August 3, 2012 | by Andrew Kameka
The term “midrange smartphone” is becoming a worthless misnomer. It used to be that if a phone lacked the premium features to match high-end phones, but was too powerful to fit the entry-level class, you’d just call it a midrange device. However, more than a few phones released today blur the line marking a phone as high-end that calling them midrange seems to be off-base.
The Motorola Atrix HD is one of those phones that breaks the rules. It’s understandable to assume that just because something is half as expensive that it must only be half worth it. However, that’s definitely not the case here. This is a great phone too good to be considered mid-range, even if it’s not exactly on the upper-echelon.
What would happen if you took a Motorola RAZR and took out a few of the features that made it a striking piece of hardware? You would have just created the Motorola Atrix HD. The Atrix HD follows Motorola’s tradition of phones that slope outward up top to house a camera, as well as offering scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla glass and Kevlar fiber and splash protection on the back. However, it doesn’t feel as flashy or solid as the RAZR, despite being thicker at 0.33 inches.
A 1.5 GHz processor keeps the Atrix HD churning. LTE compatibility, 1 GB RAM, 8 GB ROM/32GB micro SD, and 1780 mAh battery further aid the device.
The Atrix HD ditched the irritating screen seen on the Droid RAZR. In its place is a surprisingly good 4.5-inch TFT LCD screen with 720 x 1280 resolution. The phone has a 330 pixels per inch count that creates a smooth image free of pixelation or dotty displays the naked eye will notice. Motorola also throws in HD ColorBoost, which is just a marketing term for higher than normal brightness and saturation settings. As nice as these color changes may be, the best aspect of the screen is that it has virtual buttons. Motorola is the first major manufacturer to embrace Google’s push for ditching capacitive/hardware buttons, which can lead to wasted space in some legacy apps and odd designs. It’s good to see at least one company has taken the hint, even if it’s one that’s now directly owned by Google.
Speaking of taking a hint, a round of applause for Motorola moving even further away from its Motoblur past and delivering a fat-free version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. While other companies have made drastic alterations to ICS for their most recent phones, the changes seen in the Atrix HD are mostly icon replacements and tweaks geared towards device optimization. The Browser, Calendar, People, and Messaging apps look like ICS rather than a poor attempt to port the Gingerbread experience to a new platform version.
Motorola didn’t leave ICS completely untouched, however. There’s a tweaked launcher with a beautiful circle widget, and the beloved SmartActions that can automate tasks and features to improve battery life or provide shortcuts. The launcher also enables swipe actions that can create multiple functions, familiar to fans of third-party apps like Launcher Pro or Apex. Someone can tap on the Browser icon to open the app, or then can quick hold and swipe up to see bookmarks. Likewise, you can swipe up on the phone shortcut to see a call log.
The Atrix HD also has the misfortune of being released at a time when Android 4.1 Jelly Bean has been released and its predecessors just received Android 4.0 after waiting 6 months. There are no promises when or if the Atrix HD will receive Jelly Bean, so buyers should purchase this phone without any expectations.
The only complaint that I have about the Motorola Atrix HD as it stands is the camera. The interface of the camera app isn’t bad considering that users can set the zoom to be a gradual zoom or capture option. It’s also very easy to adjust settings like switching between the 1.3 MP front and 8 MP rear cameras, or video and photo. But that doesn’t mean much when you consider that the resulting images look a little off. One can easily overlook that this is one of the only ICS camera apps to have shutter lag (however brief it may be), but it’s harder to put faith in a camera that rarely finds the right color saturation or exposure settings. Be prepared to adjust settings for each shot to make sure you get things right.
Though it can’t compete with HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S III or a feature-by-feature basis, the gap between AT&T’s top phones and the Atrix HD is small one. Quite small, actually. What the Atrix lacks in camera quality, it makes up in decent speed and respectable battery life. It’s LTE capable phone running an enjoyable version of Android 4.0 on a good-looking screen. And at a retail price of $99, half as much as that charged for the other phones, the quality per dollar score is very respectable on the Atrix HD.