Its last few flagships, such as the Photon 4G
, Droid Bionic and Droid RAZR
, lead us to believe that Motorola likes to think outside the box every now and then. These phones are designed to be fresh and surprising -- sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't -- and we give kudos to the company for trying to be different. The Atrix 2 isn't one of those handsets. It's graced with smooth and elegant curves, rather than rough angles. Not only did Moto soften the corners; it smoothed out the sides and back as well. We admit that we're suckers for new and exciting design -- it can be difficult to come up with new ways to reinvent the wheel, so it's nice to see folks try -- but there's definitely room in our book for handsets that look exquisite, regardless of how crazy it looks.
We shouldn't be terribly surprised to see this handset bearing the same moniker as the original Atrix 4G that was released in February -- the two have a close family resemblance to each other, even if they both have a few major differences. The most noticeable variations? No fingerprint sensor and a larger display, for starters, but there are plenty more feature changes lurking about the phone.
The Atrix 2 is wider, no doubt a negative side effect of having a 4.3-inch display, but it's just as comfortable to hold as the 4-inch original. At 4.96 x 2.59 x 0.40 inches (126 x 66 x 10 mm), it's slightly taller and wider than the first iteration, which measured 4.64 x 2.50 x 0.43 inches (117.75 x 63.5 x 10.95 mm). As you may have noticed, it's also thinner by nearly a full millimeter, but 10mm is still beefy in comparison to many of the latest slate phones. The new version's easy to grip, thanks to its curved sides and textured battery cover; it's no Kevlar cover, of course, and shouldn't be treated as such, but the soft touch plastic at least turns out to be easy on the eyes. That's a stark (and pleasant) departure in design from Atrix numero uno's back and its occasionally blinding holographic pattern.
We also enjoyed using the screen on the Atrix 2. First, while both Atrix devices (Atrices?) take advantage of qHD displays with 960 x 540 resolution, the newer one looks better despite having a larger display to hold the same number of pixels in. This is mainly because HelloMoto opted not to use the Pentile matrix scheme, which is something that the company has elected to do on most of its qHD screens -- including the first Atrix and the Droid Bionic. The argument of PenTile versus non-PenTile will rage on for years; regardless of how polarizing that discussion has become, though, there's still a noticeable difference in quality when both phones' displays are pitted side by side. The sequel seems to do a much more manageable job against the glare of direct sunlight, and the Gorilla Glass stretches out from one edge to the other, indenting roughly a millimeter or so away from the side to let your finger brush right off the phone when you're using gestures.
Rounding out the front face of the phone is the same standard set of four capacitive touchscreen buttons near the bottom -- menu, home, back and search -- and the VGA camera that doubles as video chat and vanity mirror. Skipping over to the right you'll see a volume rocker along with a wonderful addition to the new Atrix: a physical camera button. The one teeny little catch is that it's only single-stage (more on that in the camera section). Featured on the top is the 3.5mm headphone jack and standard power button / screen lock -- a likely indication that the fingerprint sensor in its predecessor wasn't as popular as Motorola might have hoped.
At first glance the left side of the phone appears to have the same exact micro-USB and HDMI combo as the first Atrix, though we'd be remiss not to leave out one glaring variation: the ports are flipped upside-down to utilize the same Webtop accessories as the Droid Bionic and Photon 4G. Remember CEO Sanjay Jha's promise
that every high-end smartphone will have Webtop capability? Rejoice, for his word is now being fulfilled.
Let's not forget the back of the device. It's got its fair share of goodies too, after all -- packing an 8 megapixel camera with LED flash and 1080p HD video capture is no trivial matter, especially on a phone with a $100 price point. The backside of the Atrix 2 doesn't offer much in the way of decor otherwise, unless you count the textured cover and speaker grille -- which, by the way, sounds great... until you put the phone on its back, causing the sound to get severely muffled.
Underneath the cover, you'll find a 2GB microSD card hiding just above the 1,785mAh battery (a decrease from the original Atrix's 1,930), which means that, when coupled with 8GB of internal storage space, it's still been trimmed by 6GB total -- and keep in mind that only 4.5GB of the built-in memory is user-accessible, which doesn't help matters at all. The microSD card can be swapped out with a full 32GB model, but the first iteration of the series still has the highest amount of storage capacity.
The Atrix 2 also raises the bar in terms of network performance, getting a lift to 21.1Mbps HSPA+ over the original's 14.4Mbps. The higher speed vaults the device into the top tier of speed that AT&T currently offers, placing it into the same 4G echelon as the Samsung Galaxy S II. We're intrigued as to why the usual "4G" moniker was left out of the phone's name this time, especially given that it's faster, but by no means do we miss its presence. Sadly, the area we reviewed the device in isn't within the scope of Ma Bell's fastest network class, so we were unable to offer a proper comparison test between the two models.
First off, let's give credit where it's due: AT&T came incredibly close to making its entire collection of preinstalled apps uninstallable, and only came up short on Mobile Hotspot and Music Store. It's true, folks: bloatware is one step closer to being completely optional, rather than a required piece of real estate to clutter up your screen. We're not saying it's a perfect system yet, but Motorola's latest UI -- the non-MotoBlur variety -- at least allows for customized categories within the app menu as a type of olive branch. We still prefer the method employed on TouchWiz 4.0, which simply lets you add actual folders as their own icon in the app menu, but this is at least a workable solution.
Since Music Store's on there for good, it's best to at least know a little about it. Frankly, the name gives away the description: it's an easy-to-access hub that allows you to purchase songs, albums and ringtones. On the hub's front page you'll see the top releases, but you can perform a search for whatever tunes you're in the mood for. Speaking of the beats, Motorola's thrown in an FM radio that can be accessed through the device's built-in music player, which is nice to see amongst other options like direct access to Shoutcast internet radio and podcasts.
Moto's not-Blur UI comes with a few preinstalled apps of its own (not uninstallable, unfortunately). Social Location lets you view local businesses to not only see details, Yelp scores and hours, it will also check Facebook to see if any of your friends have checked in recently. Sticking with the social theme, Social Networking functions as a all-in-one feed for Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and the other usual suspects. On our particular unit, however, navigating and interacting through this hub was an incredibly sluggish experience, no matter how many times we gave it our best shot. ZumoCast is a syncing application that lets you check out pictures, movies and music (among other files) from your desktop directly on your Atrix. Lastly, Motorola also offers its own Phone Portal, which connects with the app of the same name on your computer and lets you manage those files you need to transfer between your handset and desktop.
Much like the Atrix 4G, the new model also supports in-pocket detection. It's meant to lock the phone automatically when it senses that it's been placed in your pocket, but it doesn't seem to like our loose jeans; it works great when placing our phone in our breast pocket, going into sleep mode within three seconds, but that's the only place we've found a lot of success in. In short, results may vary depending on your pocket preference.
The Atrix 2 definitely took a page out of the Droid Bionic's book here, using not only the same 8MP sensor and 1080p HD video capture but the same camera UI as well. It's easy enough to use, proffering most standard settings we've come to expect on a decent phone camera: scene modes, macro focus, panorama mode, brightness adjust, and geotag are all there. Missing are the exposure / contrast adjust and ISO, both settings that we use regularly on a DSLR.
We're glad to see a hardware camera button, though we were put out to find that it's single-stage. Rather than having the option to hold down the button to lock focus prior to taking the shot, it sometimes took a few extra seconds to focus after depressing the shutter before actually taking the shot. Happily, this wasn't as annoying as it usually is. The camera was smart enough to know when it didn't need to refocus, so fortunately we were able to take several pictures with virtually no shutter lag for this reason. Furthermore, we discovered that the camera would automatically focus --and lock it again -- whenever we shuffled around, which helped our shutter lag time stay down a bit.