Saturday, November 10, 2012

Motorola Atrix HD LTE Review

The Motorola Atrix 4G was in many ways the first in a wave of multicore powerhouse flagships. While Bell skipped over the mid range Motorola Artix 2, the third iteration, the Atrix HD LTE, was a phone worthy of being a successor to one of the first dual-core phones ever. Today, we see if a 720p screen, Snapdragon S4 Processor and LTE connectivity makes it as much of a game changer as the original Atrix.

Overall Construction
We've always has a soft spot for Motorola's build quality as it's always been some of the most top notch. If we were to describe the Atrix HD's build it would be a cross between the original Atrix 4G and the RAZR. From the front we have the black slate look of the Atrix 4G while the back has the Kevlar finish of the RAZR. The sides end up being a mix of both with the more rounded finish to the edges but yet still having  VERY slight RAZR like cuts on the corners.

While the lineage between the two is quite obvious, we're pretty sure Motorola's devices will trend towards more RAZR like designs, which we really like. As far as thickness and weight are concerned at 8.4 mm thick and 140g it's around the average for flagship Android phones. The Atrix HD felt like a solid phone while not being overly heavy and still very pocketable.

Unfortunately, just like the RAZR before it, the Atrix HD falls short in ergonomics. Motorola made good strides in making the device's bezels less prominent but they are still significantly wider than competing devices like the the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X. For the size foot print of the device we certainly felt like a 4.7-inch display could have been made possible.

Overall the Atrix HD is a solidly built phone, which is expected of Motorola, but will probably not be a huge attention grabber, like the RAZR, given that the design choices play it "safe". That being said we liked the more subtle edges and still enjoy the feel of the Kevlar back.

Motorola Atrix HD LTE

Clearly, the Achilles heel of the RAZR was its qHD screen. It pioneered the 960x540px resolution in the original Atrix but clearly that was dated by the time the RAZR rolled out. Thankfully, the Atrix HD LTE rights that wrong by having a 720p HD panel. One a 4.5-inch display this actually results in high pixel density than the Galaxy S III and the gold standard for smartphone displays on the One X.

Another massive improvement was the move to what Motorola calls their ColorBoost HD display. Unlike the Original Atrix and RAZR before it, the Atrix HD uses a display with a regular RGB LCD display rather than an AMOLED display. These two improvements have elevated the display of the Atrix to that of other comparable flagship smartphone.

Overall, while the display has the specs to match the Super LCD 2 display on the One X or the Super AMOLED HD display of Galaxy S or even the the Reality Display of the Xperia Ion, the Atrix' screen is out matched in overall quality. That's not to say that it's a bad display, but simply is a few notches off. Colour, contrast and brightness were pretty good. Viewing angles were decent but nowhere near the quality of laminated displays.

Just like the RAZR, the Corning Gorilla glass is tapered at above the bezel. While there isn't as much lint accumulation as with the RAZR, we still aren't sure what the reasoning is behind having the tapering, be it functional or aesthetic.

There isn't much fuss to make about the buttons, as they function pretty well. The volume buttons are well sized and distinguishable while the power button is a bit flimsy but has a slight metallic rippled texturing to it making it feel completely different and distinguishable from the volume rocker. We would have loved to see a camera button but as per most android phones it isn't present.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that the buttons are completely software rendered like the Galaxy Nexus, giving the front of the phone a nice clean black slate look to it.

Battery Life
Just like the RAZR before it, the Atrix HD LTE has a 1780mAh battery, but unlike the RAZR it has LTE and a larger 720p, non AMOLED display. On paper this could be a recipe for disaster but in practice results were mixed.

On some days battery life was rock solid getting us through one whole day without a hitch, other days battery life was absolutely abysmal and didn't last the morning before needing a charge. I isolated the problem to the cellular radio, as service on our test unit was accidentally cutoff for two days and easily lasted through those days on a single charge. I duplicated the results by keeping the phone on WiFi and was able to last more than a day and a half by keeping the phone off cellular data which is rather atypical for our tests.

Overall, if your LTE coverage is strong in your area, you should be fine. But if you live and work in areas with weaker LTE coverage we strongly recommend you keep your phone on HSPA+ and only turn on LTE when needed.

Internal Hardware
Like the Galaxy S III and One X, the Atrix HD uses Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Dual Core processor. This should theoretically mean similar performance to the other two phones and it seems to be the case.

- 1.5 GHz Qualcomm 4th Generation Dual Core Snapdragon S4 Processor
- 1GB of RAM
- 16GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card slot upgradable to up to 64GB
- Adreno 225 Graphic processor
- 4G LTE and HSPA+ capable chipset
- WiFi b/g/n
- 8 MP camera with LED flash and 1080p video recording capabilities
- NFC (Near Field Communication)

Weirdly enough, in raw benchmark numbers the Atrix HD fell short of the number output set by the One X and Galaxy S III. But in every day operation was slightly smoother than the One X but short of the Galaxy S III's fluidity. Applications and games loaded and ran smoothly.

One note we have to make is that, Daniel Bader of MobileSyrup had noticed that one time the phone had gotten quite hot in his pocket without any obvious reason. The same happened to our test unit so we are inclined to believe it's a software issue and I personally suspect it's related to the LTE radio. Hopefully it will be patched in the near future.

LTE 4G Capabilities
LTE Speeds on the Atrix HD were as good as we've seen on other LTE devices despite the less than ideal conditions I've dealt with in certain parts of Montreal. Speeds hoevered around the 12-20mbps range which is plenty of speeds for smartphone usage.

Your mileage will vary on Bell coverage in your area.

Speaker and microphone
Audio on the Atrix HD was excellent as is expected of Motorola devices. The earpiece and microphone performed well in phone calls while the load speaker had outstanding volume levels for a mono loudspeaker.

Motorola had certainly delivered in past devices with good performance from the Atrix 4G, XT860 and RAZR but we felt that the Atrix HD fell short of the quality of shots taken with the One X and Galaxy S III.

Shots were okay in terms of color reproduction, clarity and contrast. But honestly still came out flat compared to the other flagship phones from other OEMs. Performance was especially poor in low light conditions, there was significant graininess to stills and was clearly worse than flagship counterparts.

Video was pretty good at 1080p and we were happy with results. Video performance was quite surprising given the outcome of the stills.

Sample Pictures


Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
This section could have been long winded and really detailed but really wouldn't need to be as this is as close to a stock Android experience as we've seen on almost any Android device to date. The closest comparable we can think of is the ASUS Transformer line of Tablets which closely mimic Android's stock UI.

There are however subtle changes that make it different from stock Android and vastly different from the RAZR. First off, Motorola has included a few widgets that set it apart from stock Android devices. There is a new "Bubble" widget that shows the time, weather and your battery level. There is the expandable and collapsible contacts widget from the RAZR (which I really liked).

There are also changes to the homescreen like swiping all the way to the right shows templates for users to add pre-populated homescreens or add a blank one. This falls in line with the way the app homescreen is layed out in stock Android which is a good idea, but we can see this being problematic for seasoned Android users used to looped homescreens (swiping all the way to the right eventually beings you to the left most homescreen). Of course these are all moot should you decide to try out one of the MANY homescreen replacements in the Google Play Store.

Smart Actions

Most of the other changes are mostly cosmetic, from the icons to the Settings screen, everything is pretty much stock Android. What isn't from stock Android but we are glad to see back is the Smart Actions app. It's still as good as we remembered it from last year but sadly doesn't have any new tricks up it's sleeve. We still like it but with Third Party apps almost reaching the same level of deep integration of the Smart Actions app, it's lost a bit of its sheen.


The Atrix brand is in something of a weird limbo and a lot has to do with the fact that Motorola is now under the Google banner. We suspect that the Atrix HD LTE is one of the first products of conducting business as a Google subsidiary. Now the questions is whether this is good or not and we can certainly say that the Atrix HD LTE is a step in the right direction. What we aren't sure of is how committed Moto will be to maintaining the Atrix Brand.

Regardless, we like what we see from Motorola, especially the step towards a more stock Android experience compared to older Motorola devices that really had one of the weaker custom OEM overlays. While stripping down the old, they still kept the good features like Smart Actions. Overall, the Atrix HD LTE is a great value in its price range with a bevy of flagship worthy specs. For $49.95 on contract at Bell we really can't see any other phone in their lineup that can match up to the Atrix HD LTE.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 8.5/10
- Great feeling handset, solidly built, still too much bezel.

Screen: 8.5/10
- Great screen, but falls shot of competitors.

Buttons: 9/10
- Good hardware buttons, nice to see Software Rendered Nexus style buttons.

Internal Hardware: 8/10
- Good overall performance from the Snapdragon S4 Processor, but signal issues hold it back.

Battery Life: 7/10
- LTE radio issues leave a huge question mark about battery life.

Speaker and Microphone: 9/10
- As usual for Motorola, EXCELLENT Earpiece, loudspeaker and microphone.

Camera: 6.5/10
- Very disappointing stills, good 1080p Video.

UI Changes: 8/10
- Great to see Motorola step into the direction of stock Android and not mess with a working formula. We like the small subtle yet useful changes to icons (with swipe gesture) and rearranging of icons like Jelly Bean, although we do wish it was Jelly Bean.

Addition Enhancements: 8/10
- Smart actions are as great as we remember but are virtually unchanged from the RAZR which is a bit disappointing.

Included Apps/Bloatware: 6.5/10
- Several pre-loaded Bell apps.

Final Score: 8.0/10

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