AT&T is justifying the price of its Motorola Atrix 4G flagship Android smartphone with the optional companion laptop dock as a tablet-equivalent product.
The bundle, when purchased together along with a two-year contract and accompanying data plan and tethering option through AT&T, will cost $500. However, separately acquired, the phone will cost $200 on contract (or whatever price the non-subsidized MSRP will be for commitment-phobes) plus another $500 itself just for the laptop dock, making the bundle when purchased with all the required data add-ons a steal for those who absolutely need a larger screen and physical keyboard.
In a previous article, I had opined that the high price of the laptop dock–which as part of the bundle equates to about $300 or will be $500 if purchased separately–would be more of an enterprise-focused solution rather than a consumer solution. Many in the industry have stated that it may make little sense to get the laptop dock, which costs about the same price at $300 as an entry level netbook, when low-cost notebooks and netbooks pack in so much more. The laptop dock itself is just a laptop shell with battery, keyboard, and display–all the computing power is drawn from the smartphone so there is no storage, memory, RAM, CPU, GPU, or any other guts.
However, AT&T today is defending itself. The pricing, according to the carrier, is warranted as it is an alternative to laptops. Considering that when docked to the optional companion accessory, the Atrix 4G will offer users a larger screen experience similar to the $800-priced Motorola Xoom tablet on Verizon Wireless.
On the positive side of the equation, I do believe that the Atrix 4G delivers more than a tablet or competing tablet and keyboard, or smartphone and keyboard, solutions. There are two reasons for this view.
First, with the Atrix 4G, you do get an enhanced experience that’s comparable to a notebook or smartbook, at least when looking at the browser. For what most people do on the Internet anyways–browse the Web–this will probably be one of the more heavily used task, along with watching videos and emailing. That said, the Atrix 4G offers a full Firefox browser, with multiple, re-sizable windows and multiple tabs. That means that you can really multitask and jump between browsers with ease rather than having to switch between different browser views on a tablet like the Galaxy Tab.
The second advantage is that the integrated solution brings a trackpad with it. You get a touchpad right below the keyboard, which I think will offer a better, richer experience with the Atrix 4G than a tablet or smartphone paired to a Bluetooth keyboard. As it stands right now, I am currently using an iPad with a ZaggMate Bluetooth keyboard companion accessory, which offers a keyboard with scissor-cut keys–making it a nice experience–but no trackpad. With that solution, as excellent as it is to type on the keyboard, it is a painful experience when having to navigate. Rather than reaching for the trackpad with my thumb, which is in close proximity to the spacebar on the keyboard, I have to actually now extend my arm to reach for the screen every time I want to change settings or select something. When you’re typing a document or spreadsheet and need to navigate around, you’ll need to constantly juggle between having your hands on the screen and on the keyboard–and as Steve Jobs had said–this is not ideal. In justifying the MacBook Air not having a touchscreen, Jobs had iterated that the ideal touchscreen for a notebook is in fact a touchpad, and in Apple’s case, a multi-touch touchpad experience.
It seems that Motorola and AT&T have discovered the same thing that Apple had in that a better user experience, when coupled with a keyboard, is to offer a trackpad rather than a touchscreen. For this reason, users of tablets who primarily use their devices at their desk with either a docked or Bluetooth keyboard may find that the overall form factor of the Atrix 4G and laptop dock to be more suited for their needs. On the other hand, if you’re laying in bed and are using your device to browse videos, a tablet may be a better form factor for you as it is lighter, easier to hold, and offers a more intuitive touch interface. Additionally, with a tablet, you won’t need to manage two devices and worry about carrying them both or about securing the Atrix 4G into its dock.
Whatever type of user you are, however, Motorola has you covered. If you’re a tablet user, chances are you’ll be swayed by Xoom. For laptop owners, typists, or those who prefer a trackpad, the Atrix 4G package may be better suited for your needs.