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Mini Review: O2 XDA Atom

By Imraneo
Published on Wednesday, 28th December, 2005
Initial Rating : 7 out of 10 stars  

Come Christmas, and everyone rushes to get gifts for their loved ones. The new XDA Atom by O2 almost missed that rush period. It initially arrived in small quantities to limited shops and telcos. I remembered that was already the eve of Christmas. I'm pretty sure many did not get their gifts on time.

I was all excited about this product as well. I received a call from my telco 2 hours after I booked it personally. I went back that very moment to collect the device, hot from the stocks. After 24 hours with the Atom, I realized it's a rushed product. Here's a mini-review to warm up the atom scene and help users decide if they really need the atom. Lets get onto it!

The Package

It came in a beautiful "jewelry" box, with an embedded magnetic catch! The surface was smooth, like some book covers. Accessories came in in separate clearly-labeled boxes. That was pretty standard, consisting of manuals, CD, USB/power cables, battery and wired headset. And yes, the memory card is missing this time.




Earphones that came with the headset looked pretty neat. Trust me, they're the worst ever made for a human ear!



The Build

I've heard users on the net complaint about the battery cover being loose. Well, for my set, there was no such problem. There was nothing coming off. In fact, I feel the built is better then my previous XDA2 Mini. That is mainly because everything is so "tight" and in place. There's no squeaks nor loose parts. My Mini's top back cover (where the camera is) used to move a little.

The buttons were firm. No problems about that. I did prefer the volume slider on the Mini, as compared to 2 volume buttons on the Atom. I guess this probably allowed the manufacturer to cost down. Speaking of which, the Atom is manufactured by Quanta (touted to be one of the largest OEM notebook manufacturing), as compared to HTC which makes many other O2 products. Battery life for the Atom should be about the same as Mini, or longer. But with WiFi switched on, forget about surfing long hours without a charging cable around.

The device only accepts the mini-SD, which I believe might be the future of all devices which will downsize. This may be a disadvantage to many who already own SD cards. Mini-SD may not be that of a bad thing as usually the cards come in an SD-adapter, which turns the cards compatible to SD.
 

As for the "so-called" 2 megapixel camera, Mini users will not be surprised. It indeed is 2MP, but it's just as bad. Perhaps it's a little better in terms of compression, but the ISO levels are probably high at lowly-lit areas. This causes the pictures to be noisy. When there's plenty of light, It tends to take better pictures than the Mini. Camera takes ages to load. It's about a good 15 seconds, from the instance you press the side button, till the "hourglass" goes off. As for the built-in flashlight, It's better off being used as a torchlight. I have some sample un-edited pictures here. Do take a look.

The finishing would be a problem for many. It only comes in piano black, and its a fingerprint magnet. At the same time, I feel this gives a very classy impression on the user. I've gotten used to the finishing. It turns out to be without fingerprints each time I take it out from my pocket! I simply love the size and the 10 grams off compared to the Mini.

Windows Mobile 5

Here's the main juice of the Atom... Initial startup took really long, but that was normal from a hard reset. Standard Windows Mobile installation took place. Upon full boot up, The screen appeared to be much clearer than the Mini. This is mainly because it has a slightly smaller screen and supports 18 bit of colour.

At first, the software seemed to be snappy. Upon further usage, it started to lag. It lagged real bad (well, this is purely my own opinion as I'm pretty used to speedy PDAs in the past like the hp2210 and O2mini). It took up to a while 2 seconds to open up my SMS inbox. I ended up reading up on the net on how to speed up Windows Mobile 5. Check out the tips section as I listed some registry tweaks to speed up the performance. And yes, it did a very noticeable speed increment.

Like all new operating systems, compatibility will be a problem. I used to depend on a bass/treble applet for all my music needs. It used to give incredible bass to my earphones without distortion. Sadly, it doesn't work anymore, and now it gives out crappy music. Themes from WM2003 no longer work anymore, as the top/bottom bar sizes are different. It's just a matter of time more software for WM5 is released.

As for managing your SMSes, I found WM5 to be an advantage. I can "save as read" directly from it's notification, which does not come in a form of a bubble anymore.

All notifications will stay in a form of a softkey. It's a pity the Atom didn't have any hardware keys to make use of the softkeys. Other thing about WM5 is that it turns on the display almost instantly when powered on. This is compared to the Mini, which takes about 1 second to do that, partly because of the SD card initialization.

 

Included Software

There were additional software worth mentioning (not necessarily worthwhile).

O2 MediaPlus: basically it give a Windows media center outlook to Atom. Pretty useless I must say, as all it does it open up other media related apps like photo album, radio, etc. Other than that, you can add your photo in the front screen.

Equalizer: Mind you, this actually works. They have 13 presents like bass, classic, dance, rock, etc. When I tried high bass on my *really good Sony NUDE-EX earphones, the music cracked! Something's wrong somewhere. It consisted of a pre-amp setting as well. So I suppose you got to lower the volume to lower the distortion.

FM Radio: As guessed, it controls your radio. There are stations already pre-setted for the Asian market, so that's a bit of a convenience. One downside; You can only launch the radio application if you have any earphones connected to the device. Reception was pretty average, depending on your location. It's kinda bad that you can't record in stereo :(

O2 SMS Plus: I haven't really tried this, but it allows chatting via SMS. You can view your message and your recipient's message at the same time. One thing that impressed me. It allows scheduled SMSes. that means you can wish your friend "happy birthday" exactly at that moment you want the SMS to be sent. Sweet!

O2 Self Diagnostic: This utility offers a guide to detecting malfunctions. Pretty nifty, if you're testing your set before accepting it from the retailer.

For more details on the software included, check out the following link: http://www.seeo2.com/product/XdaAtom/template/XdaAtomApplications.vm

The Phone

The Atom does not come with the Phonepad input like the Mini, as the software belongs to HTC. In other words, No T9 for the phone. I must say O2 should have put this requirement as a priority, instead of giving fancy stuffs like MediaPlus app. Anyway, I managed to get the Phonepad from my mini's extended ROM! Check out the tips section for this.

Another problem is that the phone is soft. It's quite difficult to hear the other party calling in a busy environment. However, the reverse seem ok. Ringtones happen to be soft as well despite the stereo speakers in front. I'm not too concern about the ringtones though. It all depends on what type of midi you're playing. I can also edit wav files to increase the peak of the audio, before putting it back into the Atom. Generally I feel wma files play faster and thus, may be more appropriate as ringtones.

There is yet another change which is to the microphone handling with headsets jacked in. Previously with my Mini, when a phone call comes in, I just needed to press the talk button and talk into the mic with my earphones still jacked in. I will hear the music turning off and the phone ringing instead. Now with the Atom, as long as my earphones are jacked in, the device microphone will be turned off as well! I'm using a 3rd party earphone, therefore, I need to un-plug them before I answer the phone normally. I hope there are hacks to overcome this!

Tips and Tweaks

This is what I gathered from sites all over the place like http://www.xda-developers.com.

Speed Up Windows Mobile 5:
Use a registry editor like RescoExplorer 2005 and set the following keys to the values listed:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\StorageManager\FATFS\CacheSize=4096
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\StorageManager\FATFS\EnableCache=0x1(1)
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\StorageManager\Filters\fsreplxfilt\ReplStoreCacheSize=4096
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\StorageManager\Profiles\MSFlash\FATFS\DataCacheSize=0x1000(4096)
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\StorageManager\Profiles\MSFlash\FATFS\Flags=0x28(40)
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\GDI\GLYPHCACHE\limit=0x8000(32768)

Soft-reset your device after the settings. You should be able feel it being snappier.

ActiveSync turning on automatically:
If you happen to have your ActiveSync turning on every now and then, it could be it's been set to do so. here's a workaround:

  1. Start up ActiveSync on your Atom
  2. Tap the menu tab/soft key and tap "Add Server Source"
  3. Configure a server source with a dummy IP address, user id, password and domain name; these do not have to be real
  4. Once configured you should have another sync source show up on your main AS screen...continue on.
  5. Tap the menu soft key again and you should see that the sync schedule option is no longer greyed out.
  6. Change your schedule from a timed automatic start of AS to manual under both fields
  7. If you try to sync now, AS will try to contact your imaginary exchange server and that will take forever until it times out, so you can now delete the exchange server from your list of sync sources. Your changes to the sync schedule will remain and will survive soft resets too.

Phonepad input (T9):
You may use the phonepad application which was taken out from my O2 mini. Just copy the .cab file over to you device and run it from there. Soft-reset your atom after installing. It should work beautifully! Please note, the phonepad software is licenced for exclusive HTC products like O2mini, and may not be legally rightful to be installed in non-HTC products like the Atom. I claim no responsibility of misuse of this software. You may request a copy of phonepad here.

Please take note that whatever tweaks I have here at your disposal are in your own risk. I personally have tried them successfully. If you do have any more methods on how to improve the experience on the Atom, do drop me a line here.
 

Conclusion

This product definitely awed many by it's looks and size. however, I would advice anyone without any urgent use for this device to wait longer. Software updates and more WM5 support have yet to surface. Hopefully the speed issues are settled then. Other than that, I believe it's a fine product. It gives consumers to hope for much more smaller and slimmer products in the future.

Disclaimer: The review you have just read is solely based on the reviewer's opinion. If you have any suggestions/comments, please go to our contact page.

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Additional links:
SeeMighty Atom site
O2 Official Atom site










 
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