Review: The O2 XDA Atom

Quanta/O2 loaned us a unit of their brand new GSM communicator, the O2 XDA Atom. The phone is a GSM 900/1800/1900, GPRS class B, multi-slot class 10, EDGE phone running Windows Mobile 5.1 (the unit arrived loaded with the latest ROM). Dig in for more info about this interesting smartphone, mostly aimed at the Australia/Asian and European markets.The blue-ish box it came with included a pair of stereo earphones that also doubles as a handsfree, a mini-USB data transfer cable and an A/C power supply. There was no manual in the box sent to us (but there is going to be one in the final product).

size comparison

The XDA Atom is a relatively small phone for what it is. Maybe even, the smallest PocketPC phone out there. It packs a 416 Mhz PXA272 processor, 50 MB available RAM and 43 MB of flash available to store data and install applications. It supports the miniSD format, IrDA 1.2 (SIR), Bluetooth 1.2 and Wi-Fi (802.11 b). It features a TFT 2.7″ QVGA screen able to do 262k colors but only 65K colors are effective at any given time. There is also a 2-megapixel camera with flash (1600×1200 pixels) that can also do video capture a 320×240 pixels. The battery is a removable Li-Ion 1530 mAh one. Additionally, you can find an FM-receiver, built-in stereo speakers and a 2.5mm audio jack. The phone has the following buttons on it: power on/off, volume up and down, voice dial button, camera button, 5-way pad with music action support when the right music application is used, call answer, hang up, Start menu button, button that loads the O2 Media Plus application and a reset hole. The size of the stylus is ideal.

O2 was very kind to preload the phone with the latest firmware which also enables the A2DP/AVRCP profiles on the existing Bluetooth stack. This enabled us to use the phone with a stereo bluetooth handsfree headphones/mic pair. The stack automatically turns off the music when there is an incoming call and resumes back the playback when the call is ended. We were also able to stream music via WiFi from DI.FM and then send it wirelessly to our stereo Bluetooth headset.

Most readers here have already used a PocketPC in one way or another so I won’t go into the standard usability of the OS. O2 has put a number of extra applications on the phone, including their AutoConfigurator which allows you to select your carrier and then it configures the phone accordingly. Their camera software is also pretty unique and easy to use, although the camera quality is below par, even for a phone. Unfortunaly, through the camera application you can’t send images via IrDA or BT, but you can when using SMS Plus. That’s a bit inconsistant. There are also a Photo Album and Photo Editor applications accompanying the camera app. Here are some camera samples (all in high quality setting): VGA no flash, UXGA with flash, UXGA with flash on low light, UXGA outdoors no flash, MP4 video (use ‘save as’ for the video).

The O2 Connect application connects to the O2 web site and is notifying the user of system updates and other useful files, help and more. The Setup Wizard puts together a number of otherwise scattered settings in one application: email, name, buttons, today, sound theme, text size, etc.

There are a number of O2 Today plugins activated by default, like the ringing profiles (a bit buggy though, it gets stuck in the screen some times), the available battery and memory, last call, network operator, calendar, running applications and application shortcuts. I personally removed all the O2 Today plugins because they take lots of memory, and we all know that Windows Mobile’s Achilees’ heel regarding stability are third party Today plugins.

The phone comes with the Esmertec Java stack, which appears to be ok. I was able to run a few games successfully, and also Opera Mini. Other useful utilities in addition to Windows’ standard applications are ClearVue’s PDF reader, an equalizer for sound, GPRS monitoring, voice speed dialing, a self-diagnostics utility, O2 Plus (similar to the vBar functionality that lets you close applications instead of just minimize them). On the multimedia department we found the FM radio and the O2 Media Plus worthy of their reputation. The O2 Media Plus is an interesting effort to bring a full multimedia experience with video, pictures, radio and music under a single full screen application.

We found the reception of the antenna pretty normal, while WiFi and Bluetooth also worked well and reliably. The CPU proved fast enough to playback videos and do many tasks at the same time. However, there were a few problems with the unit:

The screen is washed out and very difficult to view outdoors. It is a good quality and bright screen, but the support around it has a flaw. It seems that the hardware engineers who designed the model have placed the screen light at the wrong place and so the screen now is very washed out. Some shades of gray don’t show up at all (some gray disabled widgets are not even readable without first tilting the phone towards you vertically (so the lighting changes to a more normal angle)).

Additionally, there are no softkeys. And that’s a shame, because there is space to put two thin buttons below the screen. Another problem I have with this device is the fact that it doesn’t have a physical lock sliding button. O2 wants us to use this device also as a multimedia device, but without a hold button, it just won’t do (no, the soft-lock is not a good solution in this case). I also found that the device won’t charge at all via the USB cable when used with a Mac. This was a major dissapointment for me because when I travel I only take with my PowerBook, my usb-charging capable phone (a Linux-based phone), my usb-charging capable bluetooth headset and my usb-charging capable iPod. I have no major need to sync anything when on the go, but I do have a need to use a simple USB cable to charge via the PowerBook. Another problem is that there is no speakerphone capability (none that I found anyway). The battery door comes off too easily for my taste (it has come out twice so far, accidentally), while I found a bug involving Windows Media Player in this firmware version: after playing back an MP4 video you just shot with the phone’s own camera and then close down the app, Windows Media Player doesn’t come up again until you reset the device…

Also, freehand writing on the Notes application is slow. On other PocketPCs or on the Nokia 770 freehand writing is considerably smoother.

Regarding battery life, I found it below par for a $950 device, like this is sold as. The phone comes with a respectable 1530 mAh 3.7V battery and that’s one of the biggest batteries shipping with any phone today. However, the phone manages barely 3 days of light usage and 10 hours of mp3 playback, which is way below HTC’s 5 days and 15 hours respectively on a 1250 mAh battery. This is probably due to using cheaper electronics in order to bring cost down, electronics that don’t do the best job conserving a lot of battery.

Overall, this is a pretty good phone. But it could have been a lot better by just taking care of the details. I say this because most of my problems with the phone are just details. The basics are executed out very well by the product though and I am sure it’s going to be very successful, especially if the price is brought down to more realistic levels.

– Fast processor
– Unique additional software
– Small form factor
– Quad-wireless capability
– A2DP support
– FM Radio and camera with flash
– Stable firmware

– Screen is washed out
– No hardware softkeys
– Battery life is not that great
– No real ‘hold’ slider button
– No speakerphone
– Doesn’t charge through USB on a Mac
– Battery door comes off all too easy
– For such an expensive device ($950US) there is no keyboard, GBs of storage, GPS, DVB-H, quad-band/UMTS, uPnP support or video-call camera

Overall Rating: 6/10


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