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CES 2011: First Look at Webtop on the Motorola Atrix

By Matthew Braga

Motorola's new 4G phone is an impressive beast, but wait until you see what it can do when connected to a monitor or HDTV.

You might have heard by now that Motorola has grand things in store for smartphone owners this year — but it goes beyond the usual Android experience. Not satisfied to simply launch yet another iterative Droid-branded product, Motorola has unveiled the Atrix, a dual core 4G monster available to AT&T customers in Q1 of this year. 
 
Webtop. When the phone is connected to a HDTV or laptop dock, a separate, desktop-style UI interface is enabled that can be navigated with a keyboard and mouse — combining the role of phone and computer into one unique mobile package. 
 
We had the chance to try the Astrix and it's Webtop UI on the show floor today, and the experience was promising.


 
In fact, Webtop's integration with the underlying Android OS is particularly intriguing. Instead of offering separate apps under both Webtop and Android, a virtual window containing the underlying OS stays open at all times. Using your mouse, you interact with this "virtual" Android OS just as you would with your finger, allowing you to make phone calls, access your contacts and other common functions.   
 
In our demo, the interface was surprisingly slick, though functionality was strictly barebones, at least where customization and advanced OS functions were concerned. Running multiple apps and windows remained smooth, and a Motorola representative even demoed Flash video running in the background as we navigated the US. Unfortunately, the Webtop UI is only displayed at 720p resolution, which doesn't look particularly nice when upscaled on a 1080p HDTV, but remained usable. 
 
What's important to realize is that webtop isn't another OS — just a different graphical UI run over Android's Linux core, much like KDE or GNOME on the desktop. In fact, Webtop is surprisingly similar to its desktop counterparts; we caught the Astrix running a version of Firefox compiled for Ubuntu systems. However, that doesn't mean you can simply go ahead and install other Linux-built applications as you see fit. A Motorola rep made it clear that native Webtop apps will be strictly controlled — though web-based apps are fair game. How additional native apps will be downloaded or distributed wasn't clear.