O2 have established themselves as a serious player in the PDA phone market in Australia. This is in a large part thanks to the success of the original XDA Atom which was a relabelled Quanta Computer handset released under the O2 trademark. What the O2 XDA Atom managed to do is to incorporate a PDA, phone and extensive multimedia features into a small package.
Now, O2 have released an improved version, calling it the XDA Atom Life. Sticking with the tried and true formula, O2 have provided a set of upgrades to the original model including 3G network support, an additional VGA camera on the front side of the phone and also a more powerful processor. This update aims a satisfying customers needs to connect PDA devices to faster broadband services available over UTMS.
Read on for the rest of the review.
The XDA Atom Life, like its predecessor, is a device which is targeted squarely at the young professional market with its focus of multi-media playback, FM radio and a two megapixel camera. It also includes all the standard PDA connectivity options such as 802.11b wireless, USB, Infra-red and Bluetooth. The Windows operating system has not changed since the previous model and includes the now to-be-superseded Windows Mobile 5.0. The XDA Atom Life is a slightly larger and heaver unit than its older model due to the new 3G features.
The 2.7 inch, 240 x 320 pixel, 65k colour main display is most prominent on the front of the phone and is quite gorgeous. It is adequately bright and clear and manages to do an excellent job of displaying images, photos and text even in direct sunlight. Whatís new about the XDA Atom is that not only has it got a more powerful Intel XScale, 620 MHz processor but now sports 3G UTMS capabilities. This means that it is able to connect to the internet at broadband speeds and now has the capability to make video calls due to the secondary VGA camera.
Owners of recent Windows Mobile powered PDA phones will feel right at home in terms of the usability and standard features of the XDA Atom Life. The Window Mobile 5.0 operating system is a fully featured operating system allowing for multi-tasking, meaning that it is possible to have tunes playing on the music player while using Java applications or surfing the web. The handsetís media player is able to play CD tracks ripped and transferred in compressed formats from a computer via USB using the Microsoft Active Sync software. Windows Media player is included and is able to play a number of file formats to including MP3, AAC, WMA, H.263 video and MPEG4 video formats. The XDA Atom Life features a superb loudspeaker and the sound quality on it is quite exceptional. Additionally O2 have included a pair of wired stereo headphones in the package and these are of reasonable quality allowing the user to listen to music through the standard 2.5mm plug.
The XDA Atom Life is available in two colour packages featuring a black or silver finish. The Atom Life is compact and light for its class and measures in at just 106 x 58 x 18.5 millimetres and weighs 145 grams. It is slight larger and heaver than its predecessor but this is due to its expanded feature set including 3G support and the additional VGA camera. It is still one of the smallest and compact PDAs on the market and review handset sported a rounded rectangular design with a glossy black paint finish. The only qualm about the black finish is that it really easily attracts fingerprints. The antenna is internal; there are no protrusions sticking out from the handset.
As is expected from the PDA form factor, the front of the device is taken up by the large 2.7 inch, 65,000 colour, 240 x 320 pixel LCD screen. Above it is the phone speaker and three indicator lights, while below the screen is a small set of buttons to make using the Atom Life easier. There is a four direction arrow pad with confirm key, dial and hang up keys and shortcuts to load the Start button menu and O2ís Media Plus application. Additonally the Atom Life has two softkeys just above the pickup and hang-up keys for easy operation of the menu system. On the left hand side is a button for volume adjustment, as well as the infra-red port. On the right are two buttons for recording a voice note and loading the camera. The top of the phone conceals the miniSD card slot and power button, while on the bottom is the miniUSB connector for recharging and connecting the Atom Life to a PC. Youíll also find a 2.5mm headset jack, the microphone and a pen-size reset button on the bottom. Finally on the back section there is the camera lens and its flash LED. The rear cover beneath can be removed to reveal the large battery, and underneath this is the SIM card slot.
User interface & display
As mentioned earlier, the display used in the XDA Atom Life is a 2.7 inch TFT LCD capable of displaying 65,000 colours and has a resolution of 240x320 pixels. It is essentially a carry over from the previous version. Brightness of the screen can be adjusted across a large range, and with brightness set to maximum, the screen becomes legible in outdoor light. Everything is incredibly clear and vivid. Colour replication seems good and the high resolution accounts for the crisp lines around objects and text. However, the screen could be a tad brighter and possibly other models should start including a 480 x 640 screens as at this screen size it is possible to see individual pixels easily.
As with all Windows Mobile versions, it is possible to list and customise a number of lines of information to appear on the standby screen. O2 has also included a useful application that displays even more information, such as exact battery life and free space levels on the standby screen.
There are four preset themes that can be used to customise all menusí looks, background, screensaver, standby screen etc., and all are of a reasonable quality.
The Windows Mobile user interface is clean, sharp and reasonably well thought out. However, there are the odd user interface bugs and glitches, and in typical Windows fashion, applications can freeze. Iím surprised there isnít an ALT-CRT-DEL function. I have found however that the most effective way to use the phone is through the stylus. It is possible to use your fingers, however all the menu buttons are just too small to be able to be effectively pressed with a finger. This is one issue that Microsoft need to address and that is to make their consecutive versions of Windows Mobile with a user interface with allows easy access to the most critical functions (such as phone) by using fingers rather than having to pull out the stylus.
Due to the improved processor, navigation is much faster and results in a more responsive system. Anyone coming from a Windows background will feel right at home here and while it is possible to make use of a lot of what the phone has to offer within minutes, some of the menu options and settings however are placed illogically. Setting up networking and internet access is much more difficult than it should be. Full multitasking is available, meaning itís possible to have the music player playing a tune and be working on a message. The standby desktop provides a whole host of feedback to the user from applications running in the background such as messages, calendar items, battery life, wireless connection etc.
As is typical from Windows, the main menu is accessible by pressing the Start menu button and this brings up a list of all available items. The Start menu keeps track of most commonly used programs so that they are easily accessible instead of having to navigate through to the programs window.
Although at first glance the user interface is neat and tidy, however there are some significant flaws in the way Windows Mobile deals with settings (especially network connectivity). Despite this user interface is still functional and adequate for its purpose.
Making and receiving calls
Call quality on the XDA Atom Life is excellent and it is possible to use the handset in conventional mode, as a speakerphone, plug in a wired headset or connect a Bluetooth headset. The loudspeaker is of particularly good quality as it has been designed specifically for music playback and is more than adequate for speakerphone voice calls. In order to dial out, the phone application is loaded by pressing the dial key. This will bring up a virtual number keypad to dial a number on screen. It is also possible to direct dial from the contact list. Talking through the Atom itself was generally problem-free and worked well. Several times there was crackly call quality due to usage in the black spot where I live, but on the whole, reception is on par with other handsets available.
The included stereo handsfree can also be used for calls, and it provides slightly clearer audio quality than the Atomís own speaker. However the earphones themselves are uncomfortable to wear, and thereís no clip to attach the handsfree to clothes, meaning the handsfree is heavy and wants to fall out of your ears (making it even more uncomfortable). Using a Bluetooth headset solves both problems, and the tested set worked fine with the Atom.
As with previous Windows Mobile PDAs, the phone book system in the Atom emulates that of Microsoft Outlook on a PC, and will allow you to store as many entries as the PDAís shared memory will allow. It supports a large amount of different fields within each entry, and these include standard things from name and address to particulars like birthday and office addresses. The contact list is one of the most comprehensive and convenient available on the market to date. Contacts can be sent to other phones via infrared, MMS, Bluetooth or e-mail and also synchronised with Microsoft Outlook via Active Sync software.
O2 have yet again skimped on including any good ringtones or sounds to customise your phone with. The included sounds are very basic indeed and donít use the full set of 64 tones the Atom is capable of. This is not such an issue these days as it is possible add ringtones by connecting the PDA via a host of connectivity options.
Owners of previous PDAís without a keypad will know that messaging on this type of device is not the most intuitive experience in the world. Without a keypad or keyboard it is only possible to type letters from a virtual keyboard with the stylus or by handwriting on the screen directly. Both methods are sluggish, although O2 has included third-party recognition software which is much better than the Windows default. There is predictive text support which will attempt to complete words as they are typed, and this helps alleviate some of the slowness of text input. Having said that, the Atom is responsive in terms of text messaging and wonít slow down if large amounts of words are present in a message.
There is full support for SMS, MMS and email. Long SMS can be composed so messages arenít limited to just 160 characters. MMS support works with up to 100 kilobytes per message and can have pictures, sounds and videos attached. It is possible to create slides and add even more files this way. The messaging program also sports an incorporated email client which is able to handle POP3 and IMAP4 protocols. The XDA Atom Life is capable of opening attachments in JPEG, 3GP, MP3, Powerpoint, Word, Excel and PDF formats. The email client allows notification and downloading of incoming emails on multiple accounts. All in all the messaging application remains unchanged from the previous XDA Atom. Please take a look at one of our previous PDA reviews for more details on messaging.
The XDA Atom Life has just about all connectivity options under the sun allowing the device to connect in a large variety of methods to connect to local and wide area networks. There is a tri-band GSM radio, able to connect through the 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz bands. GPRS enables 48kbps download speed, while EDGE support triples that to nearly 150kbps. Telstra is upgrading its network to support EDGE. How the XDA Atom Life differentiates itself from it predecessor is that it now includes 3G support meaning that on top of the typical GSM support it is now capable of automatically connecting to dual-band UTMS 1900/2100MHz and depending on reception is able to provide broadband speeds of up to up to 384Kbps over UTMS and up to 3.6Mbps over HSDPA. In terms of cellular connectivity, the O2 XDA Atom Life has one of the most comprehensive frequency bands available, meaning that there shouldnít be a problem for using this handset anywhere around the world. If youíre in range of a wireless hotspot, you can connect at 11Mbps, thanks to 802.11b wireless support (or WiFi).
Over shorter ranges, USB 2.0, infra-red or Bluetooth 1.2 are available. Using the standard miniUSB plug it is possible to connect to a PC, recharge the phone and synchronise core applications and transfer data between the Atom and a PC. Unfortunately despite the USB 2.0 spec data transfer between the Atom Life and the PC is rather slow but this is mainly due to the Microsoft Active Sync application which instead of just uploading the data to the device, instead tries to convert files into a format palatable for the PDA. USB support should be simple and the unit should just be seen as a USB Mass Storage Device which would see much better transfer speeds. Infra-red is used for transferring data to other handheld devices while Bluetooth can be used for data transfer, wireless headsets and wireless headphones to listen to music as well.
The Bluetooth connectivity was tested to make phone calls with a Nokia wireless headset and with the stereo headphones provided. The transfer of data between the phone and a computer was also tested and no problems were encountered with either of these features. The Bluetooth support seems to be reliable and can also be used to send pictures or documents to Bluetooth enabled printers.
The O2 XDA Atom Life gets a perfect score as it has all the necessary connectivity options and O2 have kindly included standard ports for PC and headphone connectivity.
Windows Media Player Mobile is the main application used for playback of video and audio files on the O2 XDA Atom Life. It is similar to the Windows Media Player application for the PC, and has many of the same features, including a library for cataloguing music stored on the internal and external memory. Streaming video is also handled by Windows Media Player Mobile.
The Windows Mobile file manager provides an Explorer-like interface to the Atom Life file system, including the memory card (if inserted). Thereís a Pictures & Video viewer which as the name suggests, just displays pictures and videos. It displays images and video in a grid format with thumbnails of the image or video. There is a slide show feature in this application which flicks through the images full screen.
O2 have also included their own MediaPlus media player which simply acts as a front end for Window Media Player Mobile when playing media but also handles the FM radio and the station presets. The FM radio can only be activated with the wire headset is plugged in as this acts as the radioís antenna.
Bluetooth A2DP is included for stereo communication with compatible devices.
Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC edition offers its fair share of PIM and productivity applications straight out of the box. Thereís a fully featured calendar, task/to-do manager, note taker, PDF viewer, calculator, file searching application, and Microsoft Office Mobile application suite Ė all pre-installed.
The Microsoft Office Mobile suite consists of Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, and PowerPoint Mobile applications. Word Mobile and Excel Mobile support viewing and editing of compatible file formats, but PowerPoint Mobile is only capable of viewing presentations - no editing. PDF viewing is supplied by the ClearVue PDF viewer, which can rotate pages, display pages full screen, and more.
Microsoftís ActiveSync software is used with conjunction with the XDA Atom Life and a compatible PC to transfer files and synchronize the handset. For Windows Vista users, this functionality has been built into the operating system. ActiveSync is able to connect with Bluetooth, Infrared, and USB connections. It can sync notes, calendar entries, to-do/task entries, the contacts database, e-mails, and more. ActiveSync is also used to synchronize with a Microsoft Exchange 2003/2007 server over the air.
The XDA Atom Life also has a built in modem, which can be used with a PC over Infrared or Bluetooth to give the PC internet access. Using the HSDPA/UTMS protocol, the connected PC will be connected at broadband-like speeds.
The build quality of the XDA Atom Life is excellent. There are no moving or loose parts, nor did the PDA creak or groan when bent or twisted. The only complaint is that the battery cover can come off with little pressure. Hence, it would have been better for a more robust clip was used to fasten the back cover. The black finishing and the unitís weight give a good solid feel to the handset and when you use the phone it gives you an aura of quality and elegance that a lot of other handsets lack.
The O2 XDA Atom Life ships with a large 1530 mAh battery and the official claim is that the handset is able to stand-by for 200 hours and provide up to 4 hours of talk time. The figures quoted are just about right although the battery life does drop significantly with the use of the MP3 player and wireless connectivity options. So with heavy phone usage expect to get about several days worth of charge before you make a grab for the charger again. The phone takes several hours to fully recharge but O2 have thoughtfully included standard miniUSB connector into the XDA Atom Life and it is possible to recharge the handset via a USB port.
The battery life for the 5300 XpressMusic is reasonable. Although it has a large high resolution screen and all the connectivity options which have a significant impact on battery life it still manages to sport a useable battery life.