Scouting Report: Motorola Atrix HD

[Every time a hot new gadget is announced, the buzz can reach a boiling point before anyone stops to think about what all the fuss is all about. In our Scouting Report series, we’ll cut through the marketing jargon and examine what makes a certain product special—or in some cases, simply overhyped.]

The Atrix HD is Motorola’s first Android phone as a Google subsidiary, but there’s nothing remarkably different about it from other Motorola phones released pre-acquisition. But that isn’t a bad thing either: The Atrix HD is sort of a mash-up of the best features from other Motorola phones. Is the Atrix HD just another Android phone? Or is it worth considering? Here’s what you need to know.

HD “Color Boost” display

The Atrix HD’s moniker comes from its screen, a 4.5-inch 720-by-1280-pixel “HD” display. The Atrix HD’s display also has “Color Boost” technology, which according to Motorola, has “50 percent more pixels than the leading smartphone.” To see if this claim held up, I did a quick side-by-side comparison pitting the Atrix against the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S III. In terms of color saturation, the Galaxy S III looked the most over-saturated. The Atrix HD was less so, but colors still looked a bit off. I loaded the same picture of a group of people on each phone. On both the Atrix HD and Galaxy S III, skin tones looked quite ruddy compared to how they looked on the iPhone 4S.

When it came to sharpness and clarity of detail, the Atrix HD held its own against the Galaxy S III and the iPhone 4S. Text is easy to read and didn’t look pixelated or fuzzy. I’m not sure which “leading smartphone” Motorola is comparing the Atrix HD to, but its display definitely earns that “HD” moniker.

Super tough design

Like the Droid Razr and Droid Razr Maxx (both on Verizon), the Atrix is partially constructed from Kevlar with a water-repellant nano-coating. Kevlar is a material found in high-end speedboats, bulletproof jackets, and bicycle tires. Basically, the Atrix HD is super tough: according to Motorola, Kevlar is five times stronger than steel. Using Kevlar on a phone seems a bit weird, but I was surprised with how delicate it felt and how attractive it looks on the Atrix HD. I especially like the white version Motorola sent us.

Operating system

Despite the Google relationship, this Motorola phone does not ship with Android 4.1, also known as Jelly Bean. You get Android 4.0 instead (also known as “Ice Cream Sandwich”), with a Motorola-made overlay running over it.

The Atrix HD is the first Motorola phone on AT&T to ship with SmartActions, an app that helps you conserve battery life and automate your phone. For example, you can set a reminder to notify you when you should recharge your phone (like before you go to bed). If you forget to plug your phone in, you can set a Smart Action called “Nighttime Battery Saver,” which adjusts your phone’s network and screen settings to make your battery last longer the next day.

We saw SmartActions on the Droid Razr and Droid Razr Maxx. It is an easy-to-use app and can be pretty useful if you take the time to set up rules and profiles.

Verdict: The price is right

These specs and features might not be the most jaw-dropping, but take this into consideration: The Atrix HD is only $100 (with a new two-year contract from AT&T). Essentially, you get the high-end specs found in phones double the price of the Atrix HD (for comparison, the Motorola Droid Razr is $200 while the Razr Maxx is $300 on Verizon). It is refreshing to see a phone that doesn’t compromise specs and design for price. “Budget” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “inferior.”

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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