Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Is the Motorola ATRIX smartphone your next laptop?

4

April

When I first tried the new Motorola ATRIX 4G Android phone and Lapdock accessory, I wasn't sure it would work. The phone was great and very powerful, but there's no way a smartphone could become a laptop, right?

I was wrong. The ATRIX is an excellent phone and it can become your laptop too, with the Lapdock accessory ($299 after rebates) and the understanding that it will have some limitations.

First, let's talk about the phone. It comes with a powerful dual-core, NVIDIA Tegra 1GHz processor with 1GB of RAM and a 4-inch display that is very bright and sharp. Running Android 2.2 with the MOTOBLUR user interface enhancements, it has a lot of nice features and widgets to make the user experience very enjoyable. It's also a strong multimedia device, with Adobe Flash 10 pre-loaded and a 24-bit color qHD touch screen display that is ready for 3D gaming. It's very slim and light, weighing only 4.8 ounces. It's pretty slippery though, and that was about the only thing I didn't like about the phone.

Where it really shines, however, is when you use it with it's innovative accessories. The Lapdock (see video) really does turn the phone into a usable laptop. When you dock the ATRIX in the Lapdock, the Webtop interface launches giving you access to a full-blown version of the Firefox browser that is embedded in the phone. You also get a special Facebook app, a File Manager that let's you access and store files right on the phone and access to cloud-based apps through Google Docs, Citrix and others for creation of word processing and spreadsheet documents. Two included USB port let you connect a mouse or a USB key chain drive for file transfer. And internal battery charges the phone as you work and lasted almost all day during my tests.

But what about the phone? When it's docked are you going to miss calls? Nope. The Webtop interface lets you bring the phone up in a separate window on the Lapdock screen so you can make and receive calls, send texts and email and access your contacts without un-docking.

The keyboard works well, although the keys seemed small to me and the track pad was a little jittery. The Lapdock is super thin and light, weighing just a fraction of a normal laptop.

A separate accessory, called the HD Multimedia Dock, allows attachment of the ATRIX to a larger display or HD TV for multimedia purposes. The dock comes with a wireless remote for ease of use.

motorola_atrix_hd_multimedia_dock.pngAT&T calls the ATRIX a 4G phone but since they don't have true 4G running on their network yet, it really isn't. What you get is HSPA+ with an enhanced backhaul to achieve 4G speeds. AT&T isn't the only company to use this marketing tactic, so just be aware.

So can the ATRIX and Lapdock replace your laptop? Well, that depends on the kind of work you need to do. With the ATRIX, your whole file system is based on the internal storage of the phone. It comes with 16GB of on board storage and you can expand to 48GB by adding a 32GB microSD card. That's not a lot of storage if you're using it as your primary computer. You can't load additional applications and you can't burn a DVD.

But if all you need to do is do some light word processing, take some notes in meetings, surf the web and get on Facebook, this definitely could work for you. You can't beat the convenience of basically having your laptop in your purse or pocket, waiting to be converted to it's full potential when docked. But you'll pay for that convenience. The phone is $199 and the Lapdock is another $299. The HD Multimedia Dock is $129 and if you add the Bluetooth keyboard for $69, you now have a $696 phone/laptop combo. The docks are made specifically for that phone, so you're kind of locked in once you invest. With all the cool tablets coming out and netbooks still available, it might not be the best investment.

Still the technology is very innovative and with smartphones becoming so powerful I expect we will see more dockable phones and may even see the day when traditional laptops are no longer needed.

[Last modified: Friday, October 28, 2011 12:57pm]

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