Posted by Mike Evans in Motorola Reviews on August 30, 2011

The Atrix LapDock

The Atrix has one absolutely killer unique selling point that no other phone can match – the lapdock.

This is an incredible accessory that morphs the Atrix from a humble smartphone to a complete laptop. The lapdock comprises a screen, keyboard, large battery, and…well, that’s it.

Everything is powered by the Atrix. Just plug the phone into the lapdock and start using it as if it were an everyday laptop (albeit one that only runs Firefox!)

What’s the lapdock like to use?

One thing that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of is plugging the Atrix into the lapdock and opening the lapdock’s lid. It’s not just the fact that you’ve plugged your phone into a laptop that’s so cool – it’s the fact that whatever the state of your last session, it’s there, staring at you, exactly as you left it.

It takes the concept of cloud computing just one step further. With “traditional” cloud computing (if that’s not too great an oxymoron!), I can open up Google Docs, for example, create a new document, and then later on edit that same document on any other computer.

But once I do go to another computer, I have to explicitly open a browser, go to Google Docs, log in, find my document, and open it.
In other words, it’s a bit of a faff having to restart the session from where you left off.

With the Atrix, though, if you had the document in an open Browser tab when you pulled the Atrix out of the lapdock, it’ll still be there when you plug it back in again – even if you use a completely different lapdock.

No hunting for the document, no logging in – it’s just there, as soon as you plug the phone in.

It’s faster than waking up your laptop from hibernation, yet achieves exactly the same effect. But here’s the one crucial difference. I can unplug the Atrix, fly half way round the world, and plug it into any other lapdock, and I get the exact same screen. It’s like mobile hibernation – you literally take the laptop’s hibernation state with you, leaving the laptop behind.

We’re so used to the concept of a laptop containing everything we need that it takes some getting used to the fact with the Atrix, the laptop is just a display, a keyboard and a battery. The lapdock itself has no intrinsic value whatsoever, at least as far as data is concerned.

This gives it some excellent data security properties.

Here are just some of the things you can use the Atrix for that you simply couldn’t achieve with any other system.

Secure laptop sharing

If you’ve got dozens of employees, give each of them an Atrix and provide laptop docks liberally around your various offices. Users can just select one from a pile and start using it straight away without any issues of data sensitivity as the data always remains with them.

Unrivalled Web Working

If you’re a Web warrior whose life revolves around working on the Web no matter where you are, then the Atrix is perfect for you, and not just because you have no choice but to work on the Web – the laptop’s battery not only powers the screen, it recharges the Atrix itself as well, and is good for a full 8 hours worth of continuous working.

But more than that, because of the cracking array of multimedia functionality built-into the Atrix, you also get direct access to all of the multimedia content your phone has recorded.

For example, suppose you’re writing a document in a coffee shop and you want to include a photo of your surroundings.

Simple – just unplug the Atrix, take a photo, plug it back into the lapdock again, select “Insert Photo”, and insert the photo you just took.

The photo is stored internally on the Atrix’s file system, which Google Docs sees as any other file system. So the photo you just took – and any other photo on your phone – is immediately available.

Unlimited wireless coverage

One great advantage of the Atrix and its lapdock is its permanent connectivity. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a WiFi hotspot or not, as you can either use WiFi or the Atrix’s mobile connection to connect to the Web.

How many times have you been at a conference when the network has crashed? It’s not problem with the Atrix – just switch to mobile.

Sure you can do this with a 3G stick, but you have to pay an extra monthly charge for this on top of your monthly charge for your smartphone data.

With the Atrix and lapdock, this is no longer the case – you only pay for the data once, as it’s all being generated and consumed on the Atrix. The lapdock merely acts as a larger screen.

This in itself is a game changer and could be the reason you buy an Atrix. You don’t need to worry about tethering or whether your operator charges extra for it or not – you just pay the same regular amount.

For example, when reviewing the Atrix, I took the T-Mobile SIM card from my own Desire HTC and popped it into the Atrix. Within minutes I wasn’t just browsing the Web on the Atrix, I was writing this review on Google Docs via the lapdock.

And remember – that’s with a T-Mobile SIM that came with my old Desire HD. No special contract was needed, no tethering support, just a standard T-Mobile SIM with a good data plan (1GB a month in my case). Note that this also works with any operator as well, not just T-Mobile.

Extended laptop use

The lapdock contains its own 36W battery so you don’t need to about draining the Atrix’s battery when you use it in lapdock mode. Indeed, it’s better than that – the lapdock actually charges the Atrix from the lapdock’s battery when the Atrix is plugged in.

Better still, the lapdock on its own is good for 8 hours of continual use, meaning if you need to use a laptop for long periods of time without access to a plug socket (such as a long flight), the lapdock and Atrix are a great combination.

See how much you can now get the Lapdock for

Some things that aren’t so good

Like all gadgets, the Atrix has its downside as well as its upside.

Firstly, there’s the smoothness of the phone. Despite having a 1GHz dual-core processor, the user interface at times is a bit jerky. It’s certainly fast, and you’ll have no problem scrolling between homescreens, but you will notice it judder when you do.

The same goes for the gallery. It’s not a problem as such, but it just makes the Atrix feel slightly unpolished.

Of course, this will probably be fixed by the time the Atrix gets its Android Gingerbread update, but this leads to another little niggle. Why on earth does it have Android FroYo? It’s an older version of Android, and although good in its own right, it’s clearly not as good – or as responsive – as Gingerbread.

Hopefully Motorola will update the Atrix with Gingerbread soon and the small stuttering will go as well, killing two niggles in one.

The final niggle is the speed of the lapdock. As you’d expect, it’s not blisteringly fast. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly more than usable and is a genuinely viable replacement for a laptop. It’s just that, for the price, I think I’d rather buy a more responsive laptop and leave the lapdock alone.

Conclusion – what’s the Atrix like to own?


The Atrix is an outstanding device and a bold move from Motorola. It’s also a very specific phone – you either absolutely have to have it, or you should go for something else.

Let me explain.

On its own as a phone, the Atrix is very good, but it doesn’t match the HTC Sensation or Samsung Galaxy SII, both of which either look better (the HTC) or have better features (the Galaxy SII).

In addition, although I loved having a dual-core phone and showing it off to friends, there’s not really anything you can do with it to show it off. Sure it’s fast, but it’s also jerky in places, which is not what people expect when you tell them your phone has twice as many processors as their phone.

If you’re looking just for a great dual-core phone, then, you’re better off with the Galaxy SII or Sensation.

However, with the lapdock, the Atrix becomes a very different proposition. You do feel very cool, even if a geeky way, slotting your phone into the back of the lapdock and starting work immediately.

It’s also nice to know that you don’t have to worry about your data if you get your laptop bag stolen, as all your data is either in the cloud or on the Atrix, which you keep in your pocket.

I loved using the Atrix and its lapdock, and although it’s not the fastest laptop, it’s certainly extremely usable, and just plain cool!

Coolness aside, though, there’s one class of people for whom the Atrix and lapdock are absolutely essential: journalists, conference goers, live-bloggers and anyone else who needs the combination of 8 hours continuous use and constant Internet access even if the conference Wi-Fi goes down.

Because the Atrix and lapdock can be used anywhere and will outlast the competition by hours, it’s unbeatable if you need to write documents in a live situation with dodgy WiFi.

This is what I mean by the Atrix appealing to a very specific market. If you’re just looking for a great dual-core phone, don’t get the Atrix. But if you need constant connectivity and long battery life, you have no choice but to get the Atrix.

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