Motorola Atrix 4G Laptop Dock Serves Road Warriors Well

Motorola and AT&T suggest traveling workers pair their Atrix 4G with the Motorola Laptop Dock, which costs $499 with the Android 2.2 smartphone. eWEEK reviews the dock here.

Motorola Mobility's Atrix 4G is a swift Android 2.2 smartphone on AT&T's HSPA+ network and the $199.99 price is worth it for a customer seeking a high-end Android handset, as eWEEK noted in its review.

For enterprise workers, the Atrix 4G (pictured here) experience isn't quite complete without the Motorola Laptop Dock, eWEEK learned after testing the accessory for hours this week.

Update: AT&T is offering the Laptop Dock with the Atrix 4G as a pair for $499, plus $45 a month for data tethering. This seems expensive until you realize the Laptop Dock lets you turn your smartphone into a computer by simply plugging it into the dock's phone cradle, whose prongs hook into the Atrix 4G's mini USB and HDMI.

The Lapdock Dock appears like a full laptop, with a clear screen, but it lacks most of the software of a laptop and personal computer. The hardware does carry Mozilla's Firefox browser and Adobe Flash Player. It comes with a power cord and two USB ports on the back for plugging in a mouse or flash drive, etc.

Once a user plugs the Atrix 4G into the dock, the two communicate and the dock renders the user's Atrix 4G homescreen within seconds. The dock, by the way, connected to the Web via our home WiFi network and also charged the Atrix 4G (it will do so even when the dock is not plugged into an electric outlet.

Once the Atrix 4G's Linux-based, Webtop app is engaged on the dock screen, users will see not only their phone's homescreen but app icons in the app tray at the bottom of the Webtop screen.

Buttons let users toggle between mobile view and a step-back view that lets users scroll through their open apps and browser screens via the lapdock's touchpad.

There are also buttons for the phone dialer, phone contacts, e-mail, Motorola's HD entertainment center, files, Firefox and Facebook. Users may add apps or Webpages, sort of like bookmarks by clicking a button in the lower right-hand corner.

I tested Facebook, Google search and Gmail, which actually updated to the latest mobile Gmail version on my Atrix 4G directly to the dock. The file manager lets you sift through your phone's files easily enough, pulling them up in a familiar file menu.

Motorola's HD Entertainment Center enabled me to port my photos and videos (or music, if one is inclined) on the larger Laptop Dock, and scroll through them using the dock's keyboard.

The true gem here for the enterprise worker is the ability to work in their Atrix 4G's Gmail or Microsoft Exchange messaging and documents on the big screen.

Moreover, when a user gets a call, he or she can simply mouse over to to the dial app on the Webtop, click a button and answer a call. Users may make calls the same way, accessing their contacts on the dialer on the Webtop and clicking a button -- all hands free. The sound quality is solid, akin to a user being on speaker phone in my testing.

Also, users power down the Lapdock Dock by closing the screen, but the Webtop app on the Atrix 4G keeps your apps in state so you can return to work when you reopen the dock screen, or plug the phone back into the dock. This is a big bonus for corporate road warriors who need to dash off to that meeting at the last second.

Indeed, the whole idea of the Laptop Dock is that a traveling worker can haul their Android phone travel and the dock to any remote office without begging for an ad-hoc computer set-up. That's a nice perk.

I do have some criticisms of the dock. First, the Atrix 4G got super hot when I had it in the dock after 30 or more minutes. I thought I was picking up a piece of toast when I removed the phone from the dock.

Also, the performance of the Webtop app can be faster. Sometimes switching between apps and views was not so smooth. For example, I'd click on the button to add something to the app tray and it would "think" for several seconds.

Finally... can I get it in Google's Chrome browser? Understandable that Motorola, which has hitched its wagon to the open source Android platform, would select the premier open-source browser in Firefox. But Chrome, which is open source, is increasingly getting better and would pair well with Android.

One important detail that came to light last week was that Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha said the dock would be available for future Android phones. So if you don't want the Atrix 4G you can wait for, say, the Motorola Droid Bionic, and use the Laptop Dock with that Verizon Wireless phone in the second quarter.

Just don't buy the dock by itself because it will set you back $499. Better to pair it with a brand new, high-end smartphone for the same cost.