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Motorola Atrix HD (AT&T) Review
Motorola’s nicely updated Atrix HD Android smartphone offers a lot of bang for not much buck, although it’s no longer the stellar value it once was.
(3.5 out of 5)
- Solid value
- Comes with Android 4.0 preloaded
- Fast 4G LTE speeds
- Sharp 720p display
- Good battery life.
- Not the thinnest or lightest phone
- UI customizations and bloatware are a drag
- Disappointing camera and camcorder.
Motorola’s third-generation Atrix HD ($99.99 direct) is a solid smartphone and a significant upgrade from last year’s Atrix 2 (4 stars). Sadly, Webtop, Motorola’s nifty OS that debuted on the Atrix and let it work with laptop-like peripherals, is dead. But most consumers just want a good smartphone, which the Atrix HD certainly is. It doesn’t top the Samsung Galaxy S III ($199.99, 4.5 stars), but at a hundred bucks less, it doesn’t have to.
Design, Controls, and Screen
The Atrix HD measures 5.26 by 2.75 by 0.33 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.9 ounces. That depth figure is deceptive; while it’s a hundredth of an inch thinner than the Samsung Galaxy S III , there’s a considerably thicker portion near the top that houses the camera sensor and flash. Plus, it’s two tenths of an ounce heavier, and feels top-heavy when you hold it, whereas the Galaxy S III feels thinner and more balanced. These are minor points; just know that there’s more going on here than the numbers claim.
Motorola says the Atrix HD features a “high-tech, invisible nano-coating” that acts as a splash guard for the plastic housing and internal electronics. Our loaner model was in pearl white, with a dark gray, soft touch, textured back panel, and a tapered design from top to bottom; you can also get one that’s entirely in dark gray. The look is a little busy, with a black accent stripe around the edges, chrome Volume and Power buttons, and a hinged plastic door that covers the microSD and micro SIM slots.
For the moment, Motorola is throwing in a free vehicle dock, which consists of a three-piece windshield mount and an adhesive disc, should you live in a state like California, where it’s illegal to mount anything on the windshield (or if you just prefer it that way).
The 4.5-inch, 1,280-by-720-pixel display looks quite nice, and is a significant jump over the Atrix 2′s 4.3-inch, 960-by-540-pixel screen. It doesn’t have the deepest blacks of an AMOLED display, but colors are still vibrant, and the pixel density is sharp enough that you can’t see jagged lines in fonts. Typing in both portrait and landscape mode was fast and fluid.
Connectivity and Call Quality
The Atrix HD is a quad-band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz), quad-band WCDMA (850/900/1700/2100 MHz), dual-band HSPA+ 14.4 (850/1900 MHz), and single band LTE (700MHz) device with 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. Like all AT&T LTE phones, the Atrix HD screamed on our data tests, with download speeds averaging 16 to 19Mbps, and uploads even exceeding that slightly, at 17 to 19Mbps. As we found in our Fastest Mobile Networks survey, AT&T LTE can exceed Verizon LTE speeds, but it’s not as consistent, and there’s not as much coverage nationwide yet.
Call quality was excellent, with a full, warm tone in both directions. Outside on a Manhattan street, my voice was easily understandable, although there was a slight hiss in the background, and you could hear a considerable amount of background noise. I’d still call it a very good sounding phone; only the Samsung Galaxy S III exceeds the Atrix HD’s voice quality, thanks to Samsung’s new EQ customization feature.
Calls sounded fine through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129, 4 stars), and the Atrix HD’s voice dialing worked perfectly over Bluetooth. You can send text messages or email messages, check voicemail, or even check things like signal strength and missed calls, all from voice commands through the headset, which is great. The speakerphone was just okay, with a balanced tone but not quite enough volume to use outdoors. The Atrix HD’s 1780mAh battery was good for an impressive 9 hours 39 minutes of talk time.
User Interface, Hardware, and Apps
You get seven home screens you can swipe between and customize. Motorola adds Circle Widget, which gives you a clock, weather data, and quick access to your AT&T account’s data usage (such as 0.2MB of 5GB for month), which is extremely helpful. Every phone should have data usage info on the home screen.
The dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor is plenty fast. Motorola has now run the board with Atrix CPUs for each of the three generations, from Nvidia to TI and now Qualcomm, though this one certainly benchmarks the fastest.
Android 4.0.4 “Ice Cream Sandwich” is on board. Amazingly, there’s no official word yet about when Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” will be available for this phone. Think about that for a moment. Google owns Motorola; Google makes the OS, Motorola makes the Atrix HD, and yet neither company can tell us when this handset will get upgraded past the almost-year-old OS it’s running out of the box. I saw some stutters in menu, widget, and home screen animation, and a few jitters on otherwise smooth frame rates in games that made me wonder whether Motorola’s UI overlay was interfering with the device’s performance in some way.
SmartActions, Motorola’s new set of improvements that help you do common tasks, is interesting. Snap the Atrix HD into its vehicle dock and set it to Drive Smart, and it switches to vehicle mode and reads incoming messages aloud. Battery Extender mode prolongs battery life by shutting down power-draining features like GPS and background account synchronization. The Atrix HD also caters to business users, with a preloaded VPN client, government-grade encryption for the internal storage and SD card, and remote wipe capability. Unfortunately, there’s also a ton of bloatware, which clutters up the menus, although you can remove it one program at a time.
Like all current Android phones, you get access to more than half a million applications in Google Play, as well as 4 million books and thousands of movies and TV shows. We still recommend third-party services like Netflix, Hulu+, Pandora, and Spotify to fill out the music and video side while Google Play ramps up its offerings.
Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
There’s 4.79GB of free internal storage out of the box. The side-mounted microSD card slot works with 32GB cards; my 32GB SanDisk card worked fine, and there’s also a standard-size 3.5mm headphone jack on top. Music tracks sounded fine through Plantronics BackBeat Go Bluetooth earphones ($99, 4 stars), and the modified music player picked up album art and was easy to use. Videos played smoothly and looked vibrant in full screen mode, but DivX files had serious audio sync issues, and it took several extra button taps to start videos using Motorola’s modified Gallery app. You can also see the screen’s grayish black level problem more easily in movies, so you’ll want to crank down the brightness.
The rear-facing 8-megapixel autofocus camera has a single LED flash. Photo performance was okay overall, although outdoor shots looked overexposed, with not as much detail as what we’ve seen from other 8-megapixel sensors. Indoor shots didn’t have much noise, but again there was a distinct lack of detail. Motorola’s customizations put a lot of controls up front but block a portion of the view, which is a little frustrating.
Recorded 1080p (1920-by-1080-pixel) and 720p (1280-by-720-pixel) videos averaged 29 frames per second both indoors and out. There’s no video stabilization, which would have helped cure some of the shakes in the recordings. Videos looked good, but slightly blurry even when I attempted to focus manually using the on-screen crosshairs. Also, several times during each recording, I saw a half-second hiccup every few seconds, which was disturbing (I was recording straight to the internal storage when this happened). There’s also a 720p front facing camera for video chats.
All told, the Atrix HD is a fine phone, but on this third go-around the competition is much tougher, as AT&T customers now have two top-end smartphones to choose from—both of which are better than the Atrix HD. The Samsung Galaxy S III remains our Editors’ Choice, with its slightly faster Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, larger 4.85-inch display, superior camera, and more usable array of software enhancements. The HTC One X ($199.99, 4.5 stars) has the latest version of HTC’s Sense 4.0 UI, which remains fun to use, and the HTC’s camera hardware is also superior. If you’re willing to try Windows Phone and save money in the process, the Nokia Lumia 900 ($49.99, 4 stars) is a nice deal at its new direct price and offers a compelling user experience, but the Atrix HD has significantly better hardware specs and many more third-party apps to choose from.
Continuous talk time: 9 hours 39 minutes
By Jamie Lendino, PCMag