By Jared Newman | 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 But it also has an outdated version of Android (2.2) and AT&T’s silly refusal to let users run software from outside the Android Market.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.