends to chomp power a bit more. The Angry Birds game is always a good acid test for this and I could play Angry Birds for hours on the Atrix 4G without dinging the battery. Not that I did, of course.

There are some things I don't like about the Atrix 4G. The default search is Yahoo, not Google like the way it is on the Droids, or Bing like the way it is on some Android gadgets from Samsung, such as the Fascinate or Continuum.

An odd note: while Yahoo is the default search, the voice search icon in the Yahoo browser bar offer Google Voice Search when you tap the button. So if you input text with your fingers, you get Yahoo results, but if you voice-powered searches are handled by Google. Moreover, Vlingo's voice search app has been pre-integrated to provide spoken search commands.

Fortunately, the Atrix 4G employs a Google search bar across the top of one of the 7 customizable homescreens, so you can always tap that to search by hand or voice.

AT&T has loaded this phone with its bloatware, including AT&T Navigator (the VZ Navigator counterpart), AT&T Code Scanner, as well as AT&T U-Verse Mobile Live TV, which is probably great if you're a U-Verse subscriber. Enough said.

Also, and this may seem persnickety, but I hate the power button which sits atop the phone in a sort of bezel, which means I have to put my finger in a little hole a certain way. This is cumbersome for me. I much prefer the raised button on Droid X for powering on and off.

Overall though, if you're an AT&T person and want to go with a high-end Android handset (or an Android person and want to go AT&T, as it were), the Atrix 4G should be a strong consideration.

With all of the functionality I mentioned backed by 1GB of RAM (16GB storage, expandable to 48GB), you can't go wrong for $199.99.


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