The True Cost of the Motorola Atrix 4G Laptop Dock: $800, Phone Not Included

After spending either $200 for the Atrix 4G with a two-year AT&T service agreement or upwards of $500 sans contract, the true cost of the optional Motorola Laptop Dock accessory is closer to $800, which begs the question of how much mobility is worth it to you as the end user.

For now, the laptop dock is priced at $500 retail, or about $300 when bundled together with a two-year agreement and the Atrix 4G purchase, bringing the package price to around $500 after rebates and pre-taxes.

What exactly is the laptop dock? It’s an accessory–a clamshell device with a screen, battery, keyboard, two USB expansion ports to accommodate USB drives, and speakers–that’s not unlike the appearance of a slim notebook, like the MacBook Air. The accessory has a swivel up dock at the rear for users to dock in their Atrix 4G dual-core smartphone. But this is where the similarities between the Motorola-branded accessory and a notebook/netbook ends as the laptop dock doesn’t have its own memory, RAM, CPU, drives, or OS. Rather, everything required to power and run the laptop dock in laptop mode comes from the NVIDIA Tegra 2-powered Atrix 4G. The smartphone hosts the Webtop operating system that provides power to use the smartphone OS on the larger screen and couples that with a keyboard, along with a full Firefox browser which can display full Flash content, not just the Flash 10.1 Mobile of most Android smartphones.

However, despite the low price of entry–$500 for a combined package isn’t a bad deal, but then again you can buy an entry-level netbook for $300, the price of the dock as part of the packaged deal–the costs start to add up when you add in the data plan. While users can subscribe to a $25 per month data plan (or cheaper if you’re solely on WiFi) for the Atrix 4G, the laptop dock requires users to sign up for a tethering plan, which runs $45 for the combined total between the smartphone and the tethering portion for 4 GB of data per month.

The absurdity here is the tethering catch, which is required to use with the laptop dock. When a user docks their smartphone with the laptop dock, the Android OS or Webtop OS checks with AT&T’s servers to ensure that you have the right data plan to use with the laptop dock. Since the Webtop OS and everything really required for use in the laptop dock is really housed inside the Atrix smartphone, data really is generated from the smartphone, not from the laptop, so is it really tethering?

The total cost of ownership (TCO) breakdown of the Atrix 4G laptop dock initially appeared on The Droid Guys. The site initially priced the full $45 data plan into the cost of the laptop dock, bringing the TCO to about $1400, but that figure has since been amended. Hypothetically, if you had gone ahead and signed up for the 2 GB per month $25 plan, tethering via the the Data Pro Plan is an extra $20 a month, which is what really is required for the Laptop Dock as the basic smartphone data plan is already required with the phone regardless of the dock. So calculating $20 over 24 months of your contract, the data charge specific to the laptop dock is $480 before taxes and fees are added. The cost of the laptop dock itself is another $300 when purchased as bundle, so you’re looking at a minimum of around $800 pre-taxes, or about $1,000 if the laptop dock was purchased at the full $500 price without the bundle.

While the cost here isn’t bad, the $300 price of the dock itself can land you a cheap netbook, but the $800 price point of the combined package can give you a decent notebook. True, the laptop dock does give you a seamless experience when tethering and connecting to the Internet on a larger screen and keyboard, how much is that mobility and ubiquitous connectivity worth to you?

With rooting and jailbreaking these days, which has been legalized under the revised Digital Millennium Copyright Act, users can hack their devices to uncover features and functionalities of their smartphones legally that were hidden by the manufacturer and carrier. With rooting on Android, users have found ways to tether for free by either running a third-party tethering program or uncovering the native tethering functionality of Android that came with Android 2.2 Froyo but was hidden, as is the case of the Atrix 4G, by the carrier–or AT&T. By uncovering the tethering, users can invest their $800 into a more capable notebook–an entry level MacBook Air starts at $1,000, and if you didn’t purchase the laptop dock as a package with a service contract with the Atrix 4G, you’re looking at $500 for the dock, plus $480–or roughly $1,000 right there. If you like the seamless way that the Atrix 4G interacts with the laptop dock, the cost to participate is between $800-$1,000. If you’re sensible about your computing needs and can afford some time and invest energy into rooting, I’d highly suggest going the latter route and getting a descent notebook and tethering it that way.

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