Today I was finally able to spend some time with Motorola’s Atrix 4G and its webtop dock. For those of you who don’t know, earlier in the week Motorola announced its first Tegra 2 based smartphone: the Atrix 4G. Motorola later announced another Tegra 2 based smartphone, the Droid Bionic, however the Atrix 4G is its flagship smart/superphone.

Equipped with a full GB of memory and 16GB of NAND, the Tegra 2 based Atrix 4G has one very unique feature: it can be docked into a custom ultra thin notebook chassis and used to drive the notebook. Motorola calls this its webtop dock:

The webtop dock looks like an oddly shaped, ultra thin notebook. The Atrix 4G’s dock remains hidden until you flip it up. Slide the Atrix 4G into place and within several seconds you’ll automatically be dropped into the webdock app:

The webdock app is a unique environment. You get a scaled down version of your smartphone desktop on the left side of the display, while on the right side you get a full fledged Firefox browser compiled for ARM.

Browsing performance isn’t great, but it’s not unusable. The large trackpad supports scrolling with two fingers, or you can tap space to jump down a full page just like you can on a desktop/notebook.

There’s an OS X-like dock along the bottom of the screen that lets you fire up other apps (e.g. file system browser) or switch between open applications. You can also alt+tab between applications. Doing so will bring up an OS X Exposé like screen and not-so-smoothly animate tabbing through windows. It’s not a full blown PC experience, but it is honestly workable.

If there are apps within your phone that you want access to you can simply take the phone window full screen. You can even rotate it without moving the webtop:

Of course in this mode you are simply upscaling the phone’s 960 x 540 resolution to the webtop’s panel resolution (which I believe is either 1280 x 800 or 1366 x 768).

When you’re done with webtop mode, simply close the lid and your phone returns to normal. Motorola saves the state of your webtop so when you dock your phone again you get the exact same windows open as you had previously. Motorola insists that your webtop state is saved regardless of what you do to the phone as long as you don’t remove the battery - implying the webtop state is saved to NAND.

The Atrix 4G will ship with an entertainment center app that can be used in webtop mode. It’ll give you access to all media content on the phone and let you play it back on the webtop (or when used in the media dock and connected to an HDTV). NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 can decode high bitrate 1080p, however I don’t believe it supports decoding high profile H.264 1080p - only main and base profile content. We’re almost at the point where you can play anything on your smartphone, but I suspect it’ll take another two years or so before we are completely there on the high end phones.

Motorola ran through a quick demo of a Citrix app running on the docked Atrix 4G, giving us remote access to a Windows 7 PC on the smartphone powered webtop. The entire solution is clearly very functional, the question is whether or not it’s going to tempt users away from a netbook or other PC solution.

Windows 7 piped over the internet, display and interaction powered by Motorla's Atrix 4G - yep, a smartphone giving you access to a Windows PC

There’s clearly a lot of potential with these ARM based devices and over the next three years we’re going to see them get even more powerful. NVIDIA’s vision is a future where mainstream PCs are smartphones docked (perhaps wirelessly) to larger displays and input devices. Motorola took a major step in that direction at this year’s CES.

Within 24 months we will have quad-core out-of-order ARM based microprocessors in our high end smartphones. If paired with an elegant dock solution that’s affordable, will that be enough to go head to head with a netbook?

It works! But a Chrome OS Notebook feels quicker, which will win?

Personally I can see it going either way. While the docked smartphone is definitely compelling, one of the major reasons to want to dock a single device and use it in multiple locations is if the content on that device is 1) large, 2) plentiful and 3) difficult to move around otherwise. I’m not sure smartphones today have enough content on them for this to inherently make sense. Now when smartphones ship with 100GB of storage in a few years...

The biggest question in all of this is what happens to Intel and AMD as ARM tries to move up the chain. One thing is for sure, Intel’s Atom strategy, at least today, isn’t aggressive enough. For a company less than a year away from transitioning to 22nm, there’s no excuse for Intel to continue to ship Atom at 45nm.

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  • ImSpartacus - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    This particular product cannot do those things, but a future version could.

    A webcam could easily be placed on the chassis.

    And if the product used an ARM (ie. Phone) driven copy of Chrome OS, you could get some work done with Google Docs.
  • Nitecaller - Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - link

    Guys your forgetting about Documents to Go! I have it on my Incredible and can write Word, Excel, and Powerpoints off my phone. Now we just need a way to access our Windows home servers with Android phones so we can create and save our files easily while we are away from home.

    This is a sweet phone but unfortunatly it's only on AT&T's network for now. Hope they have one with a Tablet style dock for Verizon later on when Android 3.0 is done. :)
  • greylica - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    Most of Smartphones and Tablets today are guided towards comsumption of data/multimedia. This shifts comsumption for creation a bit, even if little. First, the most impressive thing its the fact that we could use a Cell phone to connect to the Internet and use it as a Netbook often times, using a ''qwerty'' keyboard that is much more usefull than typing on a screen; Second, if we have to use a full fledged Desktop acessing it via TSR, VNC, etc, we can use OUR CLOUD, and not THEIR CLOUD, wich in turn gave us at least a bit of control over our data, wich is stored is OUR PC (PERSONAL COMPUTER, I guess it still means .... ). For me, it's a very compelling device, and personally, it's the first device that I found appealing among the jungle of devices today...
  • spidey81 - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    The one thing I don't understand is why they aren't launching this on the carrier that helped revive Motorola and Android? It's a very forward idea and I think (as Anand suggests) that this will be something that will be more feasible in a few years. But I just don't understand why Motorola would shun VZW and put their "flagship" smartphone on a network that has been, at the very least, reluctant to push Android powered devices.
  • TareX - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    Probably because -like the iPhone- they want this to be a world phone. CDMA maybe be nice, but it won't work the moment you leave the continent. This has been a deal breaker that kept be away from all VZ's phones for the past 3 years.
  • spidey81 - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    I can understand your reasoning and it does make sense.

    Basically it's just me being the gadget nut that I am and living in a non-urban area in the middle of the US. Although I could get AT&T service I wouldn't receive their pseudo 4G let alone 3G service. I'm relegated to using Verizon's 3G service due to this geographic limitation and my own unwillingness to deal with AT&T neglecting this area.

    Personally, I don't leave the country on a regular basis. And it's just frustrating that most phone manufacturers (understandably) make their flagship phones in a GSM variety. The LG optimus black is another device I'm lusting over, but will have to wait (and it may never happen) until they port it to CDMA.

    Unfortunately, work/family keep me here and I guess it's just a reality I'll have to deal with. :)
  • strikeback03 - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    Droid 2 Global and Droid Pro are both CDMA and GSM devices, no not like Motorola can't do that.

    If you want to buy into conspiracy theory maybe Verizon is about to get the Iphone, so AT&T ponied up more money for this.
  • sammsiam - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    Spidey, I think you have the business relationship between the carriers & Motorola turned around. The carriers are the customer that pick what design/feature set they would like to have for their chosen phone lineup among a pool of possible designs & functions offered by Motorola. (It is this type of relationship Google was attempting to change by offering the Nexus One direct to customers). If AT&T is getting the webtop & not Verizon Wireless, it's because AT&T pushed for getting it and Verizon did not.

    Of course the reason AT&T is doing this is because they are loosing iPhone exclusivity & need a new 'hero' device. Loosing iPhone exclusivity at AT&T will be huge for Android in the long run. Now all 4 major US carriers are pushing high-end Androids where as before AT&T tended to pick only mid to low tier Android smartphones (for whatever reason -- I suspect a gentleman's agreement with Apple).

    BTW, that goes for the software that is on the device too. Don't like Bing replacing Google? -- blame the carrier. Don't like all the preloaded crapware that you can't delete? -- complain to the carrier.
  • Portablenuke - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    Because Verizon will be going LTE along with AT&T in the coming years, and Motorola doesn't have anything cool on AT&T right now.

    Plus, the rest of the world is GSM and this will probably sell really well in Europe and Asia. Probably not in the US, but elsewhere.
  • Voldenuit - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    Well, sort of.

    You can plug a keyboard and mouse into an N8 and pipe the output to a monitor via HDMI. The kb + mouse are fully usable - an onscreen cursor automatically pops up when you connect a mouse.

    You can also remote desktop to a windows PC via a 3rd party (Java) app, but the interface on the app I used was very sucky - I haven't tried it with external input devices, don't know if it will accept mouse input.

    Speaking of which, how are we going with that N8 review, Mithun? It's been well over 3 months since the phone came out, I got tired of waiting for AT to review it and took the plunge - very happy with it.

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