March 25, 2011

Motorola Atrix Webtop, a sluggish first impression

Motorola Atrix 4G Laptop DockImage by nvidia.corporation via FlickrI was really looking forward to the Motorola Atrix and specifically the laptop that comes along with it. I'm a big fan of Android. I'm one of two people in North America who BOUGHT a Nexus One and thinks it's actually a good phone. Seriously, I believe I'm in the sweet spot of the Atrix's target market. I'm on the road a fair amount and all of my stuff is in the cloud. For email I use Gmail on Google Apps, my files are in Dropbox, my to do list is in Remember the Milk and my notes are in Evernote. Wherever I am, if I have a computer connected to the internet, I can get going on things. I'm not attached to a machine and I'm still connected to what matters, my information and my data. I'm looking at the paradigm of the Atrix as a natural fit for me:
  • powerful phone;
  • android platform;
  • best Gmail integration there is out of the box;
  • with the laptop, I now have a real way to type in emails on a moment's notice when in between two meetings or flights, using the phone connectivity;
  • my phone recharges as I use the laptop - bonus!
I was first in line to get one the day it was released here in Canada on our wonderful Bell Canada network. My first impression overall is that the Atrix is a powerful phone on its own. Many people have covered the technical spec; it's true that it's fast; and for being that fast and powerful, it's still ok with the battery usage. As for MOTOBLUR, I'm really on the fence. I'm a fan of the stock android version but when companies start adding stuff I get worried. Using MOTOBLUR hasn't been so bad and yes it's not fully satisfying. MOTOBLUR gets you the information, yet when it's time to do something about it, you feel something is missing and you have the urge to go to the application itself to get the job done, be it Twitter or Facebook etc.

The bit where I'm disappointed

Bell sells the laptop for $429 regular price and at an introductory price of $329. The price is steep to start with; one can have a netbook for that price.


Once you have the phone and laptop and you want to use the laptop, you dock your phone on the laptop and off you go. The experience there is slow at best. I can fire up my MacBook faster than the WebTop fires up. There seems to be a resume mode where it's faster but I can't say that when it goes into sleep mode, where the boot up feels a lot longer.

Using it, sluggishness and limitations

It feels sluggish. The phone is powerful for running Android applications, but running Firefox is another story. To start, WebTop is a very simplified desktop where the only things one can really do are:
  • run Firefox to browse;
  • run Firefox web applications, using prysm;
  • interact with the phone itself from the laptop;
  • also available is Motorola entertainment software.
Even if WebTop is minimalistic, it still feels like a bigger load than the Atrix's maximum capacity. It feels like Windows Vista; it goes into unresponsive periods and then comes back to life. I was able to run Gmail from Firefox as a website and in application mode. The performance issues are noticeable. Once, I resumed from a session and when I got in Gmail all the mails in my inbox were selected. It was scary. What if I had pressed delete or archive and I don't know by what manipulation I was able to select all emails without being in the application itself. Last point on hitting the limits of the hardware, once I was over the boot time and the startup delays I got hit by a memory warning quickly with three browsers open. The message box told me to close some web pages and opened up an application management on the phone itself. Closing web pages did help, but the application management software on the phone didn't.


The keyboard form factor is not working for me. It's too small and the keys are not well laid out. I mistype constantly. I keep hitting or touching the mousepad by mistake, my cursor moves around and then I end up typing part of my message in the wrong place. This is a real pain for me, as it's not a time saver and is very frustrating. The next thing about the keyboard is the lack of multilingual support. I understand the keyboard to be English only and I'm used to that. I need the ability to set up a French Canadian keyboard so that I can type in accented letters. There is no way to do that up for now and that's a big bummer for all non-English international markets!

Phone client

Using the phone UI is difficult through a mouse pad and the blown up view looks primitive. Navigating from one screen to the other of the android UI by dragging your finger on the mouse pad is not easy. Furthermore, when in an application as a user, since I'm on a laptop, my natural inclination is to use the keyboard shortcuts but that doesn't work. Overall, there is a need for more seamless integration between the two interaction models.


I think Atrix the phone is a great phone, although I do prefer an android stock experience. It's fast and powerful compared to my Nexus One. The WebTop experience is early in the game still. It feels unpolished and lacks integration between the phone experience and the laptop experience. The WebTop software is not optimized enough for the phone capabilities. The whole experience is not there. How it looks, how it feels and how it works is not singing. However, I really like the concept and it will be a concept I will follow closely.

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