Atrix connects smart phones with laptop dock

Smart phones have long held the title of “hand-held computers.” But when the Motorola Atrix is released March 6, it could be the only computer some users need.

The Atrix, unveiled at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is the first smart phone to boast a dual-core processor. However, the main reason it won Best in Show at the CES is its revolutionary accessory called the laptop dock.

The dock, which looks like a small laptop, only comes alive when the Atrix is plugged into a slot behind the screen. Through Motorola’s “webtop” application, users can then use a full Firefox browser, Google’s version of an office suite, and all of their smart phone apps on the dock’s 11.6-inch screen and full keyboard. The phone itself has a 4.0-inch screen.

But just because the Atrix can look like a laptop doesn’t mean it will be as powerful as one, said Terrence Ow, an assistant professor of management.

“A smart phone now can run many of the applications that were developed 15 years ago,” Ow said in an e-mail. “But to run them at full capacity – such as today’s Photoshop – using a dummy terminal or dock station would be stretching it.”

The Atrix runs on Google’s Android 2.2 operating system, one of the newer smart phone operating systems. It can also be paired with a multimedia dock that allows it to connect to an HDTV, and a vehicle dock that turns the smart phone into a GPS and enables hands-free calling.

Ow said with the rise of cloud computing (storing files on an off site server), Atrix users would not have to worry about having enough storage space.

But he said in order for the Atrix model to work, it would have to be both cheap and powerful enough to fit consumers’ needs.

The Atrix is priced at $199.99 with a two-year plan from AT&T. The laptop dock can be bundled with the phone for a total cost of $499.99, or bought separately for $499.99.

The Atrix model could replace a laptop for some students, said Paul Bankston, a professor of mathematics, statistics and computer science.

“The students that would like this the most instead of a laptop would probably be students in arts and possibly business,” Bankston said. “If they’re science students I think they’re going to want to do more complicated things on their machines.”

Bankston said many students might choose to buy the Atrix and its laptop dock in addition to a traditional laptop.

Luis Mattei-Mendez, a sophomore in the College of Engineering who uses engineering software on his laptop for homework, said he would only consider replacing the laptop with an Atrix if it could run the same software just as easily.

Connie Bauer, an associate professor of marketing, said in an e-mail that she would prefer an iPad over the Atrix because the iPad is one unit rather than two separate pieces. Motorola also introduced a tablet, called the Xoom, at the CES.

But like the laptop itself did a decade ago, the Atrix model could become sufficiently powerful to be adequate for most consumers, Ow said.

“The rise of laptops to be today’s main household computer will give you an idea of how computing will change,” he said.