The Motorola Atrix 4G wowed us at CES 2011, with not only a dual-core processor, but also support for AT&T's 4G/HSPA+ network, a front-facing camera, and an optional laptop dock accessory that allowed you to have a portable PC experience using Motorola's Webtop software. It was a groundbreaking product in many ways, and it's no wonder we awarded it the Best of CES Award in the cell phone and smartphones category at the time.
However, it was not a perfect phone. We later discovered that the Atrix was plagued by poor upload speeds (though an update did fix that eventually), and the overall feel of the handset was not quite as premium as other Motorola smartphones. It also did not have 1080p HD recording capabilities at the time of its launch. While we thought the laptop dock accessory was cool, it was only compatible with the Atrix and no other phone, which made its high price rather hard to swallow.
Motorola must have realized these missteps, as the recently launched Atrix 2 has fixed many of these issues and more. It has a bigger and better-looking display, an upgraded camera, and it ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Even the new laptop dock accessory is improved; it's sleeker, lighter, and Motorola has ensured its compatibility with other Motorola handsets. Still, these changes are somewhat incremental, as the processor speed hasn't changed and it still only supports HSPA+ and not AT&T's nascent LTE network.
But perhaps the most exciting thing about the Atrix 2 is that it's surprisingly affordable at only $99.99 after a two-year agreement; that's a $100 drop from the original Atrix. Even though the improvements are incremental, the price drop makes the Atrix 2 a very attractive option for AT&T customers.
When we first laid eyes on the Motorola Atrix 2, we couldn't quite tell the difference between it and its predecessor. The overall shapes of the phones are similar, with the usual slab design and rounded corners. Yet, there are subtle differences that help elevate the Atrix 2. It has a shiny gunmetal gray bezel around the front and a rubberized textured back that gives the phone a more luxurious feel in the hand despite its plastic construction. It's also taller and larger at 4.95 inches long by 2.59 inches wide by 0.41 inch deep.
The reason for the size increase is because of a slightly larger display. While the Atrix 4G had a 4-inch qHD display, the Atrix 2 has a 4.3-inch qHD display. Moreover, the Atrix 2 does not have the Pentile display that resulted in poorer pixel density in the original Atrix. Graphics look crisp and vibrant, and text is smooth and legible as well.
The Atrix 2 has a dual-core 1GHz TI OMAP4 processor instead of the Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset on the Atrix, but that didn't appear to diminish its performance. The capacitive touch screen felt very responsive to our taps and swipes, and navigation felt snappy. There did appear to be a slight flicker when transitioning between menus, but it wasn't too distracting.
Beneath the display are the standard Android shortcut touch keys for the menu, home, back, and search functions. On the left spine are the Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports; the right is home to the volume rocker and a dedicated camera button, which was not on the original Atrix. On the top are the 3.5mm headset jack and the power/screen lock key. Sitting above the display is a front-facing VGA camera for video chats, and the 8-megapixel camera is on the back together with an LED flash. Unfortunately, Motorola decided to do away with the fingerprint scanner with the Atrix 2.
AT&T packages the Motorola Atrix 2 with an AC adapter, a USB cable, and reference material. There's also a plethora of optional accessories for the Atrix 2 that include the new laptop dock called the Motorola Lapdock 100, an extra capacity battery, a vehicle navigation dock, an HD station, a portable universal charger, a wireless keyboard, and more.
The Motorola Atrix 2 runs Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread with a refined MotoBlur interface. It's remarkably different from the one we saw on the original Atrix, and more closely resembles recent Motorola handsets like the Droid Bionic and the Photon 4G. It's certainly not as intrusive as previous versions of MotoBlur, where you had to sign up for an account just to use the device.
You get five customizable home screens that you can personalize with various widgets and shortcuts. You can also press the Home button to see a zoomed-out view of all the home screens. This way you can select a specific home screen directly. On the bottom row of each home screen are four shortcut icons that correspond to the phone dialer, e-mail, the browser, and the main menu. As for the main menu, you swipe from side to side to navigate instead of the vertical scrolling on the default Android interface. For text input, you have the choice of either the multitouch Android keyboard or Swype.
The Atrix 2 offers many of the same features as the Atrix and comparable Android handsets. Android 2.3 Gingerbread gives it a much improved interface along with a more intuitive virtual keyboard. You can also now use the front-facing camera for taking self-portraits if you'd like. It handles Adobe Flash content in the Webkit browser quite well; we loaded CNET TV on it and managed to play video with a delay of only a few seconds. Aside from the dual-core processor mentioned earlier, the phone's 1GB of RAM helped boost performance, too.