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Motorola ATRIX HD review: a $99 Android 4.0 smartphone worthy of a look


Review by Dan Seifert on Tuesday July 17, 2012.

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Motorola ATRIX HD
Motorola ATRIX HD

Hardware hardware: 4 of 5 score

At first glance, the Motorola ATRIX HD looks like it fell from the same tree that the Motorola DROID RAZR and DROID RAZR MAXX came from. The design of the phone is very similar to Motorola's Verizon flagships, but the corners have been rounded a bit and the overall look of the ATRIX HD is a bit softer than that of the DROID RAZRs. Fortunately, Motorola's hallmark solid build quality is present and accounted for here, and the ATRIX HD is certainly a well-built device. The seams are all very tight, and though the phone is primarily plastic, the plastics used feature a soft finish, as opposed to the very glossy finish that Samsung prefers for its smartphones. At 140g (4.9oz), the ATRIX HD isn't the lightest phone on the market, and that certainly helps with its solid feel.

The front of the phone features a new 4.5-inch HD ColorBoost TFT LCD display with 720 x 1280 pixels of resolution. This new display features an RGB stripe pixel layout and a pixel density of 330 PPI, besting the pixel density of almost all of the smartphones on the market today. The result of this is that images and text are very crisp, and it is all but impossible to see individual pixels with the naked eye. The display itself is bright, and colors are punchy, if perhaps a bit over saturated. Viewing angles are excellent, and the ColorBoost screen is usable outdoors in direct sunlight, but it's not quite as good as Nokia's ClearBlack displays, which set the bar for outdoor visibility.

There is a large black border that surrounds the screen, and it makes the ATRIX HD feel like its a bit wider than it needs to be. At 69.9mm (2.75in), the ATRIX HD is nearly as wide as the Samsung Galaxy S III, which offers a larger 4.8-inch display. The border surrounding the screen on the ATRIX is about twice as wide as that found on the Samsung, and it really feels like Motorola could have used a smaller border to increase one-handed usability while still keeping the 4.5-inch display.

Above the screen is a virtually hidden multi-color LED notification light next to a rather small earpiece. Next to that is a 1 megapixel front-facing camera. The only thing below the display is a silk-screened AT&T logo, as the ATRIX HD does not have any capacitive or physical buttons on its front.

Motorola ATRIX HD
Motorola ATRIX HD

Like the RAZR line of smartphones from Motorola, the ATRIX HD is appreciably thin at only 8.4mm (0.33in) thick. There is a thicker bulge towards the top of the phone that houses the camera and external speaker, as well as provides room for the 3.5mm headphone jack, micro-USB port, and micro-HDMI port. The right side of the phone is home to a volume rocker and power/sleep/unlock key, both of which were clicky and responsive on my review unit. On the left you will find a flap that hides the micro-SIM and microSD card slots. This flap is really the only part of the ATRIX HD that I didn't like, as it felt a bit weak. Fortunately, it's not something that most users will have to bother with very often.

The back of the ATRIX HD features a Kevlar fiber panel that provides strength and rigidity and just feels great in the hand. The panel has a soft-touch finish with a faux carbon fiber weave, which is much better than the glossy plastics used on other smartphones. Motorola also notes that the ATRIX HD sports a water-repellent nano-coating, so it can withstand the occasional splash from a liquid with no ill effects. The ATRIX HD is sealed all around, so users will not be able to access or swap out the 1780mAh battery that is inside.

Motorola ATRIX HD
Motorola ATRIX HD

Overall, the ATRIX HD offers a level of build and display quality that you don't normally see in Android devices at this price point. The design may be a bit uninspired, but it's inoffensive and generally gets the job done.

Usability usability: 4 of 5 score

Motorola has equipped the ATRIX HD with a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor clocked at 1.5GHz. The company won't confirm which Snapdragon is inside the phone, but we have been able to determine that it is indeed an S4 chip (MSM8960, to be exact), which is the same processor used in the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X. The ATRIX HD couples the processor with 1GB of RAM and includes 8GB of onboard storage.

Performance-wise, the ATRIX HD does very well, as the phone is fast and responsive the majority of the time. That isn't a huge surprise, as pretty much every phone with a Snapdragon S4 processor that we have tested has been a speedy performer. Benchmark tests on the ATRIX HD show it to run neck and neck with the One X and Galaxy S III, as well. There were a couple of hiccups every now and then on the ATRIX HD, as certain apps would seem to take longer to open than we would normally expect, but for most intents and purposes, the ATRIX HD is a fast phone. It also handles the latest 3D games with aplomb.

Motorola ATRIX HD
Motorola ATRIX HD

The ATRIX HD is the first Motorola smartphone to launch with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.4, specifically) in the U.S., and it comes with the latest version of Motorola's customizations. I'm hesitant to call what Motorola does here a "skin," since the majority of the software features on the ATRIX HD are very similar to what you find in stock Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The app launcher, dock, notification bar, virtual keyboard, and the majority of the system apps are pulled straight from Google's stock offerings. That's not terribly surprising - Motorola Mobility is now owned by Google, after all.


Following that logic, it's also not a big surprise that Motorola uses virtual keys for the back, home, and multitasking functions in Android, just like Google does in stock Android. The keys are persistent at all times, and they do eat about 96 pixels of screen real-estate, so it is a good thing that the ATRIX HD has a lot of pixels in its display.

Motorola did make a few tweaks to Android 4.0, most notable of which are found in the lock screen and the home screen. The lock screen features two additional app shortcuts over what is presented in stock Android, so you can quickly get to the phone app or the messaging app right from the lock screen. Unfortunately, it is not possible to customize these shortcuts like you can with Samsung or HTC's lock screens. The lock screen does also offer a handy toggle for switching the phone to silent mode.

For the ATRIX HD's home screens, Motorola starts you off with one panel, and you are prompted to add more when you swipe from right to left on the screen. You can choose between a new blank page, or from a variety of templates for a pre-loaded page with various app shortcuts and widgets. Unlike stock Android or most other home screen implementations, the far left screen on the ATRIX HD is always the primary page.

Motorola ATRIX HD
Motorola ATRIX HD

Motorola seemingly took a page right out of the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean cookbook, as icons and widgets on the home screens will automatically move around and rearrange themselves as you place new items on the screen. The widgets will not automatically resize as in Jelly Bean, but the automatic organization does make it easier when adding items to a home screen.

Speaking of widgets, the ATRIX HD has a trick new interactive weather and clock widget that features current weather and battery life or data plan usage. It also displays recently missed calls and received messages. In addition to the new widget, Motorola has added quick-access shortcuts to a number of the main system apps. When a system app like email, People, Phone, Calendar, or others is added to a home screen, users can swipe up from the icon to get a pop-up preview of the app. You can peek at your email inbox, see upcoming appointments, to-do items, favorite contacts, or browser bookmarks without having to go into the full apps for each respective item. I really like this idea, and it's great for checking something quickly while on the go, but sometimes the pop-up windows take a bit long to load, and it can just be faster to open the app directly. If Motorola sorts out the load times of the pop-up windows, I could see this feature becoming a great alternative to having widgets strewn across multiple home screens.

Motorola ATRIX HD
Motorola ATRIX HD

Calling / Data calling: 4 of 5 score

The Motorola ATRIX HD is a 4G LTE device, so it supports the fastest data network available from AT&T. It also features support for AT&T's HSPA+ Category 14 service for when you aren't in an LTE coverage area. Data speeds and signal reception were comparable to other AT&T LTE devices I have tested recently, and call quality was good, despite the relatively small earpiece. The speakerphone was suitably loud as well.

The ATRIX HD has support for 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi networks (including 5GHz versions), Bluetooth 4.0, and GPS, but it does not have any NFC(INFO) support. This isn't a huge problem now, but when AT&T launches its NFC-based mobile payment service powered by Isis next year, the ATRIX HD won't be able to play along.

Messaging messaging: 4 of 5 score

The ATRIX HD comes with a pretty standard SMS and MMS client that looks as if it was lifted right from stock Ice Cream Sandwich. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as it supports threaded messages and group conversations, and has a built-in search feature. For instant messaging, the ATRIX HD offers the Google Talk app, but you will need to head to the Google Play Store for apps that support other instant messaging platforms.

Motorola ATRIX HD
Motorola ATRIX HD

Motorola's ATRIX HD comes with Motorola's customized email app that sports a number of enhancements over the stock email client that ships with Android. It supports POP3, IMAP, and Exchange email accounts, and even supports push email with IMAP IDLE accounts. Full HTML support is included, and the app has pinch-to-zoom capabilities as well as multiple inbox support and multiple message management. One feature that is conspicuously missing is any sort of conversation view, which is quickly becoming a table stakes feature for email apps these days. If you happen to be a Gmail user, the ATRIX HD also includes the excellent Gmail app for Android.

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About the author

Dan Seifert
Dan is MobileBurn.com's Editor-in-Chief. Based in Poughkeepsie in New York, Dan can be found on Twitter as @DCSeifert.

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