The 'world's smallest' 4G smartphone goes rugged

Unihertz, makers of the ultra-tiny Jelly smartphone, is back with a new ruggedized version that is an even better backup device than the original.

Meet the Unihertz Atom, a rugged 3" smartphone

Unihertz, makers of the 3.6" Jelly Pro smartphone, has launched another tiny device on Kickstarter: the Atom.

The Atom is a spiritual successor to the Jelly Pro, but with a twist: It's ruggedized, and it looks the part. Black with red detailing on its (assumedly) shock-absorbing corners, the Atom is thick at nearly two-thirds of an inch.

Its body is square, like other rugged smartphones, and the front is Corning Gorilla Glass. It's IP68 certified as well--the Atom Kickstarter page features an image of a scuba diver filming with one underwater.

If you've read previous Jelly Pro coverage on TechRepublic you know how small the phone was--nearly impossibly small.

Unfortunately for the Jelly Pro, that small size made it incredibly light, and its plastic body made it feel almost like a toy--especially when held next to the Atom, which is in every part an improvement over the Jelly.

The Atom is a phone with heft--you feel it sitting in your hand and it truly gives the impression of being a hearty device that can take a beating. There's likely a good reason for that, too: A Unihertz spokesperson said that the company likes to develop its product roadmap based on feedback from backers.

It's obvious what the feedback from the Jelly Pro was: Backers wanted a tougher, longer-lasting device to use as a secondary phone. If you owned a Jelly Pro and were excited for the future of tiny phones, or just wanted to see what the future of miniature Android devices would be, the Atom is your answer and it's a good one.

Unihertz Atom: The good

The Atom is a solid phone: It feels nice and fits well in the hand, and the materials are high quality--the screen in particular. The Jelly Pro's screen was unfortunately dark, ever-so-slightly grainy, and was obviously plastic, whereas the Atom's has the quality of image and touch responsiveness you would expect in a higher-tier device.

Speaking of responsiveness, the Atom is a performance supercharge from the Jelly Pro. Android 8.1, which the device ships with, is snappy and responsive thanks to the Atom's octa-core 2GHz processor. There is little to no lag when tapping or swiping on the screen, system visual effects are smooth, and stuttering is as uncommon as it is on high-end devices (all of these issues were present with the Jelly Pro).

The device's thickness may seem like a drawback--0.7" is nearly twice the thickness of my iPhone SE--but not when you realize why the device is that big: It's packing a 2,000 mAh battery (the iPhone X, by comparison, is 2,716 mAh) that keeps it going for a long time.

Battery life was the biggest drawback of the Jelly Pro, which only had a 950 mAh battery that lasted less than a workday. While testing the Atom I've left it unplugged for two days and it still had half a charge.

The Atom carries on the Jelly Pro's legacy successfully, making it an easy-to-recommend device for those who need a phone with two SIM slots, support for nearly every cell band imaginable, and good call quality.

Other simple additions to the device make it simply better to use than the original: A remappable function button, a fingerprint scanner, face recognition, and a USB-C charging port all make the Atom feel like the production model to the Jelly Pro's concept build.

Unihertz Atom: The okay

Many of the things I mentioned as being "okay" in my review of the Jelly Pro have been made good in the Atom, so there's not as much to say here. What does make the grade as being acceptable, but not great, is one of the same concerns as last time: the camera.

The Jelly Pro only had an 8MP primary camera that took grainy pictures that lacked the color richness of a nicer smartphone camera. Unfortunately the same is the case for the Atom, despite its 16MP primary camera (the iPhone X only has 12).


An image shot with an iPhone SE (left) and an Atom (right).

Image: Brandon Vigliarolo/TechRepublic

The Atom's camera is definitely a step up in quality and clarity from the Jelly's, but the images still lack depth and vibrance that modern smartphone cameras have.

Unihertz Atom: The bad

If you recall the Jelly Pro's shortcomings, they were primarily centered around the battery: It drained too fast and got very hot when making calls. The Jelly Pro also had issues with app interfaces not scaling correctly, which meant parts of some apps wouldn't display properly. I'm glad to say that all three of those problems have been resolved in the Atom, at least as far as my tests have concluded.

That's not to say the Atom is without flaws. A major, and very disappointing one, comes in a feature that lots of Jelly Pro users were probably hoping for on a future Unihertz device: the fingerprint scanner.

SEE: BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policy (Tech Pro Research)

With a phone as small as the Atom you have two choices when trying to squeeze in a home button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner: Make it tiny or try to cram a full-sized one in. Unihertz tried to go with the latter on the Atom, and it didn't work out for the best.

The fingerprint scanner itself is of fine quality, and there doesn't appear to be a problem with it--the problem lies in its proximity to the Back and Recent Apps buttons.

I have yet to successfully enroll a fingerprint, and for the first day I had no idea what I was doing wrong. I reached out to Unihertz, who told me my problem was most likely bumping one of those two buttons, and it turned out they were right.

Whenever I was moving my finger to enroll edges and sides I would invariably bump my finger on the Recent Apps button, which would open its screen of open apps and reset the fingerprint enroll process.

It's unfortunate that I was unable to get it working properly, though Android's face unlock, which isn't the most secure, does work reliably and makes unlocking the Atom easier than a passcode.

Unihertz Atom: In conclusion

If the Jelly Pro was a good device to recommend as a backup business-issued travel phone, or a phone for those only wanting utility, then the Atom is all that but better.

I really liked the Jelly Pro, but now that I've tested the Atom I understand that my opinion of the Jelly was more for love of the concept than the device itself. The Atom is a smartphone that I can actually recommend as more than a fascination: It's a functional phone.

With the Jelly Pro it was clear Unihertz had an interesting statement to make about smartphones, and with the Atom it seems the company has found its stride: making small, tough devices that are great field phones and backups.

If you are looking for a phone to keep as a backup, travel with and not worry about dropping, take into hazardous areas like construction zones, or even keep in a bug-out bag as an emergency phone, the Atom is worth checking out.

You can back the Atom now on Kickstarter, with $159 required to reserve a device. As of this writing the Atom has earned over $900,000 of its $50,000 goal so you won't have to worry about not getting one.

Don't wait for the Atom to go to retail if you know you want one: That $159 is $140 off the likely retail price when the Atom is available in October.

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Image: Brandon Vigliarolo/TechRepublic