KELLNER: A user can get lost in Atrix’s matrix

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Sometimes, you want to like a product a bit more than you do. The Motorola Atrix 4G smartphone is one of those products.

AT&T would like you to shell out $599 and commit to a two-year voice and data plan before handing you the Atrix 4G phone and a “lapdock,” which has a battery, an LCD screen and a chiclet-style keyboard to which the phone can be docked. Once connected, you have a hybrid smartphone-netbook duo: All the data that is not stored “in the cloud” can be found on your smartphone, and you should be able to edit/manipulate most of it on that device alone, albeit less comfortably perhaps than with the docking-station solution.

Those are the basics. The question, of course, is how all this works in practice.

I said some good things about the Atrix 4G in this space a couple of weeks back: It is an excellent phone, and my test unit came set up for “tethering” as a Wi-Fi hot spot. That’s very cool and very useful — at least until you see the data plan bill. The Atrix’s battery life seems good, but not necessarily in the same class or range as an Apple iPhone 4, which remains my “gold standard.” But it’s not as much of a battery hog as some Android-based smartphones.

The other good thing, which is surprising, is the Android operating system backed by Google. A great number of applications are out there for Android phones, more coming daily, and enough overlap with the iPhone platform to satisfy many users’ needs. There’s no doubt, however, that the Apple platform is the world leader in apps, and that may mean something to many consumers.

So far, then, we have a rather decent phone, good battery life and a raft of applications. What’s left, you ask?

Well, it’s this whole docking thing. At $199.99 for the phone on its own, again with that two-year service deal, the Atrix 4G is an interesting device. But it’s competing with the aforementioned iPhone 4 and a bunch of other smartphones. You can take your pick in that category.

Docked, the Atrix 4G is supposed to be something else, as the television ad showing a traveler explaining the product to airport security (http://bit.ly/e9WMLu) would suggest.

Away from the klieg lights, however, the total package is a bit lacking. Docked, the phone’s display shows up on the larger screen, and you can expand that display to see apps in a much larger size than on a phone’s display. Or, you can jump into the embedded Firefox web browser and work away.

But if you want to do substantial word processing or spreadsheet work, you’re asked to depend on Google Docs, the cloud-based service. It’s good, but with the Atrix 4G docking solution, you can’t zoom a page to full-screen width, making it a bit tough on the eyes. Also, cloud computing may not always be the best solution, especially for sensitive documents. You can use an Android-based version of the popular QuickOffice mobile suite, but then a lot of formatting and other capabilities are limited.

With “only” 48 Gbytes of storage on the Atrix 4G, it might be too much to expect a full office productivity software suite to be baked into the phone’s handset. But without a more viable solution, the Atrix 4G is more of a curiosity than a practical notebook replacement.

Want the best of both worlds? Buy a Wi-Fi based Apple iPad 2, get the Atrix 4G if you like such things and tether the iPad when you need to hit the Internet and Wi-Fi is scarce.

Avoid at all costs, however, the LMP Bluetooth Keypad, a wireless solution sold primarily to Apple Macintosh users for coupling to Apple’s Wireless Keyboard. Join the two and you have the wireless keyboard many users think Apple should have made. One problem: The LMP product didn’t “pair” with my iMac, no matter how hard I tried. Yes, it could have been a bum unit, but this isn’t a complicated device. It should work out of the box. It didn’t, and life’s too short to worry about such things.

*E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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