With the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G we see smartphones starting at an astronomical $1,399 price. While there is plenty of innovation in these high priced phones, they are also glass sandwiches and susceptible to damage if dropped. If you spend time outdoors or in the field and want a phone that can take a beating then you should seriously consider the new Unihertz Atom L/XL that can be purchased for as low as $209.
A couple of years ago I tested the tiny Unihertz Atom and it was a great phone to take fly fishing, hiking, and running. However, it was so small that it was tough to get much work done on it. The new Atom L/XL is a larger version of the Atom with improved internal specifications and a size that makes it more usable for field work.
Also: Unihertz Atom hands-on: Rugged tiny 4G smartphone keeps you connected in the field for less than $300
One aspect that is important for your consideration are the bands that are supported by this unlocked phone. It is a dual-SIM phone too so you can carry your work and personal SIM at the same time. Unihertz provided the following information on wireless bands:
The Unihertz Atom XL also supports Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) so you can use the phone, with the included antenna, as a walkie-talkie when there is no cellular connectivity available. This is a great feature for those working or playing outdoors.
The Unihertz Atom L/XL Kickstarter Early Bird price is $239 with another pricing level of $259. The full retail price, with a planned delivery of June 2020, will be $329. You can also pick up the Atom L, same phone without the DMR support, for $209 with a planned MSRP of $279. Multiple unit pricing options are also available.
The Unihertz Atom L and XL are the exact same phone with the exception of the DMR functionality. There is a $50 premium for this additional functionality and so far I have been unable to test out this capability, although it looks awesome for campers, hikers, and other outdoor adventurists.
The phone isn't released yet, the Kickstarter project has blown past its goal and will be funded, with a campaign that ends on 26 March and expected delivery of June 2020. Given that the phone is made in China, there may be some delays due to the coronavirus outbreak. It arrived in a plain white box with the DMR antenna and charging cable/adapter.
When I first removed it from the packaging, I immediately thought of the Unihertz Atom since it has many of the same design elements (red and black color, front oblong fingerprint sensor, rugged shell) and just looks like a larger model. It's actually striking to put both next to each other and see how significantly larger the Atom XL is when compared to the Atom.
Starting at the front, we have the four-inch LCD screen. The top and bottom bezels are huge while the side bezels only a few mm wide. The display is more than ample enough to get work done and I never felt cramped when reading email, checking out documents, taking photos, and more so it offers a good balance of display size and ability to still be pocketable. The display is perfectly fine, but is not going to win any awards for brilliance.
The headset speaker and front facing camera are above the display. Below the viewable screen we find the oblong fingerprint sensor that also acts as a home button when you touch it. There is a task switcher capacitive button to the right and a back button to the left of the fingerprint sensor. These are haptic buttons with decent vibration feedback.
A standard 3.5mm headset jack is found on the bottom with an uncovered open USB-C port for charging and USB OTG. A red button is on the left side and it currently takes a screenshot with one press and turns on the flashlight with a press and hold. I have yet to find a utility to customize this button. Above this button on the left side is the dual SIM/microSD card slot.
Along the top we have the IR port and a cover for the DMR antenna connection point. There is software included on the phone so you can manipulate remote controls for various electronic products. Power and volume buttons are on the right side. The sides are covered in metal with another metallic strip along the center of the back.
Each corner has ridges and red highlighted areas that appear to offer additional corner protection. There is a lanyard loop on the bottom of the back while most of the back has a textured rubber finish for additional grip. The 48-megapixel camera is found centered at the top of the back with a flash below the camera. There is a loud mono speaker opening on the lower left of the back.
The cameras performed fine with timelapse, video, photo, and manual modes available. There is no portrait mode support and the photos don't have many advanced creative elements, but they get the job done for field work. There are a couple of samples of shots in Seattle in my image gallery.
Also: Unihertz Titan first impressions: Big, rugged, long-lasting, QWERTY Android phone
The Atom XL launches with Android 10 out of the box and the test unit I have came with the January 5, 2020 security update. I fired up the two year old small Atom and found it has Android 8.1 with the April 5, 2018 software update so it doesn't appear you can count on much software support after launch.
The phone runs a stock version of Android with a home page experience like the iPhone where you can only put app shortcuts in folders, but all appear across various home pages. There is no way I could find to switch to an app launcher interface. The Google Discover page is available when you swipe all the way from left to right to the first panel.
In addition to the Google basics such as calculator, calendar, camera, Chrome, Gmail, Maps, Messages, and more, you get a few apps from Unihertz. These include a file manager, FM radio, DMR application, IR remote control app, music player, sound recorder, and Toolbox.
The Toolbox is extremely useful and perfectly complements the fitness and outdoor adventure focus of the Atom XL. The tools in the Toolbox include a sound meter, compass, flashlight, bubble level, picture hanger tool, heart rate monitor, height measuring utility, magnifier, pressure sensor, speedometer, underwater camera, alarm, plumb bob, and protractor. It's cool to see the camera used with some of these tools to provide an augmented reality experience that provides you with a device for accurate measurements.
The home screen supports common app widgets too so you can customize your Android experience.
The Unihertz Atom XL is available to order now on Kickstarter with some early special prices still available. There is not much that competes down in this $300 range and when you consider this phone is built to withstand so much I don't know why everyone wouldn't pick one up to have a solid backup phone to take with you outside.
It's a perfect phone for taking fishing, hiking, or camping and I can also see it mounted on a bike as a perfect bike computer. It did very well with T-Mobile on my daily route with calls sounding great on both ends.
The left side button actions bothered me a bit as I kept double pressing it and capturing errant screenshots while a press and hold launched the flashlight at least twice as much as I wanted. The fingerprint sensor worked well to unlock the phone and take me home so that is a nice feature.
The Atom XL significantly increases the utility of this Unihertz design as the Atom was just too small to be very productive. There was no problem for me to conduct business on the Atom XL with ease.
The battery also did very well, lasting me for more than two days with regular usage and hours of screen time. I was very impressed with the battery performance and could honestly use this as my daily driver while also not having to worry about dropping it off my bike or while on the train.
Unihertz has had a few successful Kickstarter campaigns with these rugged phones and this one is off to a great start with nearly $500,000 pledged when I submitted this article. There are still 20 days to go so I highly recommend you consider this as a solid backup phone or a primary one to use on your outdoor adventures.