Name: Motorola Atrix HD
Price: $100 (w/two-year contract)
The Back Story: Till this day, no smartphone has made a bigger impact on the Android scene than the Motorola Atrix 4G. It's power and speed made it an industry favorite, placing the handset at the No. 1 spot for most of 2011. Motorola soon fed off the hype and launched a successor, the Atrix II, a few months after the first-gen model hit the market, that was deemed an unworthy follow-up. The company has decided to reboot its AT&T property by taking a few pages from its Droid RAZR series, by unleashing a new model: the Atrix HD.
Equipped with better hardware, AT&T’s improved LTE network, and a stunning HD panel, Motorola may just have built a handset that can resurrect the Atrix series. But does the Atrix HD standout as one of carrier’s better offerings or are we looking at just another mediocre upgrade?
• Beautiful screen: Larger than the previous models and boasting a higher pixel density (1,280 x 720), the Atrix HD’s 4.5-inch LCD panel delivers sharper visuals than its predecessor thanks to Motorola’s new “Color Boost” technology. We compared the screen quality with the likes of the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III, and found the clarity and detailing to be just as good as the former and slightly better than the latter. Netflix videos and web pages were crisp, where as emails and instant messages were readable and less strenuous on the eyes. Brightness levels were pretty high, too.
• Power and LTE speeds: It’s surprising to see a $100 smartphone packing a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, but Motorola spared no expense here. The Qualcomm S4 chip is quick and responsive. Navigation was fluid. Apps and web pages launched immediately. Having several programs open in the background didn't slow down the CPU's performance. AT&T's 4G network registered fast data speeds with downloads clocking in at 18Mbps and downloads reaching 2.2Mbps. We had up to five Google Play purchases downloading simultaneously and the entire batch reached completion in less than 10 seconds.
• New UI overlay and features: Motorola went to work on its interface and made some productive changes to its skin. For starters, the unlock screen has been revamped with a circle pattern that provides shortcuts to applications. Another interesting addition is the "Circles" widget, a homescreen icon with three circles that displays different information on each one (time, weather, battery percentage). The Atrix HD is also the first AT&T smartphone to carry Moto’s Smart Actions feature, so users can customize their settings to do things like send automated messages and conserve battery life. You can read more about the app’s functions in our Droid RAZR review.
• Good calling phone: Let's not forget the Atrix HD is a phone first. Voice calling was stellar with vocals sounding loud and clear on both ends. Reception was strong throughout the Tri-State area and speakerphone audio held up well in loud environments. No dropped calls here. Expect good audio quality when pairing the device with a Bluetooth headset.
• Launch price: The spec sheet alone is worth double the phone's retail value. Act fast and you can score one for half the price at Amazon.
• Disappointing camera: Since the launch of the Photon 4G last summer, nearly every handset released by the manufacturer has suffered from buggy camera software. The streak continues with the Atrix HD sharing some of the same critical traits as its counterparts, including delayed shutter speed and auto focus. Picture quality also takes a huge hit as captured photos lack color saturation and detailing.
• Performance issues: Several mobile experts have blamed Moto’s UI for hindering the handset’s performance. We'll chime in with this: Our time with the phone wasn’t lag-free. Frame rates dropped when playing 3D titles like Grand Theft Auto III and stutter was present in the home screen animations.
• Limited internal memory: Motorola was generous enough to mount a microSD slot onto the left side of the device, but storage charity should start at home, and 5GB of phone memory isn't beneficent.
Final Say: The Atrix HD serves as a great (and much needed) upgrade to the series. Qualcomm's dual-core makes light work of multitasking, and the addition of Smart Actions helps the CPU breathe easy and conserve energy. Data speeds and call quality are impressive, and the HD display is one of the most vibrant we've come across. The Kevlar coating is a nice touch. However, Motorola seems stuck in its old ways, focusing more on powerful hardware than fixing its consistent shortcomings such as the camera software. All in all, the Atrix HD is a deal-breaker for mobilephiles seeking a premium Android phone on a budget.