Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
When I reviewed Motorola’s Atrix 4G in February, it was at the beginning of a turning point for AT&T.The carrier was about to lose its status as the exclusive iPhone carrier in the U.S. As a result, it decided to double down on Android, promising to launch several new Android phones this year to diversify its smartphone lineup.
The Atrix 4G was the first, and it was a beast of a phone. It was one of the first in the this year’s wave of snappy dual-core Android phones, and it quickly solidified itself as one of the best Android phones you could get on AT&T.
Now, just 9.5 months later, we have the Atrix 2. Instead of marketing the new model as a super-powerful beast like the original, the Atrix 2 is now a new option for the budget-conscious at just $100 with a two-year contract.
Still, the cheap price shouldn’t scare off those of you who still want a powerful phone. The Atrix 2 is probably the best bang for your buck if you’re just looking at specs: 4.3-inch screen, dual-core 1 GHz processor, 8 MP camera with 1080p HD video recording, and Android Gingerbread.
Not too shabby for $100.
The Atrix, Redux
When I sat down with Motorola reps last winter, they were all about the Atrix’s enterprise features like the fingerprint scanner, laptop dock, and HDMI dock for connecting to big screen TVs. Now it seems like they’re pivoting and making the Atrix more consumer friendly.
The Fingerprint scanner is gone in the Atrix 2, and there doesn’t seem to be as much emphasis on the laptop dock as there was back then. (Although you can still buy it.)
As I said in February, I think Motorola’s laptop docks are a complete waste of money. Sure, the phones are powerful enough to run a PC, but that doesn’t mean it should. Motorola’s desktop OS is stripped and barren. You can’t even download native apps to it. And the dock is absolutely useless without the phone.
While the phones are great, save yourself $500 and skip the dock.
The Atrix 2’s screen got a slight bump to 4.3 inches from 4 inches. Unless you’ve used the original Atrix like I have, you won’t notice much of a difference. The qHD screen is just as bright and vibrant as the original, but it doesn’t feel as solid as the glass used on the iPhone 4. In fact, it feels a little plasticky to me. If you press down too hard you get that weird ripple effect when the glass touches the liquid crystal inside.
Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
Call quality was awful. I know a lot of people, myself included, rarely use their smartphones to make calls anymore. But I’ll warn you, talking on the Atrix 2 is like talking into a tin can. I could hear my own voice echo back, and the person on the other line sounded like they were a million miles away. It’s not a deal breaker, but I can see it getting kind of annoying after a while.
The Atrix 2 is another one of AT&T’s “4G” phones. This one uses the carrier’s HSPA+ network, which isn’t nearly as fast as the fancy new LTE technology it’s rolling out. In NYC, the Atrix 2’s data speeds were awful. I did several speed tests, and it was rarely faster than the 3G connection on my AT&T iPhone 4. Keep in mind that data speeds vary depending on where you live, so you may have better luck than I did.
Another thing to keep in mind is the Atrix 2 won’t run on AT&T’s faster LTE network once it rolls out. That means your stuck with those slow HSPA+ speeds. Don’t let the “4G” branding full you.
Getting It Right With Android (Finally)
The most welcome change to the Atrix 2 isn’t the hardware though. It’s what Motorola did with Android. I hated the original Atrix’s MotoBlur skin. You were forced to sign up for a Motorola account before you could even start using the phone. It was still based on Froyo, old version of Android.
And it was pretty damn ugly.
This time around, Motorola got rid of a lot of those annoyances and added some gorgeous new tweaks to Android.
Swiping between home screens provides a nifty animation, where widgets sort of pop out at you for a brief second. (The widgets themselves look a lot cleaner too.)
The new dock is also a welcome addition. Instead of the awkward giant “Phone” and “Contacts” buttons at the bottom, you can customise the dock to store four of your favourite apps, just like you can in iOS. (Those of you with the first Atrix will have to upgrade your software to get these new features.)
Other than that, there’s not much new with the Atrix 2 on the software side. It’s the same Android Gingerbread we’ve been using for about a year now. No surprises. I just hope Motorola can be more aggressive updating its phones this cycle, so the Atrix 2 can get Ice Cream Sandwich soon.
Should You Buy It?
With all the great specs at just $100, I definitely recommend the Atrix 2 if you’re in the market for an Android phone. Should you switch from your iPhone like this guy did?
The Atrix 2 still falls short of the iPhone 4, which you can also buy for just $100 from AT&T.
But as far as budget smartphones go, the Atrix 2 is one of the best. Android feels like it’s finally closing the gap with iOS. At this point, it’s all a matter of preference.