Large screens, small bezels, fashionable glass bodies — these are all the traits smartphones have been moving towards for the past few years. The Unihertz Atom is a smartphone that has none of these things, which is why you may want to buy one.
The Atom by Unihertz is a follow-up to last year’s Jelly Phone, and its existence is solely thanks to a highly-successful Kickstarter campaign. Unihertz promises the Atom to be a speedy, long-lasting, durable and water-resistant Android phone that can serve as a primary device for outdoor activities, and in the week we’ve spent with the phone, it delivers.
A tiny titan
Size is the first thing you’ll notice about the Atom; true to its name, it’s tiny and easy to grip. Even the smallest of hands should have no problem holding this phone.
If size isn’t what’s first on your mind, it’ll be the Atom’s rugged body, which frankly looks a little ugly. It’s wrapped in a TPU-style material that’s reminiscent of rugged cases from the likes of Otterbox. The reinforced corners are stylized with red accents, which make the phone look flashy. Still, this phone feels like it could fall down a mountain without significant injury.
There are chunky bezels around the 2.4-inch display, and the front-facing fingerprint scanner is flanked by two capacitive buttons. The volume rocker is on the phone’s left side, along with the SIM card tray; the right side houses the power key, as well as a programmable push-to-talk (PTT) button, which we’ll get to later. Oddly enough, the USB Type-C charging port is also on the right edge of the phone.
A headphone jack is present too at the top center of the Atom. Thanks to the small size, you shouldn’t have any issues accessing any part of the phone, though you might have problems holding the phone in your right hand while charging, due to the awkwardly-positioned charging port.
The Atom feels like it could fall down a mountain without significant injury
Flip the phone over and it will look even more rugged. The TPU back panel has a diamond-pattern texture for extra grip, and a lanyard attachment at the bottom underneath the large Unihertz logo will ensure extra drop protection (no lanyard included). The rear-facing 16-megapixel camera and flash sit at the top of the rear, and the only speaker on the phone is at the bottom. The speaker is suitable for calls, but we wouldn’t recommend using it for music. You’re better off pairing the Atom with a pair of wireless earbuds or a Bluetooth speaker.
We’re happy to see a fingerprint sensor available on the Atom, but its placement is awkward because the phone is so small. Even worse, the sensor proved unreliable most of the time, as it really requires the perfect-placement of your fingertip. When it does work, however, it’s quick.
There is a Face Unlock option available, which actually tended to work more reliably than the fingerprint sensor. A change of hairstyle, sunglasses, or lighting can easily set it back, though.
The Atom is hardly fashionable, but it’s not really trying to be a replacement for your $1,000 iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. It’s a phone you take out on weekend outings when you’re worried about damaging your expensive smartphone. It’s tough and rugged, the build quality is superb, and it’s also lightweight at just 108 grams. The IP68-rated water- and dust-resistance means the Atom can handle some water (up to 1.5 meters depth for about 30 minutes) — just make sure the ports are dry before recharging.
A disappointing display, but solid performance
Considering the Atom has a 2.4-inch LCD display, you’d be right not to expect a super high resolution screen — it has a measly 432 x 240 pixel resolution with a 16:9 aspect ratio, delivering 207 pixels per inch. It’s not a big deal because the phone isn’t going to be replacing your media center, but it certainly isn’t sharp. Pixels are easily visible.
We are a little disappointed, however, that the colors are a little washed out, and blacks lack punch. Worse yet, the screen doesn’t get bright enough to view outdoors in broad daylight, which feels like a huge misstep. It’s manageable, but Unihertz should have really made sure a brighter screen was a key feature on the Atom.
The screen is protected by an unspecified version of Gorilla Glass, which can still shatter. The phone does come with a pre-installed film screen protector, to protect against scratches, but it doesn’t fit the whole screen, only covering half of the selfie camera. It looks like the same screen protector Unihertz sold for the Jelly Pro.
Despite the disappointing screen, the Atom comes roaring back with solid performance. It’s powered by an octa-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor with 4GB of RAM. There’s 64GB of internal storage, which is plenty for most people. Despite dual-SIM support, there’s no MicroSD card slot, which may come as a disappointment to some.
Here are a few benchmark results:
- AnTuTu: 84,856
- Geekbench 4: Single-core 811; multi-core 3,272
- 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 441
The Unihertz Atom beats out the midrange Moto G6 with its AnTuTu score by a considerable margin. Its scores rival the Nokia 6.1 in some areas, and comes close to the Moto G6 Plus — two similarly-priced phones. Benchmark scores don’t necessarily reflect a phone’s performance, though, so how did the phone react in day-to-day use?
The Atom handles most tasks easily, zipping through navigation menus and opening apps in a blink. While the tiny screen isn’t going to be your first choice for mobile gaming, the Atom surprised us with solid performance during games like Hearthstone.
Unihertz has opted for the stock version of Android 8.1 Oreo, which is likely why performance is relatively smooth. The software is simple to use. There are only a few apps installed by default (other than the standard array of Google apps), such as the walkie-talkie emulating app, Zello. The physical, red push-to-talk button will trigger Zello’s broadcasting function by default, and you can chat with other Zello users just like with a walkie-talkie. Thankfully, you can swap it to launch something else.
Some other pre-installed apps have proved useful, like Toolbox. It’s packed with a surprisingly accurate compass, a level, flashlight, and other tools that might be useful in a variety of circumstances.
You can expect the Atom to stay up-to-date with the next version of Android at the very least.
Our biggest frustration is with the keyboard. The Atom comes preloaded with Google’s Gboard app, which works wonderfully on big-screen phones. Typing with it on a 2.4-inch screen, however, is painful. Using Gboard’s swipe-to-type function alleviates the problem a little, but we found ourselves avoiding typing whenever possible, and you likely will too.
Unihertz told Digital Trends that an Android P update is in the works, so you can expect the Atom to stay up-to-date with the next version of Android at the very least.
There’s only a single, 16-megapixel camera on the back of the Atom, but there’s also a 5-megapixel selfie camera on the front.
The right lighting conditions will get decent performance out of the main lens on the rear. We took some nice photos with blue skies and well-balanced color palettes. In scenarios with high contrast or low lighting, the camera starts to struggle — a problem that plagues almost all budget phones. Also, photos you take may look better on the small screen than they really are when enlarged on a computer.
The camera’s focusing is also quite unreliable. It struggled to focus properly multiple times when we tried to focus on particular subjects, like a rock.
The app is barebones, but that’s not necessarily a problem. Holding the shutter button takes burst shots, there are options for some filter overlays, and there’s an HDR mode — though you can’t use filters in HDR mode. A panorama mode is also available, but the results are not good at all.
The Atom can take some surprisingly good photos, but we would have really liked to see a better camera here, especially since people likely want to take and share photos of their outdoor experiences. If that’s you, then you still may want to bring your primary smartphone or DSLR, which will undoubtedly take better photos (though doing that defeats the purpose of using the Atom). If you don’t care about taking a lot of photos, then the Atom’s camera will be sufficient.
An excellent battery, and extra features
The tiny Atom packs a 2,000mAh battery, which may sound small, but don’t forget this phone’s size. The battery also doesn’t need to power a large screen or a powerful processor, which means the Atom is capable of offering two-day battery life.
The battery finally expired two days after it had been taken off the charger.
After taking the Atom off the charger at 8 a.m., we took it on a five hour hike. During this time, we used GPS navigation, took pictures, and kept up to date with various messaging systems, and ended up with 54 percent battery still remaining at 5 p.m.. After that, we ran benchmarks, took further test images, and tested gaming performance, and the battery finally expired two days after it had been taken off the charger.
Sitting on the bedside table overnight, the phone only lost 2 percent battery, which is great standby time. Charging it back to full took about two hours, which isn’t too fast.
The Atom will ship with U.S. and E.U. adapters for its USB Type-C charging cable. Unfortunately, a U.K. adapter will not be included with phones making their way across the pond. When we asked Unihertz about this, the company said U.K. adapters would be available from its store. It’s odd they can’t package it in.
The Atom does have NFC, which means you can make contactless payments via Google Pay, and the USB Type-C port is On-The-Go (OTG) compatible, so the Atom can also transfer its battery life to another phone, or pull files from a USB stick when used with the correct adapter. Unihertz also sells accessories to go with the phone, including a bike mount, a belt clip, and armband.
Price and availability
The Unihertz Atom is currently available on Kickstarter. Backers can buy it for the discounted price of $220 until the campaign ends on July 11. After the campaign, the Atom will retail for $300 on Unihertz’s website. The Atom is sold unlocked, and it works with 4G networks on Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T (Sprint support still has to be confirmed).
Unihertz offers a 12-month warranty that only covers manufacturing defects to the phone.Our Take
The Unihertz Atom delivers zippy performance, simple Android software, and excellent battery life. Its screen and camera are mediocre, but if you can look past them, this is a perfect little companion to take on outdoor trips over the weekend.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes, if you’re looking for a small smartphones. The iPhone SE and the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact offer great performance, great screens, and have good cameras. They’re small, but they’re considerably larger than the Atom, and so are their price tags. Check out our best small smartphones guide for more.
If you just need a phone that lasts for a long time in the $300 price range, you can’t go wrong with the new Moto E5 Plus, which has a larger display and a two-day battery life. You can find more options in our list of phones with the best battery life.
If durability is your primary concern, your best bet is the LG X Venture. It has two-day battery life, it’s water resistant, has a solid screen, but it’s sadly only available on AT&T and U.S. Cellular. Check out our best rugged smartphones for more devices.
How long will it last?
The Unihertz Atom is well built, with water resistance and built-in shock resistance. It won’t get damaged easily. In terms of software, Unihertz has already promised the Android P update, and we expect the device will work relatively well for around two years or more. You won’t be using this phone every day (unless you make it your primary phone) so performance and the battery shouldn’t decline as quickly as other budget phones.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re in the market for a secondary backup phone — especially one to take on outdoor activities like hikes — the Atom is a great companion that will take up very little space.