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The Unihertz Atom XL is like a rugged iPhone SE

The Unihertz Atom XL is like a rugged iPhone SE


A big version of a tiny phone

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Either Unihertz is a really fun company to work at, or it decides each new phone concept by pulling random specs out of a hat. Maybe both. How else do you explain the existence of, say, the Titan, its rugged BlackBerry Passport-aping Android phone? Every Unihertz device must have a tiny audience, but I can only assume the people in that audience are overjoyed that the company exists.

That brings me to Unihertz’ latest effort, the Atom XL. As the name suggests, it’s a larger version of the Chinese company’s rugged second phone, 2018’s Atom. But since the Atom was tiny, with a 2.45-inch 432x240 screen, the new Atom XL still ends up being diminutive by modern smartphone standards.

The XL has a 4-inch screen with a resolution of 1136x640. That’s the exact same specs as the much-missed iPhone SE, which makes me wonder if a bunch of unsold iPhones were discovered in a warehouse somewhere. Like the iPhone SE, there are chunky bezels above and below the screen, making space for a fingerprint sensor, capacitive Android navigation buttons, a selfie camera, and an earpiece. 

I never used the original Atom, but I can’t imagine its screen was very practical for day-to-day use. Former Verge editor Michael Zelenko concluded as much after testing the Unihertz Jelly, which has the same size screen, a couple of years ago. The XL, though, runs Android pretty much like you might remember it working circa 2011, before phones started to balloon in size. Screen space is still a little cramped, of course, and typing feels quite a bit more difficult if you’re used to larger modern screens, but overall this phone is fine at doing phone things — only at a much smaller scale.

The Atom XL still isn’t what I’d call a small device overall, though, as it continues Unihertz’ tradition of making the toughest phones possible. It’s 17.5mm thick — that’s 2.3 iPhone SEs — and weighs 225g, or slightly more than a Galaxy S20 Ultra. Much of that is accounted for by the 4,300mAh battery, which is the kind of capacity you’d normally only find in phones with far bigger screens; since the Atom XL only has to power a much smaller panel, its battery life should be pretty strong. It’s also IP68 water- and dust-resistant, and feels like it could survive a fall down a reasonably large hill.

Still, doesn’t making a small phone unnecessarily huge go against the point of making a small phone in the first place? Well, if you’re someone who bemoans the general loss of 4-inch phones, then yeah, it kind of does. I do think if Unihertz made an XL version of its other 2.45-inch phone, the Jelly from 2017, it’d probably have broader appeal. 

But the Atom XL is more of a specialist device. If you want a phone to take hiking, for example, I could see this being a useful option. The durability and endurance will be more important than anything else, plus it’ll be easier to use in one hand than other phones when you’re laden with gear. There’s even an optional walkie-talkie antenna. 

Other than the Atom XL’s unique properties, its spec sheet is very pedestrian. There’s a MediaTek Helio P60 processor (read: not fast), a single 48-megapixel camera, an 8-megapixel selfie camera, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, USB-C, a headphone jack, and a microSD card slot (or dual SIM if you don’t want to expand your storage). It runs Android 10.

I don’t think this will or should be many people’s primary phone, but I can see it making sense as a backup or a situational device. That’s reflected in the pricing — the Atom XL costs $259 right now on its fully-funded Kickstarter campaign, while the regular retail price will be $329. If you don’t care about the walkie-talkie antenna, there’s an even cheaper version called the Atom L that sells for $209 on Kickstarter or $279 at retail. 

Shipping is set for June 2020. All the usual crowdfunding caveats apply, of course, but I’ve seen a working model of the phone and Unihertz has had successful campaigns in the past.