The Motorola Atrix 4G: It’s a Nifty Phone, and It’s From AT&T

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My column this week is about Motorola’s Atrix 4G, an Android handset that’s available for pre-order from AT&T starting on February 13th and is scheduled for release by March 6th. I spent most of my wordage on the aspect of the phone that’s unquestionably most interesting: the optional laptop dock that gives the Atrix a big screen, a full-blown QWERTY keyboard, and a touchpad–turning it from a phone with PC-like power into a PC.

The dock is a cool idea that’s a little rough around the edges and priced high enough–$499.99 unless you commit to a two-year tethering plan–that I don’t think mainstream users will abandon conventional notebooks in droves to use it. Even if you have no interest in converting your phone into a laptop, though, the Atrix is worth a look.

Motorola is pitching it as the most powerful smart phone on the market. You can argue the point, and even if Moto is right, the pace of the Android market is so relentless that bragging rights of any sort are short-lived. But the Atrix is among the best Android phones to date.

Its dual-core 1-GHz processor delivers: Almost everything on the phone that doesn’t involve retrieving data from the Internet seems to happen just about instantly. I haven’t done methodical network tests of any sort, but the HSPA+ capability that gives the Atrix 4G the “4G” in its name is a good thing: At home, where I have respectable AT&T coverage, the Atrix’s browser is snappier than Mobile Safari on the iPhone 4. I also like phone’s fingerprint scanner, which lets you ditch passwords without leaving the device prone to prying eyes. And the screen size–4″–is roomier than the iPhone 4 without being too much of a handful.

Also encouraging: The Atrix is being offered by AT&T, a company that’s mostly lagged far behind archrival Verizon when it comes to supporting serious Android devices. I’d be even more enthusiastic about the phone if it came with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but its arrival is still good news for happy AT&T campers who hunger for Android power.