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Why The Motorola Atrix Isn’t For Everyone
January 16, 2011 11:02 AM

During the Motorola Mobility event at CES 2011, CEO Sanjay Jha, announced an overpowered smart phone: the Motorola Atrix. For those not familiar, it sports a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor with GPU, 1 GB of RAM, a biometric fingerprint scanner, and 9 hours of talk time. In addition, the Atrix docs into a laptop for access to a large-screen optimized OS or into a HDTV dock for a media center interface. Our friends at Android And Me recently published a list of 7 reasons why the Atrix rocks. Unfortunately, I do not completely agree. While these features are absolutely irresistible for geeks, it is an almost guaranteed disaster for the average user.

Additional Hardware Costs Extra

The Atrix ships and functions as a standalone device, but Motorola also offers two accessories: a laptop dock and a HDTV dock. Unlike a regular computer, the Atrix laptop dock lacks a CPU and storage. Instead, it sports a large battery pack, a full keyboard, a touchpad, stereo speakers, and a 11.6 inch display. It weighs just 2.4 pounds, but the additional batteries can keep the Atrix running for nearly eight hours according to Motorola. The HDTV dock has a HDMI output and USB ports for a keyboard and mouse. When docked, it offers users access to either the webtop or media center interface. Motorola even includes an infrared remote control with the dock to control media playback.

Despite the docking accessory in use, all the processing, network connections, and data storage happens on the Atrix handheld. While the hardware specs of the Atrix are impressive alone, these two accessories truly highlight the full potential. Unfortunately, neither AT&T or Motorola bundle these along with the phone, which makes it unlikely that customers will go out of their way to make a separate purchase. While having the option to choose which accessories to buy is technically more freedom, much of the hardware and software on the Atrix will go unused without it.

In addition, AT&T and Motorola have not disclosed the price. If the laptop dock is too expensive, it could begin entering the territory of a netbook, which would be a better investment since it is also a full dedicated computer. Also, while the idea of having a single device capable of doing anything is tempting, people will probably still want a dedicated Apple TV, Boxee, or Google TV for their HDTV.

Lacks A Seamless Interface

While Apple’s iOS is known for it’s extremely polished and intuitive interface, Android still struggles in this area. Fortunately, Google’s upcoming version 2.3 code-name “Gingerbread” OS adds some much-needed user experience refinements. However, it is too early for Motorola to introduce additional webtop software into the mix. The company was still deciding on the reliance of their custom Moto Blur overlay even when the Droid 2 was announced last year.

While the technologically savvy will not mind, multiple interfaces for a single device adds complication. The Atrix has both a full Firefox and standard Android web browser. Motorola’s extra software keeps tabs synced between both. However, this can be confusing since webpages will render differently in each. Then there’s this question: will users need to close Firefox browser tabs in webtop to avoid battery drain or free up memory?

When in the laptop dock, Motorola lets users interact with Android through a window in webtop with a mouse and keyboard. Aside from accessibility reasons, offering two ways to interact with the same interface is confusing. Then there’s also the media center view for the HDTV dock, a third interface for the Atrix. Motorola lets users lean back and browse through their multimedia library with remote control. Although the software demoed was quite responsive and seemed polished, it’s hard to tell whether the final product will be as user-friendly and reliable.

Bottom Line

Let’s make one thing clear: I do not want to argue against innovation. This phone is undoubtedly powerful and unique. It has all the latest tech including a 4 inch qHD display, Android 2.2, WiFi, 5 person hotspot, Bluetooth, a 5 megapixel camera, a front-facing VGA camera for video chat, 16 GB of internal storage, microSD expansion, and much more.

The Atrix definitely is a milestone of how far smart phones have come and how close they are to replacing low-powered computers. However, this is merely the first step. Those who buy one of these will be early adopters, meaning there is always a good chance that Motorola may scrap it, drop support, or release a next generation device that runs entirely different software.

I think this is an interesting step into the future of mobile computing, but I also think Motorola needs to proceed cautiously. While Android is still maturing, it is to early to simply load a device with powerful hardware for the sole-sake of boasting hardware capabilities. This trend can be harmful and average customers will end up with overcomplicated and unreliable gadgets. That said, the Atrix is probably an amazing smart phone, but it will not replace a netbook or set-top box anytime soon.

Links: Motorola Atrix

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