The Nexus S is an amazing phone – there is no doubt about it. Like others in the Nexus line before it, it is wonderfully executed marriage of great hardware and snappy responsive software. What’s more is that it is first in line to receive all Android updates, which carries alot of clout in this fragmented world. Still, it’s hardware doesn’t hold a candle to the superphone that is the Motorola Atrix. We all know that Motorola is quite keen on keeping their phones locked down, and the latest update pushed out to the Atrix will make it even harder to modify. Conversely, the Nexus S is what Google calls a “Pure Google” experience. It’s easy to root and get Cyanogen Mod 7 on, and will always receive prompt updates whenever they are available. Let the showdown commence.

Motorola Atrix vs Nexus S:

Operating System

The Nexus S – out of all the phones currently on the market – is the only one with Android 2.3-Gingerbread. This carries with it a lot of clout, as the refinements featured in the latest iteration of Android are both subtle, powerful, and beautiful.

The Atrix, on the other hand, is on Android 2.2. Motorola has claimed they are working on it, and that updates should be coming shortly. This may fall upon deaf ears however, as we have all heard this time and time again. While we don’t have an official date yet, apparently once the Atrix is released in the UK, Android 2.3 will be updated within a few short weeks.

With all of this being said, if you simply can’t wait for Android 2.3 (or the latest update of Android for that matter), and want to have a device that is going to be easy to modify, then look no further than the Nexus S .

Winner – Nexus S


Motorola raised the bar for Android Phones this year when it launched the Atrix, with an amazing 24 bit qHD display with 960×540 resolution. (275dpi). Colors really pop, and it’s fantastic for web browsing and viewing media. Despite the Nexus S having AMOLED display technology with better dark tones and contrast, the Atrix’s display is still brighter.

The Nexus S, with its 4-inch WVGA 800×480 pixel display (235ppi) does its best to compete, but loses out in the resolution department. That being said, the Nexus S does feature an AMOLED display which certainly looks better in sunlight, plus it is curved to minimize reflections. Additionally, the colors are rich and really come out in all environments.

Winner – Tie


16GB is a lot of storage on a phone. Still, you never know right? Strangely, the Nexus S doesn’t have a microSD card slot, so your options are limited once you begin to fill it up.

The Motorola Atrix comes with a borderline behemoth amount of potential storage at 48GB. It includes 16GB on board, and has a microSD card slot, so it’s easy to swap content out of and keep topped off with fresh loads of data.

Winner – Motorola Atrix

Processor & Performance

The Motorola Atrix features some incredible hardware, with a 1Ghz dual core Tegra 2 processor on board. 2011 is going to be an amazing year for Android phone fans, and for smartphone users in general, as dual core becomes mainstream. The Motorola Atrix also has an unbelievable 1GB of RAM, which is the most of any smartphone so far. It has some interesting functionality behind it too, and has a feature whereby you can connect it to a docking station and turn it into a full fledged computer.

The Nexus S, on the other hand, while still responsive and quick in its own right, simply cannot compete on the same level.  The Nexus S has a 1GHz Cortex A8 (Hummingbird) processor, which is single core and can only process one thread of information at a time. Still, a lot can be said for good software, and the Nexus S has the best that Android currently has to offer. To further compound the difficulty of choosing a winner in this category, the Nexus S is an open device, whereas the Motorola Atrix, like all other Motorola devices, is not. The custom modding scene is alive and well for the Nexus, and means that you can customize the performance of it to your hearts content. Currently on the forums, there is a battle raging on about whether good hardware is better than good software. Still, things are going to really heat up when Android 2.4 is released, for it is said to have significant coding enhancements to truly take advantage of dual core processing. Still, a few months in the world of mobile technology is a long time, and it’s unlikely that people will be able to wait for Android 2.4, let alone 2.3 to make its way into the latest Android Superphones like the Motorola Atrix.

Winner – Motorola Atrix – but only because it’s hardware is so much superior, and holds such promise for the future. The Nexus S actually performs better in some areas still, and is smoother to use.

Camera & Media

In terms of imaging the Atrix and Nexus S are pretty evenly matched. Both device’s sport 5-megapixel cameras, but the Atrix can shoot video in 720p quality, whereas the Nexus S does 480p (720×480)

However, if you care to look a little deeper you’ll find that the similarities end there. For starters, the Atrix has slightly higher (2592 x 1944 pixels) picture quality when compared to the Nexus S (2560 x 1920 pixels).

Both devices also feature autofocus, which is certainly good to know but once again the Motorola Atrix raises the bar with the addition of an LED flash and its ability to watch video back in 1080p quality.

Winner – Motorola Atrix

Build Quality

The Atrix feels quite solid in the hand, and strikes a nice compromise between gigantic phones like the Dell Streak 5 and Desire HD, and smaller, more diminutive form factors. It is a very well-designed, and attractive device that looks every bit the superphone you would expect. The exact measurements of the device are 117.8 x 63.5 x 10.1 mm – which is somewhere in between Desire HD and the iPhone 4.

Unfortunately for the Nexus S here (and Samsung really), is that this is a device that looks quite inexpensive. While it feels good in the hand is nicely balanced, it looks very cheap. This simply doesn’t cut it for us, and we have to give the Nexus S low points in this area.

Still, beauty is only skin (plastic) deep. The Nexus S is still a very high quality device, and we have no complaints with regards to its build quality. In fact, we dropped it on hard concrete several times, and it didn’t show much in the way of wear and tear.

Winner – Motorola Atrix

Final Thoughts

On paper, the Motorola Atrix, quite simply, destroys the Nexus S. Like any savvy technology user knows however, specs on paper are a vastly different experience from actually owning a device. The Motorola Atrix is, arguably, the most powerful phone on the market. With its dual core 1Ghz processor, 1GB of RAM, up-to 48GB of storage, 4-inch qHD 24 bit display, and webtop/laptop like mobile computing functionality, its almost impossible to deny that it deserves the award. That being said, anyone who knows the Nexus line of devices well will tell you that good software, access to the latest and greatest updates to Android, and the marriage of perfectly matched hardware, chosen by Google itself is a compelling proposition not to be dismissed lightly.

Still, the Nexus S was one of the best Android phones of 2010 (late 2010), whereas the Motorola Atrix is the future. Despite us having qualms with Motorola’s stance towards locked bootloaders, the appeal of the Atrix is too strong to resist. Adding to this, the fact that it also has an industry leading 1930 mAh battery, and the access to tons of cool accessories, we have to give the crown to Motorola.

Winner: Motorola Atrix

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Darcy LaCouvee
Darcy is the editor in chief at Android Authority. He follows the latest trends and is extremely passionate about mobile technology. With a keen eye for spotting emerging trends and reporting them, he works hard to bring you the best analysis, updates, and reports on all things Android. Darcy lives and breathes the latest mobile technology, and believes Android will be on a billion devices in the not too distant future.
  • I would be all over the Atrix if Motorola and Google offered a way to install stock Android on the device without hacking it and voiding the warranty so it could get updates asap direct from Google. . . therefore, for me there’s really only one Android phone at this time, the Nexus S. Until an OEM offers me an easy solution to put stock Android on the device and have updates direct from Google I’ll be sticking with the Google experience devices. . .

    • Darcy Alexander

      Hi Acupunc,

      I would have to agree with you here. I think many Android phone owners are keen to have the latest version of Android – there’s no doubt about that.

      Where do you think the hangup occurs? Is it the phone manufacturers? Is it the carriers?

      Google Experience devices are the way to go, but the hardware appeal of the Atrix is not easily dismissed. Thankfully, Google has a dual core Nexus in the works, our sources our telling us. You can expect an article on this soon.

      Thanks for all the great comments.

  • Sig Green

    Your article says that the Nexus shoots 720p (1280x720p) videos. So far, everywhere I looked it says that it only shoots 480p (720x480p). I wanted the Nexus S, but 480p is big letdown for me. Now you just confused me claiming it shoots 720p. Please verify my claim and if I’m right, please adjust your article if I’m right.

    • Darcy Alexander

      Hi Sig,

      You are indeed correct. My apologies for any confusion I may have caused. The Nexus only supports 480p video, where as the Atrix does 720p, and is said to support as high as 1080p in the future. That being said, you shouldn’t be too concerned about the difference between 480p and 720p. We’re not talking about digital cameras here, and the imaging sensors that are in the majority of today’s smartphones still won’t be able to replace the quality that dedicated cameras bring to the table. Still, the Atrix certainly outclasses the Nexus S here, and is said to have a much richer color palette as well.

      Hope that helps.

  • George

    What about 4g v 3g? Why did you skip that?

  • oracle

    Because 4G isn’t yet a major factor perhaps? The US is still a little behind the UK/Europe on its 3G network, and I wouldn’t call the UK 3G network “amazing”. With 4G bids taking place in the UK in 2012, chances are it’ll be around 2014/15 before a potentially usable 4G network exists in the UK (I have no idea on potential timeframes for the US or the rest of Europe). As far as I am concerned for the moment, 4G can be ignored in the UK for a good 3 years, and most likely for a similar amount of time in most other areas.