Confirmed: AT&T, Motorola Have Ruined the Atrix 4G

By  |  Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm

When I heaped lavish praise on Motorola’s Atrix 4G smartphone during CES, those plaudits came with a caveat: For this wacky modular computing concept to work, AT&T needed reasonable pricing for the Atrix’s laptop dock and accompanying data plans.

Unfortunately, that won’t be the case. When Atrix 4G pre-orders begin on February 13, the phone itself will cost $200 like almost every other Android superphone on the market — no problems there.

But the laptop dock, which taps the phone’s processor to run a full version of the Firefox browser, will cost $500 on its own. You can get the phone and dock together for $500, but then you’ll have to include tethering (another $20 per month) in your contract. And even if you don’t take the bundle, the dock will still require tethering to access AT&T’s network.

The laptop dock consists only of a screen, keyboard, mouse and battery, and yet it costs the same on its own as an entire high-powered netbook, processor and all. That alone is a dealbreaker. But the real disappointment is AT&T’s attitude towards the very concept of docking. Even though the dock’s sole functionality is to browse the web — and not perform bandwidth-intensive desktop tasks like online gaming or peer-to-peer file sharing — AT&T still treats it like a full-blown laptop.

Cost isn’t everything, of course. The ability to run Android apps on the big screen is kind of cool, and so is the dock’s slim, lightweight figure. But modular computing is a future that no one’s going to buy if it’s outrageously priced. I can already play Angry Birds on a Mac, thank you very much.

What’s really frustrating is that, at a time when every smartphone maker is creating a variant on the iPhone concept, Motorola has built something remarkably different. Revolutionary, even. I try to avoid the term “iPhone killer,” because it’s sensational and has been misused so many times, but the dock is the kind of hardware feature that could turn Apple into a follower. And AT&T and Motorola are blowing it.

The Atrix itself still looks like a good phone. It’ll probably be the first to market with a dual-core processor, and it has a fingerprint reader for more convenient security. But it also has an outdated version of Android (2.2) and AT&T’s silly refusal to let users run software from outside the Android Market.

There will be more dual-core phones. Hopefully, there will also be more laptop docks, preferably from carriers who appreciate what they’ve got.


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15 Comments For This Post

  1. Phil Says:

    What a suprise! The mobile landscape is the ultimate example of nickeling people to death with charges and inhibiting the potential use of technology. We so need some disruption in that this industry, but the regulation and lobbying by the big guys makes it very difficult.

  2. Mike Cerm Says:

    Let's get serious here for a second: this was a stupid idea, back when it was called the Folio. The smartest thing Palm EVER did was to cancel the Folio before it became an actual product.

    Docking your phone *seems like a good idea, right? You can do a lot of stuff with a phone, and having a bigger screen and full keyboard means you can do even more, right? Well, yeah, that's the idea. However, when the screen and keyboard cost more than an actual netbook (or a full laptop, in the case of the Atrix), what the hell is the point?

    Furthermore, I haven't actually played around with one of these dual-core phones yet, but I can say unequivocally that any $250 netbook will render a webpage faster than a 1GHz phone will. I can also say, that the 512MB of memory (probably 1GB in the Atrix) will not give you a pleasant experience. I'm on Windows, and I can say that Firefox uses that much memory on its own. You're better off just using the REAL laptop (which you already own) than dropping $500 on a dock for a phone that's slower than a netbook.

    If this were priced at $200, maybe there'd be a point. That's about what a decent monitor and keyboard will cost you. Even then, a netbook would still be a better choice for 99% of people, but at least it would seem almost reasonable. At $500, they should have no trouble matching the number of Folios that Palm sold.

  3. Smurff Says:

    Dude…please for the sake of logic never post again…if ANY web browser is using more than 70 MEGABYTES!!! you are most certainly infected with a virus…. please please please don't post without knowing FACTS…

  4. Mike Cerm Says:

    Huh? Maybe you're right… if you only ever have one tab open, and you clear your browser history after every page-load. Or perhaps you're talking about smartphones, which are much more aggressive about clearing cached pages than desktop browsers are (which is why pages will ofter need to reload if you switch to a different app and switch back).

    However, if you're ever used a web browser on a PC, you'll know that they use a lot more than 70MB.

  5. David Says:

    Well, the price is ridiculous. It's where it needs to be to make money probably because they won't sell a lot of them. But really, at $10, who wants one? Who is walking around saying "I want to dock my phone because I want to browse."

    Maybe, MAYBE if it switched to an OS optimized for a large screen, keyboard and mouse, this would make sense. The thing simply doesn't make any sense for any reasonably mainstream use case.

    This is where Motorola and company still haven't learned. Flooding the market with bad ideas cheapens your brand and wastes resources, resources Motorola doesn't have to waste.

    They should push one or two *really* good phones and one tablet. And they come out once a year like clockwork. Those phones should sync to iTunes, sync over the cloud, do everything as well as the iPhone and be dead simple to use. Allow me, when I get home, to put down my phone, pick up my tablet and whatever was on my phone is fired up and running on my tablet. When I'm done and ready to leave, I can press a button and fire up whatever I'm doing on my tablet, on my phone.

    Stop trying to hit every market, stop talking until the stuff is done, stop talking about Apple and stop with the bad ideas.

  6. A Bald Says:

    Just to clarify when docked the Atrix will launch a variant of linux (Not Android), which would be optimised for keyboard and mouse use, with Firefox and Media browser etc.

  7. JaredNewman Says:

    Well, it also launches a mirror of the phone, so you can run Android apps/take phone calls in addition to browsing with Firefox.

  8. Dave Says:

    They are going to charge a tethering fee to put the phone in the dock? Are you kidding me???

  9. JaredNewman Says:

    From the press release:

    "Laptop Dock – Firefox browser use with AT&T Mobile Broadband requires Tethering Plan."

    Yeah, I'm still hoping on Monday they'll put out another press release saying the tethering requirement was just a big joke, and we can all look back on this week and laugh.

  10. Lamar Says:

    I've resisted moving to a smart phone (cost v benefit), but the Atrix got my attention.

    $500 and tethering, I'll pass.

  11. chubbysumo Says:

    rooting an andriod phone isn’t that hard these days, and I suspect that just like the Iphone has native tethereing if jailbroken(I have been using it for free for 2 years) we all know that the android devices all have the functionality. Once you get rid of AT&T bloat, and put a clean version of android on the phone, there is no way for AT&T to tell what the data is from(meaning it looks the same from the phone and the tethered device). Same with the Xoom, rumored to have Wifi functionality cut if you don’t activate with verizon. Give someone time to root the phone, and get the full functionality back. As far as it launching a kernal of GNU/Linux, Android is based off of the GNU/linux kernal, so its just launching an extension of its own OS meant for non mobile devices. Its actually pretty easy to do, and full installs of GNU/Linux have been installed on many mobile devices for a number of years.

  12. James Says:

    Chubby, while I agree that rooting SOME Android based phones is not hard, that is absolutely not the case for Motorola phones. Motorola is notoriously hated by developers because they put in extra security to deter unlocking the boot locker and rooting.

    The main point of your statement though is accurate. Once you wipe out all of the AT&T shitware, and probably MOTOBLUR (if we're lucky), there will be no need to purchase a tethering plan. Windows Mobile and Android phones have both had the software and hardware requirements to tether for years, as you've stated.

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