Phones

Mobile Deathmatch: Motorola Atrix 4G vs. Apple iPhone 4

Deathmatch: Security and management

A long-standing strike against the Android OS is its poor security. The standard Android OS doesn't support on-device encryption, and it supports only the most basic of Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) security policies. By contrast, with the enhancements made in iOS 4, the iPhone has become one of the most securable mobile devices available, second only to the RIM BlackBerry.

Motorola Mobility recognized that deficiency and has added significant security and management capabilities to the Atrix. The biggest item is the inclusion of on-device encryption. A close second is support for more EAS policies, such as complex passwords, failed-attempt lockout, and password histories. There's also new support for VPNs. These additions don't bring the Atrix quite up to iPhone levels, but they're what the majority of businesses will require, so the Atrix becomes the first corporate-class Android smartphone available. This will be a huge factor for users who want to connect to corporate email and in-house services.

Both devices offer remote wipe, SSL message encryption, and timeout locks. Both Apple and Motorola Mobility provide services to track a lost or stolen device and lock it or wipe its contents remotely: Apple through its free Find My iPhone service and Motorola Mobility through its free MotoBlur service. Remote wipe and lockout are possible on both devices through Microsoft Exchange as well.

The Atrix's Android OS can back up contact, calendar, and email data wirelessly to Gmail, and the Atrix's MotoBlur service can backs up other account data. Android can also back up system settings and application data to Google's servers. If you subscribe to Apple's MobileMe service, you can also back up such data from your iPhone; syncing to your computer's iTunes backs up the data too (and encrypt it, if you desire) without requiring MobileMe service. (iTunes can be configured for use in the enterprise, though most companies don't know that.)

The winner: The iPhone, but not by much. The Atrix has made serious inroads into corporate security that should put it on the supported-devices list at most companies.

Deathmatch: Hardware Although the real value of a smartphone comes from its OS and apps, you can't get to them without the hardware that runs their capabilities.

Performance. The Atrix has a dual-core 1GHz Snapdragon processor, whereas the iPhone 4 has a single-core 1GHz Apple A4 processor; both are based on the ARM chip architecture. Despite the Atrix's second core, I didn't find it any faster than the iPhone 4 in terms of how apps ran or any smoother in terms of how videos played.

The biggest qualitative difference between the iPhone and Atrix in terms of performance is their network performance. Web pages consistently loaded significantly faster on the iPhone than on the Atrix, even when on the same Wi-Fi network. That iPhone advantage persisted on 3G connections, despite the Atrix's support of the fast HSDPA+ variation of 3G that AT&T claims provides near-4G speeds. The Verizon Wireless 3G network is slower than AT&T's when signal strength is equivalent, but that network advantage did not translate into a browser performance advantage. I also found the Atrix to be slower to send and receive emails than the iPhone.

Based on my comparisons of a Verizon-connected Xoom tablet and an AT&T-connected iPad, I suspect the weaker network performance of the Atrix is due to the Atrix's MotoBlur technology or some radio design issue, as the Verizon-connected Xoom was slower to receive and send data than the AT&T-connected iPad when signal strengths were equivalent.

For battery performance, I found that I needed to charge each device daily with regular usage. The iPhone 4 used less battery in normal activities than the Atrix, but seemed to use more power at rest than the Atrix did.

Device hardware. The iPhone 4's industrial design featuring glass and aluminum is trademark Apple and quite elegant. Its controls are well placed and easy to use. The Atrix has a more conventional case, but it feels a little more comfortable to hold, thanks to its curved plastic sides. Its controls have lower profile, and the Atrix has no physical switch to turn off its ringer as the iPhone does. But the Atrix has an LED indicator so that you know it's on, whereas the iPhone does not. If you've used other Android devices, note that the Atrix has rearranged the order of the four standard Android UI buttons (Home, Menu, Back, and Search) and that it uses its own icon for the Menu button.

The Atrix's recessed On button is a bit hard to press, but it also has a fingerprint scanner embedded, so you can unlock the Atrix without tapping in a password (if you've set the Atrix to require a wakeup password, that is). It's a neat idea, and most of the time, it required only one swipe to read my fingerprint. The Atrix's fingerprint scanner is a great innovation that anyone whose Exchange security policies require the device to use an unlock password will very much appreciate.

Both devices have similar rear-facing cameras equipped with LED flashes, and they take good images. Both have front-facing cameras for use with their respective videoconferencing apps too. (Note that the iPhone's FaceTime app works only via Wi-Fi, while the video capability of Android's Google Talk app works over 3G as well.)

The basic iPhone and Atrix both come with 16GB of nonremovable flash storage. For $100 more, you can get a 32GB iPhone model. The Atrix has a slot for a MicroSD card that can accept as much as 32GB in removable storage.

The iPhone 4's Retina display is simply gorgeous, with amazingly sharp detail. No other device, the Atrix included, comes close to such clarity. I also found the iPhone screen easier to read in sunlight than the Atrix's screen, though inside buildings, both were equal in display clarity.

Finally, both devices use touchscreen keyboards only. If you can't stand such keyboards, neither device will satisfy you.

The winner: The iPhone by just a nose, thanks to its Retina display and faster network performance.

The overall winner is ... The iPhone 4 beats the Atrix in most of our comparison's categories, but not by much in most cases -- a real improvement from the performance of previous Android smartphones. The Atrix even beats the iPhone in one area (location support) and ties it in another (apps).

In InfoWorld's previous comparisons, the only other close contender was the RIM BlackBerry Torch, whose InfoWorld Test Center score is just a tenth of a point behind, but that score can be misleading. The Torch's vastly superior security capabilities give it a much higher score in that area than the Atrix or iPhone earned. In most other areas we score, the Torch is decidedly inferior to the iPhone and Atrix. If you compare the scores in InfoWorld's Mobile Deathmatch Calculator (where you can also assign your own weightings to each category to get custom scores), you'll see that the Atrix trails the iPhone only slightly in most categories and matches it in several.

The Atrix is today the real alternative to the iPhone 4. I can recommend both strongly, despite my preference for the iPhone 4. If Motorola Mobility fixes its MotoBlur issues with email and continues its investment in security capabiltiies and innovations such as the fingerprint scanner, it's possible it could one day outscore the iPhone.

This story, "Mobile deathmatch: Motorola Mobility Atrix 4G vs. Apple iPhone 4," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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