Motorola is doubling down on its docking smartphone. The original Atrix 4G was a fun, if somewhat buggy cell phone that converted into a laptop. A major firmware update resolved many of the bugs. Now Motorola is back for more with the Atrix 2 ($99.99), an incremental but welcome refresh—and one that finally delivers on its original 4G promise. The Atrix 2 is still an idea that's ahead of its time, but if you're the geeky type, you can have plenty of fun with it.
Design, 4G Connectivity, and Call Quality
Like the original model, the Atrix 2 is a big slab measuring 5.0 by 2.6 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and weighing 5.2 ounces. It's also somewhat shinier than before. The newly textured, soft touch back panel and smoked chrome accented sides look sharp. The slightly larger, 4.3-inch screen is a beauty, with 960-by-540-pixel resolution and deep, vibrant colors. Any Android phone with a screen of this size is pretty easy to type on, even in portrait mode, and the Atrix 2 is no exception. The infamous PenTile display is gone; consequently, fonts appeared sharp and crisp this time around.
The Atrix 2 is a quad-band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and tri-band HSPA+ 21 (850/1900/2100 MHz) device with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. We dinged the original Atrix "4G" for its HSPA+ 14.4 connection, which amounted to roughly 3G real-world performance; this time around, the 4G support is real, and the phone virtually screams it with a stylized 4G icon next to the signal strength bar. But I live in a rural part of Massachusetts, so I only saw average speeds of 2 to 2.5Mbps down and 1Mbps up (with three bars of "4G" signal). That's roughly HSPA 7.2, not HSPA+ 21, but it's because of AT&T's network, not the phone. The Atrix 2 also works as a 4G mobile hotspot for up to five devices with the appropriate data plan.
Voice quality was stellar, with a warm, full tone in the earpiece, and clear transmissions through the microphone. Even high-end smartphones sometimes give up voice quality in order to pack in so many other features, but not this one. Reception was solid.
Calls also sounded clear through an Aliph Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129, 4 stars). But voice dialing was a total fail; Motorola and AT&T replaced the stock app with their own, which either missed what I said entirely, or heard half of the digits incorrectly. The speakerphone was clear and undistorted, if a little tinny, and went just loud enough for outdoor use. Battery life was very impressive at 10 hours and 43 minutes of talk time; credit the oversize 1785mAh battery.
OS, Hardware, and Docks
Android purists will be miffed, since Motorola once again MOTOFIED its Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) build. You get five home screen panels that you can customize or swipe between. This time around, the icons get another refresh, the menus swipe left to right instead of scrolling vertically, and you can now change the four quick launch icons at the bottom. It's all pretty attractive, especially the dial screen, although much of it appears to be change for the sake of change—at the expense of timely OS updates later. The 1GHz dual-core processor looks similar to the original model's on paper, but it's actually a TI OMAP4430 chip; the Atrix 4G had an Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU. It benchmarks slightly faster, with a roughly 10 to 15 percent improvement across the board, including frame rates.