Motorola Atrix and Laptop Dock Review, Have Phone and Computer Finally Merged?

Atrix Laptop Dock

Motorola Atrix 4G

Dads and Moms, if you were going on vacation and could bring only one gadget with you – which would it be – phone, still camera, video camera or laptop?  Don’t like the pressure of choosing?  Get the Motorola Atrix 4G and you get a phone, camera (5MP still and 720p HD video) and laptop all in one device!

Is That A Laptop in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

The Motorola Atrix 4G is a new smartphone with an identity crisis.  Yes, on first glance it is an Android based smartphone made by Motorola and offered by AT&T.  However, if you read the specs on the Atrix 4G, it reads more like a laptop – built with the NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor (2 x 1 GHz) and the 1 GB of RAM.    In truth, the Atrix 4G may represent the next stage for smartphones – where the line between smartphone and laptop becomes incredibly blurry.

Overview Of The Atrix 4G and Laptop Dock

Have you ever tried to describe a really cool magic trick?  It just doesn’t work without the visuals.  The Atrix 4G turning into a laptop is like a cool magic trick, one you need to see to appreciate.

Let’s Take a Look at the Atrix 4G and Laptop Dock In This Quick Video -

Prepare for One of the Strangest Tech Gadget Reviews You Will Ever Read

Most sites would now start talking about all the tech specs on the Atrix 4G and debate the technological merit of the core components of the Atrix.    Well, we are not most sites.   We understand that the Moms and Dads reading this right now just want to know if the Motorola Atrix 4G and Laptop dock can make their life easier or better in some way.

Really want to know about all the technical specifications on the Atrix 4G?  No problem, you can read the full specs here or an excellent review from our friends at Ubergizmo, complete with benchmark graphs and all types of geeky goodness.  Don’t worry, we will all wait while you read the specs…

All done? Great!  After getting a quick demo of the Atrix at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), we have now had a few weeks to fully test the Atrix in a real world setting.  Let’s see if the Atrix can really make our lives any easier of better…

What You Need to Know About the Motorola Atrix

The Atrix, an Android based touch screen phone, may well be the most powerful smartphone on the market.   It has a big beautiful screen, a front and back camera and can shoot HD video.   As the Atrix is not an iPhone, you can not use iTunes on it or access the world of iPhone apps.  You do have access to the Android market and all of the Android apps.  In the USA, it is sold via AT&T and uses the AT&T network.

The Atrix definitely has some geek cool factors like the fingerprint scanner – so only you can unlock your phone with the swipe of your finger (of course it can be disabled).  However, the real claim to fame on this phone is the ability to transform into a laptop computer with the laptop dock accessory.   Can a phone really become a computer?  Let’s take a look…

The Phone is The Computer or The Computer is The Phone

Atrix Laptop Dock

As we showed in the above video, turning the Atrix 4G into a laptop is drop dead easy.  You simply plug the Atrix into the laptop dock and in a few seconds a webtop application (actually done in Linux – no Windows here) pops up and gives you access to a desktop of applications.

The webtop comes with a full version of Firefox (a web browser) that can easily handle flash and videos.  In our testing the webtop worked very well and we had no problem loading a variety of flash based sites in Firefox.   While the Atrix is incredibly powerful for a phone, it specs out as a low end laptop, so if you have multiple windows open, things can really slow down.  Still, for basic web surfing, checking emailing, watching a video and working on documents the Atrix in the laptop dock works very well.

Computing in the Cloud Has Its Positives and Negatives

At first glance the Atrix in the laptop dock looks like your standard netbook or laptop computer, but it is really very different.  Rather than storing your documents locally on a hard drive, you are for the most part storing files and information in the “cloud”.  The cloud just refers to keeping your files on remote servers connected to the internet, rather than on your phone.

The real advantage to cloud computing is that you never have to remember to bring your files or sync your files – they are always there in the cloud waiting for you.  In addition, if you use software and application from the cloud, you do not have to worry about installing updates – the software is always current.  One other big plus about cloud computing, if you lose your phone, you don’t lose all of your files – since they are stored remotely in the cloud.

The real disadvantage to cloud computing is that if you can not access the cloud, you are out of luck.  So, if you are in a situation where your Atrix can not get cell phone reception or WiFi, the Atrix Laptop Dock becomes very limited in terms of what it can do.  We had no problems computing in the cloud, but if you live in an area with poor AT&T coverage and do not have a WiFi network, you are going to have headaches trying to get work done on the Atrix laptop.

Think You Are Tied to Your Phone Now?  Wait Until You Use The Atrix!

Most of the parents I know use their smartphone as an add-on to their brain.  We keep calendars of where to bring the kids and more importantly when to pick them up.  We make To-Do lists that never really get done.  We Google the endless questions our kids ask us, and we text and email with family members.  We even get completely crazy every once in a while and speak into our phones and converse with another human!

One of the very cool features about the Atrix with the Laptop Dock is that you can have a window open with all your phone functions – as you use the laptop.   The phone and computer really become one – no more grabbing your phone while typing an email to check what someone texted you – it is all in the same place.   No syncing or moving files via USB thumb drives, everything is in the phone or in the cloud.

Can the Atrix with the Laptop Dock Really Replace My Computer?

It depends.  If you have a computer that the kids use for games, watching DVDs and video editing  – the Atrix is not going to have the power or features to replace that computer.   On the other hand, if you have a laptop or netbook that you use for mostly checking emailing, updating social accounts, browsing the web and occasionally watching a video – the Atrix laptop dock can work well as a replacement.

Personally, I have an iPhone, iPad and laptop.  I love the portability of the iPhone, but find its screen too small for serious web reading.  The iPad has the big beautiful screen, but it does not fit in my pocket , I still can’t type well on its virtual keyboard and the lack of USB ports is an issue for printing and transferring files from a USB thumb drive.  So, when I travel I end up taking my iPhone, iPad and a laptop (so I can type articles).   If I had the Atrix 4G, I could just take the phone and laptop dock and have all my computing needs completely covered.

For parents who are looking for a laptop or netbook they can easily take with them when they travel – the Atrix with the laptop dock is an excellent solution.

Don’ Order Yet, We Will Throw in Not One, But Two Cameras for Free

The Atrix does not aim to just eliminate your netbook or laptop, it also has eyes on your still camera and video camera.    The Atrix has both a front and back camera.  The front facing camera is not the highest quality, and really just good for video chats – so let’s focus on the more powerful back camera.

The still camera on Atrix is rated 5MP and our testing showed the photos it took were average.  Here are some samples…

Atrix Photo 1

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Atrix Photo Demo 2

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Atrix Photo Demo 3

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The photos are fine, but the focus is not overly sharp and the colors are slightly off.  The Atrix also has a built in flash which is a great feature for a smartphone.  It is nice to have a camera in your pocket that can capture the kids if a cute moment comes up, but if you are a serious photographer you will want to use a dedicated still camera for major events.

The Video On the Atrix May Be Why Flip Cameras No Longer Exist

One of the reasons that Cisco pulled the plug on the incredibly popular Flip cameras, was that smartphones were starting to offer the same HD video that the Flip had.  The Atrix 4G may prove Cisco right.  In the video above we have samples of the HD Video we shot with the Atrix 4G.  We were very impressed with the video quality of the Atrix and think for most occasions the Atrix would be a more than adequate video camera.  Could we ask for more?  Sure, a tripod mount and mic jack would be nice, but for casual use the Atrix works great.

For All Its Features, The Motorola Atrix Has Its Share of Problems

The Motorola Atrix 4G and Laptop Dock are incredible technical marvels – but that is not to say they don’t have their issues.  The laptop is not the fastest, if you open too many windows performance can slow down, the keyboad takes some getting used to, the still camera is merely acceptable and if you don’t have access to the cloud you are limited in what you can do.

All that being said, probably the biggest issue reviewers have had with the Atrix and Laptop dock is the price…which is very hard to explain.   If you buy the Atrix without any service, it will cost you $600 and the laptop dock is $500.  Clearly, $1,100 for this setup is insane, but in truth no one buys a phone without service.

If we look into how things work with a service plan, the pricing gets much more affordable and competitive.    Atrix service is provided by AT&T, so trying to make absolute sense of their plans, contracts, rebates and bizarre terms involves a level of intelligence I do not posses  – but here is my best attempt…

In short, the Atrix, with a 2 year service plan will probably cost you only about $80 (via Amazon Wireless).    The Laptop dock is selling for about $330 on Amazon, but it appears there is a $100 rebate, so the price goes down to $230.  In order to use the Laptop Dock, you need at least a AT&T 4 GB DataPro with Tethering plan.  Figure you are going to spend around $85 a month when all is said and done for your service plan.

So, for $310 and a 2 year commitment to spend about $85 a month with AT&T you get the Atrix 4G, Laptop Dock and service.    When you look at all that you are getting – an incredible smart phone, an instant on, super portable netbook, a great HD video camera and an average still camera – it starts to look very reasonably priced.

Conclusion:  Does The Atrix and Laptop Dock Make Your Life Easier or Better?

In a word – Yes! This is one of those cases where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Yes, you can buy better netbooks and cameras – but having everything together in one simple device makes your life a little easier.  You pop the phone onto the Laptop dock, open it up and it goes on in seconds  – no virus scan, firewall checks or reminders to upgrade software.  No syncing or transferring of files, everything is on the phone or in the cloud.  Serious photographers will probably want to carry a dedicated still camera, but the HD video on the Atrix is good enough to replace your Flip camera.

There are really two reasons NOT to buy the Atrix if you are in the market for a new smart phone.  First, it is not an iPhone.  If you love iTunes and all the iPhone apps and don’t want to give that up, you need to go with an iPhone.  The second reason not to get it, is the same reason not to get any gadget – a new and better one is always on the way.  The Atrix is an incredible piece of hardware and I am sure in the coming months, new and better smart phones, with computer like power, will be on the way.

In the end, if you can do without iTunes and want a phone today that will make your stressful life a little easier, better and more fun – the Motorola Atrix  4G with the Laptop Dock is an excellent choice.

Motorola Atrix 4G and Laptop Dock Gets 4 D’s (scale of 1 to 5) -

4 D Rating - Well Done

Any Product That Receives 4 or 5 D’s is Dad Does Approved!

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More Information:

Learn More At the Motorola Website.

FULL DISCLOSURE: We received a loaner of the Motorola Atrix and Laptop dock to review, which was returned once the review was finished. We received no money for doing this review and receive nothing if you do decide to buy the Atrix and Laptop dock. This is a real review, by a real Dad (and his kids)!

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