Motorola Atrix 2
4th Nov 2011 | 12:40
A sleek and dockable Android smartphone
Overview, design and feel
The Motorola Atrix 2 isn't really a full sequel to the Motorola Atrix, another fast smartphone. Instead, it's an iterative release with a few new features, a better camera and a lower price. As such, the phone starts to reveal some performance issues, especially since it uses the same 1GHz dual-core processor as the first model.
The screen size is just a notch bigger - 4.3 inches compared to the original Atrix's 4-inch screen. The 960 x 540 resolution looks crisp for movies, photo galleries, web browsing and typing up text messages.
The TFT screen was responsive for finger swipes and clicks, although the screen isn't nearly as bright and clear as the Samsung Galaxy S2's AMOLED screen.
For those who tend to fire off messages every few minutes, or type longer business documents on your phone, the lack of a full hardware slide-out keyboard is only a slight detriment. For the most part, we typed fast and accurately on the Atrix's soft keyboard, even compared to a phone with a hardware keyboard.
The Motorola Atrix 2 is a 4G phone, and uses the AT&T HSPA+ network in the US. It's not an LTE phone on a second-gen network running at 10-12 Mbps. Instead, our US speed tests clocked in at only about 4Mbps on a regular basis, or sometimes as high as 6Mbps.
Running on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the Motorola Atrix 2 benefits from a few minor improvements in the latest operating system, including the ability to easily select entire passages of an email without too much effort (previous Android phones would sometimes flicker and jump around during text selection).
Another minor benefit is that you can now select whether you want to snap photos or shoot video with the VGA front-facing or rear 8MP camera and camcorder.
In an age when a $200 phone under a contract doesn't make anyone blink, the Motorola Atrix 2 is priced to sell - it costs $99 with a two-year contract in the US.
The low price makes the Motorola Atrix 2 more affordable than the iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Galaxy Nexus. In fact, it's one of the most fairly priced high-end Android phones with a high-res camera available.
The Motorola Atrix 2 has 8GB of internal memory and supports microSD cards up to 32GB. There's 1GB of RAM, which is in line with most of the other Android models.
We won't say the phone is feature-rich in terms of hardware - it lacks an NFC chip, for example. And the latest Android models tend to use a faster 1.2GHz dual-core processor.
The phone is light, at 147g grams, and thin, at 10mm, but falters in this regard in comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S2. The S2 is much lighter, at 116g, and thinner, at 8.49mm. That makes the Motorola Atrix 2 require just a bit more heft when you want to grab it and make a call.
Like every other recent Android smartphone, the Motorola Atrix 2 uses a fairly standard implementation of Android 2.3 with some minor enhancements. HTC does a better job at adding useful widgets on phones such as the Sensation XE.
When there are similar widgets, such as the one for aggregating social networking feeds, the HTC interface is better designed with a more colourful appearance.
That said, the Motorola Atrix 2 is fast and nimble - swipes and other gesture registered accurately and we had no problems with apps loading slowly or the phone chugging along trying to figure out what to do. When you slide from one screen to the next in the app view, the icons move like a book on a page in a smooth animation.
There are five home screens for widgets, and three panels for storing apps, which is plenty of screen space for most purposes.
Motorola places key icons on the home screens, including the calendar, text messaging, Android Market and camera apps.
There is a dedicated camera button on the wide of the phone that you have to press for a moment to engage.
Other home screens hold less important icons, including a photo gallery app, music player and a calculator. You can move these icons around, ditch widgets at will and generally customise the wallpaper and look of the main screens.
One benefit of using less colourful widgets (and fewer of them) than HTC and Samsung phones is that the Motorola Atrix 2 is generally easy to use - there's little confusion about where to find apps.
You quickly learn that, by pressing the menu button below the main screen, you can access Settings. A dedicated phone icon helps you to access the dialler quickly.
Overall, the Motorola Atrix 2 is intuitive to use and doesn't hide options or make them hard to find. Some might prefer the more colourful approach of a Samsung or HTC phone. In many ways, the trim interface is more reminiscent of an Apple iPhone 4S in that icons are apps.
Contacts and calling
The Motorola Atrix 2 isn't going to set the world on fire with any brilliant new calling features. In fact, the interface and functions for making calls and organising contacts work about the same here as they did on the original Atrix.
There's a Google Search button below the main screen, which you can use for voice search for call functions. So saying: "Call Jesse" should do just that, but this feature is hit or miss. It's not nearly as well integrated into the phone services as Apple's Siri is.
To access contacts, you press the phone dialler button and then press the Contacts tab. You can add Facebook and Twitter contacts easily, and then control which contacts are shown - for example, you can hide all Facebook contacts but show all of your Twitter friends.
For some reason, the Motorola Atrix 2 took a good two minutes to add social networking accounts. It took a couple of tries per account to add them. And finding where to add these accounts is a bit challenging - you can wade through the social networking widget, press Menu in the Contacts app and select Accounts, or go through Settings. We'd prefer an even more obvious route - maybe by adding an obvious "Add social network account" link on the main page.
There's a handy way to manage contacts between phones. You can import and export contacts to or from a SIM card or an SD card. The search field for contacts works quickly, which is handy when you have hundreds of Facebook contacts. Just type a few letters, such as Alan, and anyone with that name comes up after a short pause.
For every contact, there is a Contact History that shows your messaging history with that person. Adding contacts is easy - you just press a green plus icon.
Calls on the Motorola Atrix 2 sounded brilliantly clear and without the typical distortion of a lower-quality smartphone or feature phone. In a dozen calls, our caller reported no problems hearing us, both when using the phone normally and in speakerphone mode. We had no dropped calls either.
Haptic feedback - the slight buzz you feel when you press on the screen - helped to make phone dialling easier and faster. The Motorola Atrix 2 has a satisfying "thud" feel when you press digits on the screen, acknowledging your finger presses so you can dial faster and more accurately.
The Motorola Atrix 2 supports SMS and MMS messaging, and the IMAP, POP3 and SMTP protocols for email. There's a generic email client for adding your own ISP account, and a Gmail app.
There's a universal search box for finding contacts, and the social networking features are integrated right into the messaging functions - these are as easy to use as those for phone dialling.
The haptics buzz you feel as you type helped to speed up text messaging and emails, although in the portrait view the keys are spaced too close together, and we had some accuracy trouble.
In landscape, the Motorola Atrix 2 worked much better for typing fast memos. The phone uses a predictive text engine that worked reasonably well for guessing words.
Motorola includes the Google Talk instant messaging client, which you can also use for video chats using the front-facing camera. No other IM clients are included as standard, though.
You can use the Google Search system to prompt actions using your voice - say, to call a contact. But the speech system doesn't work for reading emails or text messages to you unless you add a third-party app such as Vlingo.
The Motorola Atrix 2's voice search lacks the sophistication of the Apple Siri voice recognition system where you can perform complex tasks by speaking them - such as setting a reminder to call your wife that triggers automatically when you leave work for the day.
The Motorola Atrix 2 doesn't know who your wife is, nor does it trigger alerts and reminders based on your location - but then again, we have to give Apple something to shout about, right?
We expected blazing speed from the Motorola Atrix 2, but were somewhat disappointed.
We tested the now discontinued HP Veer not too long ago, which is also a 4G smartphone that uses AT&T in the US, and managed to get a consistently good 6Mbps connection. In the same home office setting, the Motorola Atrix 2 barely cracked a 4Mbps barrier in most cases.
As expected, the Motorola Atrix 2 includes the standard Android web browser. Sites such as TechRadar.com generally pulled up fast and with proper formatting.
Zooming in on pages was smooth and easy. The bright 4-inch TFT screen made sites pop and text highly readable.
Text reflowed perfectly on the screen, resizing for the device without any glitches. Flash animations played smoothly, although load times were a bit slower than we noticed on the Samsung Galaxy S2, which has a faster, more graphics-intensive processor.
There's a satisfying "click" that you hear when you tap on links, and pages load up without hesitation. The bookmarking system, like other Android phones, works well with a large and rather obvious bookmark icon just to the right of the URL bar.
The Motorola Atrix 2 has a much-improved 8MP rear-facing camera that took colourful, clear and bright photos consistently, inside and out. You can drag a small box icon around on the screen to change the focus area, which is helpful when people are in the shot.
The Motorola Atrix 2 offers two main megapixel settings - an 8MP mode that produces normal shots and a 6MP mode where the shots are in HD widescreen. You can also disable the flash.
There are scene modes for Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Night, Sunset, Macro and Steady Cam shots. These modes worked as billed for the most part, and you can use them in combination with other settings, such as taking multiple shots in sport scene mode.
To access most settings, you just press the menu button - in landscape, this button is located to the right of the Motorola Atrix 2's main screen. There are a few photo effects you can apply to shots, such as sepia or black and white. Motorola also adds tinting options - say a blue tint or green tint.
It's easy to find these settings and use them. The results were outstanding - photos looked clear in almost every condition where we tried the phone, except those where a normal digital camera often fails - such as a dark room with poor lighting.
Shooting video with the Motorola Atrix 2 produced outstanding results as well. Videos looked clean and crisp in Full HD 1080p mode.
Connecting the Motorola Atrix 2 to a Sony 55-inch HD display using a docking station that enables you to connect a standard HDMI cable, the videos played smoothly. Frames per second matched what we would expect from a full camcorder, with few dropped frames.
One unique feature for shooting video is that you can select an audio mode, such as Everyday, Outdoors or Concert. These modes actually work, too. In an outdoor setting, the phone helped to cancel out some annoying background noise. You might not become a famous Hollywood director using the Motorola Atrix 2, but at least YouTube videos will look better.
Another unusual feature is that when you leave the camera and camcorder app on for too long without using the phone, the Motorola Atrix 2 jumps back to the home screen.
This can do more than just save battery life - it also means you can't accidentally start recording something.
In our test videos, filming a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, the final videos looked crisp and clear, but not exactly on par with another video we took with a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera.
Shots of an all-terrain vehicle looked colourful enough and had no stuttering. In a close-up of a bird feeder, the texture of the wood looked especially clear when viewed on an HD TV.
Media consumption is a bit hit and miss on the Motorola Atrix 2. Motorola includes a generic Music app instead of the much more common Google Music app, which syncs with an existing collection. The phone supports the most common file formats, including MP3 and AAC.
It's painfully obvious that AT&T wanted to steer US users clear of competing music services such as Amazon MP3, which isn't included. This bundled service, which is poorly rated by users on the Android Market, does let you purchase songs and then store them in the Amazon cloud for playback on any other device, including your computer.
The 8GB of internal memory is adequate for a few videos and songs, but we quickly ran out of space when we added a few movie files and TV show episodes at 700MB each - although you can expand this by 32GB with the microSD slot.
Motorola includes a music widget you can use for playing songs, but it's nothing more than a quick tool for advancing to the next track and pausing.
Music discovery isn't a strong suit of the Motorola Atrix 2, since there are few "music socialising" apps for finding new artists.
Sound quality on the Motorola Atrix 2 is good, but not great. There was a slight distortion effect when listening on earbuds that should not have been there, since we were using an expensive set by Ultimate Ears. Playback from the Motorola Atrix 2 speakers was poor and tinny, even for a smartphone.
However, Motorola gives you many options: you can connect the Motorola Atrix 2 to a Lapdock system that's like a laptop with no guts, but which does have a screen and keyboard. The Lapdock has built-in speakers that sounded about as good as most laptop speakers which is more than acceptable.
You can connect the phone to an HD TV using a Motorola cable that plugs into the phone. Playback over HDMI to a Sony HD TV sounded just as good as any other device we've tested on the same television.
One minor gripe about movies is that we really prefer the Samsung media Hub system for renting and purchasing Hollywood movies - it makes the process easier.
That said, the included Movies app, while generic and slim on features, at least offered a way to rent the movie Cars 2 easily, and the rental price can even be linked to your AT&T wireless account.
The light and thin phone worked well for movie watching, but we ended up preferring the Samsung Galaxy S2. The S2 has a brighter screen, and the movie Cars 2 popped in a richer colour treatment on that phone. The S2 is also thinner and lighter to hold, which helps for long movie-watching sessions in the car or on the bus.
We played every video format we could think of; the TV show The Killers in WMA, YouTube videos, ripped movies saved as H.264 and MPEG-4, and they all worked smoothly. We wondered why the show The Killers looked a bit dark, but the show tends to look that way on every device - including the Samsung Galaxy S2.
Motorola provides a quick way to access photos - there's a Gallery icon you can use to quickly find photos you've loaded onto the Atrix 2 or snapped with the camera. The app automatically shows photos uploaded to Facebook. There's also an included YouTube app.
Motorola doesn't include an FM radio app on the phone. DLNA is supported for streaming content to a supported device such as the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3.
Battery life and connectivity
Battery life is quite impressive using the 1785mAh battery, lasting a whole day on a charge. Of course, this depended greatly on what we were doing at the time - recording and playing videos can eat up battery life in just a few hours. Whereas, using the phone only for texting, and disabling most of the other wireless services, means hitting a much longer battery life.
The quoted battery life spec is around eight and a half hours of calling, but we found that mark to be a bit elusive. In general, the phone lasted all day for normal use, and needed frequent recharging when all we did was play Angry Birds and shoot videos of the kids at play.
This battery life issue is one that seems to differentiate some of the latest models. The iPhone 4S, for example, has a current issue with big battery drain on the new version of iOS, depending on what you do.
Motorola includes the usual assortment of wireless connection options, including 802.11n wireless internet for hotspots, Bluetooth (including the stereo version but not the most advanced iteration of the tech), and 4G service.
The phone goes a step beyond the original Atrix in that you can use the device as a 4G hotspot for up to eight users, an improvement over the five user limit on the Atrix.
There's a DLNA app you can use for streaming, and you can use the included USB cable to add media to the device when you connect to your computer.
Motorola is one of the few phone companies that offers a full desktop app you can install on your computer, and it's included on the phone itself - no CD required. The app is designed to make it easy to copy media to the phone and convert files to the right format.
Maps and apps
Motorola includes the basic Google Maps app, but also adds the AT&T Navigator app in the US, which offers voice turn-by-turn directions. Knowing that people will use the Motorola Atrix 2 as a primary GPS device in their cars, there's also a windshield mount designed just for the Motorola Atrix 2 (sold separately).
The AT&T Navigator app is a third-party OEM app from TeleNav that has been rebranded. In an age of voice-activated GPS in modern cars, like the one included with a VW Passat, the Maps and Navigator apps are starting to reveal problems - they're a bit hard to use and don't work well with the rest of the phone.
For example, when you receive an email with an address, you can't just click the address to get turn-by-turn directions.
The GPS worked quickly in an outdoor setting, but faltered indoors and in a car. Like most Android phones, you can enable Google Latitude to tell your friends and family your current location at all times, or turn the feature off when you want to be anonymous.
Motorola relies on the stock Android Market app for buying and installing apps. That's a good thing, because first-party app stores such as Samsung Apps tend to just add clutter to the phone when most people will either use the Android Market or install an alternate such as the Amazon Store.
Motorola only includes a small handful of extra apps such as the Let's Golf game, an app for scanning QR codes, the Music and Movies apps from AT&T and QuickOffice.
The only highlight here is QuickOffice, which enables you to view Microsoft Office files and PDFs. The app offers full document editing for Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Only a handful of the apps also include a related widget - for example, the generic Music app offers a widget that runs on a home screen but only enables you to play, pause and change tracks.
Hands on gallery
The Motorola Atrix 2 is a powerful smartphone with a unique spin thanks to being able to alter its use through the accessories bundle and hi-res screen, and it's nice to review something that isn't identical to the rest of the market.
The Motorola Atrix 2 is certainly a top-end phone. There are several useful accessories such as a GPS car mount, a Lapdock for charging the phone and using a webtop operating system, and another docking station that enables you to connect to an HD TV using an HDMI cable.
The 8MP camera is outstanding - videos and photos turned out clear and colourful. The phone is light and portable, with a bright screen, good battery life and a fast processor.
The Motorola Atrix 2 has an older 1GHz processor instead of a 1.2GHz processor, there's no NFC chip and the screen isn't as bright as the AMOLED screen on the Samsung Galaxy S2.
The chassis is also a little chunky too - with the slimline business of the iPhones and Galaxys of this world, we can't stand too much heft, although this may appeal to those looking for something other than a wafer thin device.
The Motorola Atrix 2 falls a bit short of the best Android phones, but is in the same league. The phone runs fast, has a bright screen and lasts all day. But if we had to pick an Android phone, we'd either choose the Samsung Galaxy S2 or wait for the Galaxy Nexus - and the Motorola Razr is probably the superior device coming from the Moto brand.