O2's XDA Atom Exec is an incremental upgrade to the original Atom, a move the company hopes will help stave off increasing competition from the likes of HP with its iPAQ rw6828 or the upcoming multimedia BlackBerry devices.
On its own, the Exec is a highly impressive, push e-mail enabled smart phone, but if you already own the first Atom, its upgrade worthiness is questionable.
Following the highly successful design of the original Atom, the Exec offers the same dimensions -- 102 x 58 x 18.5mm -- and a more than manageable weight of 140g. It's not a burden to carry around in a jeans pocket, and you won't be self-conscious since the curvaceous, black chassis is quite attractive.
The most significant design difference between the vanilla Atom and the Exec is the fact that the latter uses a matte as opposed to a glossy finish. This is a smart move by O2, as the previous Atom was chastised by users for being prone to fingerprinting and other blemishes.
Menu navigation is handled using either the stylus (or, if you're lazy, a finger) or the hardware buttons that lie just below the 2.7-inch 240x320 touch screen. These buttons include a five-way directional thumb pad, accept/reject calling buttons, a shortcut button for the start menu and a button for quick-launching your SMS/e-mail/MMS inbox.
Other handy shortcut buttons include volume adjustments on the left side of the device, a power button up top and shortcuts to the notes and camera applications on the right.
In addition to the power button, the top of the Exec houses a MiniSD memory card slot, while on the opposite end of the device you'll find a USB connector and a 2.5mm headphone jack.
The Exec runs on the familiar Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system, upgraded with the Messaging and Security Feature Pack. Among various security improvements, this provides push e-mail capabilities which, provided you've enabled a data service through your carrier, sends new e-mail messages directly to the device without forcing you to continuously login. This is identical to the service provided by the HP iPAQ rw6828 and similar to the BlackBerry's push e-mail system.
It's worth noting that owners of the original Atom are able to download the Messaging and Security Feature Pack and install it onto the device themselves, which removes one of the main benefits of said users upgrading to the Exec version.
Internally, there are a number of improvements upon the original Atom. The Exec uses a 520MHz Intel processor and 192MB of ROM, which trounces the 416MHz chip and 128MB ROM of its predecessor. The faster processor improves application performance and load time, while the increased ROM provides more space for storing data.
Connectivity options abound, and include 802.11b Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 1.2, Infrared and tri-band (900/1800/1900MHz) GSM/GPRS/EDGE. These features can easily be switched off to conserve battery life and/or to ensure that the device remains usable during air travel.
Multimedia features are also plentiful, and include an FM radio, a 2-megapixel camera (with self-portrait mirror and flash) and music/picture/video playback through the pre-installed O2 MediaPlus application. It's great having a single interface to categorise and access all multimedia files.
In addition to O2 Media Plus, the device also bundles free copies of CodeWallet Pro 5, Jeyo SMS Backup and WorldMate 2005.
Of course, all of the personal productivity applications built into Windows Mobile 5.0 are present, including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer and Outlook 2002. Using ActiveSync, these applications can be synchronised with a PC to enable you to keep working whilst on the road.
One of our biggest concerns surrounding the Exec was that the faster processor would have a detrimental effect on battery life. However, O2 rates the Exec as having the same battery life as the original Atom: up to 5.5 hours of talk time and 150 hours standby time.
In our Spb Benchmark battery test, which runs the device through constant general usage tasks with the backlight always enabled, the Exec lasted for six hours and twenty minutes. This is a pleasing score; the HP iPAQ rw6828 scored seven hours and three minutes, but this is expected due to its slower 416MHz processor. Under regular, intermittent usage, we went almost four days without needing to reach for the charger.
Application performance is extremely satisfying. We found that programs loaded virtually instantly, even when multiple applications were running at the same time. We were also very impressed with the device's multimedia playback capabilities; video played smoothly and audio files were crisp and clear. However, as with the rw6828, we found that shots taken with the integrated camera were grainy, particularly in low-light conditions.
Finally, the push e-mail feature is intuitive and easy to setup, but we found the BlackBerry's thumb wheel to be a more effective message navigation tool than the Exec's touch screen and stylus combination. Also, since there's no built-in keyboard, bashing out lengthy e-mails takes significantly more time, but we were nonetheless pleased with the unit's handwriting recognition performance.
While it's not a huge improvement over the original Atom, on its own the Atom Exec is an extremely attractive smartphone, more impressive than even our Editors' Choice winning HP iPAQ rw6828 due to its faster processor and O2 MediaPlus application.