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
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.