InfoWorld has been putting the major contenders up against Apple's iPhone for several years, and the iPhone handily has won each time. But with Motorola Mobility's new Atrix 4G smartphone, the iPhone's reign may be coming to a close.
The Atrix is in several key ways superior to the iPhone, though it has some idiotic flaws that cost it major points in the competition. When all is said and done, the Atrix and iPhone essentially tie, and the choice between them comes down to the unique capabilities of each and how they matter to your work needs, as well as your preferences regarding the devices' different user interfaces.
[ Find out how well the Atrix performs as a "lite" PC when docked to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. | See all of InfoWorld's mobile deathmatch comparisons and personalize the scores to your needs. | Compare the security and management capabilities of iOS, Windows Phone 7, Android, and more in InfoWorld's Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF report. ]
When you add optional equipment to the Atrix, it transforms from a smartphone into a "lite" PC, becoming the first phone that can act as a PC. As I explain in my article "Can the Atrix 4G really become your next PC?," this first example of a mobile computer that adjusts as you dock it to peripherals is just the first step in that evolution -- but it's an important development and will be attractive to many users.
As "just" a smartphone, the Atrix is pretty amazing as well.
Deathmatch: Email, calendars, and contacts For testing, I used a personal IMAP account, a personal POP account, a personal Gmail account, and a work Exchange 2007 account. Both devices work directly with IMAP and Gmail, as well as with POP; my email, email folders, calendars, and contacts all flowed effortlessly among the smartphones, my laptop, and the server.
Both devices try to autodetect your settings wherever possible, but the Atrix was typically unsuccessful. In manual mode, I spent hours trying to get it to send emails from my POP and IMAP accounts, logging failure after failure. After comparing the Atrix's settings to a standard-UI Google Nexus One device, I found the cause: Motorola Mobility's MotoBlur kept overriding my manual settings to add a user name to the SMTP settings, even though neither my POP nor IMAP Internet service providers use one for authentication. That unwanted information essentially caused both servers to reject the mail being sent from the Atrix.
The Nexus One, which uses the plain-vanilla Google Android OS (both the Atrix and Nexus One run the Froyo 2.21 version), lets you disable such authentication, and it had no trouble sending email from both accounts. For the record, neither did Motorola Mobility's own Xoom tablet, reviewed here. The iPhone (I tested the Verizon Wireless version running iOS 4.26) also handles these accounts without issue. This "I know better than you do" override is a major problem -- and emblematic of flaws throughout the MotoBlur interface, which cannot be removed or disabled -- that will make the Atrix unusable for many people's email accounts.
Setting up Exchange access on both devices was also simple. Unlike most Android smartphones, the Atrix supports on-device encryption, so it easily connected to our corporate server and met the Exchange ActiveSync policy requirements. My contacts and calendars flowed into the Atrix's apps, and the email was available through the Arix's Messaging app and, after some delay, in the Email app.
But it took me quite a while to realize the Messaging app housed my Exchange email. First, I looked for an app called Corporate Mail, which other Motorola Mobility Android devices use to access Exchange (though it only works with unsecured Exchange accounts). There was no such app, so I sought out Corporate Sync, the name of the service you complete when you first configure the Atrix to get Exchange email -- no luck there either. I also tried the Messaging app on the home screen, but it showed just text messages.
I finally saw both a Messaging and a Text Messaging app in the apps page, so I tried that Messaging app -- voilà! I finally got my Exchange email. I added the Messaging app to the home screen to get easy access to my Exchange email. An hour or so later, I saw an option in the Email app to switch the email it displayed (it can display just one account at a time, unlike the Messaging app); one of the options was my Exchange email.
Talk about a confusing mess! Welcome to MotoBlur.
Email messages. Working with emails is a bit easier on the iPhone than on the Atrix -- it keeps all the options right in front of you on the screen and it better integrates multiple email accounts. And the white-on-black text of the Android UI is harder to read, especially in daylight.
In both devices, you can reply, forward, mark as unread, delete, and move messages while reading them. You can also delete and move emails to folders from the message lists. On the iPhone, you can easily delete individual messages from the email list: Swipe to the left and tap Delete on the iPhone. On the Atrix, you long-tap (that is, tap and hold) the message to get a menu of options such as Delete and Open.
Both the iPhone and Atrix let you search emails. You scroll up on the iPhone to reveal the search box; on the Atrix you tap the Search button and begin typing (no search box appears, but don't let that stop you). In both cases, messages that match your results appear. The iPhone lets you constrain your search to the To, From, or Subject fields; the Atrix has no such control.
Getting to the top of your email list isn't so obvious in on the iPhone, though it is easy: Tap the top of the screen. On the Atrix, use the standard Android method of scrolling the list and then pulling the slider tab that appears to the top. You can use the slider to move to the bottom or to move quickly to specific letters (which appear as you scroll). The iPhone has no such navigation aids.
In general, Android devices favor small text that is hard to read for my middle-aged eyes, and they offer few controls to ameliorate their youth-oriented design. The iPhone lets you specify the text size in its Settings app, and its Retina high-res display is so much clearer than the Atrix's display that small type is easier to read on the iPhone. The Atrix does provide text-size controls for its email apps, but with a limited range of options that are still on the small side.
Email management. Both devices support multiple accounts and universal inboxes, but the Atrix approach is a real mess of inconsistency and competing options. The iPhone, by contrast, lets you access all your emails from one app, in a consistent way. It has a universal inbox, plus an inbox for each active account. Below the inboxes are a list of accounts that if opened show all the associated folders in a nice hierarchical display. I don't think the iPhone needs the two lists; the universal inbox followed by the individual accounts would be just as easy and less cluttered.
The Atrix's email handling perpetuates an Android flaw: using separate apps for each email account. Yes, it does provide the Messaging app from which you can access all your accounts, but it's really just a folder containing one app for each account, so switching among accounts is a pain. (Google Gmail isn't available via that app; you have to use the separate Gmail app.)
But the Atrix's MotoBlur interface worsens that Android flaw: The universal inbox account in the Messaging app shows you all your inboxes in one big list of messages, but it doesn't use color or any other mechanism to differentiate which account each email came from, as the iPhone and the standard Android UI do. Also, when you long-tap the account name in your email list, the Atrix displays the folders for that account -- except for Exchange email, for which you tap an arrow button instead. (The standard Android UI has no such long-tap option to see folders; you have to use the Menu button instead, so the MotoBlur UI does help a bit in this area.)
This mix of nice additions to the standard Android UI and idiotic UI misfires is emblematic of the MotoBlur interface's frustrating design. Based on these inconsistencies and contradictions, you'd think that the people working on various aspects of MotoBlur never talked to each other or used the final product.
The iPhone 4 has a message-threading capability, which organizes your emails based on subject; you click an icon to the left of a message header to see the related messages. That adds more clicking to go through messages, but it also removes the effort of finding the messages in the first place. (The iPhone's iOS 4 lets you disable threading if you don't like it.) The Atrix has no equivalent.
The Atrix has an out-of-the-office setting and an autoforwarding capability that doesn't require the smartphone to first download the messages (which saves on data usage). The iPhone has no equivalent.
I was annoyed that Atrix doesn't support PDF files out of the box; you have to download the Adobe Reader app from the Android Marketplace. The Atrix opens images and Office files, though, using the basic version of the Quickoffice app that comes installed on the Atrix. The iPhone's native QuickLook viewer handles a nice range of formats, and it opens attachments with one tap (downloading them if needed at the same time). Of course, to edit those files rather than just view them, you'll need an office app such as Quickoffice Mobile Connect Suite or Documents to Go Premium. The iPhone doesn't open Zip files unless you get a third-party app such as the $2 ZipBox-Pro. The Atrix, like all Android smartphones, handles Zip files natively.
Both the iPhone and Atrix remember the email addresses of senders you reply to, adding them to a database of contacts that it looks up automatically as you tap characters into the To and Cc fields. Both devices let you add email addresses to your contacts list, either by tapping them (on the iPhone) or long-tapping them (on the Atrix).
Contacts and calendars. Both the iPhone and Atrix offer three of the same calendar views: list (agenda), day, and month. But only the Atrix supports the week view. Moving among months is easy on both (as is moving among weeks on the Atrix), and both can display multiple calendars simultaneously. The iPhone makes it slightly easier to change which calendars are displayed or to change views, thanks to on-screen buttons -- but this is a minor advantage that doesn't overcome the lack of a week view. The two devices also have comparable recurring-event capabilities. But the Atrix cannot send invitations to others as you add appointments; the iPhone can.
On the iPhone, your invitations for Exchange accounts show up in your calendar so that you can accept them there with the full context of your other appointments. For other email accounts, you open the .ics invitation files in Mail, from which you can add them to the calendar of your choice. On the Atrix, the Calendar app doesn't display invitations. You can open Exchange invitations in the Email or Messaging app to add them to your calendar, but you can't open .ics invitations sent to POP or IMAP accounts.
Both the iPhone and the Atrix have capable Contacts apps, but it's easier to navigate through your entries on the iPhone. You can jump easily to names by tapping a letter, such as "T" to get to people whose last names begin with "T," or search quickly for a contact in the Search field by tapping part of the name. On the Atrix (which uses the standard Android Contacts app), a gray box appears as you begin scrolling your contacts list; if you drag it, you can scroll through the letters of the alphabet that appear in the box to move to names beginning with that letter. It's not as simple as the iPhone approach, and its "secret handshake" nature means many users won't know it exists.
On the iPhone, to search your contacts, drag up above the first contact to reveal the Search box. On the Atrix, you can search your contacts if you click the Search button (or if you click the Menu button and then tap the Search icon). You can also designate users as favorites, to put them in a shorter Favorites list. The iPhone has a similar favorites capability, but it's available only in the Phone app, not in the Contacts app.
The Atrix lets you create groups in the Contacts app, and you can then email to everyone in that group by choosing the group in the address field. The iPhone supports email groups, but you can't create them on the iPhone; they must be synced from your computer's contacts application. And you can't pick a group in the iPhone's Mail address fields -- instead, you select a group and open it up to specify just one member, repeating this step to add more members. It's a really dumb approach to groups.
The winner: The iPhone, thanks to its more intelligently designed email and calendar capabilities -- especially the fact that it works with IMAP and POP accounts sabotaged by the Atrix's MotoBlur interface. However, the Atrix wins for contacts. Still, if the Atrix supports your email accounts and you stick with its Messaging app to handle your email, you'll find it's perfectly good for business use.
Deathmatch: Applications The native apps are comparable on the two devices, providing email, contacts, calendar, maps and navigation, browser, a music player, a YouTube player, and SMS messaging. One strange exception: the Atrix has no native notepad app, while iOS 4 does. That's a very odd omission for a smartphone. As noted previously, the Atrix doesn't support PDF viewing out of the box; you have to download the free Adobe Reader app from the Android Market to view PDF files.
But the Atrix includes the standard Android Navigation app, which speaks directions as you navigate, as well as provides an on-screen live map and written step-by-step directions. The iPhone's Maps app has comparable on-screen navigation capabilities but does not speak them as you drive. The Atrix comes with several apps the iPhone does not, including the Social Networking app that consolidates updates from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social services you configure it to monitor. And if Flash video display is important to you, you can download Flash Player from the Android Market; there is no Flash Player for the iPhone due to Apple's prohibition against it.
App stores and app installation. There are tens of thousands of apps for the iPhone's iOS, from games to scientific visualization tools. Sure, there's a lot of junk, but you'll find many really useful apps as well. Android doesn't have nearly the same library of apps as the iOS, but its portfolio is now in the thousands and growing, with many useful apps such as Quickoffice, for which the Atrix includes a basic version with limited creation and editing capabilities. I find that iOS apps are often more capable than their Android equivalents (such as the New York Times and Amazon.com Kindle apps) -- but not always (Angry Birds, for example).
Unlike Apple's App Store, the Android Market is not curated, which makes it easier for developers to get their apps listed but has also let cyber thieves create phishing apps that masquerade as banking or other apps and steal user information; Apple's App Store seems to be less at risk to such Trojans. The Android Market is also slower to load than the App Store and not as easy to navigate within the app details.
You don't have to use the Android Market to get Android apps on the Atrix. If you want to get down and dirty, you can configure the Android OS's application settings to install apps from other sources.
Installation of apps is similar: After selecting an app, you confirm your store account information and wait for the app to download and install.
Both mobile OSes let you know if you have app updates available. On the iPhone, the App Store app indicates the number of available updates. On the Atrix, available app updates are displayed in the notifications bar at the top of the home screen. However, many Android users have had difficulty receiving these notifications or find they get notifications for updates they've already installed. You might want to get the free App Update Notifier App from the Android Market and use it instead of the Android Market app's built-in notification.
The iPhone's reliance on iTunes as its command center for managing media, apps, and documents makes it much easier to manage your device's content than the Atrix's use of the Android Market to remember your paid apps (but not your free ones) and separate sync utility for handling media files transferred from your PC. If you get a new phone, with iTunes it's a snap to get the new one up and running with the same assets as the old one; there's no such easy way to transfer the assets to an Atrix from a previous device.
App management. The iPhone has a simpler app management process. For example, it's easy to arrange your home screens to cluster applications both on your iPhone and on your desktop via iTunes; you can also put them in your own folders. Just tap and hold any app to invoke the "shaking apps" status, in which you can drag apps wherever you want, or tap the X icon to delete them (press the Home button when done to exit that mode). You can also arrange and delete apps using iTunes on your desktop.
Like all Android smartphones, the Atrix lets you drag apps to any of its home screens; you can also long-tap an app to move it to the current home screen. The Atrix's MotoBlur interface provides two locations: a band at the bottom of each home screen, and the main area of the home screen itself. The full list of programs is available in the apps page, which you access by tapping the circle icon at the bottom of the home page. But the Atrix has no groups capability for presenting apps, and you can't rearrange the order in the apps page -- just in the home screens. If you've used another Android device, note that the Atrix's MotoBlur apps management interface differs substantially from the standard Android UI. It's different, not better.
The Atrix supports the Android OS's widgets feature. Widgets are mini apps that you can place on the home screens. Widgets can be very helpful, such as to view the latest email message, Facebook update, or the current time in a large clock. Thus, you can see at a glance the current status of whatever you want to easily track -- one of Android's superior UI capabilities. The iPhone has no equivalent.
The Atrix, like other Android devices, has the notifications bar that makes it easy to see if you have new email or other alerts whatever you happen to be doing. Again, the iPhone has no equivalent.
Multitasking. The iPhone's iOS 4 supports multitasking if enabled in the apps themselves; Apple has made specific background services available for multitasking, rather than let each app run full-on in parallel, as on a PC. As you switch iOS apps, they suspend, except for their multitasking-enabled services, which conserves memory and aids performance. By contrast, Android supports full multitasking, whereby default apps continue to run in the background when you take care of other duties. From a usage point of view, though, these differences aren't apparent: On both devices, apps appear to multitask in the same manner.
The major difference related to multitasking is the UI for switching among apps. On the iPhone, a double-click on the Home button pulls up a list of running apps, making it easy to see what's running and switch among them. On the Atrix, you have to tap the Menu button, tap Manage Apps, and then switch to the Running pane to see which apps are active; the list is littered with various Google services that are also running, which renders it impractical as a daily navigation aid.
The winner: A tie. The iPhone's selection of apps and strong app quality outshine what's available for Android devices. But the widgets and notifications capabilities of the Atrix's Android OS are very handy, and you feel their absence on an iPhone after you've used an Android device for a while. Plus, the Atrix's Navigation and Social Networking apps have no free iPhone equivalents.
Deathmatch: Web and Internet Both Apple and Google are strong forces behind HTML5 and other modern browser technologies, so it's no surprise that the iPhone and Atrix both offer capable Web browsers. Do note that neither is as HTML5-savvy as their desktop counterparts, however. Based on the HTML5 Test site's scores, the Atrix's mobile Chrome scored 176 out of 300, versus 242 for desktop Chrome (version 9.05); the iPhone's mobile Safari scored 196 versus 208 for desktop Safari (version 5.03).
The main differences between the iPhone and Atrix browsers gravitate around their OSes' UI: Android usually requires the use of the Menu button to access Chrome's controls, whereas iOS 4 makes more Safari controls accessible without such machinations. For example, Safari has a Forward button on all screens; it's buried in the Menu options on the Atrix.
Likewise, bookmarking, sharing pages via email, and switching among open Web pages require several steps in Android but not on the iPhone. I also really noted the lack of a .com button on the Atrix's touch keyboard when entering URLs; it's a significant timesaver on the iPhone. But the iPhone's separate Search and URL boxes are less convenient than the Atrix's unified URL and Search box; you have to be sure to tap the right box on the iPhone.
Using the cloud-based Google Docs on either device is not a pleasant experience. It's barely possible to edit a spreadsheet; the most you can do is select and add rows, as well as edit the contents of individual cells. You can't edit a text document, and all you can do in Google Calendar is view and delete appointments.
Partly, that's because Google hasn't figured out an effective mobile interface for these Web apps; the Safari and Chrome browsers are simply dealing with what Google presents, rather than working through some front-end Google Docs app. It's also because the mobile Safari and Chrome browsers don't support all the capabilities their desktop counterparts do. (If you connect the Atrix to an external screen via its optional dock, you can then run the desktop version of Firefox, and thus be able to use Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365 as if you were on a PC.)
The winner: The iPhone, slightly, thanks to its easier UI and ability to copy Web images.
Deathmatch: Location support Both the iPhone and the Atrix support GPS location, and both can triangulate location based on Wi-Fi signals. As noted earlier, the Atrix's Navigation app is better than the iPhone's Maps app when it comes to navigation while driving.
Although both the iPhone and the Atrix ask for permission to utilize your location information, the Atrix does not provide controllable settings for location use by the device or individual applications, as the iPhone does.
The winner: The Atrix, for its better navigation app.
Deathmatch: User interface It's often a throwaway comment that Apple's UIs are better than everyone else's, though it's not always true -- as the MobileMe service, for example, attests. But the iPhone's iOS 4 is in fact a better-designed UI in many respects, allowing for easier and faster access to the device's capabilities and information. The Atrix's Android OS outshines the iPhone in terms of UI through its widgets and notification capabilities, as previously mentioned.
Operational UI. I've noted earlier how the Atrix's Google Android OS 2.2 makes you click the Menu button and go through one or more levels of options to access most capabilities in its apps. This really slows operations, even though it is consistently implemented. Apple is smarter about bringing common capabilities to the top level of iOS apps' UIs, so they are accessible through a quick tap -- yet they don't clutter up the screen.
Another example of Google's poor UI choices: Devices have a Search button, but it's not always functional. If you press Search when, say, reading an email, it does nothing. However, if you press it when viewing a contact, it lets you search your address book. It's not clear why the Search button is available in some contexts and not others, especially for apps like Email that have a search capability. Fortunately, the Home button always works.
The Android OS's Settings app can be confusing to use, and the white-on-black text makes it nearly impossible to use in bright daylight. For example, there are two Wi-Fi options: Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Settings. Tapping Wi-Fi turns off Wi-Fi -- not what I expected. To find a Wi-Fi network, you tap Wi-Fi Settings. After a while I learned the difference, but it was an unnecessary exercise. Apple's iOS doesn't let you confuse turning Wi-Fi on or off with selecting a network, thanks to a single location with clearly designated controls.
The good news is that pinching and zooming, as well as autorotation as you turn the device, works equivalently on the Atrix's Android OS 2.2 and iPhone's iOS 4. For text entry, I find the iPhone's on-screen keyboard to be easier to use than the Atrix's, with clearer keys and better deployment of extra keys such as @ and .com in Web and email applications.
Motorola Mobility's MotoBlur UI overlay both hurts and improves the Atrix's Android experience. As I described earlier, MotoBlur adds quick access to folders in email accounts, but also prevents some email accounts from being properly configured to send email. The multiple email apps also create unnecessary confusion. And the nonstandard UI for displaying apps in MotoBlur was a superfluous change. Fortunately, MotoBlur's flaws are concentrated in these two areas (email and apps page access), and once you understand what's going on, you can operate the Atrix easily.
Text selection and copying. Where the Atrix's Android OS falls short compared to the iPhone's iOS is in its text selection. If you're tapping away and realize you've made a mistake not caught by the autocorrect feature, such as when typing a URL, it can be difficult to move the text cursor to that error's location in the text. If you tap too long, the screen is filled with the Edit Text contextual menu; it took me a while to figure out how to tap long enough to move the text-insertion cursor to a new location in text without opening that menu.
On the iPhone, you tap and hold where you want to insert the text cursor (sort of like using a mouse); a magnifier appears to help you move precisely to where you want to go. You then add and delete text at that location. Plus, the controls for text selection also appear, so you can use those if you'd like -- there's no worry about some screen-filling menu appearing.
Along these lines, copy and paste -- and even basic selection -- is often not available in the Atrix's Android OS 2.2. In some fields, tapping and holding brings up the Edit Text contextual menu that lets you copy or paste the entire field's contents; in others you can't even do that. Although the browser lets you select and copy text, this ability is not universal. For example, you can't select text in email messages. On the iPhone, any textual item can be selected, and you can adjust specifically what text is selected by using little sliders. It's easy, intuitive, and universal.
The winner: iOS 4, by a significant length. If you've never used an iPhone, the Android OS with the MotoBlur overlay will be appealing. But if you're familiar with the iOS or Mac OS X, the Atrix's UI will feel clunky and a bit awkward, as if you were being forced to use Windows or Linux. But the Atrix's UI provides more immediacy and accessibility to email, social networking, and similar activities thanks to its widgets and notification functionality -- in that area, it's the iPhone UI that feels a bit backward.
Deathmatch: Security and managementA long-standing strike against the Android OS is its poor security. The standard Android OS doesn't support on-device encryption, and it supports only the most basic of Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) security policies. By contrast, with the enhancements made in iOS 4, the iPhone has become one of the most securable mobile devices available, second only to the RIM BlackBerry.
Motorola Mobility recognized that deficiency and has added significant security and management capabilities to the Atrix. The biggest item is the inclusion of on-device encryption. A close second is support for more EAS policies, such as complex passwords, failed-attempt lockout, and password histories. There's also new support for VPNs. These additions don't bring the Atrix quite up to iPhone levels, but they're what the majority of businesses will require, so the Atrix becomes the first corporate-class Android smartphone available. This will be a huge factor for users who want to connect to corporate email and in-house services.
Both devices offer remote wipe, SSL message encryption, and timeout locks. Both Apple and Motorola Mobility provide services to track a lost or stolen device and lock it or wipe its contents remotely: Apple through its free Find My iPhone service and Motorola Mobility through its free MotoBlur service. Remote wipe and lockout are possible on both devices through Microsoft Exchange as well.
The Atrix's Android OS can back up contact, calendar, and email data wirelessly to Gmail, and the Atrix's MotoBlur service can backs up other account data. Android can also back up system settings and application data to Google's servers. If you subscribe to Apple's MobileMe service, you can also back up such data from your iPhone; syncing to your computer's iTunes backs up the data too (and encrypt it, if you desire) without requiring MobileMe service. (iTunes can be configured for use in the enterprise, though most companies don't know that.)
The winner: The iPhone, but not by much. The Atrix has made serious inroads into corporate security that should put it on the supported-devices list at most companies.
Deathmatch: Hardware Although the real value of a smartphone comes from its OS and apps, you can't get to them without the hardware that runs their capabilities.
Performance. The Atrix has a dual-core 1GHz Snapdragon processor, whereas the iPhone 4 has a single-core 1GHz Apple A4 processor; both are based on the ARM chip architecture. Despite the Atrix's second core, I didn't find it any faster than the iPhone 4 in terms of how apps ran or any smoother in terms of how videos played.
The biggest qualitative difference between the iPhone and Atrix in terms of performance is their network performance. Web pages consistently loaded significantly faster on the iPhone than on the Atrix, even when on the same Wi-Fi network. That iPhone advantage persisted on 3G connections, despite the Atrix's support of the fast HSDPA+ variation of 3G that AT&T claims provides near-4G speeds. The Verizon Wireless 3G network is slower than AT&T's when signal strength is equivalent, but that network advantage did not translate into a browser performance advantage. I also found the Atrix to be slower to send and receive emails than the iPhone.
Based on my comparisons of a Verizon-connected Xoom tablet and an AT&T-connected iPad, I suspect the weaker network performance of the Atrix is due to the Atrix's MotoBlur technology or some radio design issue, as the Verizon-connected Xoom was slower to receive and send data than the AT&T-connected iPad when signal strengths were equivalent.
For battery performance, I found that I needed to charge each device daily with regular usage. The iPhone 4 used less battery in normal activities than the Atrix, but seemed to use more power at rest than the Atrix did.
Device hardware. The iPhone 4's industrial design featuring glass and aluminum is trademark Apple and quite elegant. Its controls are well placed and easy to use. The Atrix has a more conventional case, but it feels a little more comfortable to hold, thanks to its curved plastic sides. Its controls have lower profile, and the Atrix has no physical switch to turn off its ringer as the iPhone does. But the Atrix has an LED indicator so that you know it's on, whereas the iPhone does not. If you've used other Android devices, note that the Atrix has rearranged the order of the four standard Android UI buttons (Home, Menu, Back, and Search) and that it uses its own icon for the Menu button.
The Atrix's recessed On button is a bit hard to press, but it also has a fingerprint scanner embedded, so you can unlock the Atrix without tapping in a password (if you've set the Atrix to require a wakeup password, that is). It's a neat idea, and most of the time, it required only one swipe to read my fingerprint. The Atrix's fingerprint scanner is a great innovation that anyone whose Exchange security policies require the device to use an unlock password will very much appreciate.
Both devices have similar rear-facing cameras equipped with LED flashes, and they take good images. Both have front-facing cameras for use with their respective videoconferencing apps too. (Note that the iPhone's FaceTime app works only via Wi-Fi, while the video capability of Android's Google Talk app works over 3G as well.)
The basic iPhone and Atrix both come with 16GB of nonremovable flash storage. For $100 more, you can get a 32GB iPhone model. The Atrix has a slot for a MicroSD card that can accept as much as 32GB in removable storage.
The iPhone 4's Retina display is simply gorgeous, with amazingly sharp detail. No other device, the Atrix included, comes close to such clarity. I also found the iPhone screen easier to read in sunlight than the Atrix's screen, though inside buildings, both were equal in display clarity.
Finally, both devices use touchscreen keyboards only. If you can't stand such keyboards, neither device will satisfy you.
The winner: The iPhone by just a nose, thanks to its Retina display and faster network performance.
The overall winner is ... The iPhone 4 beats the Atrix in most of our comparison's categories, but not by much in most cases -- a real improvement from the performance of previous Android smartphones. The Atrix even beats the iPhone in one area (location support) and ties it in another (apps).
In InfoWorld's previous comparisons, the only other close contender was the RIM BlackBerry Torch, whose InfoWorld Test Center score is just a tenth of a point behind, but that score can be misleading. The Torch's vastly superior security capabilities give it a much higher score in that area than the Atrix or iPhone earned. In most other areas we score, the Torch is decidedly inferior to the iPhone and Atrix. If you compare the scores in InfoWorld's Mobile Deathmatch Calculator (where you can also assign your own weightings to each category to get custom scores), you'll see that the Atrix trails the iPhone only slightly in most categories and matches it in several.
The Atrix is today the real alternative to the iPhone 4. I can recommend both strongly, despite my preference for the iPhone 4. If Motorola Mobility fixes its MotoBlur issues with email and continues its investment in security capabiltiies and innovations such as the fingerprint scanner, it's possible it could one day outscore the iPhone.
This story, "Mobile deathmatch: Motorola Mobility Atrix 4G vs. Apple iPhone 4," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.
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