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5 Reasons the $499 Atrix Laptop Dock Is a Tough Sell

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One of the most talked about devices at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show, the Motorola (s mmi) Atrix 4G, now has official pricing. The dual-core, 4.3-inch Android smartphone will cost AT&T  customers $199 with a two-year contract when it arrives on or before March 6. But the phone is only part of the story: more innovative is the Motorola Laptop Dock, which is powered by the Atrix 4G. Less innovative is the $499 standalone price tag for the Dock, although AT&T (s t) will bundle both the phone and dock for the same $499, provided you add the $20 mobile hotspot service to your monthly plan.

Before I cover the issues here, let me recap what the dock is. Essentially, it’s a laptop-like shell that uses the Atrix handset for its processing power. You plug the phone into the back of the dock and see a basic Linux computing interface on the 11.6-inch display of the dock. The appeal is that you have a larger screen and keyboard, plus all phone data is usable on the dock; there’s no syncing involved. The dock also has an internal battery, which can charge the Atrix handset.

There are a number of challenges that face this accessory at nearly $500, but here are my main concerns that will keep this otherwise fresh, new mobile solution away from many consumers.

  • It’s a single-purpose accessory. The Laptop Dock can only be used with one phone on one carrier: the Atrix 4G, which is an exclusive device to AT&T’s (s t) network for now. That means customers are shelling out up to $500 for an accessory that’s useless if they decide to later change carriers or phones. A far better situation would be if Motorola announced a number of Atrix phones that can work with the docking accessory. That could happen in the future, but until it does, this is a $500 one-trick pony.
  • It’s a dumb terminal with no broadband connection. You can’t use the dock without the phone because the phone provides the processing power and the wireless connection needed to be useful. Without the phone, the dock is a paperweight.
  • It doesn’t reduce the number of devices you’ll carry. For $500, I’d want to see some sort of convergence benefit, meaning that instead of carrying three devices — a phone, a tablet, and a laptop, for example — you could carry two. But even if customers buy the Laptop Dock in lieu of a laptop, they’re still carrying the same number of devices. And this device is limited when compared to a full computer.
  • Computers are cheaper. At this price, the Laptop Dock is competing against netbooks, and even some notebooks, which today can run all day on a single charge yet still weigh only three pounds. That’s a tough sell and while there are benefits to having the dock, will consumers value them enough to justify the price difference?
  • It costs more than the phone. While this is obvious, it’s going to play a big role in terms of consumer mindset. Keeping smartphones at or under the magical $199 price point is helping to attract many feature phone upgrade candidates. Part of how that’s done is through carrier subsidies on the hardware to keep the up-front pricing at that number. When consumers see a $499 price tag on the dock when the phone is $199, there’s an expectation of far more value in the dock. Yet, as mentioned above, it’s a very limited accessory with a web browser and a few applications.

Make no mistake; I still believe Motorola’s Laptop Dock was one of the most innovative and forward-thinking devices I saw at the CES last month. There’s no question the company is pushing the envelope in terms of mobile computing. The theory is sound, but the execution isn’t where it needs to be for mainstream consumers to even test such a theory yet.

I suspect most customers who do purchase the Laptop Dock will take advantage of the $499 bundle, which includes both the Atrix handset and the dock accessory. That makes it a little easier of a pill to swallow, but is that enough? I’m curious to hear if the dock is worth the $300 price tag in that situation for you.

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47 Responses to “5 Reasons the $499 Atrix Laptop Dock Is a Tough Sell”

  1. This doc is a fail. How about that Asus EEE Pad Transformer for $400? Just like the laptop doc but the screen can be taken off for a Honeycomb tablet. No phone required.

  2. lol, what a dumb review, “doesnt reduce the number of devices you carry”, who on earth carries a docking station around?

  3. Alexandre

    I think they were betting on the appeal of a “dual-core” phone inspiring thoughts of netbook calibre productivity, and the dock as icing on the cake. If you really believe your phone can match the computing strengths of a laptop, then what looks just like a laptop with the dock attached seems like an easy sell, but this is new tech and people are wary of innovations in mobile hardware that are priced at 500 dollars, unless it comes from Apple and the consumer is an iPhone owner who will buy anything bearing Apple like its the second coming of Christ.

  4. I can’t imagine how the Atrix with dock could provide anything that my $329 Acer dual-core netbook can’t, and the Acer has a 250 GB hard drive. I love the idea of the Atrix, and will probably upgrade from my Droid 1 to a Droid Bionic when it becomes available on VZW. But the dock? I’d much rather have the netbook.

  5. The concept is good in theory but does not seem to work in practice. Several Tech sites including CNET and Engadget have stated that the dock’s performance is no way near a netbook. I think Motorola should have presented this as a concept, waited until they could get a faster processor (even quad core) in the phone and then released the poweful phone for $300 dumb dock for $200

  6. I am dissapointed in this price. And tech heads will be fuming at the pricing for awhile. But lets not forget whats in the phone itself. This is the most powerful android phone in existence. Not only that, if claims are true, it will have a way better battery life then Verizon’s Droid. Am I disappointed that as an average user with a modest wireless budget won;t be able to take advantage of the cool laptop dock? Yes. But i will still buy this phone because the its faster and is an upgrade over phones. I really don;t get it. People paid $300-$400 for Droids and Droid upgrades. The fastest and best looking android phone comes out for $200 and all the suddenly its a rip off because I can;t afford to be able to plug it in a lapdock? Doesn’t make sense.

  7. I waited impatiently for this phone, I should have known att would mess this up. Th only good thing that came from this was a funny hitler reaction to the atrix 4g pricing on YouTube.

  8. activeinspiration

    I all ready plug my moto Droid into my laptop. 5″ phones make for mobility and no need for a laptop or bring the laptop if you want, if you like luggage.

  9. From the AT&T Press release, footnote 3:

    Laptop Dock – Firefox browser use with AT&T Mobile Broadband requires Tethering Plan.

    Insanely stupid. The dock is just a battery, display and keyboard. They are way overcharging for it.

  10. Thanks for covering this. I doubt many are going to go for the dock in the long run. $300 is a crazy amount to pay when that’s what a netbook costs. We also need to assessing the limitations of the system too. My Tegra2-based AC100 has a similar setup (and costs less than the Atrix dock and is a self-contained processing unit) and there are a ton of roadblocks that need to be taken into consideration; not to mention the learning curve.
    There was a lot of buzz about the Atrix but the reality is something different.

  11. if you are trying to avoid syncing your phone, then you are doing it wrong. the only data i keep on my phone is my audio and video files, but even those I can access from anywhere and download or xfer as needed. the rest of my data is kept on the cloud and used on demand through gmail, evernote, dropbox etc…
    so i agree, a laptop is a much better device to carry around than this dock, both of which get you access to the same data. There is no appeal to “there’s no syncing involved”, the appeal of the 4G is that “more syncing is possible and faster” and “access the same data instantly from any device”

  12. This is just like the redfly that came out years ago for WinMo…nothing too innovative here…..if they had made a large screen tablet for the Atrix to slide into and also with the option of attaching it to a keyboard, then that would be a different story….that way you can have a regular phone, slate tablet or a netbook….

    • Folks keep mentioning the Redfly, but this actually a different solution. Redfly simply expanded the mobile OS onto a larger display. The Atrix laptop dock can show the Android UI from the phone in a small window, but actually uses a Linux-based OS, meaning you get a full desktop browser (built on Firefox, if I recall correctly) and the potential for applications on the platform. I’m not defending the price by any means, but I wanted to clarify the technology because folks might not be understanding what the dock really is… or isn’t. ;)

      • The Redfly comparison is somewhat inaccurate, but functionally close enough (more so than the Foleo). The Atrix’s webtop UI runs in a VM within Android, but from a consumer’s perspective, the main value proposition the Atrix and Redfly have in common is having all of your files and computing resources in your phone, using an upscaled display when connected. In that sense, the two devices aren’t really that different.

      • I guess I missed the point on the Linux-based OS….but I would still much rather they give us a Windows based netbook with a dock and an app like ‘Mymobiler’ for that kind of money….thats how I would like my setup if I could ever get ‘Screencast’ to display my Dell Streak the right way up….

  13. Marco A.

    Less than a year ago, nobody was talking seriously about tablets at all, and now they’re already so entrenched that it’ll be hard for a phone accessory to displace them? Perhaps the market can absorb more variety than that. The iPad is functionally redundant to a laptop (albeit lighter, and easier to use for some purposes), and millions of people own both.

    Anyway, let’s not kid ourselves, the purpose of the Atrix is to move Motorola up several notches on the device maker food chain so they can get better carrier support for future devices. The margins on Atrix accessories are so huge that they amount to a payoff to resellers.

    • The difference was that the iPad was novel enough class of device for consumers to consider it. Sure, there were and are plenty of people who dismiss it as a big iPod Touch, but most people instinctively understand the usability advantages of the larger size. And history is filled with far more examples of functionally redundant devices that have failed (UMPCs) than have succeeded.

      The Atrix dock looks like a laptop without the brains of a laptop. At $150, there would have been enough early adopters willing to suspend their skepticism, but at $500 plus an unused tethering plan, AT&T/Moto have carved out a dangerously narrow niche.

      I own a Celio Redfly, so I personally understand the distinction between a smartphone terminal and a laptop (I also used a developer edition of the Palm Foleo for a few weeks); but in my experience, people who see anything that looks like a laptop will inevitably compare its costs to an actual laptop.

      • Marco A.

        High-risk product launches are rarely priced for the mainstream at first. How much did a Blu-Ray player cost when they first came out, $2000+? Now they’re well under $200.

        If you really want an Atrix laptop dock for cheap, wait a year. If they sell a lot, the price will come down by half once the hype dies out, and if not, it’ll be on end of life pricing, or eBay. You can probably get one for $150 by October.

    • @Marco: I totally agree with you that economies of scale will drive the price in short order, but I should have stressed that I’m not objecting to the price of the dock (though it’s hardly priced to sell) as much as the required plan for what AT&T disingenuously defines as tethering. The hardware will come down in price, but it’s unlikely that if the Atrix winds up on other carriers, a similar fee (e.g. “premium data”) won’t be imposed. The laptop dock is the sort of accessory that carriers expect to encourage heavy data consumption.

      My problem with AT&T is that their tiered data plans already have charges in place for any data used over the 2GB cap. Even if you were actually tether to a laptop, the $20/mo. fee offers nothing in exchange, and in the case of the Atrix, you’re not even tethering.

  14. Marco A.

    The only thing wrong with the Atrix is that it doesn’t switch to a full desktop OS (such as Ubuntu) when docked. By the time they get the software worked out for that (a few years from now), the phone will be plenty fast enough to displace the laptop for some users. Between high-volume component pricing and competition from third-party dock makers, accessory pricing should come down to something reasonable.

    As a forward-looking concept device that actually works, let’s give the Atrix credit where it’s due – this is a home run, and what any self-respecting smartphone will have to be in just a couple of years. Too bad about the version 1.0 pricing, but marketers never start lowball.

  15. I’m with Andre on this one. I switched to Verizon for the DroidX and was definitely switching back for the Atrix, at some expense to me but only if the dock was $150. ATT has lost a return customer, here.

  16. Lucian Armasu

    The general idea was a step in the right direction, but hopefully stuff like that will happen wirelessly in the future.

    It doesn’t seem like AT&T is ready to bet big on Android yet. I wonder what’s still keeping them. For a moment, I thought they’d actually try to make the Atrix their hero phone for at least 6 months or even a year. I guess not.

    Atrix still remains the most powerful phone out there,but like you said that was the most innovative feature about it.

  17. “provided you add the $20 mobile hotspot service to your monthly plan.”

    Hah! I knew AT&T would figure out a way to get around the fact that the dock eliminates tethering. Total B$.

  18. Jonathan

    It reminds me a bit of the Celio Redfly…

    But seriously, the biggest drawback for me is that the phone is hidden to your view while you’re using the dock, and exposed to everyone else. If I was using this in a coffee shop, I’d be constantly worried that someone would snatch the phone right out of the cradle — or jostle it and dash the phone to the ground.

  19. what is the point of the mobile hotspot when you can use the phone directly with the keyboard/display on the dock?

    i would think these would not be hotspot customers, so why require it?

    they better not be considering this thing to be tethering and requiring a tethering plan to use it. that would be just plain wrong.

    • The “low” upfront bundled pricing is meant to induce customers to pay for a tethering plan they don’t need. While AT&T isn’t technically “requiring” the mobile hotspot plan, the prohibitive a la carte price for the laptop dock is pretty much in line with the $480 premium of hotspot provisioning over a 2-year contract.

      And to think that, for a week or two, I actually considered switching carriers for the Atrix. How naive.

  20. It costs even more out of pocket than $499 when you get it with the phone and data plan bundled. You have to pay $599 and then wait for a $100 rebate to be returned to you. The additional data plan will cost you $480 over the lifespan of the contract. The “advantage” of buying it outright is that you could also use it on prepay or just use wifi when docked and not be forced to pay more money.

  21. While I agree it is interesting. However, basically a monitor/keyboard. I can link my phone to my netbook/laptop and save $500. So they are saying their cpu/etc are free when you buy a $500 laptop AND their monitor/keyboard is $300 to $400 better than either standalone ones (FRY’s has monitor/keyboards for less than $100) and/or a netbook/laptop (again $200 not $500). Nice try, as they say, “one is born every min”

  22. The pricing is atrocious. Its as if AT&T wants to fail. Whoever comes up with this pricing really needs to be out of a job if it remains the same at the time of launch.

    I totally agree with the point of buying a separate netbook at that cost. Makes this device totally pointless.

  23. Wadood Chaudhary

    I think Motorola has killed its own innovation. I belive if AT&T gives the Lapdock say for free, they have a second iPhone. Now what they have at best is another Droid.

    AT&T and Motorola could easily have eaten up the cost of it from a larger and a long term customer base.

    • BubbaTex

      Agree. ATT wants the data plan and the fact they require the Data Pro plan w/tethering for the laptop dock, that should cover a lot of the cost. I would think something around $300 would have been better. Are they thinking this is an enterprise tool only (as we know, companies will typically pay more for hardware because they get deals on the plans)?

  24. I certainly hope that Motorola would make many more devices in the future that could make use of the dock. I also hope that they allow third parties to make something comparable. That’s will give them longer-term viability. If they make enough money selling the device they don’t have to also make a lot on the dock.

      • If they made the dock have little to no profit margin, and pushed the sales of the phone, they’d have a hit. Its as if they want their innovation and new market to fail. Until they can get the market involved in this product, they’ll make this great idea into just another failure.

      • How much, then? You can get a 20-inch monitor for $100 and this screen is about 1/3 the size of that. Batteries for normal laptops are easy to find for $20 on eBay.

      • I disagree. I bet I could make one for less than $150, and not $500 retail.

        Also, the view isn’t a STANDARD LINUX VIEW. Where’d you pull that from?? Its simply a tablet/netbook customized Android UI, and probably shares some similarity with the Moto Xoom.

        I see nothing here to rekindle memories of Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, or any other Linux I know of…

  25. Not only are you completely on point with each of your points but ATTs announced pricing for data on the Atrix is outrageous. Add the cost of the Atrix package and the cost of the data plan to ATTs demonstrated poor service and this is a non-starter. Too bad because this was the most intriguing tech (to me) coming out of CES.

  26. Could not have stated it better, Kevin. Don’t think anything else needs to be added to that!

    The general idea of the Atrix is great but it is neutralized by two issues currently. The price of the peripherals and that they are not universal for all Android phones. They will only become universal when Google builds into Android itself a system that will allow for this general setup to take place, and then maybe we will also see significantly better prices on the peripherals.

    Nonetheless, I do hope this is the future of computing. I would love a 7″ Android tablet that can either be docked to expand it’s capabilities or do similarly via WiFi. In my perfect world it would be a WiFi type of setup that would allow you to set the devices in your home that you want it to power/control, thus leave it wherever and sit down at a keyboard & LCD in the other room and do your thing while some else can use the same power to find something to watch–of course the CPU will need a bit more power ;)

    But I can dream. . .