As far as industrial design goes, the newest rendition of the Atrix might best be described as the lovechild between its predecessor and the Droid RAZR. The front is all Atrix, with the same round corners and dearth of capacitive buttons (it instead opts for virtual navigation keys on the display, just like on the Galaxy Nexus). Instead of the flat plastic back, though, the HD brandishes its hindquarters in RAZR fashion, complete with kevlar, a non-removable battery and a hump at the top where the camera module and LED flash live. The sides also resemble the RAZR, with the power button and volume rocker on the right; a plastic flap protecting the micro-SIM and microSD ports on the left; and the 3.5mm headphone jack next to a LapDock-friendly micro-USB and HDMI setup.
On the back you'll find Moto took a similar tack as it did with the RAZR series: there's minimal clutter here, with the exception of the typical legalspeak and model information near the bottom. In fact, the only components showing up on the 14.7mm-thick hump are that 8MP rear camera and flash, along with a three-holed speaker grille. Flip it over to the front and you'll notice an even simpler layout: the top is studded with an earpiece, front-facing camera and Motorola logo on the top of the display. A large bezel with only the AT&T globe sits underneath. The Atrix comes in black and white, as seen below.
After playing with the phone for a few minutes we realized that we've actually seen the Atrix HD body before: it has the same chassis and design as the Motorola MT917, a Chinese variant of the RAZR. It even offers the same screen size and nearly the same dimensions, but adds LTE and brings the camera res down to 8MP (from 13MP). And now you know.
At 133.5 x 69.9 x 8.4 mm (5.26 x 2.75 x 0.33 inches) and 4.94 ounces (140g), the new Atrix is thinner, wider, longer and lighter than the Atrix 2 (although it's heavier than the OG). Due to the display's large bezel, it's also just as wide as the HTC One X, which is a bit unfortunate given this device's smaller screen size. The two phones are about equally thick, too, but the Atrix's edges are squared where the One X's are tapered and curved inward. This makes a difference when you're holding it in-hand, as the Atrix ultimately feels bulkier. Still, the comfort level is comparable to the RAZR Maxx, which is only a little thicker but features the same squared edges. In other words, it's easy enough to keep hold of, but it's still a tad awkward in a way that the One X and Galaxy S III aren't.
We have mixed feelings about the buttons lining the right side of the device. Located directly on the strip nestled between the top and bottom plastic pieces, the power button and volume rocker are set incredibly close to the body of the phone, which makes it more difficult to press. It's even less fun when you're trying to capture screenshots this way (read: by holding down the power and volume down buttons for a few seconds).
The Atrix HD is packed with more radios than you can throw a stick at -- to be fair, we're not sure why you would want to lob thin wooden objects at a set of antenna anyway. The most important inclusion here is LTE, which comes in both of AT&T's current bands (700MHz and AWS), and is also backward-compatible with HSPA+ 21Mbps (850 / AWS / 1900 / 2100), UMTS and quadband GSM / EDGE. To support this litany of connection options, the device is powered by a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 -- an MSM8960 clocked at 1.5GHz, to be specific. This is a welcome departure from past Atrix devices which took advantage of Tegra 2 and TI OMAP -- we much prefer the overall performance on Krait chipsets (more on this later).
We were disappointed to discover that even though the Atrix HD supports WiFi Direct, NFC is nowhere to be found. Thus, you won't be able to take advantage of Android Beam, nor can you use your phone for mobile payments once ISIS, AT&T's collaborative effort with Verizon and T-Mobile, is ready for primetime.
The non-removable battery is of the lithium polymer (Li-poly) variety, as opposed to the more frequently used lithium ion. This isn't a new development, especially with Motorola, since the Droid RAZR appears to use the same 1,780mAh Li-poly power pack. Still, it's an important point to bring up. Using Li-poly instead of Li-ion is a strategic move: these batteries are more resistant to overcharging and offer a lower likelihood of leakage. They're lighter, thinner and can even be molded into non-rectangular shapes (this could be helpful as design choices evolve in the coming years). Sounds great, but there are sacrifices to be made: Li-poly batteries are more expensive, offer less energy density and fewer charge cycles.
Over the last two years, several manufacturers have started branding their own specific displays: Apple has the Retina display, Sony has its Reality screens, Nokia uses ClearBlack and the list goes on. Motorola's trying its hand at the name game as well by offering a ColorBoost display on the Atrix HD. It's a fancy name, but essentially it's a 4.5-inch, 1,280 x 720, TFT, non-PenTile panel that translates into a pixel density of 326ppi.
Having used the RAZR in the past, this display is a fine sight for sore, PenTile-riddled eyes: in fact, it's the most gorgeous we've seen on a Motorola device. The whites are brighter than on the Galaxy S III and One X, the darks are a little lighter and the text looks just as sharp. There's just one area in which the display falls short of our expectations: as arresting as it is when you power on the phone for the first time, colors appear slightly oversaturated, particularly when you're viewing pictures and watching movies. Still, you can't go wrong with a non-PenTile screen that has this many pixels packed in -- there isn't a hint of pixelation here, no matter how much you try to find it. Viewing angles are better than the GS III because they extend all the way to the edge, but the One X does just a smidgen better because its screen drapes smoothly over the side while the Atrix HD's comes to an abrupt halt at the edge where it meets the plastic.
While nearly everything about the display is excellent, we were a bit disappointed Motorola decided not to make the screen even larger than 4.5 inches, which it could have done without widening the device. Bordering the panel is a wide bezel occupied only by a single AT&T logo. That's wasted real estate, especially given the fact that the Atrix's virtual keys take up some precious screen space already. The bezel above and to the sides of the display could have been streamlined to make for more screen. As it is, the device feels unnecessarily gargantuan.
Motorola's celebrating an important milestone with the Atrix HD: it's the company's first smartphone to ship with Ice Cream Sandwich already on board. The question is, will it be roughly the same user experience as we've already seen on the Droid RAZR and RAZR Maxx? How much of an impact did AT&T have on the firmware this time around? One major difference you'll see right off the bat is that the Atrix HD uses three virtual navigation keys on the bottom of the display, rather than capacitive buttons on previous Motorola devices. You'll be able to choose from the standard keys: back, home and multitasking. Indeed, there are no search or menu buttons on the front this time around -- those are integrated directly into the UI itself, much like we've seen with Samsung's Galaxy Nexus.
We booted the device up for the first time without needing to set anything up. Instead, we were greeted with the standard Motorola ICS lock screen, followed by a single home panel. This is a pretty interesting move, no doubt, but even more intriguing is the method by which you add more panels to your home: swipe to the left and you're greeted with an "add a page" panel. Here you have the option to set up a blank page or start with a template (you can also manage your existing pages at the bottom). The templates are a modern twist on the old "Scenes" from past models, but with single panels rather than a full suite of them. If you choose to go the template route, you can add pages that are geared toward social networking, AT&T apps, entertainment or getting you places. Each one offers a widget on the top that is related to your area of interest, as well as a row of apps with the same goal on the bottom.