The laptop does nothing without a phone plugged in, but once you seat the Atrix 4G, it almost immediately fires up the Webtop OS, which will look pretty familiar if you've ever used Ubuntu. Since the dock is mostly just battery, it does double duty as laptop and charger -- even when not plugged in somewhere, it will recharge your phone's battery while it's being used. Motorola says you can expect about eight to ten hours of battery life from the dock, and those numbers seemed pretty accurate during our testing. It was quite impressive.
While the laptop dock is handsomely designed and solidly built, in use it was quite frustrating. Putting aside our complaints about the Webtop environment, the laptop dock creates some pretty major issues of its own. First and foremost is the fact that the trackpad, while spacious, is single touch only, meaning no two finger scrolling (or even single finger scrolling like many PC trackpads). That means that navigation of webpages is a huge hassle as you're forced to manually grab the scroll bar to move through pages. For an environment built around the "web as app" concept, this struck us as incredibly shortsighted. Furthermore, the trackpad buttons are stiff enough that we found ourselves missing presses on a fairly regular basis. Weirdly it's as if Motorola built this dock for use with a mouse -- and in fact, company reps were demoing the setup with a mouse when we picked up our review unit.
We wanted to love this dock, but at the price Motorola is asking and for the small amount of utility it actually provides, it seems clear to us that your money would be better spent on a tablet or decent netbook.
HD / desktop dock
Besides the laptop dock, Motorola is also providing options for desktop and home entertainment setups via its HD dock -- a small slab of black plastic which comes equipped with three USB ports and an HDMI jack around the back. Just like the laptop dock, when the phone is seated in the device it switches modes, and you're able to jump into one of two environments: Webtop or Entertainment Center.
As you might guess, the desktop / HD dock doesn't fare much better when it comes to standing in for a computer, though thanks to the pricing here, it's a little more viable of a choice, since you're unlikely to purchase a decent desktop for $129. Then again -- do you need a desktop computer? Because if you do, you'll probably want something a bit more powerful than what the Webtop offers.
As a set top box, we have slightly better news to report. Motorola has come up with a really sleek and clean interface through which you can access your video, music, and photos, but the remote which is included to navigate your content seems to be hit or miss. When we had our dock about 5 feet away from where we were seated, the remote was sometimes non-functional when scrolling through menus and making selections, causing us to double and sometimes triple tap to get it to register. Motorola provides an interface on the phone in the dock to control what's happening on screen, but that only makes sense if you have your dock next to where you're sitting, which is likely on the other side of your room (at the very least, you're sitting opposite the TV, which is where you're going to have this plugged in).
As far as the software is concerned, we like the sleek, clean interface that Motorola has come up with for getting at your videos, pics, and music, but there were some issues with playback. Notably, we could get some .M4V files to play, while others would not, and the only error we received was vague at best. Most files worked without a hitch, however. In particular, 720p content we'd shot on the phone looked really quite nice on a big screen, and the playback didn't so much as stutter.
We're not sure we really see a huge market for this dock, unfortunately. There are much better ways to get your content onto a television screen, and in fact you can simply plug an HDMI cable into the phone and use the same features that the dock provides (sans remote... though using the phone to control the app is actually preferable as far as we're concerned).
Mouse / keyboard
Motorola isn't really known for producing great peripherals, but we're quite impressed with the keyboard and mouse the company has cranked out here.
Both products work wirelessly via Bluetooth, and we had no trouble pairing them with our setup. In particular, we like the mouse because it closely matches the Logitech M555b (a favorite) in size and functionality. The keyboard, meanwhile, is styled somewhere between an Apple wireless keyboard and BlackBerrys of years past -- as in, we're not crazy about the font choice. Still, it's a solid, chiclet style keyboard that conserves desk space and has a handful of custom Android keys, which make jumping into specific apps like Gmail or the browser really speedy. We're not sure if you need to shell out the extra cash on these, but they make fine partners to the rest of Moto's offerings.
AT&T and Motorola are billing the Atrix as a 4G device. Hell, it's got the term in its name! We wish that we could report back that we saw 4G-like speeds on the phone, but it's actually quite the contrary.
In comparison to other handsets we've tested on the network in the same spots, the Atrix 4G actually got lower speed rankings on both downstream and upstream tests. In general, we saw an average download speed of around 1.5 Mbps, while uploads were even worse at just about 0.15 Mbps. We did see download speeds spike occasionally into 2.2 Mbps territory, but that wasn't the norm. During the testing, the phone had four or five bars, and was clearly displaying the HSPA+ icon.
The odd thing is that if you compare the device against the iPhone 4 on AT&T's network -- tested in exactly the same locations -- you see much different results. On the iPhone, data speeds were consistently in the 2 or 3 Mbps range for downloads, and hovering around 1 Mbps for uploads.
We're not sure what the issue is with data, but we're not seeing anything resembling 4G on these tests. If AT&T was hoping to impress with its speeds on the HSPA+ network, it still has a lot of work to do.
This is where the rubber really hits the road on these devices. The Atrix 4G by itself will run you $199.99 with a 2 year contract. The laptop dock by itself is a whopping $499.99 (less a $100 mail-in rebate and $100 instant rebate, bringing it down to $299.99). You can get the HD / desktop dock by itself for $129.99, or the bundle (with keyboard and mouse) for $189.99.
Simply put, to leave an AT&T store (or its website) with just the phone and the laptop dock, you're dropping $653 and then waiting for that $100 back in the mail. Now that's a lot of cash for a phone and what amounts to half of a laptop -- even if you can impress friends with it. And don't forget, AT&T insists that you have a tethering data plan, which will run you $45 a month -- and that's a tethering plan you could be using with your phone's hotspot feature and any other device you want... like a netbook.
In all, it's not a great value if you're springing for the laptop dock, the desktop dock, and some accessories -- in fact, it's not any kind of value at all.
The Atrix 4G might be our favorite Android device that we've tested. It's got specs that run laps around most other devices, which should make most potential purchasers feel a little safer about laying out cash for a smartphone right now. We're not saying the phone doesn't have its issues -- and we're really not big fans of Motorola's skinning -- but this is a powerhouse of a device in a sleek package, and Android's openness to customizing means you'll be able to turn it into a phone that feels like your own. So yes, yes to the Atrix 4G, because it is
an awesome phone.
The bigger question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you should spring for the accessories, and our answer to that is closer to something like "probably not." We want to love the HD dock and the laptop dock (the laptop dock especially!), but it's hard to warm up to these devices when they don't really deliver on the experience you're paying for. Our advice? Skip the laptop dock and get a good netbook (there are tons of options) and spring for the tethering plan so you can use the "4G" you're paying for (check your area for coverage, of course). If you absolutely need your phone to pull double duty as an entertainment dock, just get a long HDMI cable -- you, and your wallet, will thank us later.