Review by Dan Seifert on Tuesday July 17, 2012.
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As a proper Android device, the Motorola ATRIX HD has access to the Google Play Store and its hundreds of thousands of apps on tap. Out of the box, it also comes with about a dozen pre-loaded apps from AT&T for things such as AT&T Navigator and AT&T's TV service. It is not possible to uninstall all of the pre-loaded apps, but you can at least disable them using Android 4.0's built-in disable feature should you not want them consuming phone resources.
One app that Motorola has included that can be useful is its Smart Actions app. Smart Actions first debuted on the DROID RAZR last year and lets users set various rules to trigger actions on their devices automatically. For example, you can have the ATRIX HD silence its ringer and stop syncing email at a certain time of night, or you can have the phone enter the Drive Smart mode automatically when it senses you are in a vehicle. There are number of apps in the Google Play Store that offer similar features, but it is nice to have the functionality ready to go out of the box.
Of note here, unlike the earlier members of the ATRIX line, the ATRIX HD does not support Motorola's Webtop system, so it cannot be used with Motorola's various docks and laptop accessories. That probably won't be a big loss for many (and the micro-HDMI port does support direct mirroring for using Android on a bigger screen), but it is something that is interesting since Motorola debuted the Webtop system with the original ATRIX 4G back in January of last year.
The ATRIX HD comes with the stock Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich web browser, and that really isn't a bad thing. Using the stock browser, the ATRIX HD scored some of the fastest SunSpider benchmark times I have ever seen from a mobile device (1300ms or less), and that translated into speedy page loading, smooth scrolling, and responsive zooming. The browser sports mutiple tabs and supports the Adobe Flash Player plugin if you install it from the Google Play Store. I'm a big fan of the Chrome for Android browser because of its excellent syncing capabilities, but for an out of the box browsing experience, the ATRIX HD's stock browser is great.
Motorola isn't usually known for putting excellent cameras into its smartphones, and the 8 megapixel unit on the ATRIX HD is no exception. Though the camera produces acceptable images most of the time, it is by no means at the top of the class these days. Outdoors, the ATRIX HD's camera struggles to properly expose high contrast scenes, while indoor images tend to be a bit noisier than the competition's. The ATRIX HD also has very inconsistent white balance when shooting in artificial light.
The camera app itself is very similar to the one found on the DROID RAZR, and it offers a handful of controls at your fingertips. The ATRIX HD doesn't come with the bevy of photography options that Samsung and HTC put into their devices, but it does offer tap-to-focus, a handful of effects and scene modes, and a panoramic stitch mode. The ATRIX HD also doesn't have a dedicated camera key, but it is possibly to set the volume rocker to snap a picture. Just be very careful of blocking the lens with your fingers while taking a pic with the volume rocker, as the position of it is a bit tricky for a shutter key.
The ATRIX HD can also capture 1080p HD video, which was about the same image quality wise as its stills. The video mode features continuous autofocus, tap-to-focus, and zoom while recording, and it is possible to snap stills while shooting video. Finally, the front-facing 1 megapixel camera works well enough for its intended purpose, and it is capable of recording 720p HD video on its own.
Out of the box, the only music player that comes on the ATRIX HD is the Google Play Music app. I don't see that as a bad thing, as the Play Music app handles both locally stored music and music that is streamed from a Google Music account. The app supports album art and playlists, and has various audio profiles and equalizer settings. You can control playback from the lock screen, a home screen widget, or the notification bar if you are not currently within the app. The external speaker offers a good amount of volume without distortion, but the sound is not especially full and the audio becomes very echoey when the ATRIX is placed down on a flat surface. Those who have large music libraries will want to either take advantage of Google's cloud storage in its Google Music service or add a microSD card to the ATRIX HD, as there is only 4.8GB of storage available out of the box.
As mentioned earlier, the ATRIX HD comes with an embedded 1780mAh battery that is not user-accessible or replaceable. Motorola claims that the battery should be good for up to 9 hours of talk time or 8.5 days of standby. In my tests with regular usage, the ATRIX HD generally lasted about 11 or 12 hours before calling it quits, which puts it just behind the average for smartphones today. The ATRIX HD will likely get most people through a standard workday, but come the end of the day, some time on the charger will be necessary.
The Motorola ATRIX HD may not be the absolute best performer, and definitely has its quirks, but for someone looking for a smartphone in the $100 price range, it's pretty tough to beat. For that price you get a 720p display, a speedy Snapdragon S4 processor, and the closest thing to stock Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich that you can find on an AT&T smartphone. I do wish the camera was better, and the battery life is certainly not impressive, but aside from those faults, it's hard not to recommend the Motorola ATRIX HD as a solid smartphone choice.
You will find sample images and video captured with the Motorola ATRIX HD on the following page.
Dan is MobileBurn.com's Editor-in-Chief. Based in Poughkeepsie in New York, Dan can be found on Twitter as @DCSeifert.