The Motorola Xoom tablet received high praise and great interest during CES for a variety of reasons, but it was actually its smaller sibling, the Motorola ATRIX 4G, which impressed us with its differentiating features which bridged the smartphone category nearly over to laptop capabilities/utility: a dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU, 4" touchscreen 960x540 display, and most notably, a laptop dock which converts the ATRIX into a powerful, quasi-netbook of sorts.
The docking feature takes advantage of the horsepower inside the Froyo equipped smartphone, allowing users to use a full-sized keyboard and monitor with a customized version of Flash-friendly Firefox 3.6, complete with tabs and windows. In docked mode, the ATRIX switches over to a Linux OS to offer three applications: a file manager, an Android App launcher and the Firefox browser, converting a pocket device into a laptop workstation (just don't expect to be working in Photoshop with this handset).
At quick glance, we thought we were just looking at a desktop machine with the ATRIX docked to it, but it was indeed the pint-sized Android 2.2 smartphone powering the setup over at the Motorola display (unfortunately, they paired their handsets with the most awful looking Dell keyboards that made us wince; a nicer looking wireless ATRIX keyboard will be available).
The handset felt comfortable, though a little light in the material quality department, with browsing and navigating through the UI was whip fast, thanks to the dual core Tegra inside. There was none of the jerky performance that has hampered some of the current Android devices; a 1930 mAh battery will hopefully keep the device charged and usable for more than a few hours, a concern considering the power requirements imposed by the dual core within.
Considering many smartphones are now nearly the size of smaller tablets, and for the fact for many smartphone users a tablet would be a redundant device, we were duly impressed with Motorola's new perspective of extending the practical use of a smartphone beyond traditional mobile device features. It's amongst the contenders of Android devices we're personally considering for our return to cellphone ownership after years of living without one, alongside the LG Optimus 2X, HTC Inspire and the huge 4.5" Samsung Infuse. If anything, we left CES with a stronger curiosity about owning and using an Android device, considering the possibility something like the ATRIX could eliminate the need for tablets (at least for some users).
The Motorola ATRIX 4G will be available at AT&T at the first part of this year at a yet to be announced price.