Now that the craziness of CES 2011 is becoming nothing more than a shrinking image in the rear-view mirror, it's time to recognize one of the few mobile products that stood out in the sea of Android tablets and smartphones. Even though I only attended the last two days of the show, I quickly became bored with Android this, Android that. Most of these devices were mere cookie-cutter designs, with slight variations in the recipe, but the ATRIX 4G from Motorola stood out like a treat loaded with sprinkles. Lots of sprinkles. And who doesn't like lots of sprinkles? That's why I made several trips by the massive Motorola booth to check out one of my favorite upcoming devices.
As a smartphone, the ATRIX 4G stands on its own with the latest specs, such as a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 processor, qHD 960×540 display, 1GB RAM, fingerprint scanner power button, and a large capacity 1930mAh battery. I honestly couldn't see a difference in speed during basic Android tasks due to the dual-core processor, but I could see how that power will be utilized with the unique Laptop Dock and HD Multimedia Dock accessories that were being demonstrated. Coupled with Motorola's own Webtop app on the phone, these two accessories help the ATRIX 4G morph into a workhorse system that would make any Transformers fan proud.
First, we have the Laptop Dock. Featuring a swiveling docking cradle at the rear that folds out of the way when not in use, this netbook-replacing accessory takes over and gives the ATRIX 4G a new identity, one which provides a full Firefox web browser with Flash 10.1 and even the ability to make and receive phone calls from the dialer.
The specially-designed Webtop app easily fills the 11.6-inch screen, and with two USB ports along with a full-size trackpad and keyboard, this thing easily mimicks a regular laptop, down to the launcher dock at the bottom that bears more than a striking resemblance to the one present in Mac OS X. Anyone who remembers or maybe even owned one of the ill-fated Celio Redfly smartphone companions from a few years back will realize that Moto's new solution is executed much better and able to take advantage of tech that wasn't possible even two years ago.
As far as the design of the Laptop Dock is concerned, the materials looked top notch, with a nice combination of brushed aluminum and high-quality plastics. The overall thickness and weight were able to be kept at a minimum, since the real "brains" of the setup is the ATRIX 4G itself.
One demo that Motorola reps were proud to show over and over was how the phone fit very securely into the Laptop Dock, even surviving the always tough upside-down trick. Even after seeing this firsthand during my nearly half-hour with a demo unit, I couldn't help but wish the docking port had been designed a bit differently, maybe with more of a slot-in or cartridge mechanism that would let the phone stay completely within the confines of the Laptop Dock for quick and easy travel. Of course, this would have compromised the overall thickness and weight, but it would be acceptable for me.
Another issue is how the phone can only be inserted into the docking cradle sans case. Since many people, including myself, use a silicone or hardshell case on their phones, the process of having to strip the ATRIX 4G bare each time prior to docking may become too tedious.
One last oversight that I noticed was the lack of a webcam on the Laptop Dock, and no way to use the one on the phone due to the dock having complete control over the phone hardware. Even if both devices could be used simultaneously, the location of the dock being blocked by the laptop screen would make webcam use impossible.
Now let's take a look at the HD Multimedia Dock, which duplicates the same Webtop experience but brings it to the big screen in full 720p.
With an HDMI output, three USB ports, and an IR remote for quick media selection, it's easy to convert the ATRIX 4G into a compact home theater PC / media player that would look right at home connected to a large LCD or plasma TV, with only a keyboard and mouse required to round out the setup. If a mouse is not being used, the phone itself doubles as a multi-touch trackpad with scrolling features. Moto reps at the show were also demonstrating the built-in media player interface that allows the user to browse photos, videos, and music by using the IR remote. Other than that, there's really not much to the HD Multimedia Dock that hasn't been seen before, but it shouldn't be hard for Motorola and AT&T to sell quite a few of these if the price is right.
And since we're talking price, as of now AT&T has been mum on what the possible cost will be for the accessories, let alone the ATRIX 4G itself, but I can come up with an educated guess.
With the way the marketplace has shaped itself, I would look for the ATRIX 4G to run $199.99 with a new two-year commitment, maybe $599.99 if purchased outright. As for the Laptop Dock, $199.99 would hit the proverbial consumer sweet spot, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it released at $249.99. The HD Multimedia Dock would seem to be a bargain at $99.99, but $129.99 seems more likely. Maybe AT&T will offer packages to those who are interested in buying all three devices, which might drop the price a bit, but I would imagine most people will pick and choose their accessories, with the Laptop Dock probably being the best seller because of the incredible functionality and wow factor.
The ATRIX 4G is due to arrive on the AT&T network sometime in the next few months, with Motorola claiming at CES that the accessories will be available at launch.
Based on what I saw and tested myself at the show, I have a feeling we'll see more competing products like these from other manufacturers. I applaud Motorola for thinking outside the box and coming up with a new idea, instead of just more of the same Android, and even though smartphones are inching closer and closer on their own to being replacements for true computers, these ATRIX 4G accessories help bridge that gap in a new and very useful way.[AT&T ATRIX 4G | Motorola (1) | Motorola (2)]