Smartphone sequels seem to run out of some steam after each refresh. The new $99.99 Motorola Atrix HD doesn't quite follow the same script. It would be more apt to say this latest Atrix is less ambitious than its two previous incarnations, the Atrix 4G and Atrix 2. Gone are Motorola's plans to make a phone that also morphs into a laptop or even run its Webtop software. That doesn't mean the Atrix HD lacks power, speed, and poise. Indeed, while it's not without faults, the Motorola Atrix HD offers all three in an attractive package and at a price that's not stratospheric.
If you're an Android and Motorola fan you may do a double take when you first see the Atrix HD. That's because this handsome phone looks very similar to the Motorola Droid Razr right down to its curved top-heavy hump around back and the Kevlar coating that resists scratches. Frankly I love this surface, which feels soft yet helps my fingers grip securely and repels prints.
Available in colors of White and Titanium, the Atrix HD definitely feels well-crafted, but a bit plasticky and not as premium as the more metallic Motorola Droid Razr phones on Verizon.
Measuring 5.26 inches tall by 2.75 inches wide, the Artix HD isn't small. At just a third of an inch thick at its trimmest point, though, it's pretty thin. The phone features a big, bold, and bright 4.5-inch LCD screen with an 720 HD resolution. Motorola says the display uses something called HD ColorBoost, which I suspect is a form of image processing and possibly a special filter designed to pump up colors and contrast.
However the display works, I can confirm the screen serves up good image quality with higher contrast than the Sony Xperia Ion and even the HTC One X when viewed side by side. To be fair, the Atrix HD's display produces colors that definitely pop but are way oversaturated, and can look garish and even cartoonish at times. For example a pair of hot-pink pants in a recent photo I took, don't ask, was so intense it practically stabbed my eyes. The color in pictures of the same view appeared more lifelike and less neon taken with both the One X and the Xperia Ion.
I commend both the Atrix HD and One X for their wide viewing angles. Tilting the Xperia Ion slightly in any direction other than head-on immediately caused colors to wash out and its brightness to dim significantly.
Above the Atrix HD's screen is a 720p HD front-facing camera for taking vanity shots and participating in video chat sessions. Below the display there's, well, nothing unless you count the small AT&T logo. The typical capacitive buttons or physical keys usually placed here are absent. Instead, once the screen is active a trio of symbols for back, home, and recent applications appear on the display's bottom edge.
On top of the phone are ports for Micro-USB and Micro-HDMI along with a headphone jack. The right side holds a tiny power button and small volume rocker. Located on the Atrix HD's left edge is a flap that covers slots for micro-SIM and microSD cards.
One disappointment is the Atrix HD uses a relatively low-capacity 1,700mAh battery, which is not removable. That means you won't be able to swap it out yourself for a fresh one if it runs dry or malfunctions completely.
Typing on the Atrix HD's software keyboard is an enjoyable and comfortable experience. Its Motorola-designed virtual keyboard looks practically identical to the stock Android 4.0 ICS layout. There's a decent amount of spacing between letters, and tapping keys provides a light buzz of haptic feedback. Long-pressing the spacebar also pulls up a window for switching over to Swype, an input method that lets you draw lines through letters to form words quickly.
You may not expect much in the way of features considering the Motorola Atrix HD's midrange price of $99.99. I'm happy to say this phone packs in plenty of premium capabilities typically found on more expensive devices.
Waking up the handset launches its lock screen, which displays the time and date in cleanly drawn numbers and letters. From here you can toggle the phone's sound on or off by sliding a virtual switch at the top of the screen.
In the center of the display is a pulsating key icon that you drag right to unlock the Atrix. Pulling the key left, up, or down will whisk you directly to the camera, phone, or messaging functions respectively.
The Atrix HD runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, one step below Google's latest version, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Android brings support for all the Google services you know and love such as Gmail and Google +, along with Google Play stores for music, books, and movies.
Motorola does graft its own skin on top of Android, though it doesn't admit that or even refer to the UI at all. However you describe it, this is the remnant of the Motoblur interface of old. To start with there are two home screens but you can add up to five additional for a total of seven. The Atrix HD even offers a choice of blank screens or picking from four canned templates. Don't get your hopes up, though, as they consist of unimaginative titles such as AT&T Services, Social Networking, Entertainment, and On The Go. They are also filled with applications that are already in the phone's app tray.