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Motorola’s dock adds value to Atrix 4G, says review

Mar 4, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

The Laptop Dock accessory available with Motorola's Android-based Atrix 4G phone — and soon, the Droid Bionic — is much more than just a novelty, says this favorable eWEEK review. Motorola's barebones, netbook-like device lets users plug in their phone, expanding the display via a Linux- and Firefox browser-based Webtop operating system.

Motorola Mobility's Atrix 4G, a swift, dual-core Android 2.2 smartphone running on AT&T's HSPA+ network, is well worth the $200 price, as we noted in this week's review. Yet, for enterprise workers, the Atrix 4G experience isn't quite complete without the Motorola Laptop Dock, or "Lapdock," accessory.

Motorola Laptop Dock

AT&T is offering the Laptop Dock with the Atrix 4G as a pair for $500. This $300 option seems expensive until you realize the Laptop Dock ostensibly lets you turn your smartphone into a computer by simply plugging it into the dock's phone cradle, whose prongs hook into the Atrix 4G's mini USB and HDMI ports.

The Lapdock Dock looks like a full laptop, with an 11.5-inch screen, but it lacks most of the software of a laptop and personal computer. The hardware does carry Mozilla's Firefox browser and Adobe Flash Player.

The dock comes with a power cord and two USB ports on the back for plugging in a mouse or flash drive, etc. Once a user plugs the Atrix 4G (pictured at right) into the dock, the two communicate and the dock renders the user's Atrix 4G homescreen within seconds.

The dock, by the way, connected to the web via our home Wi-Fi network and also charged the Atrix 4G. It will charge the phone even when the dock is not plugged into an electric outlet. Once the Atrix 4G's Linux-based Webtop app is engaged on the dock screen, users will see not only their phone's homescreen but app icons in the app tray at the bottom of the Webtop screen.

Buttons let users toggle between a mobile view and a step-back view that lets users scroll through their open apps and browser screens via the Lapdock's touchpad. There are also buttons for the phone dialer, phone contacts, email, Motorola's HD entertainment center, files, Firefox, and Facebook.

Users may add apps or web pages by clicking a button in the lower right-hand corner much as one would add a bookmark. I tested Facebook, Google search, and Gmail, which updated to the latest mobile Gmail version on my Atrix 4G directly while on the dock.

The file manager lets you sift through your phone's files easily enough, pulling them up in a familiar file menu. Motorola's HD Entertainment Center enabled me to port my photos and videos (or music, if one is inclined) on the larger Laptop Dock, and scroll through them using the dock's keyboard.

The true gem here for the enterprise worker is the ability to work with their Atrix 4G's Gmail, Microsoft Exchange messaging, or documents on the big screen. Moreover, when a user gets a call, he or she can simply mouse over to the dial app on the Webtop, click a button and answer a call.

Users may make calls the same way, accessing their contacts on the dialer on the Webtop and clicking a button — all hands free. The sound quality is solid, akin to a user being on speaker phone in my testing.

Also, users power down the Lapdock Dock by closing the screen, but the Webtop app on the Atrix 4G keeps your apps in state so you can return to work when you reopen the dock screen, or plug the phone back into the dock. This is a big bonus for corporate road warriors who need to dash off to that meeting at the last second.

Indeed, the whole idea of the Laptop Dock is that a traveling worker can haul their Android phone and the dock to any remote office without begging for an ad-hoc computer set-up. That's a nice perk.

Laptop Dock, with Atrix 4G shown plugged in the back at left
(Click to enlarge)

I do have some criticisms of the dock. First, the Atrix 4G got super hot when I had it in the dock after 30 or more minutes. I thought I was picking up a piece of toast when I removed the phone from the dock.

Also, the performance of the Webtop app could be faster. Sometimes switching between apps and views was not so smooth. For example, I'd click on the button to add something to the app tray and it would "think" for several seconds.

Finally… can I get it in Google's Chrome browser? It's understandable that Motorola, which has hitched its wagon to the open source Android platform, would select the premier open-source browser in Firefox. But Chrome, which is open source, is increasingly getting better and would pair well with Android.

One important detail that came to light last week was that Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha said the dock would be available for future Android phones. So if you don't want the Atrix 4G you can wait for, say, the Motorola Droid Bionic, and use the Laptop Dock with the Bionic on Verizon Wireless in the second quarter. Just don't buy the dock by itself because it will set you back $500. Better to pair it with a brand new, high-end smartphone for the same cost.

Further information

A slide show of our Atrix 4G and laptop dock test units may be found here. More information on the Motorola Laptop Dock may be found on Motorola Mobility's Lapdock for Motorola Atrix page.

Clint Boulton is a writer for our sister publication eWEEK.

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