Motorola’s “two devices in one” Atrix a good idea
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in
Vancouver May 3-9, 2011 issue #1123 High Tech
Do you remember an ad campaign for Certs featuring a pair of twins
arguing, “Certs is a breath mint”; “No, Certs is a candy mint”? Their
conclusion: “It’s two mints in one.”
Motorola’s new Atrix is a lot like that. “Atrix is a smartphone”; “No,
Atrix is a netbook”; “No, it’s two devices in one.”
Available from Bell, the Atrix (the smartphone) runs Google’s Android
2.2 smartphone operating system and offers some of the best hardware
specs on that platform: fast dual-core processor, one gigabyte of
memory, bright four-inch high resolution (960 x 540 pixel) display.
The result: unlike some earlier Android models, Atrix has responsive
scrolling and resizing and overall snappy performance. Flash is
pre-installed and feels smoother than on most Android systems (though
as Apple contends, viewing Flash pages drains batteries faster).
Overall, it’s a nice modern smartphone, though as with other Android
phones, plan on recharging pretty much every day.
But there are lots of Android smartphones from a variety of
manufacturers on all the various mobile networks. With the Atrix,
though, Motorola had a bright idea: it realized that a smartphone is a
pocket-sized computer, often with a faster processor and more memory
and storage than typical desktop computers a decade ago.
It’s convenient having that power in our pockets and always being
connected. But viewing media and entering text on a pocket-sized device
is inevitably compromised.
Motorola’s idea: let the Atrix lead a double life powering a larger
computer, giving you a more usable keyboard, pointing device and
screen. The result is the optional Atrix Lapdock.
The Lapdock looks like a sleek black netbook, but minus an Atrix all
you can do is charge its battery. It has no built-in processor, memory
or storage. Plug in your Atrix and it boots (running a stripped-down
version of Ubuntu Linux) to what Motorola calls the Webtop. You get a
full version of the Firefox web browser plus access to all the data and
apps on the smartphone.
Nicely, the Lapdock – with a hefty eight hours of useful time – will
charge the Atrix even when it’s running off its battery. Also nice: you
can plug or unplug the Atrix at any time. No special shutdown/eject
actions to forget to use. When you plug it in later, it remembers where
it was last time. USB ports let you plug in a mouse or access files on
a memory stick.
Sadly, though, the implementation isn’t as usable as I’d like. You can
run your smartphone apps on the Lapdock’s 11.6-inch screen, but the
apps – typically designed for vertical orientation – don’t take up the
whole screen. You can switch to full-screen, but that’s a magnified
view of half the smartphone screen, perhaps less useful.
Moreover, the touchpad lacks the smartphone’s multi-touch gestures;
scrolling and zooming are awkward. There’s a trick to scrolling: press
down the left-click button while dragging another finger on the
And while there’s the full version of Firefox, if you want to edit a
document you’ll have to use the smartphone’s apps – a copy of
Quickoffice is included, which is pretty good but nowhere near as
usable as a “real” netbook’s word processor.
Flash-based video content looks especially jerky on the larger
11.6-inch display. With the Atrix plugged in, you can use the Lapdock
as a speaker phone, but it lacks a built-in mic and speaker. Since the
Atrix’s are hidden behind the screen, sound qualify suffers.
Finally, the $329 cost of the Lapdock makes it a high-priced addition
to the $169 cost of the Atrix (with a three-year term). You could buy a
real netbook and a pretty good smartphone for the same money and
arguably be better off.
Give Motorola credit for a good idea – making the data and apps on your
smartphone accessible on a notebook-like device. Too bad it’s a clumsy
(and pricey) implementation. Nice smartphone, though.