Motorola Atrix: works well on Wi-Fi
Motorola Atrix is an Android phone that runs on AT&T’s network. The phone itself is a powerful device, the first U.S. smartphone to run on a dual-core processor. It can also be paired with an unusual accessory called a laptop dock – it’s like a laptop in appearance but doesn’t work unless the Atrix is attached.
Once the phone is attached then the dock works like a netbook, a scaled down laptop intended mostly for websurfing. The dock’s 11.6 inch screen was designed for easier websurfing than on the Atrix phone’s smaller 4 inch screen and it sports a Qwerty keyboard that is aimed at making tasks like emailing much easier than on the phone’s touchscreen.
So how well does it work?
With barely a day to play with both devices, our tests were pretty limited but they lasted long enough for us to form a strong first impression: The phone and lapdoc worked very well when connected to a network but, that was the stumbling block.
Put simply, there really was no way to tell if and when the AT&T cellular network was going to give a strong enough signal for us to get a stable Web connection. Yes, it’s not very original to whine about AT&T’s network performance — which is often lambasted by iPhone customers — but it definitely colored our first impression of the devices.
First we tried the Atrix in a mid-town Manhattan high-rise office building where the initial connection was good enough for web surfing – I found the location of the local post office and Macy’s in short order. So far so good.
Then I attached the device to the dock. I couldn’t get a web connection as I was stuck forever with a message that said AT&T was verifying if my account allowed Atrix use, so I ended up detaching the devices.
The Atrix dock does require a tethering plan, which costs $45 a month for downloads of 4 gigabytes of data for both the phone and the dock. The minimum data plan for the phone alone is $15 a month for 200 megabytes of downloads. But even after AT&T checked out my account to make sure I had this option, I still had trouble.
After the lapdoc adventure I tried using the phone itself again in the office but it appeared to have lost patience with me. After starting out with the coverage icon indicating a range of one to three bars, this quickly changed to an alarming red circle with a line through it, indicating zero coverage.
To give the phone the benefit of the doubt, I tried to use it in Brooklyn later that night but, the same thing happened – one to two bars of coverage led me to the New York Times website. But then, when I tried to open a story, the ominous red circle appeared again. It’s fair to say that my house doesn’t get the best cellphone coverage whichever device I use but, when I tried it out last summer, even the iPhone 4 – of antennagate fame – showed a better result.
However, when they were connected to a Wi-Fi network both devices worked nicely.
Using either the phone alone or paired with the dock, I was able to whiz quickly between applications and websites as long as I used Wi-Fi. I sent and received instant messages, watched Youtube videos, downloaded photos and checked-out what my friends were up to on Facebook. The lapdoc’s qwerty keyboard and bigger screen did make websurfing and emailing easier than when I used just the phone.
Along with the phone’s Android browser, the lapdoc supports Firefox, a browser that is familiar to desktop Web users. Maybe if I had a few more days I’d find better places to use the AT&T network, but aren’t cellular network supposed to let you can go anywhere you want? Wi-Fi is great but since it’s a short range technology, it’s not always available.
On a positive note, the dock is unusual enough that people kept stopping to look when I pulled it out. Some thought it was cool while others worried if having a phone attached to the back of the lapdoc would upset their fashionable image. Some were much less excited when they were told the price - $500 as part of a bundle with the Atrix phone, which sells for $200 alone. If you buy the phone first and decide to get the dock later it will set you back $500. “Couldn’t I get a netbook for less than that” was the typical response along with suggestions that $100 would be a better price than the implied $300 price for the lapdoc part of the bundle.
And because the combination is so new it I had to patiently explain to each new onlooker how the device works and why you might want one. This is something that AT&T and Motorola will have to work very carefully into their marketing of the devices.
So if you buy either or both when preorders start this weekend Feb. 13 or when the devices hit store shelves by March 6, do let us know what you think and whether you can prove my limited review right or wrong.
For its part, tech blog Engadget said it wanted to play with the phone for a few more days before publishing a full review. It made some positive noises but said it wasn’t ready because the lapdoc and phone combo was “clearly a mixture that takes some getting used to.”
(Photo: Reuters, of Atrix at the CES show where it was first shown off in January)