Atrix 2

Remember when the Atrix 4G was released just over eight months ago? Do you remember what car you were driving, or how your hair looked? How old were your kids? Sad but true, eight months is the new eight years in the smartphone industry, and that measly old Atrix already has a successor. Whereas the Atrix 4G was a major step for AT&T in terms of both Android and network strength, the Atrix 2 is less of a trailblazer. And this type of incremental update seems like the business model that Motorola is building for itself (see Droid X/X2, Droid line). But for the consumer, how can you tell when an incremental update is enough to fork over more money? And in the Atrix 2's case, is an incremental update enough to compete with some heavy hitters during this holiday season, perhaps the most exciting time for Android since its birth in 2008? Let's see.

The Good

Super fast and powerful processor. Beautiful, clear display. AT&T's HSPA 21+ speeds are respectable if you're in good coverage.

The Bad

Cheap build quality. Specs don't match other recent releases. Webtop software is abysmal.

Conclusion

The Atrix 2 isn't the biggest or best smartphone on the market, but for $99 on contract, the sacrificies Motorola made are justifiable and can be overlooked.

 

 

Hardware

Whereas Motorola has focused on thin and light for its phones on Verizon, it seems to have less of a body image issue with its Atrix line on AT&T. The Atrix 2 is a large phone, in terms of both footprint and girth. Make no mistake about it: the Atrix 2 won't have any “world's __est” titles under its belt.

Atrix 2 Atrix 2

Atrix 2 Atrix 2

Atrix 2

 

The Atrix 2 feels hefty in the hand, even for those like myself who have large hands. I've used some of the biggest smartphones on the block, yet the Atrix 2 managed to surprise me. It's not necessarily bigger that say, the HTC Thunderbolt, but the size, combined with curved edges and relatively thick profile, sure make the Atrix 2 noticeable. It's thinner than the original Atrix but that's not saying much: It's still 10 mm thick, something that Samsung's Galaxy S II would cringe at.

Another thing that you'll notice about the Atrix 2 is the less-than-top-notch build quality. The Atrix 2 is entirely too plasticky. The back cover, a rubberized sheet that prys off without much cooperation, is extremely flimsy, and even the bezel that surrounds the Atrix 2's screen feels cheap and breakable. When I first held the Atrix 2 I felt like it was a phone that I might be able to win out of a claw machine. One upside to this build quality: weight. Despite its heft, the Atrix 2 is relatively lightweight. A brick it is not.

The Atrix 2's physical saving grace is the beautiful display. A 4.3-inch qHD screen with 960 x 540 resolution coated with Gorilla Glass, the Atrix 2's display is a beauty. Colors are vivid and text is crisp and sharp.  And no, it's not Pentile! And yes, you'll notice! The Atrix 2 looks much better than the Bionic and as we see with the Droid RAZR, Motorola is improving its screen technology every day.

Atrix 2

Other hardware odds and ends: the microSD card doesn't require battery removal to install, which is such a treat. And the rear speaker suffices but I've heard much, much better. Don't throw away your stereo.

Atrix 2

Under the Hood

The reason behind the Atrix 2's girth might come from all that Motorola has managed to pack inside. Departing from its commitment to Tegra 2, Motorola has switched its processor-of-choice to Texas Instruments, and the dual-core OMAP 4430 in the Atrix 2 is the beautiful result of that decision. Clocked at 1 GHz, it might not be the fastest on the market, but I couldn't tell. It's fast. Really fast. I noticed nary a slowdown, and was never left wanting more. The processor handled anything I threw at it, whether it be HD video or some severe multitasking. Simply effortless. And combined with 1 GB of DDR2 RAM, the Atrix 2 is a powerhouse.

Also under the hood is a radio capable of handling AT&T's HSPA 21+. Aside from sheer processing power, the Atrix 2 screams thanks to the network's “true 4G” speeds. Let me preface this by saying that AT&T needs to get its act together. This 4G falls somewhere between the measly speeds we saw on the Atrix 4G and the mind-blowing speed we see on AT&T's LTE network. Technically what we've got here isn't the fastest out there, but it certainly gets the job done. It's noticeably snappier than AT&T's 3G speeds but if you're looking for broadband replacement ala Verizon, you're out of luck, especially so if you're in a less-than-stellar coverage zone. Here in New York City I saw average speeds of 3 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up, with the high end topping out at around 6 Mbps down and 1.56 Mbps up. When I visited family back home in Northeastern Pennsylania, I managed to crack 8.5 Mbps down and 1.7 Mbps up. Depending on what you're looking for, you might want to give it a spin in your local AT&T store to see if your area supports the speeds you need.
 

Atrix 2

Supplying power to all these hungry components is a 1,785 mAh battery that produced pretty respectable wake times. I never found myself frantically looking for a plug, which is really refreshing lately. It's not the best in the biz, and you're going to want to keep a spare/charger handy if you'll be away for more than about 10 or 12 hours. But with careful use, I easily got through the majority of the day on a single charge.

Some other odds and ends:

  • UMTS 850/1900/2100
  • GSM 850/900/1800/1900
  • Internal memory: 8 GB ROM, 1 GB RAM, 2 GB microSD™ card (expandable to 32GB)
  • 8 MP camera and LED flash 
  • Front-facing camera
  • 1080p HD video capture, 30 frames per second playback
  • On Device Encryption (ODE) and Enhanced Exchange ActiveSync® (EAS)
  • IPsec VPN


Software and Performance

If you're contemplating ditching your first gen Atrix 4G simply for a new user experience, don't make that mistake. The Atrix 2 is running Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread underneath Motorola's evolving and, dare I say usable, custom skin. What can I say? Have you ever used Android? Then you know what using the Atrix 2 is like. It's great to see that Motorola managed to ship with the absolute latest version of Gingerbread, but you know what's not so great? No Ice Cream Sandwich. I would imagine that the Atrix 2 is lined up for the upgrade in due time, but just be aware that if you commit to two years for an Atrix 2, some of your friends might get ICS before you. Bummer.

And about that custom skin: it's a work in progress, and gets better with each new device. It is absolutely identical to what we saw on the Bionic and the Droid X2, but performance is noticeably better than the latter. Things are snappy: apps open without hesitation, and multitasking is a breeze. Bootup time is notceably quick, too. Is this due to the Atrix's heavy-duty processor? Maybe. But I'm willing to bet that Motorola has been working dilligently on improving performance. Whereas the X2 lagged even when being pushing along by its dual-core processor, the Atrix 2 chews through tasks. Not a coincidence. Motorola is doing some heavy duty tinkering.

Preinstalled are all of AT&T's usual suspects, including its Live TV, Music Store, and Yellow Pages, among others. And let us not forget ZumoCast, Motorola's file-sharing software that is just tops. It really works great. You'll need to create an account, and download ZumoCast to your PC or Mac. Once set up, you cans stream photos, videos, and music from your home computer to your Atrix 2. Cool. And even cooler is that Motorola seems to be committed to ZumoCast and including it in many if not all new devices.


And one more thing about those 4G speeds: they are certainly high enough to handle the challenges of using Mobile Hotspot. I saw little latency when running my computer, Wii, and tablet all off of the Atrix 2. Not saying that's something you would want to due (AT&T's data prices might make you think twice about it), but it's good to know that it's possible.

Cameras

One thing that Motorola is severly lagging behind the competition with is its camera. 8 MP and 1080p recording. Big whoop. A camera is only as good as how quickly and easily you can capture the subject. In the past Motorola cameras have been slow to focus, slow to shoot, and downright aggrevating in terms of quality. The Atrix 2 is a step in the right direction, but Motorola isn't quite there yet. I'd like to dispute Motorola's claims of having shutter and start up speeds equal to real digital cameras. Doubtful. They're faster than what we've seen on the Droid line and even the Bionic, but the Atrix 2's camera is not my favorite. I've seen much better photo quality both Samsung and HTC hardware, and those cameras have faster start-up times and more user-friendly interfaces.

Atrix 2 camera test Atrix 2 camera test

 Atrix 2 camera test

The 1080p video is captured at 30 fps and the results aren't terrible. It gets the job done, but again, it certainly lags behind its Samsung and HTC competition.


LapDock

From what I can tell, Motorola is looking to create a niche for itself in the smartphone market with its Webtop capabilities. My advice to Motorola: big mistake. Let me try to put this as concisely and nicely as I can: the LapDock that Motorola wants you to shell over $200 for is a abysmal. It's slow, it's awkard, and the software is still so far from primetime. At this point I doubt that the hardware Motorlola is including inside its smartphones is enough to handle the demands of the LapDock. Web browing is crazy slow, and don't even bother trying to do much else with it. Sure, it's good for taking notes or writing up the occasional word doc, but its frustratingly slow. It can't replace your laptop, or your tablet, or even your pen and paper at this point, so I really don't see how you can justify the price. Sorry Motorola, but keep trying. I appreciate the effort and I truly think it's a great idea that will set Moto apart from the pack, but it really needs some more time.

Atrix 2 Atrix 2

Atrix 2

Conclusion

The Motorola Atrix 2 isn't going to sweep you off your feet, but that doesn't mean its not likable. For $99 on contract you have to be willing to make some concessions. No, the Atrix 2 doesn't have the fastest processor or the highest-res screen or the next-gen version of Android. But what it does have is respectable specs for an attractive price. You're getting a solid device, one that benefits from a super fast processor and a close-to-optimized manufacturer skin. You're getting a gorgeous display atop a lightweight (albeit plasiticky) frame. Sure, I wish the camera was on par with the rest of the industry, and I wish that Motorola would stop placing all of its bets on the LapDock, but for $99, the Atrix 2 is hard to beat. If you've got a slightly higher budget you'd be a fool to pass up the Galaxy S II or any of the next-gen HTC devices (or even Moto's next batch, including the RAZR). But let your wallet make this decision.

 

Reader comments

Motorola Atrix 2 review

15 Comments

You could just put "Cheap build quality" as a con for every Android device. They all feel plasticky and cheap.

You've obviously never used any high end HTC, Motorola, LG, Sony, or even some of the newest Samsung devices. Thanks for the biased comment.

Actually, I have, thanks. My brother and nephew owned Droid X's, My niece had a Droid 2, my best friend still has his OG Droid, my partner at work had an EVO 3D. Just hold any of them in one hand and an iPhone 4S in the other and tell me which one feels like it's higher quality. The glass even feels plasticky on the Droids. My brother scratched the glass on his Droid X. He purposely keyed his screen on his original iPhone and couldn't scratch it.

I'm sorry, but every Android device out there feels plasticky. They feel cheap. I know that many of them have internals that are sometimes more expensive than the iPhone, but they just don't feel that way in the hand. Let's not even start on the jerky animations on the things when you move things with your fingers. It makes them feel even cheaper.

I'm sorry that's just BS. The iPhone doesn't have gorilla glass and it can easily get scratched. Also, the 'plasticky' because they use higher quality materials that don't shatter when dropped.
I can't believe some people like you believe that a slab of glass is of 'higher' quality than the SGII 'plastic'. Watch a drop test and then come back. Give me plastic/metal over glass any day of the week.

Gorilla Glass is actually more shatterproof than Apple's glass, but it actually does scratch easier, and it feels plasticky to the touch. As far as a drop test, that's what cases are for - protection. My friends Evo has a broken screen. My iPhone is still intact. We both work in construction, where phones are often broken. My iPhone has been dropped, and it's still in great shape.

BTW, I'm not a fanboy. I'm very neutral on the whole Android vs. iPhone debate. I counter a lot of fanboys in Apple articles on their news aggregate sites, as well. Just FYI.

I have no idea what you are saying "cheap build quality" for. This phone feels fabulous, the back cover is (as you noted) solidly held to the phone, so it doesn't fall off. I have owned many phones and this one surely doesn't feel cheap and plastic-ey. On the other hand, right next to the Atrix2 at Best Buy was the SGS2. When I went to put that in my hand, I noticed two things: first, it felt like a blob in my hand, not comfortable at all; and, second, twice the back cover came right off from the security cable that was glued to it. I mean, seriously, the little bit of pressure that the cable was holding it with to prevent you from walking off with the phone was enough to yank the back cover off? And, that is the phone with rave reviews at $199? Methinks some bias at work, here.

Stop looking at this as the "next" Atrix. If they had called this a completely different name, you would have given this phone a much more balanced review.

Anndrew thanks for the informative review. But can we please have a dedicated specs list? If someone were trying to skim the article for specs, they would be jumping all over the page looking for each item instead of having it all in one neat organized place. Thanks.

I have the Atrix 2 which I bought off contract with gift cards at Best Buy! I also have the SGSII Skyrocket which I got on contract.

I really like my Atrix 2 and carry it with me in case I need to swap SIM cards because the battery life in LTE areas is not as good as the Atrix 2. I think Anndrew hit the major points pretty well. The screen is superb! 4.3 inches of high resolution goodness! I love reading on it! When I switch to the Samsung, it take a few minutes to get used to the lower resolution and huge icon, lol! I use launcher pro and both phones are set up identically. The processor is also speedy and I do not really notice much difference between it and the Skyrocket when I comes to everyday tasks. The body feels better made and easier to hold than Samsung to me. Sure the back is flimsy but so are the Sammys. The camera is not as good at the Skyrocket but the GPS, speaker and bluetooth performance is better. The battery life is also very good and better than the SGSII or Skyrocket.

I think this phone had bad timing between the SGSII, iphone and Skyrocket launches. It is a hidden gem if you like moto! The price is right and I'll wager it gets ICS before my Samsung...

That’s not to say the Atrix 2 isn’t an improved device. Build quality’s seen a significant bump over the previous Atrix– now there’s a rubbery back, full plate glass front, and polycarbonate rim surrounding.

I just got the Atrix 2 at Costco for free on contract. I had a HTC Aria before this phone, so I have definitely moved up in the smartphone world! I love this phone. As for it feeling cheap or plasticky, that is purely a matter of opinion. My opinion is that the phone looks and feels great! And for the price I paid, I couldn't have done better!

Have had my Atrix 2 for a couple of weeks and really like the phone. Unfortunately, the reason I bought it was that I could get a lapdock to extend it. Was really excited! Motorola has COMPLETELY screwed me over on my order with no resolution in sight after almost three weeks. I really caution anyone about buying this from Motorola. Try a different product from a different provider.

The Atrix 2 has one more feature nobody mentioned... An FM radio so you don't have to be tied to the internet to listen to NPR, the ballgame, or whatever while mowing the lawn ;-)