By Harry McCracken | Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 8:14 am
Over at TIME.com, my new Technologizer column is about Motorola’s Atrix 4G, the potent Android handset on AT&T’s network with a truly unique optional accessory: a laptop dock that depends on the phone for its brains, storage, and Internet connection. It turns the Atrix from a PC-like phone into a notebook. (Another dock, with a wireless keyboard and mouse, turns the Atrix into a desktop computer; I wasn’t able to test it.)
Executive summary of my review: The Atrix is a nifty phone that would be on my short list if I was in the market for an Android handset. As for the laptop dock–well, it’s a nice piece of industrial design that does what it’s supposed to do, but I found the experience a bit glitchy and sluggish. And as Jared wrote, the pricing of the dock makes it less tempting than if it had been a low-cost add-on. It’s $500 unless you agree to a two-year tethering contract and $500 for both the phone and the dock if you do commit, and either way, it only works if you pay $20 a month for tethering on top of your voice and data plan.
I still think some gadget geeks will buy and like the dock, but more because it’s a genuinely new gizmo than because the math and features make it a compelling notebook alternative. On the other hand, anyone who’s waiting around for Chrome OS notebooks might be intrigued by the Atrix 4G: It feels a bit like a Chrome OS device that happens to run Firefox instead, and which will likely be available first. (AT&T says it’ll be out by March 6th.)
All in all, I’m glad that Motorola and AT&T are giving this idea a whirl. It’s the first real-world expression of the dumb clamshells I wrote about a while back. The laptop docks I’d like to see wouldn’t be docks–they’d use wireless technology to let you keep your phone in your pocket. And unlike the Atrix’s dock, they’d also be designed to work with any phone. But if they ever arrive, we’ll look back and say that the Atrix was the first incarnation of the idea to hit the market…