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Motorola Atrix vs iPhone 4, Two Months Later

So... It's been a while since I've switched from an iPhone to the Motorola Atrix. In the initial article I tried to focus on things that matter, when you use the phone. Real life stuff. In such a comparison things like, 65,000 or 1,000,000 apps doesn't matter, having the apps I want to use does. Also, on the other side of the fence, "open" doesn't matter, can I use it just a fluidly.


I wrote the first article a few days after switching to the Atrix. With that kind of time period there could be bias in both ways. For one, I could have been "dazzled" by the cool new toy and overlooked some things that may prove to be bothersome in the long run. On the other hand, I could have been put off by a change that may not have been bad as I originally though it was, I could have just had to learn a new way, or get used to this or that. Therefore, here's a follow up article, after the dazzle has worn off and I've had some time to get used to the new device.
*When I say iPhone 4 I mean *jail broken* iPhone 4.
*The Motorola Atrix is using Go Launcher Ex which has quickly become my favorite launcher.

This category is pretty important as it involves the general interaction with the phone. For me, it's pretty important to be able to customize the phone for maximum productivity, you know, so I don't look like the people in the Windows Phone 7 commercials. I could go into the whole eye candy thing, where Android easily dominates, however, I'm not interested in that, I'm more interested in functionality and accessibility. How many steps to get to the information that I'm looking for? Is the information that I care about readily available to me?

Obviously, here, the iPhone has a distinct disadvantage as iOS does not support widgets. If we were talking about a standard iPhone the Atrix would just run away with this one, however we're talking about a jail broken iPhone which, while it won't beat the Atrix, does shrink the lead a little more than expected.
  • One Touch Dialing - For the iPhone we have CallMe which assigns a single phone number to an icon. This allows for one touch dialing of the people you contact most, but that's about it. Atrix has the "Contact quick tasks" widget that allows not only one touch dialing but also one touch texting, address map lookup and email. The Atrix "Contact quick tasks" also allows multiple actions for a single contact. A nice touch is that the contact's picture is tied to their social media account so when they change, for instance, their FaceBook picture, the icon on the Atrix changes as well.
  • Switches - Having quick access to switches allows you to do battery saving tasks easily, and therefore, make it more helpful. Further, a situation that I'm often in, when the phone is in range of a WiFi connection, but so far away that the signal is super weak. In this case I'll often just switch the WiFi connection off because the 3G signal is faster than the distant WiFi connection. Obviously, the Atrix solution is to use a widget, there are many available, I like Elixirwhich also provides phone stats as well, battery temp, CPU and syst.... On the iPhone's side is SBSettings. Once installed SBSettings displays a pop up menu when the phone is swiped along the top of the screen. Two advantages to SBSettings, first you can access SBSettings from the lock screen, no need to unlock the phone to get to the settings, also because it's a pop up menu it's accessible from any screen and even from within applications. I actually prefer the SBSettings implementation, however, the widget solution is still a very good option.
  • Navigation - Here the iPhone interface leaves a lot to be desired.
  1. Home Screen - The iPhone sets the start screen at screen two, leaving screen one as the "search" screen. When I've gone back to use the iPhone, this is probably one of the minor but annoying things I've noticed. On the Atrix the "home" screen can be set in which ever order you choose, so if I have 5 screens I can choose to have the home screen be the middle screen. This gets really helpful in daily use as I can put my more used applications and widgets on the right AND left meaning I have more information and applications just a single swipe away. This is one of those things that you don't notice after a day or two with the device, but becomes increasingly more noticeable after a while with the device.
  2. Dock - Using Go Launcher Ex on the Atrix the dock can be scrolled for access to more than just five original places. I am 95% sure this is also available on the iPhone though I don't know the exact name of the application that allows this. So we get a tie here.
  3. Page Management - An upward swipe of the Atrix screen zooms out to display multiple screens in a 3 x 3 grid. In this screen the order of the pages can be changed. Pages can be added or deleted and the home screen can be declared. Also, notable here is that on the Atrix the application icons and widgets can be placed where you choose, top, bottom, skip a space, it doesn't matter. This can also be achieved on the iPhone with the help of iBlank but is a much more cumbersome process.
  • Hardware - I'm not talking all the features of the phone, just the interface hardware, in which each phone has a plus or minus, depending on the user. The iPhone has the button on the front of the phone, when the phone is sitting flat on a desk, this button makes it extremely easy to reach over, turn on and start using the phone, without having to pick it up. This is one thing I often miss when using the Atrix. However, and this is a BIG however, the Atrix has a fingerprint scanner. This has had a pretty big impact on how I use the device day to day. The Atrix can also be unlocked with a numeric code, in case the finger print scanner is defective or breaks. Having the fingerprint scanner, though, means I don't have to continuously enter this code, so I don't mind making it 8-10 digits long, meaning it's much harder for someone to hack into it if the device is lost or stolen. Because of the added security the fingerprint scanner gives I don't mind having a couple applications save my password for automatic login, that if not for the fingerprint scanner, I wouldn't have. This makes many of the apps I use repetitively throughout the day a lot smoother and friendlier to use. While I do miss the iPhone's "on" button, I do prefer the added security and convenience of the fingerprint scanner on the Atrix. Additionally, I DO welcome the notification LED, that I missed on the iPhone. Before the iPhone I had a Blackberry pearl, that had the notification light as well. It's helps to be able to look at the phone to see if you missed a call or text. With the iPhone, there is no way of knowing unless you check the phone. The Atrix even allows the user to define different LED colors for different contacts or functions, like orange for the wife, and green for everybody else.
  • Original App Replacement - The Atrix allows for the replacement of the original apps on the phone. This means I can download a keyboard, like SlideIT or the incredibly usefulSwiftKey. Further the Atrix allows the user to indicate that it would like to use a different browser as the default browser, for instance Dolphin HD which also has a plug-in system like Chrome and FireFox along with a LastPass plugin that is probably THE most useful browser plug-in of all.
Speed - First off... Holy Crap the Atrix is FAST!!! I've become more and more spoiled to the speed of this phone. Spoiled enough that I do get a little impatient when using the iPhone 4, a 3GS has me rolling my eyes and a 3G is nearly unbearable. Almost every application opens almost instantly, except maybe those that wait for something to come off the internet, like Twitter or FaceBook.
Internet - Straight off... I have yet to witness ANTHING 4G about this 4G phone, upwards, downwards, sidewards or anywards. I've run several speed tests with the app and each time the Atrix has come out faster, both up and down, but not by much at all, just a hair and I do mean a slight thin hair. In all reality I haven't had much of a problem with the 3G coverage though, I've been able to watch NetFlix and Hulu on the iPhone over the 3G connection with no real problems so, though maybe not as fast as it should be, it's good enough for me.
Battery Life
This is where Android phones usually take a huge nose dive.... usually. The Atrix, though, has been equipped with the largest battery ever included on a phone. Large as in capacity, not large as in physical size. So, does it stack up? Absolutely. This is one of the areas where I was mistaken when I wrote the first article. I wrote that the Atrix took an unusually long time to charge. I have found that if the Atrix is plugged into a computer's USB port it does take areallylong time to charge. However, if it is plugged into a wall socket that charge time is decreased significantly. I still believe the iPhone charges faster, although with the Atrix charger plugged into a wall socket, instead of a USB port the charge speed is more than adequate. Also, as far as I can tell, what I wrote about the battery life in the first article still remains true, the battery life is comparable to the iPhone 4.
Here is the iPhone's strong suit, the vast Apple App Store. This is the absolute largest advantage to being first to market, widespread adoption of that platform by developers. In the real world, daily life, there are only a minor amount of apps I miss from the iPhone realm.
Two of these apps are Hulu and NetFlix. I pay for Hulu Plus because I enjoy having a television in my pocket. At the doctor's office, watch some TV, waiting in some ridiculous line, watch some TV, and yes, although I know I shouldn't admit it, sitting bumper to bumper traffic, watch some TV. Hulu has many of my favorite shows, House, Law & Order, etc. NetFlix has shows my three year old like to watch, which is where the Hulu Plus line up falls short. In a restaurant and want him to sit still, pull up Diego or Cat In The Hat and give him the phone. The Android Market does have which is CBS which provides the CSI shows and NCIS. This actually works for me, as I don't watch TV that often so as long as there is something I like on, and CSI is one of them, I'm fine. However, this would be a bigger deal for others that may not like the CBS lineup. Also, my son has very little interest in the CBS lineup as well, so using it to get him to sit still wouldn't work. Luckily with all the shuffling of phones in my house he has inherited an iPhone 3G... yes the three year old has an iPhone.
While Hulu and NetFlix are both entertainment apps, and really, even without those apps one could entertain themselves some other way with any smartphone, there is another app I miss using. iReconcile... this app is basically a check register on your phone and, with a recurring subscription, allows users to keep the app synchronized with others running the app. This means when I make a purchase I enter it into iReconcile, when my wife opens the app on her phone she immediately sees that I have made a purchase. This really helps when trying to keep a balanced checkbook. With the lack of having this app, we have resorted back to the pow wows at the end of the day about "I bought this for this much", which time I would really prefer spending on doing other things, like having her cook me dinner ;-).
Other than those three apps, everything that I want to use is available in the Android Marketplace. And now, for putting the shoe on the other foot. The Android Market has some things that the Apple Market doesn't like TinyShark that allows the streaming of Groovesharkmusic to the phone, which is free. For those that don't know, unlike Pandora and the other "radio" apps, Grooveshark (and TinyShark) allow you to create playlists of songs you select. Also, Amazon has released it's CloudDrive and CloudPlayer service which allows users to store their music on Amazon's servers and stream them to any computer or Android phone. No sign of an iOS app yet and since it appears to directly compete with Apple's planned cloud based service, I'm not sure the Amazon CloudPlayer will ever show up on iOS.
The iPhone apps do have that "shine" I spoke of in the last article, but the apps do launch a lot faster on the Atrix, though, it may have more to do with the processing power and amount of memory than it does the OS. However, because the Atrix is the only real experience I've had with the Android OS I can't make an accurate determination.
Just a quick word on app discovery. The Android Market allows you to use a desktop or laptop to search and peruse the Android Market, and, when you find something you like, click Install on their website and the app will be instantly sent to your phone. This is very helpful when you want to wander through the market aisles to see what's available, instead of doing it on a little phone screen.
Amazon also has introduced their own app store that you can use after some minor setup. However, because AT&T doesn't allow it and this review is about the Motorola Atrix which runs on AT&T I won't go into it in depth. Amazon is offering a free app everyday as incentive and also allows you to "test drive" some apps in your browser which may help in determining if the app is for you or not, without having to install it on your phone.
I won't go into deep discussion on the notification system. Everybody else harks on this subject so I'll choose to pass. Yes the iPhone notifications suck, yes they know about it, no sense in beating a dead horse. There is a jail break app called Mobile Notifier for the iPhone that seems to have fixed it, but I haven't used in on a day to day basis, so it wouldn't be right for me to comment on it here. Feel free to check it out though.
The jail broken iPhone does do quite a bit to help keep up with Android's widgets, however, the widgets are still a better solution in most cases. For all the talk of the amount of apps in each app store, I find that it doesn't make that big of a difference since the main ones are mostly available in both camps. In the end, I'd take the Atrix any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I know the iPhone 4 is almost a year old, but it's what I have experience with. It's also what's on the market now, and if someone walked into a store today and probably within the next two months, that's the decision they'd have to make. I'd love to do a comparison with the iPhone 5 as well, in theory it would be a better comparison, although unless there is a major overhaul on multiple fronts many points in this article won't make much of a difference. Perhaps the Performance section for the hardware, and if they overhaul iOS, then perhaps the interface section as well. After all that writing I sure hopes this helps somebody...


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Comment by Gabe Morris on June 8, 2011 at 3:05am
Wow - thanks James - great review.
Comment by Cameron Souza on April 11, 2011 at 8:57pm
You've sold me. I'm buying an Atrix.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on April 11, 2011 at 8:51pm
We love your reviews James. They are thorough and very informative.


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