Motorola Atrix HD Review

If you're looking for the best deal on AT&T, this could be it. For $100 with a two-year contract, the Atrix HD is almost as good as the iPhone 4S, Galaxy S3, and HTC One X
If you're looking for the best deal on AT&T, this could be it. For $100 with a two-year contract, the Atrix HD is almost as good as the iPhone 4S, Galaxy S3, and HTC One X
If you're looking for the best deal on AT&T, this could be it. For $100 with a two-year contract, the Atrix HD is almost as good as the iPhone 4S, Galaxy S3, and HTC One X

Highs

  • Android 4.0
  • 4.5-inch HD screen
  • Easy-to-hold pleasant design
  • Decent camera

Lows

  • Weak battery life (one day)
  • Screen is slightly washed out
  • Camera can't compete with S3 or One X
  • Plastic construction

The original Motorola Atrix was one of the first dual-core phones of 2011 and the Atrix 2 was one of the last. With the Atrix HD, Motorola truly shows how far it has come. The new Atrix advances the line in almost every notable way while borrowing some aesthetics from Motorola’s new line of Razr phones.

Goal of the Atrix HD

With the Atrix HD, Motorola is attempting to compete with high-end Android phones like the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3 on AT&T, but at half the price ($100 instead of $200). Naturally, to achieve a $100 price reduction, some corners must be cut. The question is, whether those cuts are worth the savings. Read on below.

How it looks and feels

The Atrix HD looks and feels like a legitimate child of the Atrix 2 and Motorola Droid Razr Maxx (read our updated review of the Razr Maxx). It has the same basic shape and thickness as the Razr, but brings over the more bubbly, curvy attributes of earlier Atrix phones. The mix brings out the best qualities of both, making the Atrix 2 the best looking Motorola phone we’ve seen yet.

But, as they often say about looks, sometimes they deceive. Though the Atrix HD looks better than its parents, it is not built out of the same quality materials. The phone is noticeably lighter than competitors (like the Sony Xperia Ion), because it’s made mostly of plastic. It still has Kevlar woven into its back, but this phone does not appear to be as durable as the Razr. Its construction is more reminiscent of a Samsung: Samsung prefers plastic.

Motorola Atrix HD Review screen vs droid razr maxxLeft: Motorola Atrix HD; Right: Motorola Droid Razr Maxx

Despite the plastic, everything else about the design seems similar to the Razr’s with two notable differences: The power and volume buttons are easier to find and press (volume, especially), and — aside from the Galaxy Nexus — the Atrix HD is the first Android phone to use onscreen navigation buttons. We have had no problems using the onscreen “back,” “home,” and “recent apps” (multitasking) buttons, and the integration helps the overall sleekness of the phone.

(A note to the one lonesome fan of Motorola’s LapDock accessories: The Atrix HD is not compatible with the Laptop Dock. We don’t expect future Motorola devices will be either. Sorry!)

What it’s like to use

The Atrix HD offers a much more pleasant experience than previous Motorola phones, because Motorola has finally decided to leave Android alone. The Atrix HD runs a near-vanilla version of Android 4.0 (much like the new update for the Droid Razr) and it’s all the better for it. Android 4.0 is a distinct improvement over previous versions of Android. It’s still not as perky and responsive as Apple’s iOS, but Google’s getting there. Try to ignore the “create a page” feature that lets you build new homescreens (up to seven). It’s neat, but mostly useless and full of laggy animation.

Motorola’s keyboard is also nice, though it doesn’t — or, um, does not — recognize contractions well. A good smartphone will realize that “isnt” isn’t a word and auto-fix it – the Atrix HD does not.

Previous Motorola phones came with a built-in task manager, but no more. Thanks to the ability to swipe away open apps in the Recent Apps menu, this feature is largely unneeded. We’ve grown to appreciate this new navigation button, which lets you more easily resume open apps. It’s a good step forward.

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Like all phones these days, the Atrix HD comes with some bloatware, or apps that you probably don’t need or want. This one comes loaded with a bunch of AT&T-branded apps. You can disable or uninstall some of these. Among the more useful additions are the Vehicle Mode, which is best if you have a dock of some kind, and Smart Actions, which lets you program your phone to automatically perform simple tasks. For instance, we set ours to automatically turn on Wi-Fi when we get home and to turn off syncing and other energy-hogging features when the battery hits 30 percent.

Overall, if you’ve used an Android device before, you should be content with the Atrix HD performance. It doesn’t solve any of Android’s major problems, but it is a solid representation of the OS.

What are the specs?

For those who want to hear the geekery, here are the basic tech specs of the Atrix HD. It has a 4.5-inch TFT LCD screen with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels, runs on a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor (common among 4G LTE phones), Google’s Android 4.0 OS, as well as 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal flash memory for storage (only 4.7GB are available to you). A microSD slot is available for those who need more storage. Common features like an accelerometer, GPS, BlueTooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, and 4G LTE are also included.

We don’t do much benchmarking here at DT, but in the Quadrant test it outperformed previous Motorola devices handily, scoring a 4,600, which is close to the scores of the HTC One X and Galaxy S3 (around 5,000). Both of those devices were extremely snappy and had a more premium feel to them, partially due to their higher-quality screens. The Atrix HD screen is slightly washed out: its blacks are not very black. But for a much cheaper phone, the Atrix competes well.

How the camera works

When compared to the Razr Maxx and other recent Motorola phones, the Atrix HD appears to show improvement; but compared to top competition like the Galaxy S3, iPhone 4S, and One X, the 8-megapixel rear camera in the Atrix HD is still lacking. We noticed marked improvement in dark areas, but the phone produced odd hues of pink or blue in some circumstances. The pictures on display here are from around our office, which happens to have a lot of natural light. We had a lot more difficulty when entering artificially lit areas like our elevator.

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The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera does its job adequately. But it is mostly there because it has to be there. It doesn’t bring much to the party.

Video recording was decent, with light and dark transfers happening quickly enough not to be distracting. Unfortunately, the phone doesn’t compensate for the jerkiness caused by walking.

How the phone works

There is a phone inside this smartphone. Though you may not call friends as often as you text or check your Gmail, rest assured that voice quality on the Atrix HD appears to be up to code. We had no problem achieving a continuous 4G LTE connection in Manhattan and made calls to Portland with no trouble. The standard fuzziness of voice calls still asserts itself here, and (as Caleb told me moments ago) using the phone on speaker still sounds like you’re talking on an open freeway. But everything appears to be up to the sadly low standards of cellular calls.

How the battery performs

Battery life has been disappointing, especially after using the wonderful Droid Razr Maxx. After only been browsing the menus of the phone occasionally and using the camera, the battery is at 25 percent after being unplugged for only 10.5 hours. This is because the battery in the Atrix is only 1,750mAh — lower than most of the new giant phones, which have around 2,100mAh, and much lower than the Razr Maxx’s never-ending 3,300mAh battery. Basically, you’re going to have to charge this phone every night.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for the absolute best phone on AT&T, it is not the Atrix HD. The camera isn’t fantastic, the battery life isn’t revolutionary, the screen is a tad washed out, and it’s constructed out of plastic. But if you’re looking for the best deal on AT&T, this could be it. For $100 with a two-year contract, the Atrix HD is almost as good as the iPhone 4S, Galaxy S3, and HTC One X. And in this case, “almost” isn’t a bad tradeoff for an extra $100 in your pocket. We like the Atrix HD. If you’re frugal, you will too.

Highs:

  • Android 4.0
  • 4.5-inch HD screen
  • Easy-to-hold pleasant design
  • Decent camera

Lows:

  • Weak battery life (one day)
  • Screen is slightly washed out
  • Camera can’t compete with S3 or One X
  • Plastic construction
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