Tuesday, March 25, 2008

MWg Atom V

Till now, the O2 Xda Atom Life remains a popular handheld among those looking for a compact keypad-less Windows Mobile (WM) device. It helped that the company relaunched it in a new color, but still, the fact that people are still buying it a whole year after its initial availability is testament to its staying power. It makes sense then for MWg (what O2 Asia is called now) to carry on the Atom line of products with the Atom V.


Design is an important reason the Atom Life was successful, and from the images and specs, the Atom V looks to emulate that. Though not razor-thin like so many consumer mobile phones these days, the Atom V is pretty slim, measuring in at just under 15mm, down from the Atom Life's 18mm. There is a bit of sacrifice in the length and width though. The Atom V has a noticeably larger footprint and does not look as compact as the older Atoms.

Like HTC's Touch series, the entire front surface of the device is flush. This means there is no raised bezel, which makes it better for fingertip actions like scrolling and swiping. We did find that the LCD is really quite far under the clear plastic cover, which makes it difficult to aim at small icons, especially if the screen is placed at an angle from your view.

Below the display is a round directional pad. At first glance, you expect it to be a scroll wheel because of the shape, but unfortunately, it's not. The lack of circular motion doesn't take away from the fact that it's a pretty effective five-way navigator. We especially liked it that the selector is very large so you can't possibly miss it.

Around this navigator are the shortcut buttons. These are thinly shaped but well spaced out so we had no problems with them. On the left side of the Atom V is the camera shutter, a volume rocker which doubles as another shortcut key and the microSD card slot. Connections-wise, there's a standard mini-USB port on the base and a 2.5mm audio jack for headsets on the right side.


The size of the Atom V doesn't limit what it's able to do and it remains as fully featured as the Atom Life. This includes HSDPA, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connection options as well as quad-band GSM, a feature frequent travelers to the US will appreciate. For those who still like to listen to the radio, a tuner is also built into this handheld.

The Atom V Quick Menu interface.

Another feature that globetrotters will like is the inclusion of GPS. This was one thing that gave the HTC P3600i (or Dopod D810) the upper hand when comparing features. The GPS in the Atom V will utilize the tried-and-tested SiRFStar III chipset. Of course, that isn't a guarantee for success as the quality of the internal antenna will have to support it. More on that when we are able to test this feature out in a future review.

One of the most glaring omissions is the lack of a secondary camera for video calls. Though it is equipped with 3G, there is only one rear-facing camera for still snapshots and video capture.

Though still fast at 520MHz, the Atom V's processor is slower than the Atom Life's 624MHz one. It may not mean a lot to most users, but those switching over from an Atom Life may feel the difference.

Though many handhelds now come with 128MB RAM, the Atom V sticks with 64MB. RAM is temporary memory for running applications, so more of it will make multitasking more efficient. This is one feature we really regret not seeing in the Atom V.

One of the things that we liked about O2 products was the effort taken to customize the software. On the Today screen, this is usually done by adding new rows and shortcuts to make getting to commonly used items more convenient. MWg has taken another step by providing an attractive alternative to the default Today screen in an app named Atom V Quick Menu. This interface features large icons on the bottom of the screen which are meant to be tapped with the fingers. Icons can be removed or added from a comprehensive list and moving between them is intuitively done by swiping your thumb against the row. A big clock is found in the middle of the display while the top of the screen shows system information and fixed shortcuts to messaging, the phone application and keylock. This is definitely much easier to use than the regular Today screen. But if asked to make a choice, we'd still have to say that HTC's implementation is still more comprehensive and useful.

Another useful feature is the Easy-Touch Menu. This can be called up by pressing and holding the Windows key. What it does is to help you easily terminate the application you are in, because as we know, pressing X on the top right corner only minimizes them. This will help with RAM management. It also has a shortcut to the brightness setting, making it convenient to adjust the backlight to save power.


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