This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl.
From mid-July 2020 onwards, Chinese venture-based smartphone maker Unihertz has begun shipping its Android smartphones, the Atom XL and Atom L, which had been crowdfunded and approved for investment, as rewards products.
The Atom XL and Atom L were announced on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter in February 2020 and will be the successor to the company's minimalist, toughest smartphone, the Unihertz Atom, which is currently on sale.
The previous Unihertz Atom with a 2.45-inch display was a ruggedized phone that was small enough to pinch and hold. However, the new Atom XL and Atom L have a 4-inch display, bringing the screen size to a phone that was a common size a decade ago.
As lovers of niche gadgets, we loved the sharp concepts of the original Atom, but some people said it was too small to use, too hard on old eyes, too small to lose, or too small to accidentally step on and damage their feet badly (true story). The Atom XL and Atom L, with their larger, easier to read screen and just barely large enough to hold and operate with one hand while retaining their toughness, are likely to impress many people.
Of course, the SoC, operating memory, battery capacity and camera performance have been greatly enhanced, and it's adequate enough to be on par with or a bit above the mid-range of current Android phones.
The actual Atom L has now arrived as a crowdfunded reward, and we'll be bringing you a review of its features and functionality in this article.
We got the Unihertz Atom L. While there is no difference between it and the Atom XL in terms of performance as a smartphone, the Atom XL has a walkie-talkie (DMR-style) feature that allows you to talk to the other's DMR walkie-talkie for a distance of up to about 8km without having to use the mobile network. However, we were motivated to choose the Atom L because we felt that it was quite a hurdle to take full advantage of the Atom XL in the country, as we would likely have to go through "procedures to use an overseas walkie-talkie device in the country" in order to use this feature in the country.
The exterior looks like a giant version of the previous Unihertz Atom, but there are minor differences, such as the placement of the volume keys, power button, and smart keys (physical keys that can be used to register app launches, etc.) are reversed left to right.
On the front side, there's a 4-inch display with a 16:9 screen ratio and 1136 x 640 pixels (slightly larger than WSVGA), an in-camera with about 8 megapixels, a microphone for calls, a fingerprint sensor that doubles as a home button, and a proximity sensor, among other sensors.
On the back side, there's a single configuration of approximately 48-megapixel camera with autofocus support, a flashlight for shooting, an external speaker, a microphone for video recording, and a strap hole.
The device measures 134.5 x 65 x 17.5 mm in height, width and thickness and weighs about 224.5 grams, and when I held it in one hand, it felt heavy at first, but perhaps because it fits in one hand, it didn't bother me too much.
The basic specs include a MediaTek Helio P60 (2GHz x 8 cores) chipset as the SoC, 6GB RAM for operating memory, 128GB ROM for storage and 4300mAh battery capacity.
There are two SIM card slots, supporting DSDV (DualSIM and DualVoLTE). One of them doubles as a microSD card, so you can't use a microSD card when two SIM cards are inserted.
Incidentally, the previous Unihertz Atom had two SIM card slots but did not support memory cards, so many people may be happy to see the memory card support.
The device's appeal as a "(physically) strong" phone is IP68 waterproof and dustproof, with MIL-STD-810G-compliant shock resistance. You can also use the smart key as the camera's shutter button and the volume key as the camera's mode switch button, so you can shoot underwater.
Included in the package are a USB Type-C cable, USB charger, manuals, a SIM pin and a spare screen protection sheet. In addition, the display protection sheet is attached to this device in advance.
Very few apps are pre-installed
Pre-installed apps are familiar Google apps for Android phones such as Gmail, YouTube and Google Play, as well as student mode (kid mode and its settings), voice recorder, emergency alert settings app, FM radio, remote control Fairly (infrared remote control setting application), Game mode (to change the settings for notifications when using a game application), NoteBook (text input application), and the "Toolbox" app that brings together all the practical tools such as a sound level meter, compass and heart rate system. There are no third party apps pre-installed at all, other than Unihertz's own apps. That's how "there are (few) apps that do bad things in the background", which is a good feeling for me.
The main camera is greatly enhanced
The Atom L (XL)'s rear-side main camera is a single camera, but it's now about 48 megapixels, a big enhancement from the previous Atom's 16-megapixel camera.
Although in the previous generation Atom, I used it a lot as a substitute for a little memo or to take a picture for documentation (partly because the display is very small and it is hard to see the preview directly on the Atom's screen), but in Atom L, you can feel that the camera performance has improved clearly even compared to the previous generation Atom.
However, it's a simple camera with no scene detection or other features, so you'll want to add a third-party camera app if you need it.
As far as I'm concerned, the main rear camera has been greatly enhanced, and I was able to take decent photos, if they were taken during the day. However, it was not very good at shooting in the dark and produced some noise.
Toughness is great, but in a harsh environment...
The Atom L continues from its predecessor Atom, touting itself as a "physically strong" phone that is waterproof, dustproof and shockproof, and its physical strength is not a problem. However, compared to Kyocera's toughness model smartphones, such as the TORQUE and Panasonic's rugged handheld series TOUGHBOOK and TOUGHPAD series, it has not been tested for endurance in full-scale, intense natural environments, such as seawater resistance, high and low temperature environment support, and low pressure environment support, therefore, it is unknown or uncertain whether it can be used in marine sports or in extreme climbs.
Nevertheless, it's definitely much more durable and sturdy than most smartphones. It doesn't seem to have any issues with taking it out to camping, hiking, or other small outdoor activities or walks with ease.
What I've noticed in using it
This is a tough model smartphone of a size that can be handled with one hand, but when I tried it, I found it to be more comfortable to operate than I expected.
The SoC (chipset) is MediaTek's Helio P60, which is designed for mid-range smartphones, but the fact that the "screen resolution is not high" works to its advantage, and the whole experience is smooth and the apps work crisply, too.
Even though the Atom L (XL) doesn't have a high screen resolution, at 1136 x 640 pixels, it's almost the same number as the iPhone 5, and we feel it's perfectly fine for normal use.
Besides that, I found the battery life to be quite excellent as well. Due to the aforementioned not-so-high resolution, the load on the CPU is light, and with a display size of 4 inches, it consumes less power than the current major Android smartphones. In addition, the 4,300mAh battery capacity of this device is large, and the fact that it can be used continuously for long periods of time is a big selling point. (Especially when viewed as a device to take with you when you go outdoors.)
In summary, it is an "honor student with a good balance of solid construction" that combines a large battery that is suitable for long hours of operation, an energy-saving design, and a size that fits in one hand with practicality, with specs that are not excessive, despite the fact that it is a tough model and has a little weight.
Of course, some of the features and services sold by the major telecom carriers may not be compatible with some of the phones sold by the major carriers, but it's one that feels more comfortable than you might think when you actually use it.
There's no doubt that it's not as tough as the ultra-tough TORQUE and Toughpad smartphones from domestic manufacturers, which have accumulated know-how on waterproofing and dustproofing, as well as being able to be washed with hand soap and designed to be used in harsh conditions.
However, at a time when smartphones are getting larger and larger due to their larger screens, we think this phone is a valuable device with current standard specs and a smaller body size, and even without the toughness that is the main selling point of this phone, we think it's an attractive one.
While it's not yet available to the general public, I think it's going to be in stores in the not-too-distant future at a price that isn't too high, just like previous Unihertz smartphones.
In my personal opinion, I think it is quite possible to choose this device as a "sturdy sub-machine" rather than to use it as a main device.
This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl. The Japanese edition of Engadget does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of this article.