Motorola Atrix: The Power & Confusion

The advanced hardware of Motorola's Atrix impresses, but infighting in the mobile industry fogs the picture

September 8, 2011

3 Min Read
Motorola Atrix: The Power & Confusion

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s acquisition of Motorola Mobility LLC was probably the biggest news in tech this summer, which makes for a valid, if slightly awkward, segue into my review of Motorola's flagship Android device -- the Atrix.

I have had the Atrix on test since it launched on Orange UK this summer. Overall it's a great device, and I'd be more than happy to use it as my main phone.

Perhaps the best thing about it was using a decent Motorola device again. Like many others, I still like the Motorola brand. This company more or less invented the mobile phone, and it is good to have it back in the game.

Certainly, the Atrix is worthy of the Motorola name. Most impressive is how snappy it feels to use. I have no idea how optimized this version of Android is for the dual-core processor, or which apps take advantage of dual-core capability, but from a straightforward user point of view -- the thing is fast!

The rest of the hardware is excellent, although at £400 it should be. The screen is phenomenal. Call quality is good. Connectivity is fine. And for a device like this, battery life is decent. It will last a day -- even with various Google apps pinging away to the cloud -- and still have enough charge to make a call or two on your commute home. That counts as a triumph these days.

It is also interesting to look at what the Atrix reveals about the state of the mobile industry today. This doesn't affect the user that much, but still ...

The mix of Google, Motorola and Orange icons and services all fighting for attention at startup is perhaps the starkest illustration of the power battles raging across the industry. With them at times competing with each other, often overlapping, and just occasionally working in harmony, the user could be forgiven for wondering who exactly designed the phone.

Mobile developer Tom Hume said it best when he blogged a review of his new high-end Android device:

  • On first start I was asked which home screen I want to use -- Samsung or Orange? At this point I had no idea what the trade-offs were; it's instant unnecessary confusion, spraying the internal politics of the mobile industry into my eager eyes.

    I think the root cause here is the ease which which [sic] OEMs and operators can customise [sic] Android. It seems to allow the mobile industry to more easily commit the same crimes which left room for iPhone to succeed: exposing internal politics as end-user choices, bundling unnecessary or unreliable products, and reskinning the product to follow brand guidelines at the expense of usability.

He's right. It was bad enough the pre-installed Orange Maps application on the Atrix just simply didn't work -- but then, what was Orange even thinking in the first place, when Google Maps is practically native to the OS? More positively, the "Moto Blur" skin added to the stock Android experience is okay. I see why it is there and for some users there will be value in it -- the widgets, for example, can make for a better experience.

The core of the issue is Android itself. The Atrix is fundamentally similar to other flagship Android devices from Samsung and HTC, and while it is better from a hardware point of view than the mid-range fare from Huawei, ZTE and the like, it is not obvious to the average prospective customer why you would choose one over the other.

This puts the power back in carrier hands, as they can allocate subsidy budget to whichever device-maker cuts the best deals. It should ultimately drive better pricing for consumers as well.

— Gabriel Brown, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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