Motorola Atrix Lapdock
It's a... phone-book?
Accessory of the Week If you had thought that Motorola’s Android offerings might have ended up as the also-rans in the mêlée of Googlephone handsets, then recent events in the mobile marketplace would suggest it could well be the standard bearer. The Chocolate Factory’s bid for Motorola’s Mobility division – the handset and tablet line – certainly seems to suggest that buying into Motorola kit might not be a bad idea. It's not like there haven't been a few temptations either.
Motorola's Atrix Lapdock: handset not included
The Motorola Atrix Android handset has a suite of accessories that go beyond the typical docking options to transform it from a dual core Android smartphone into an multimedia hub or even a netbook. With the latter, the Atrix slots into the back of a very slimline looking notebook and phone's CPU runs the show.
Called the Lapdock, it has a 11.5in screen with a 1366 x 768 resolution. Round the back, besides the swivelling dock for the phone, you also get two USB ports and speakers on each corner.
There’s a PSU input too, which not only charges the docked phone but the internal battery within the Lapdock which extends the working life of this combo. When unplugged from the mains, the Lapdock battery still charges the phone when docked, so even if big picture battery dies, you can still resort to the small screen as the handset should still be topped up.
Docking the phone and opening the lid fired everything up, which takes around 20 seconds for the handover if you’ve not had the two running together in a while. At other times it was alive and kicking less than ten seconds.
Mobile View address book alongside the Webtop Firefox browser
When docked, the Atrix display is blanked out and you're greeted by the phone's homescreen in the corner and a bunch of icons in a dock that's all very Mac OS X stylee – even the mouse pointer is black. The dock or App Tray is split in two with shortcuts to phone functions on the left and the full-screen ‘Webtop’ apps on the right. You can initiate and receive calls too, with the internal speakers making for a perfectly usable handsfree experience.
While I junked the Facebook App Tray link within seconds of starting off, the File Browser and the Webtop version of Firefox (3.6.15) with its Flash support proved much more enduring. If you're in a territory that offers the latest Atrix Android update, then this comes with Firefox 4.0.1.
The display angle could do with going back a few more degrees for a better view
There's also a Motorola shortcut on the Webtop side that does little else than link to the Atrix site. It turns out you can add any URL or web application to the dock for quick access. You use the + symbol in the bottom right corner to enter in both name URL, which is a bit cumbersome, a slicker alternative is to use the ‘Add this page to App Tray...’ option in the Firefox bookmarks menu.
For wired headphones, you use the phone's socket
Using the Lapdock has certain amount of split thinking to it. You have the Mobile View, which has all the Atrix apps on show that can be seen portrait or landscape mode, mimicking the phone’s layout. You can expand this to full screen but it is still the Mobile view because you’re looking at the phone apps, only bigger now.
You can navigate the mobile apps by click and drag or with a combination of moving through the various screens and icons with the arrow keys and using the trackpad cursor to make selections. If you know what you’re looking for though, just typing in a few letters will bring up a list of matching content, locally and, if you choose, on-line. Alt-Tab will move you through open apps too.
Double vision: mobile and Webtop browsers can be used simultaneously
Both the mobile and Webtop apps can be viewed and used simultaneously. If you try and run the phone browser, it will prompt asking if you want to use the Webtop version. However, you can have both running at once, which could be handy for a developer checking out how web pages look for both desktop and mobile displays. Talking of developers, the Webtop side of things is, apparently, based around Ubuntu Linux but you need to root the Atrix and run ADB to modify the Webtop environment.
Tilt and shift
The chiclet keyboard clatters a bit and its spacing took a bit of getting used to, but the keys seemed less of a challenge than a typically densely packed layout found on netbooks. Typing texts is a boon, but regardless of application, you'll be wanting to disable the trackpad when typing, as the cursor can flit around all over the place if you don't. A white light in the top left corner of the trackpad indicates it is active, double tap on it and the light goes out and the trackpad is deactivated – simple and effective.
Mobile View's Gallery displays an image while the File Manager shows thumbnails of the handset's stored images
I tried dual approach to writing this article; typing into an enlarged view of Quickoffice running from the mobile apps and later moving to Google Docs on Firefox. Using Quickoffice soon turned into a bit of a bind with its limited editing functions, and its zoom text controls appearing on-screen every time you positioned the cursor anywhere. If you don't get on with the trackpad or toggling it off/on, attaching a mouse works without a hitch and there are speed and response controls available too. You can also plug in USB storage and the File Manager allows you to drag and drop documents between internal and external storage devices. It's all very easy and intuitive.
Media options from the Entertainment Centre
Personally, I wasn't too dismayed by the browser performance, which has received some criticism. Sure it's not lightning fast, but it does get there and I browsed for flights, accessed my Internet bank and ran the BBC iPlayer full-screen without a hitch. The latter did suffer image tearing from time to time, but stabilised after a while and the sound was constant.
One issue that you'll discover for yourself soon enough is the screen tilt angle – it just doesn't lean back far enough. It's OK for a coffee shop table if you push it away from yourself, but on the lap or a small desk you end up seeing a slightly washed out view of the screen as you're on top of it, looking down, rather than looking directly at the display. It's a pity really considering how this needn't have been an issue at all with some aforethought. Likewise the finish on the robust metal casing looks dreadful as soon as it gets the inevitable smattering of fingerprints.
Phone aside, the Lapdock is certainly slim
The Atrix-Lapdock combo does work out as rather expensive, but I would like to think that its docking interface of just micro USB and HDMI ports will appear on other Motorola handsets, so that this accessory investment can be extended to forthcoming phones, much like the iPod/iPhone docking devices. Indeed, Google may even have its eye on the idea of turning this hardware set-up into some kind of Chromebook hybrid. Time will tell.
For now, you get the benefits of a phone data connection in a netbook form along with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a full-blown browser. And when you want to be ultra mobile, then you have the Atrix phone which can be found along with its family of accessories on various cellco contract deals, which might help take the sting out of the cost of this curious combination. ®
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