Can the Atrix 4G Really Become Your Next PC?
Product mentioned in this article
Motorola Atrix 4G (AT&T)
This dual-core phone is fast and boasts solid data speeds, but the Atrix-powered laptop accessory is a good idea poorly executed.
Other hardware glitches surfaced in the monitor display. The Atrix dock's screen -- which has one window that mirrors the Atrix's display and a second that runs Firefox -- stretched to the entire width of my flat-screen TV, distorting its width. That meant the mouse location didn't match the actual locations of onscreen elements. It took a while to get to the onscreen menu that resizes the display to 1:1 pixel ratio (no stretching), which solved the problem. Once set, the dock remembered that setting in subsequent usage, and my initial setup hassles didn't recur.
Using the Atrix as a "lite" PC
Once I finally completed the setup, I was able to actually use the Atrix in its "lite" PC mode. It quickly became clear the the Atrix doesn't quite fit the "post-PC" vision of a mobile device being your core computer. When you dock the Atrix, the Firefox browser and other dock-provided services aren't running from the Atrix but instead from a stripped-down Linux PC inside the dock. A real post-PC device would run everything from the smartphone or tablet, and it would use the dock to add more processing or take advantage of peripherals.
The Firefox browser worked reasonably well. Cloud services such as Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 that don't operate well in mobile browsers functioned perfectly fine via the dock's Linux Firefox browser. As mentioned earlier, some Web plug-ins such as Microsoft Silverlight and its open source counterpart Moonlight don't work in Linux Firefox, and neither does Java, so it's not quite the same as using Firefox on a Windows PC or Mac. However, I had no issues with the common Adobe plug-ins.
I could even download files from the Web onto the Android's local storage via the dock's Firefox, as well as access data from and store data on attached USB hard drives and flash memory sticks. Even better, I could print from Firefox via the dock to my wireless printer.
Running the Atrix's native Android apps on the big screen proved disappointing. All you get is a blown-up version of the Atrix's screen in a window. Android apps such as Quickoffice don't adjust to take advantage of the bigger screen as you would expect -- unlike many iOS apps when run on an iPad instead of an iPhone. For the "lite" PC concept to work, native Android apps will have to take advantage of the larger screen, keyboard, and mouse. Otherwise, you're paying essentially just to have a desktop browser run off your smartphone.
Apple has shown the way in how to do these contextually savvy apps. With the tablet-oriented Android 3.0 now shipping on the Motorola Xoom and soon to ship on other tablets, Google needs to provide a mechanism for Android developers to easily cover both smartphone and tablet displays.
Beyond running Firefox and blown-up versions of your Android apps, as well as playing media from your Atrix smartphone, there's little else you can do with the docked Atrix.
Next page: How badly do you need the Atrix?