Motorola is keen to stress that its Atrix 4G handset is not just another smartphone. It is, in fact, an evolutionary step in mobile computing; the first product in an all new category. You see, while it runs on Android 2.2, sports dual-core processing and comes in a form factor that can give the iPhone 4 a run for its money, it can also be used as a laptop and multimedia player (through hook up to a big screen).

Other handsets, such as the Nokia N8, have offered the latter, generally through the adoption of a HDMI socket, but Motorola supplies (as an optional extra) a video docking solution for the Atrix. It’s independently powered, so acts as a charger, and features a HDMI port on the rear, so you never have to fiddle around with leads after the initial setup. The handset also immediately recognises the dock, and pairs immediately, switching to full screen mode.  And as it is capable of outputting 1080p video, you can watch whatever you like streamed seamlessly.

The very same dock can also be hooked up to a desktop monitor, allowing the Atrix to double as a workstation. Pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and you’re fit to go.

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But it is the other main accessory that stands the Atrix apart from any other device on the market - the Motorola Laptop Dock. Looking like a super slim netbook, the Laptop Dock consists of just a battery (with 8 hours lifetime), a tactile keyboard with a trackpad, and an 11.6-inch screen. There is no processor or any kind of computing chipset inside, it’s completely dormant until the Atrix is coupled. But plug the smartphone into the back and the laptop springs to life, with a bright, colour-rich display and full functionality.

This is because of Motorola’s new software engine, WebTop, which allows you to run applications and cloud-based programmes inside browser windows. And as these windows are driven by the latest version of Firefox, they are compatible with nigh-on any utility that can be used on the ‘net, include Flash 10.1. You can also use Firefox add-ons and themes, although extensions may be stretching the realms of possibility a bit too much.

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The Atrix is capable of running multiple windows at the same time, and when it’s hooked-up with the Laptop Dock (or other docking solution) it creates a separate window with all of its Android (2.2) functions separate to the other features.

Indeed, this exhibits yet another feature of WebTop as, thanks to the fact that the Atrix is an advanced smartphone too, you can use it to make calls by simply clicking on a phone number within a web page, or store them in its contacts list. And when in its laptop housing, the handset automatically defaults to speakerphone.

In addition, as it runs on Android 2.2, you can also run any compatible third-party application within a window. For example, we played Angry Birds through the AV dock on a 42-inch TV. But it is also important for far more than just gaming, as word processing and other office-based software runs a treat.

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It’s not a bad phone either. Certainly, the dual-core processor (1GHz per core) keeps things moving nicely, along with its 1GB of RAM. However, we could see that users would need to increase its on-board storage, as Motorola supplies a piddly 16GB. That’s simply not enough for the device to support its many media and business functions. Thankfully, up to a further 32GB can be added through a microSD card, but even that seems restrictive should you be wanting to store and playback a healthy amount of Full HD video.

There’s no skimping on its screen though, sporting a 24-bit colour, 4-inch qHD display (960 x 540), stealing the resolution crown for current Android phones. And as it stands proudly behind Gorilla Glass, it’s as protected as a Mafia Don.

The Atrix has two cameras, with its VGA front-facing one being used predominantly for video-calling, while the one at the rear is of a 5-megapixel variety and can capture video at 720p (playback is up to 1080p). And its 1930mAh battery claims a 9-hour talk-time lifespan on 3G (250-hours in standby).

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Naturally, it is the 3G option that we’re most interested in this side of the pond, as we’ll be getting the Motorola Atrix (without the 4G suffix) via Orange in Q2 (around April/May). It is believed, though, that all other specifications will remain for the UK market, after all, how will it run as a portable computer if the processing power is hamstrung?

Pricing details are yet to be announced, but we heard at CES that the US equivalent is likely to be $270 (on a contract) for the handset, and around $60-80 for the Laptop Dock.

Price when reviewed:

First Impressions

There was little else on show at CES that surprised as much as the Atrix. It’s a brave move for the mobile phone manufacturer to craft something a bit different from the norm, and a bold intention for the newly-formed Motorola Mobility arm of the corporation.

It will live or die as a concept on the take up of the accessories, and whether the company will continue to support it with further, interesting, accessories. But, from initial viewing (and play time) we’re happy to come along for the ride. After all the hype and missed opportunities, convergence could genuinely and finally be more than just a buzzword.