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Review: Motorola ATRIX 2
Prasad Naik
April 30, 2012
First Published: 17:05 IST(30/4/2012)
Last Updated: 18:57 IST(30/4/2012)
Motorola ATRIX 2
The first ATRIX was an important device for Motorola. It was the second dual-core Android smartphone to come out in the market (after the LG Optimus 2x) and the first to showcase Motorola’s Webtop feature. It allowed the phone to connect on the back of a special keyboard dock, which also came with its own display, and resembled a laptop. Simply by plugging it in, one could turn what were essentially a monitor and a keyboard into a makeshift notebook PC.

For some reason, Motorola never saw it fit to launch the original ATRIX here and even the ATRIX 2 that we will be talking about today comes five months after it launched in the US. The new one tries to improve upon a few things on the original but without being too different. Let’s see how well it performs.

Design
We were fans of the design of the original ATRIX when it came out last year. It had the usual understated Motorola design but still had enough class in it to look upmarket. The ATRIX 2 continued that tradition and is in fact even better looking. It’s a marvelously handsome design that would look good in anyone’s hand, although we suspect men would take a greater liking to it than women. And being understated, it does not look out of place in any environment.

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The front of the phone has a large Gorilla Glass that spans the entire surface and gently curves near the edges. The glass has an oleophobic coating which means that your fingerprints can be wiped off easily.

Above the display sits the earpiece underneath a metal grille. On its left is a VGA camera for video calls and on the right is a tiny status LED. When not lit, the LED is impossible to spot but even when it’s blinking it’s very easy to miss because of its size and slow blinking. Below the display sit the four main function keys. 

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The display is surrounded by a chrome finished ring that goes around the sides and covers about half of it. On the right you find a volume control button and a camera shutter key.
The volume keys could have been bit raised for better operability. The shutter button lets you start the camera as long as it is locked but not when the phone is locked. Worse, is that the button is only one step and there is no two step functionality for focusing and shooting. You just press it all the way to shoot once the camera automatically focuses.

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On the top of the phone sits the power button. Motorola has replaced the fancy power button from the ATRIX that also functioned as a fingerprint scanner for a simpler solution on the ATRIX 2. The button is well designed and easy to access. On its side are the headphone jack and a secondary microphone.

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On the right side of the phone you find the micro HDMI port and the micro USB port. The ports are in the same location as on the ATRIX but Motorola has flipped the order and orientation of the ports, which means the ATRIX 2 won’t be compatible with the laptop dock meant for the original ATRIX but Motorola does have a newer version of it for the ATRIX 2. Even if you don’t use the dock, the presence of the micro HDMI port is welcome.

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On the back you see the Motorola has opted for a different finish for the battery cover. The ATRIX had a glossy back with a print that can only be seen and not felt. The ATRIX 2 has a matte back with a wavy pattern that can be felt. One might assume that this would add to the grip but that is not the case and the ATRIX 2 is a pretty slippery phone.

The cover itself is a bit of a pain to remove, which should give the buyers grief almost immediately after they take the phone out of the box, something that Motorola should have taken care of. Underneath the cover are the microSD card slot and the battery, with the SIM card underneath it.

Having a 4.3-inch display means that the ATRIX 2 was going to be a bit big but we found that it was quite manageable, unlike some of the recent Android phones we reviewed.
Those with normal or large hands will have no problem with it although people with smaller hands will have some issues.

As is usual for Motorola, the build quality, fit and finish is top notch. Despite its not so high price tag the phone has a premium feel to it which customers are bound to love.

Display
The ATRIX 2 has a 4.3-inch, 960 x 540 resolution TFT LCD. It is an improvement over 4-inch display on the original ATRIX with the same resolution not just because of the size but because the display on the ATRIX used the PenTile matrix layout whereas the display on the ATRIX 2 uses a standard RGB sub-pixel layout.

The display on the ATRIX 2 generally looks pretty good with natural colors and a crisp definition but it suffers from exaggerated contrast level. Due to this, the dark areas in a picture appear extremely dark no matter how much you pump up the brightness of the backlight from the settings. This affects everything you see on the display and can be especially bad when watching a movie or playing a game that has scenes/sections in it. Try playing Dead Space on the phone and sometimes you will have a hard time seeing where you are going.

For the sake of clarity, we have provided a random image below and a version of how it would look like on the display of the ATRIX 2 below it.

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As you can see the second image might look a tiny bit appealing but also comes at the cost of significant loss of detail in the dark areas.

Another problem with the display is the poor viewing angles. Even slightly tilting the display causes the picture to wash out. It seems Motorola has really skimped on the quality of the LCD panel for this phone.

Hardware and Software
The Motorola ATRIX 2 comes with a TI OMAP 4430SoC that includes a 1GHz dual-core Cortex A9 CPU and PowerVR SGX540 GPU, along with 1GB of RAM. The phone has 8GB of internal memory of which 4GB is available to the user but only for installing applications. For additional storage you would have to rely on a microSD card.

The SoC being used here is the same basic chip that is used on the more expensive Motorola RAZR, except that the CPU has been underclocked from 1.2GHz to 1GHz. This might not sound much on paper but it has some serious ramifications in real life. But more on that later.

Meanwhile, on the software side, the phone comes with Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread out of the box with Motorola’s custom skin on top of it. By now you can tell that this is not a great combination and it isn’t. Gingerbread is showing its age and Motorola’s skin, although a lot better than what it once used to be is still poorly designed and garish.

Fortunately, Motorola has announced that unlike the original ATRIX, the ATRIX 2 will be getting Android 4.0 update later this year.

For the ATRIX 2, Motorola has done a tie up with EA Games for providing some free games for the phone. The phone comes with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit pre-installed but you can choose nine additional EA games, including the likes of Dead Space, FIFA 10, Monopoly, Need for Speed: Shift, SIMS 3, etc., from the MOTOLOUNGE app on the phone.

Performance
Saying that your phone has a dual-core processor and making sure it actually performs well are two different things and unfortunately it is the latter where the ATRIX 2 fails. The culprit here is the underclocked CPU, which sometimes has a hard time keeping up with the demands of the OS. Google added the hardware acceleration UI functionality with
Honeycomb (and on phones with Ice Cream Sandwich) but Gingerbread still relies on the CPU to render the on-screen graphics for the OS, which is where the CPU trips up.
Motorola’s choice of going with an underclocked CPU was extremely poor and it shows when you use the phone. Compared to the RAZR which has the same basic processor, OS and screen resolution but 20% faster CPU, the ATRIX 2 shows noticeable lag when going through the homescreens and menus. In comparison, the RAZR is much smoother.

The fact that Motorola’s skin adds additional load to the processor does not help. Press the application drawer button and the phone takes almost two seconds to open it, making you feel as if it missed your previous input and causing you to press again, only to inadvertently launch some application when the drawer eventually does open. Replacing the stock launcher with something like LauncherPro makes things a lot faster but there is still that nagging sensation of sluggishness present throughout the OS.

In comparison, the Nexus S with a slower single-core processor feels a lot smoother simply because it is running a newer and better version of the OS. At this point, the ATRIX 2 is practically begging to be updated so that it can reassign the UI drawing task to the GPU and lighten the load on the CPU.

Thankfully, the GPU is more than capable. Even while running complex and taxing 3D games such as Dead Space, Shadowgun, Osmos HD and Asphalt 6, the phone always feels smooth. Too bad the CPU is not in the same league.

Multimedia
The Motorola ATRIX 2 has an 8 megapixel camera with 1080p video recording. To be honest, we weren’t expecting great things from the camera on this phone, which is why we were pleasantly surprised by the results. It’s not the best 8 megapixel camera we have seen but the results were still pretty impressive.

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The images tend to look bit cold and low light images have a strange greenish hue to them but otherwise we found the results more than acceptable, especially for social networking purposes. Even the 1080p videos were smooth and detailed.

The ATRIX 2 comes with its own music player instead of relying on the one in Gingerbread. The music player is pretty basic and looks downright drab but has one redeeming feature and that is the ability to display lyrics for the currently playing song. It’s a bit of a hit or miss feature because it cannot display lyrics for some of the tracks due to legal issues.

The phone also comes with audio enhancement features but they are not found within the music player itself. For that you will have to go into the phone’s settings and enable them from there. You can adjust two parameters, surround and equalizer. Each option has a handful of presets within that you can choose or you can disable one or both. You also have a couple of presets that use a combination of settings from surround and equalizer. The surround effects are lame but the equalizer options can be useful, especially if you have to boost the bass. These settings are universal, so they affect the sound of every app on the phone and not just the built-in music player.

The ATRIX 2 also comes with its own custom gallery application for the images and videos. It seems to support MKV, MOV, AVI and MP4 videos but it is the most erratic video player we have seen. First of all, as usual there is no support for AC3 or DTS audio codec. We don’t understand when manufacturers will realize that having support for multiple video codecs is of no use if you don’t support two of the most common audio codecs out there.

Now the phone can playback up to 1080p videos but it’s not consistent. Sometimes it can play a 1080p video smoothly but will stutter while playing back a simple 480p video. At times, even when you are using a video from one of the supported video codecs it would refuse to play due to some reason.

Now of course, you can always use a downloaded video player to play these videos but this is where the phone falters again, with the blame going again to the CPU. You see, when the video being played back is not natively supported, these third party video players switch from hardware acceleration, that is, from GPU to software acceleration. Thus the job of decoding the video falls squarely on the CPU, which it can’t handle, especially at higher resolutions. This would be terrible news for anyone who would want to watch movies on this phone. The display also does not do justice to videos that the phone does manage to play, with most of them looking too dark.

Battery life

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The ATRIX 2 has a 1,785mAh battery. The phone managed to give us pretty decent battery life. We think it might have something to do with the underclocked processor but it lasted about a day and half on a single charge. On our video playback test, the phone lasted for five hours on a single charge while playing back a 720p video on the stock player with the brightness at 75% and with the headphones connected.

Verdict
The Motorola ATRIX 2 is priced at a Rs. 22,990. That seems like a pretty decent price and one would be eager to forgive the phone for its shortcomings but one must also consider the alternatives available right now. For around the same price you can also purchase the HTC Sensation, which is a significantly better phone than the ATRIX 2 in almost every aspect. There is also the new Lava XOLO X900, which has a higher resolution display and Intel’s new mobile processor, which is already looking pretty good.

Our major gripes with the ATRIX 2 are the Gingerbread OS and the slow processor, which makes using the phone bit of a chore. It does not offer the kind of performance that one would expect from a 20k+ phone or something that has a dual-core badge. We have used phones that cost half as much and offer similar or even better performance in some areas. Things should get significantly better when the official Android 4.0 update arrives but till then we would suggest you give this one a miss.

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