Can the Atrix 4G really become your next PC?

You can run the full desktop Firefox on your TV or monitor, but Motorola's dockable smartphone is only a half-step into the mobile/PC convergence future

The PC as we've long known is dead -- or it will be soon. As mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets become more capable, few people will need a full-blown PC or Mac. Instead, a mobile device that connects to external resources as needed -- keyboards, mice, monitors, storage, and perhaps even processors -- can be the computer you always have with you, using its own screen and hardware when you're on the go.

I believe that evolution is well under way. Last fall, Apple CEO Steve Jobs all but said that's where the Mac OS and iOS are headed, with the forthcoming Mac OS X 10.7 Lion marking the next step in the journey. But the Motorola Mobility Atrix 4G is here today with a more tangible version of the future ready to try.

[ See how the Atrix 4G matches up against the iPhone 4 as a smartphone in InfoWorld's deathmatch comparison. | Stay up on the key mobile trends with InfoWorld's Mobilize newsletter and Mobile Edge blog. ]

The Atrix is an Android smartphone based on Citrix Systems' Nirvana phone technology that can dock to external peripherals, using them to provide a more PC-like working experience. When docked, Atrix runs the desktop version of the Firefox 3.6 browser (in Linux), so you can run most cloud services available for your PC or Mac. (Note: Not all browser plug-ins, such as Microsoft Silverlight, work in the Linux version of Firefox.) And any Android apps you run on the Atrix can take advantage of the larger screen, keyboard, and mouse docked to the Atrix.

To see how well the Atrix delivered on this promise, I spent the weekend using it in its "lite" PC guise.

The cost of the "lite" PC transformation
The Atrix -- which costs $199 with a two-year contract from AT&T Wireless in the United States -- comes with the Webtop Connector app that makes docking possible, but you'll need extra hardware to actually turn the Atrix into a "lite" PC. There are two hardware paths you can take: a laptoplike device you can carry with you, or a dock you use with external input devices to connect to a TV or monitor.

That hardware is not cheap. For the laptop option, Motorola Mobility's Lapdock costs $400, providing an LCD screen, keyboard, trackpad, and battery in its laptop shell. If you want to use the laptop dock over a 3G connection, rather than just Wi-Fi, you need to subscribe to AT&T's $45 DataPro plan.

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