Motorola at CES: Smartphones, Tablets and a Lapdoc?

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This time last year, Sanjay Jha offered a half-hour speech to a small group of reporters in a bar and introduced a pair of marginal phones. What a difference 12 months can make: As CEO and chairman of the Motorola Mobility spinoff, Jha spoke to a standing-room only CES crowd in a large conference room and introduced multiple products that set the stage for his company’s mobile future. A new Android tablet, several dual-core smartphones and accessories that will turn the smartphone into a modular computer are shaping the path Motorola Mobility is taking. Here’s a short run-down of the new products.

Motorola Atrix 4G. The phone has two 1 GHz cores, a generous 1930 mAh battery, 1 GB of RAM, and a fingerprint reader to unlock the device, which uses a qHD display, or 960 x 540 resolution. Atrix 4G is headed to AT&T’s HSPA+ network, which should provide a broadband speed boost over existing 3G handsets. Even with these specs, “it only replaces about 80 percent of a computer,” said Jha. That’s where the small HD dock with 3 USBs, HDMI out, wireless keyboard and mouse come into play, bringing a large-screen experience to the phone. Atrix can also be docked into a laptop-like shell called a lapdoc; the phone powers an 11.6-inch display for up to 8 hours, making for a modular notebook form factor completely run by the phone’s internals.

Motorola Cliq 2. This is a refresh of the Cliq, which was one of last year’s CES introductions. The 3.7-inch touchscreen with Android 2.2 runs on a beefier 1 Ghz processor than its predecessor and offers improved MotoBlur widgets to track friends on social networks. Although I originally found MotoBlur to be more of a battery drain than a benefit, consumers appear to disagree: Jha said that Motorola has close to 6 million MotoBlur subscribers. The Cliq 2 is available on Jan. 19 for T-Mobile customers.

Motorola Droid Bionic. This is another dual-core, 4G smartphone, but uses Verizon’s LTE network for data with fallback to 3G or EVDO. The device is all screen: 4.3-inches worth, with the same qHD resolution as the Atrix 4G. Typical of a phone in this class, Bionic can pipe video to an HDTV through an integrated HDMI jack and will record or playback 1080p content. Video chat will also be supported through a front-facing camera. Jha said the Droid Bionic will appear in the second quarter on Verizon’s network, which is when Verizon originally said consumers would see LTE handsets.

Motorola Xoom. This looks to be the first Android Honeycomb tablet for Verizon, available near the end of the first quarter, although it will only work on the carrier’s 3G data network at first. Jha said the Xoom is upgradable to 4G after launch, but didn’t discuss details. The 10.1-inch tablet uses a laptop-like 1280 x 800 resolution and has two cameras: a 2-megapixel sensor in the front for video chat over Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G and a 5-megapixel rear camera for stills and 720p video recording. As noted in Wednesday’s introductory video of Honeycomb, video chat will be supported directly in Google Talk. Xoom will also function as a mobile hotspot, capable of sharing an Internet connection with up to five devices over Wi-Fi.

Given that many of the tablets and dual-core phones launching at CES were expected, the early surprise this year so far is the Atrix 4G and its modular docking system. On one hand, it’s very promising because the phone becomes the central point of processing, graphics and content. That can reduce the pain of syncing data and media to a set-top box or other computing device; since the Atrix 4G laptoc accessory is essentially a terminal, there’s no need to move content.

But the accessory also runs a separate operating system based on Linux, so there’s an open question on support and upgrades for that component. I’ll ask Motorola about that when I get a closer, hands-on look at their new lineup. Even with that question, it’s clear that more powerful smartphones continue to close the gap on traditional computers as consumers become more mobile.

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