Software

If you’ve been following our Motorola coverage for a few years, you’ll recall that Motorola’s first skinning initiative, Blur, wasn’t well loved. In an effort to put some distance between itself and its progeny, Motorola stripped its skin of any naming convention whatsoever. Initially, there wasn’t much difference between Blur and not-Blur. We’ve come a long way, though. Today’s Motorola skin still has its decorative flourishes including replacing all of the stock icons with more colorful ones, even in Settings. The stock wallpapers are brightly colored, with plenty of blues and yellows, which pop thanks to the inaccurate color representation. But much of the aesthetics of stock Android remain intact, from the Notification Shade to the People app. There’s even on-screen Home/Back/App Switcher buttons. So, it’s stock plus. 

  

And what’s the plus? Let’s start with the lock screen. The action area is centered instead of left justified, and on contact a ring with four icons is revealed: Phone, Unlock, Text and Camera (clockwise from the top). The apps aren’t user configurable but are an inoffensive selection. One user configurable spot could have really sealed it for me, since I’m far more likely to only want to go Twitter quickly than Messaging. 

You’ll recall from the preview that home screens aren’t populated in the usual Android fashion. Usually the primary home screen is in the middle of a pack of five or seven. Here, the primary home screen is at the far left, and while up to seven can be used, there’s only one populated initially. A swipe to the left from the last available page brings up a menu to add a Blank Page or one from a template. The templates mirror the usual assortment you find, one with a social networking widget, one with a favorite contacts widget, one with all the carrier branded apps, and so on. Having them be optional is a surprising breath of fresh air; imagine, not having to start off by removing dozens of widgets and icons that are half-baked and will hardly get used. 

  

There’s more, though. A key part of the half-baked widgets I mentioned is that they took up valuable real estate. A contacts widget that featured my four most frequently used contacts is great and all, but that 4x1 widget takes the place of four apps I could have on my home screen. Motorola solved that issue by hiding the widget in the app’s icon, and I couldn’t be happier with this. Some of our readers have already trumpeted their favorite app that implements this functionality in the comments of our preview. We don’t deprecate the contributions of the developer community to Android UI and functionality, but for an OEM to adopt something useful is always a treat we like to highlight. Highlighting these efforts are our way of reminding them that good software really, really hits our sweet spot. 

 

Smart Actions makes its return after it premiered in the Droid RAZR. The updates have included new scenarios to trigger, including the Drive Smart app, a simplified driver focused UI. A 2x1 widget on the home screen allows you to configure triggers for Drive Smart based on being  inserted into a car mount or connected to a particular Bluetooth device. We liked Smart Actions before, and the simplification of scripting events is still quite nice now. As geolocation becomes less and less costly to battery life, we can expect to see geofencing be a more ubiquitous tool for controlling our phones. To get the most out of a feature like this, though, you have to take the time to configure it. Motorola tries to make this easier by offering suggested Smart Actions, periodically; this seems to be a scripted event in and of itself, with generic suggestions popping up every few days. 

And then there’s the ubiquitous clock/weather widget. I’m not a fan of widgets, but I do like a good weather widget. Even when I run a stock ROM I generally add the News & Weather widget to my home screen, simplistic though it may be. Motorola’s Circles widget is a bit more than that. Three semi-transparent circles stretch across a 4x2 widget, the largest is a clock, the middle one shows the weather and the smallest shows either battery information or data usage, along with a settings menu. Flicking up on a circle (the same motion that brings up the widgets corresponding to stock apps) changes its state: analogue/digital for the clock, data/battery for the information circle and amongst the list of added cities for the weather app. This little guy is a fantastic use of space, while also adding just the right amount of flourish without being showy. 

 

I don’t like being glowing, but unlike so many other skins, I can’t find anyway in which Motorola’s skin offends. It’s stock plus. And I like it. 

But . . . something's missing. The Atrix 4G introduced a paradigm that excited us all, leveraging the computing power of a cell phone in a netbook chassis. The Linux instance that drove the WebTop UI was limited in scope, and in satisfaction, not in small part by the performance of the Tegra 2 chipset that drove it. In the Atrix 2, the TI OMAP 4 performed admirably relative to the Tegra 2, but it still wasn't enough to make me wnat to use it. So, WebTop is gone in the Atrix HD. The placement of the microUSB and microHDMI ports matches several recent devices, so it could physically be compatible with the LapDock variations. But inserting it would just yield display mirroring, with no other benefit aside from being able to use the keyboard and trackpad. Then again, the Asus Transformer has shown that Ice Cream Sandwich can be used comfortably in a netbook chassis, so perhaps Motorola felt that was enough. Either way, RIP WebTop. 

Camera

When it comes to camera, Motorola hasn't been the king of the hill. Samsung and Apple pushed things pretty far, and HTC made their play with the ImageSense branding that tied an impressive ISP, optics and sensor package together. And then there's Nokia's PureView 808, which is more a camera than a modern smartphone. Motorola hasn't planted their flag in the same way the others have, but they also haven't slacked off. The interface is a lot like other aspects of the phone's software, close enough to stock that you might not notice a difference. Unfortunately, part way through the review the rear-facing camera gave up the ghost. I'm not sure what caused the loss, and a full reset wasn't enough to fix the problem. This played into the delay in this review, and I received a fully functioning sample today and put it through its paces.

 
A
trix HD Camera (left) and Galaxy S3 (right)

Quality is good, the Atrix HD is most likely leveraging the Qualcomm ISP, but using the RAZR's optics (4P F/2.4) and sensor (possibly the OV8820), though now configured with a focal length of 4.36 mm. Well lit images are quite good, though colors can be a bit oversaturated at times. Turn down the lights though, and things go from good to bad, quick. Noise pervades any dark areas in a shot, and pictures taken in darkness come out relatively bright, but very noisy. Comparison shots with the Samsung Galaxy S 3 (here wearing VZW branding, but running CyanogenMod 10) show how much less aggressive the SGS3 is with its ISO. So, while the shots aren't terribly noisy, they are darker than the Motorola equivalents. In partially lit scenes, though, the SGS3 does a much better job. 

Video quality is good, with files recorded at 1920x1080 with a bit rate around 16 Mbps. The interface includes several audio options that leverage the multiple microphones for better scenario based sound recording. In Stereo mode, the amount of separation is impressive, and the noise canceling does a reasonable job; the other modes seem to be variations on this with emphasis on specific types of noise canceling. It was harder to discern how well these worked, relative to other modes or solutions, but it's always nice to see OEMs make an effort. 

Performance Cellular Performance, Calls and GPS
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  • Belard - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    The Atrix HD does include the Car Dock/Charger. It re-configs the phone to a GPS type device and hands-free home just by plugging it in. The dock costs $40 (on the Motorola site).

    http://www.motorola.com/us/consumers/Vehicle-Navig...
    Reply
  • kpb321 - Wednesday, September 05, 2012 - link

    I assume that the color issue persisted with the new phone you received to resolve the camera issue since you didn't say otherwise. When I first saw the specs and price for this phone I figured it would end up being a pretty solid mid level phone and most people probably wouldn't be bothered by the display or if they were it would be at a level where they couldn't put their finger on why it bother them. Reply
  • dymelos - Wednesday, September 05, 2012 - link

    I know most of these are written with certain things in mind, and mostly started before market adjustments happen. But when you put a mid range phone againist a high end phone (the htc one x) thats the same price as each other, its hard to recomend the mid range phone. The htc has been 99 at att for over a month now. Its the best phone for the money that they carry as far as complete packages are concerned. Reply
  • Impulses - Wednesday, September 05, 2012 - link

    And the AHD is already $50 at most places other than AT&T... They can't revise the article d every two weeks. Reply
  • bill4 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Umm, they can edit the line referring to price, or update their conclusion, or come out with these reviews in a more timely manner, or SOMETHING.

    Talking about how this is the only Krait available for 99 when the One-X has been 99 for weeks just makes the article look bad.

    Just overall, the review isn't timely enough. This phone came out in late July IIRC. At that time I was kind of interested in it as an SGS3 alternative. That seems like forever ago and the Anand review is just now hitting? It's way too late to do any good.

    However, Anand does the most thorough phone reviews that I trust the most. A lot of reviews from all the phone sites, while they may review the phone a day after release, are really shitty. To me they're more like first impressions masquerading as reviews.

    So I guess, it's a big catch 22, and I dont know the answer. But just in general I wish this review was more timely by far. Like maybe first week of August or anything.
    Reply
  • SlyNine - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Anandtech adjusts, and learns, from things like this. I hope the next phone review is a bit more forward thinking and includes scenarios such as price drops ( if they think the price will drop just after, or even before the review is released). Reply
  • MrMilli - Wednesday, September 05, 2012 - link

    Jason, it seems you're not too familiar with v-sync.
    The differences between the onscreen and offscreen tests (v-sync'd and not) are perfectly normal and have nothing to do with 'thermal issues that arise because of the heat generated by the screen'.
    The simple explanation is that when v-sync is off, the gpu doesn't have to wait for the monitor to refresh to send the back buffer to the frame buffer. This will cause an increase in frame rate, even under 60fps.
    Reply
  • SlyNine - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    They have discussed this before. I believe they disable Vsync for both, Its a developer option, but I don't remember the specifics. Reply
  • Belard - Wednesday, September 05, 2012 - link

    I've been playing with HTC One X, SGS3 and a bit with the ATRIX HD finally. (I did consider the Nokia 900 and iPhone4s - No on iPhone because of Apples lawyers and iPhones are more prone to theft - no on WP7... and its dead end system... even at $50).

    I helped my business partner go with the Samsung GS3... its quite nice... and these 3 phones include an LED messaging light (handy!). But the screens on GS3s are a bit dark.

    Because of the Power button and USB connector location, I tossed out the HTC-One X. Otherwise, its screen, the feel of the body scores a 10 in my book. The Camera is still odd to me. I just won't deal with that button arrangement. Hence, we have CHOICES.

    Love the HOME button on the GS3... Can't stand the glossy plastic feel - the phone is too big for me to make it even bigger with a cover. The cover my friend bought, feel apart after a month.

    The review cleared up a few areas that helps me out on this... THANKS Jason. (sorry for poking ya about it) - I wish the camera was a bit better, but I use real cameras when photos count. Hence, the 8GB of memory means nothing to me. The issues you bring up are valid (the SD slot cover) and slightly odd looking back. Would NFC added more than $5 to the price? I *WILL* be going with the white version because I like how it looks from the front and side. IMHO, they should have made it solid... it would have looked more modern. I actually like how the texture differences feel. The black band has speckles on it (think IBM type-writer/keyboards of the 80s) which is old-school texture..

    I love how the phone feels (not quite as much as the HTC One). I've played with putting it in my pocket and seeing how I can get phone out. I wish it was a bit smaller. The VOL buttons can be set to control ZOOM or SHUTTER... very smart. Also, because of the lack of MAIN buttons, there is a bit more flexibility in using the phone.

    At least down here, at&t is including a CAR-DOCK ($40 usually) with this Atrix HD... so its almost like paying $60 for the phone. The DOCK attaches to you car and your phone clamps to it. What the dock does is charge your phone and puts it into a GPS mode... It'll operate in a hands free mode (speaks your text messages / speaker phone modes). When you remove the phone from the dock, it can "tag" your car location... so if its in a big parking lot, the Atrix HD will point to your car. (unless it was stolen, of course)

    I like the standard interface of the Atrix HD too... over the Samsung and a bit over the HTC for the very reasons you pointed out... using it on the phone is quite nice. I've been using launcher7 on my Galaxy S1 phone for 1.5 years. (It a WP7 Launcher interface) - I think I'm good with ICS on the Atrix to keep it stock.... its a nice screen and to reduce to basic plain color blocks seems a shame.

    I'm glad you did a proper battery test. Reviews I've seen from end users "battery sucks" had me worried. hence, I trust reviews that use standards that can be compared to products, not just what someone decides based on their own usage. None of the phones on your list is as bad as my 2 year old Galaxy S1.

    PS: I've seen the preview photos of the Lumia 820... that is a very COOL looking phone. Too bad they don't make an Android version. :) I'm sure Launcher 8 will come out if I feel the need to use that User Interface style. There is also WP7 style Phone Dialer / Texting apps too... ITs that kind of flexibility that keeps me on Android.

    PS: I always recommend people to still try out the phones themselves to make sure they are comfortable with it. I trust the HTC One X - but its still not for me.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, September 05, 2012 - link

    You have the battery in the RAZR MAXX, but it's not used in every phone you make.. why not? It would be a huge draw. No other manufacturers have cottoned on yet that people want huge battery life, but you did.. with one model. Reply

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