The ATRIX 4G has caused some real excitement since wining CES Best of Show Smartphone. Now that it’s available I think a lot of people want to know if it’s really something to consider for their next smartphone. I will provide my perspective after living and working with the ATRIX and Laptop Dock for the past week. ( full disclosure: Citrix has been collaborating with Motorola for many months on the ATRIX 4G)

For reference I have been using the iPhone 4 since it came out. I love the iPhone 4 as a device … not so much as a phone …  I hate dropped calls…  This switch may also provide more insight if it’s really the iPhone’s fault or AT&T. So far I have not had any dropped calls with the ATRIX ( either that or I’m too used to them … ) My first hiccup happened when I was hoping I could just use my iPhone SIM in the ATRIX giving me the chance to go back and forth. The ATRIX takes a full size SIM vs the iPhone microSIM, fortunately there are adapters. This one works fine for me. Now it’s easy to switch between iPhone and ATRIX for calls. For using the ATRIX Laptop Dock however, there is an additional tethering plan required. This is annoying but when you consider you need the same tethering plan if you want to tether a laptop, it’s understandable.

For first time users you also need a free Motoblur account, not a big deal although sometimes you need multiple tries to get registered. Some critics find fault with Motoblur but I liked the integrated Facebook, Linkedin and email widgets that give you a glance view without entering each app.  Setting up email to my company exchange server was easy … after you figure out it’s called “Corporate Sync,” not email… As an iPhone user the Android interface takes a little getting used to but I soon got the hang of it. Things like integrated Google Voice are really nice, other differences are more subtle after you get used to them. The speed of the ATRIX is great compared to earlier Androids I’ve tested. No doubt the result of the Nvidia dual core 1GHz CPU and 1G RAM. I was concerned about battery life but it seems comparable to the iPhone 4. The 5M camera does a great job outdoors, although indoor pics seemed better with the iPhone. The size and feel of the ATRIX is very nice and it does not seem to need a case even passing an accidental drop test.

As a smartphone alone the ATRIX 4G is a top of the line Android, however there are other new smartphones from Samsung and HTC that also warrant consideration. The real magic of the ATRIX and the feature that could even motivate an iPhone user to switch is called Webtop. This feature transforms the ATRIX from smartphone to NirvanaPhone, plug the phone into the HD dock or Laptop Dock and a 720P high resolution desktop is presented in a full sized display with full sized keyboard and mouse/trackpad support. Within Webtop mode users get a full desktop Firefox browser, a Mobile View of the phone UI, a file manager, and Citrix Receiver preloaded. Note you can not install other apps inside the locked down Webtop OS. Native Android apps can run inside the Mobile View window which is a great feature, but most will not scale properly when expanded to full screen. Desktop Firefox works very well including Flash sites like youtube. Audio is supported for Firefox but you may need to change the audio settings in the top right menu bar. To launch Citrix, users simply need to navigate with Firefox to their normal Web Interface logon page using the same URL they use from a PC or Mac. ( Do not launch Receiver from within Mobile View, it works but with limited resolution ) After logging on you will be presented with the same list of apps or virtual desktops and simply clicking an icon launches the app as expected. You can also adjust the session settings for fullscreen, windowed or fixed resolution. Webtop supports up to 1280×1024 resolution through the HD dock or 1280×800 on the Laptop Dock. You can also make an icon for the Webtop dock/taskbar to easily launch Citrix the next time ( click the + in the lower right ) To use Citrix on the ATRIX when undocked, it works the same as other Android smartphones; go to the Android Marketplace, download Citrix Receiver and configure as directed. Many of the questions I get are “can you receive and make calls when using Citrix?” The Answer is yes, through the speaker or a Bluetooth headset. In fact I have not been a regular Bluetooth headset user, but living with the ATRIX is converting me to the convenience. If you are in a fullscreen Citrix session, moving the mouse to the top of the screen presents a toolbar that allows minimizing the Citrix session but keeps it alive in the dock/Taskbar.

I made my first trip with the ATRIX Laptop Dock last week and fortunately all my 4 flights had WiFi. I signed up for the GoGo in flight service on Delta and it works well for browsing in Firefox as well as access to a full XenDesktop virtual desktop. If I didn’t have WiFi I still could have been productive with the included version of QuickOffice. This provides the ability to create new documents or review saved documents from work. If IT allows it, the internal storage of the ATRIX can also be automatically mapped as the A: drive when connected to a Citrix session. QuickOffice has limitations but for something like creating a new document without much formatting it works fine. The biggest issue on the plane is when the guy in front of you leans back… fortunately the ATRIX is just low enough to not be crushed by the tray cutout. For working on the plane in tight space I think I still prefer the iPad unless I have a lot of typing to do… like this blog that I started on my flight home on my virtual desktop. Having the long lasting Laptop Dock with the ability to charge the phone is a huge convenience at airports not having to always be on the lookout for a place to charge your laptop and/or phone. The problem is you get so used to never plugging in during the course of a day you can get caught with the Laptop Dock dying on a long work day plus travel. The battery indicator is also not very obvious, you need to press a small button near the trackpad to see indicator lights show the battery charge. The size and weight of the Laptop Dock is convenient compared to my MacBook Pro but won’t win over MacBook Air fans. The build quality and QWERTY keyboard are very good and the trackpad works well although I still prefer a mouse which is Bluetooth supported or conventional through the USB ports. The Laptop Dock does not provide a VGA or HDMI port like the HD dock that I will cover in follow up posts. As you might imagine docking the ATRIX in the Laptop Dock gets lots of questions and awe from fellow travelers at airport restaurants and on plane rides.

If you are thinking about your next smartphone for work and play and you want more than just a smartphone, consider the ATRIX 4G as the first real NirvanaPhone. Let me know your questions and I will try to cover them in follow up posts.

More on Citrix and the ATRIX 4G

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