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Unihertz Atom review: You won't want to use it, and that's the point

About 8/10 people I showed the Unihertz Atom to told me they totally wanted one.

Published onDecember 27, 2018

Unihertz Atom

The Unihertz Atom is a phone you don't really want to keep using, but that is the whole point of it. You do what you have to do and get on with your life. It is nonaddictive by nature.

What we like

Tiny — fits anywhere
Full-day battery life
Good performance for the price
Plenty of storage
Has a 3.5 mm headset jack
Has a fingerprint reader

What we don't like

Huge bezels
Horrible camera
Software not optimized for small screen experience
Lackluster display

Unihertz Atom

The Unihertz Atom is a phone you don't really want to keep using, but that is the whole point of it. You do what you have to do and get on with your life. It is nonaddictive by nature.

The Unihertz Atom is a tiny phone with a 2.45-inch display. It comes with decent specs, but the phone’s design is what’s really going to spark conversations. About 80 percent of the people I showed this phone to told me they totally wanted one.

Should they want one enough to fork out $260? That’s what we are here to find out.

Manufacturers have been making our phones bigger and faster for years. Now a new breed of smartphones is trying to satisfy the needs of minimalists, aimed avoiding virtual distractions and keeping people in touch with reality.

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It makes sense! Phones can get addictive. It’s the same reason devices like the Palm Phone and connected smartwatches even exist. However, those still need to pair with a more capable device. The Unihertz Atom is an Android handset that can operate as your primary smartphone. With dual-SIM capabilities, it could even replace a couple handsets.

The real question is whether people will make a bit of room for this phone in their pockets, or if it’s just a cool novelty we only want at first.

Unihertz Atom review: Design & build quality

Unihertz Atom

The design of the Unihertz Atom is its biggest selling point. The idea is simple: take the power and functionality of the Android OS and compress it into a tiny package. Unihertz did this with the Jelly phone, but things are quite different this time around.

Design is the biggest selling point for the Unihertz Atom.Edgar Cervantes

The mini smartphone now has a rugged design that should make it more resistant to the daily beating some of us give our handsets. The Unihertz Atom feels sturdier and more solid than its predecessor, but it is also thicker and bulkier at 96 x 45 x 18mm. I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily a problem — the phone still feels tiny.

Unihertz Atom
Unihertz Atom next to iPhone XS Max

There is a 3.5mm headphone jack on top, which makes us wonder why manufacturers keep saying size is an important factor for removing these. The volume buttons along the left side are accompanied by a dual-SIM card slot, while the right side houses a power button, a PTT (push to talk) button, and a USB Type-C port. You will find a 16MP camera in the back. The front features a 2.45-inch display, dual front-facing speakers, an 8MP shooter, a fingerprint reader/home button, and two capacitive buttons.

Though it looks kind of like a toy, the Unihertz Atom certainly doesn't feel like one. Edgar Cervantes

It looks kind of like a toy, but it doesn’t feel like one. The rubberized plastic, textured back, and shock-absorbing corners are comfortable to hold and feel secure. It isn’t even a bit slippery! I wasn’t as worried about dropping it (never did), and its IP68 certification means exposing it to the elements shouldn’t be an issue either.

We wish the bezels were thinner (or the screen bigger), as the screen-to-body ratio is abysmal, but a smaller profile is something we really shouldn’t be complaining about. For what it’s worth, the Unihertz Atom seems to have it all, which surprised me and every other person I have shown it to.

Unihertz didn’t settle for the basics, it even threw in elements we never expected to see in a minimalist phone like this one. These include the fingerprint sensor, a 3.5mm headset jack, and even an additional button dedicated to PTT communications.

Unihertz Atom

Unihertz Atom review: Display

You would be right to assume a phone like this doesn’t get to tout an amazing screen. This tiny panel sports a 240 x 432 resolution, which translates to a 201.7ppi density. Compare that to the over-400 pixel density of current high-end phones and things start to look a bit blurry. You can definitely see the pixels in this screen, especially when reading tiny words.

You would be right to assume a phone like this doesn't get to tout an amazing screen.Edgar Cervantes

Colors are vibrant, but also seem very inaccurate. Not to mention weird color elements are usually present in most images and video.

Overall, it is not a screen you will enjoy looking at for long periods of time, but we suppose that is fine given the nature of the device. The Unihertz Atom doesn’t need a good screen, it just needs to be usable — and this one certainly is (even if just barely). Not to mention those who buy this phone aren’t exactly looking for a media-consumption device.

Unihertz Atom

I absolutely hated seeing my product photos in this screen. I also tried watching Netflix and YouTube. It was OK, but I never really got immersed in the experience. I was easily distracted by things around me and often pocketed the device, figuring I could just watch my videos when I got home.

In a way, this means the tiny display accomplished its mission to unglue from your phone.

Unihertz Atom review: Sound quality

Again, nothing to write home about here. The phone’s sound is passable, but ordinary. Call audio seems fine. I could hear people well, and they could hear me (or so my friends said).

I had a hard time understanding the loudspeaker when calling or listening to media in loud places, though. Don’t even try playing music with it while driving. It simply won’t work. Things sounded just fine when at home, in my quiet room, but compared to other phones audio was a bit tiny.

Unihertz Atom review: Performance & hardware

In terms of performance, the Unihertz Atom is an affordable mid-range handset. It costs $259.99 and operates just like a phone at that price range should. Its octa-core processor and 4GB of RAM keep it running smoothly as long as you don’t go nuts with it.

The unihertz Atom costs $259.99 and operates just like a phone at that price range should.Edgar Cervantes

Don’t expect it to handle many games or intensive apps well. It can play Flappy Bird like a champ, so some casual gamers will be happy with it. I tried to run Asphalt 9: Legends for kicks, and it actually worked! I could race with it, but loading took forever, it crashed a few times, and there was obvious lag in button pressing. Not to mention the tiny screen and bad resolution made it really hard to do well in races.

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Normal processes like checking email, going through social media, messaging, and requesting an Uber ride showed no issues. Of course, you won’t get the smoothness of a Snapdragon 845 when scrolling and opening apps, but the Unihertz Atom takes on every casual task with no hiccups. Once again, it’s usable. You wouldn’t expect much else from any device at this price point.

I also love how it has 64GB of internal storage, which is plenty to store your music, apps, and other content.

Unihertz Atom review: Specs

Unihertz Atom
2.45-inch LCD
240 x 432 resolution
2GHz octa-core processor
Rear: 16MP AF
Front: 8MP FF
Fingerprint scanner
Headphone jack
Android 8.1 Oreo
96 x 45 x 18mm
108 grams

Unihertz Atom review: Software

Fans of the stock Android experience will be happy with the Unihertz Atom. This is as close to pure Oreo as it can be. There are no apparent modifications in the UI, but Unihertz threw in some enhancements. The most obvious one is that PTT physical button, which can be used with Zello to talk to people Nextel style.

I have no need for PTT communications, so it’s good the phone has an option for changing the button’s functionality. You can choose to launch any app with the PTT button. I picked the camera, but any app of your choice will work the same. The one downside to switching the button’s functionality is that it won’t launch any other app with the screen off (it does with Zello).

Otherwise, there is not much to see here in terms of software, it’s just Android 8.1 Oreo. We would usually say this is a good idea, but with such a small screen we think the UI should have optimized, which is something Palm did with its companion phone. As it is, the Unihertz Atom feels unintuitive and cramped.

In addition, plenty of apps are not optimized for such a tiny display, which often an issue. Some elements will be too large. One clear example is the time stamp on Facebook Messenger. This is an issue you will encounter often, and it’s not exactly Unihertz’ fault. Developers should fix this, and unless these tiny phones become a trend, they likely won’t.

Another huge issue Unihertz should have given more thought to is typing. Oh my god... typing!Edgar Cervantes

Another huge issue Unihertz should have given more thought to is typing. Even a seven-year old with skinny fingers had a hard time typing on this phone!

With my chubby fingers, I had to heavily rely on predictions, so I am glad I am a SwiftKey user. Typing was still hard, but using Flow (swiping) at least quickened my messaging. You could also go with voice typing and handwriting apps. Regardless, an official solution is needed to ensure a smooth experience.

Unihertz Atom review: Camera

Unihertz Atom
The Unihertz Atom camera is horrible.Edgar Cervantes

I tend to dive deeper into the camera section of review, but there is no need here — this camera is horrible!

I wasn’t expecting much, but the Unihertz Atom camera went even lower than my underestimations. Images seem washed off, colors are dull, exposure is always off, there is often weird artifacting in direct light, and detail is lacking.

I am not saying Unihertz should throw a state of the art camera on a $259.99 phone, but this device is meant for adventures. More attention should have been paid to the camera.

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Unihertz Atom review: Battery life

If the thought is to take you away from the distractions of the internet, battery life should be an important factor. You don’t want to be out camping and worry about charging your phone. While the Unihertz Atom doesn’t do too badly in this department, it is also no battery champion.

Unihertz Atom

Its 2,000mAh battery is small for today’s standards. The phone also isn’t as resource intensive, though. They small screen, lackluster definition, and modest specs should keep it alive for longer. That’s all theory, and I wasn’t exactly impressed with this phone’s battery life.

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I averaged about three hours of screen-on time. Overall the phone would last me all day on a single charge. By the time I went to sleep the phone was under the 20 percent mark, and I wasn’t even using it that much. Battery life is generally OK, but I expected more.

Unihertz Atom review: Final thoughts

Smartphones are addictive machines meant to keep you looking at a screen as much as possible. They are very immersive. The minimalists among us may want to live with no digital distractions, but they also need smartphones to go about their lives. Those are the users Unihertz is trying to cater to.

The Unihertz Atom is not a bad deal at $259.99. For people who want less, some of the Unihertz Atom’s shortcomings can be seen as advantages, and not in the silly way other manufacturers disguise mistakes as features.

Unihertz Atom

When you check your email on a regular smartphone, you are bombarded with information and distractions. What you mean to be a quick look can easily turn into a multi-hour hole filled with games and cat videos. With the Unihertz Atom you do what you have to do and get on with your life. The price and purpose make its shortcomings more bearable.

With the Unihertz Atom you do what you have to do and get on with your life.Edgar Cervantes

Should I get the Palm Phone instead?

You could… but only if you can. It happens to be a Verizon exclusive, so there’s that bottleneck. And the fact that mostly makes the Palm Phone a waste is that it can’t be used as a standalone device; it needs to be linked to another line with a compatible smartphone. So technically, Palm and Verizon want you to own (and pay for) two phones.

Those willing to overlook said issues will get a more refined design, thinner profile, and what feels like a speedier experience, as the UI is actually optimized for the smaller screen. By the way, the screen is also better, and has a 1280 x 720 resolution.

That’s about where benefits end, though. Typing is also cumbersome with the Palm companion, even if not as much, thanks to the extra finger room you get from the 3.3-inch display. The battery is a joke at 800mAh. The camera is also bad.

In short: the Palm Phone is better, mostly because of design and the much better screen. I would gladly pay the extra $90 (plus $10 extra monthly fee) for it if I wanted a secondary phone and was with Verizon.  Those that don’t fit the requirements can go with the next best thing in tiny smartphones: the Unihertz Atom.