Mobile deathmatch: Motorola Mobility Atrix 4G vs. Apple iPhone 4
Motorola's versatile new Android smartphone outshines the iPhone in some ways, but falls short overallFollow @MobileGalen
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.