Dopod U1000 (GSM Quadband) Handheld - Review

Dopod U1000 (GSM Quadband) Handheld - Review

Dopod calls its U1000 device (originally known as the HTC Athena) a mini-notebook, and looking at it, it's not surprising why. It features a 5-inch display, larger than most other Windows Mobile handheld devices. And when the keyboard is attached for use on the unit, it sits on the table just like a tiny notebook. There isn't another product out there quite like it, so it'll have to be judged according to its own merits. Let's see what these are, and also where it fails to impress.


Saying that the U1000 is large is an understatement. Compared with other handhelds, it is absolutely enormous. At 133.1 x 98 x 16mm, it is unlikely you can fit the U1000 into a pants pocket--at least not comfortably. Those dimensions make it just a little larger than the Dopod 900, the company's previous handheld with a VGA display. The U1000 weighs in at 375g which, by any standard, is very heavy for a portable phone device.

Primarily colored silver, the U1000 is a handsomely crafted device. The metallic finish makes it stylish without being gaudy. Aside from silver, a single strip of white defines the area which houses the 3-megapixel camera lens and LED flash. The main distinguishing feature of the U1000 is certainly its 5-inch VGA screen, one that is very clear and bright. As a touchscreen, it is responsive and registered all our screen taps without problems.

When viewed in landscape mode, the directional pad is on the top left corner of the bezel. This is a joystick-like navigator which also acts as a selector when depressed. The front VGA camera is found in a similar position but on the right side of the screen. Various other shortcut keys are located in positions around the display and along the sides. These include an OK key, a camera shortcut key, volume control and also a small power button at the bottom of the right side.

The U1000's battery compartment is found under a flap on its base. This flap also hides the SIM card and miniSD slots. Also found on its base is a connector which is used to communicate with the detachable keyboard. This connector is exposed when the keyboard is not attached, so it might tarnish after a period of use.

What makes the U1000 look like a tiny notebook computer is the detachable keyboard, one that attaches to the handheld using magnets. The magnets are very strong and align the connectors on the U1000 perfectly with those on the keyboard. These magnets are not just found on the keyboard but also on the base of the U1000 as well. This creates a force strong enough for us to hold the keyboard upside down with the main body still attached to it. It may be a good idea to keep the U1000 away from items sensitive to magnets--like cards with magnetic strips and pacemakers.

When not in use, the keyboard can placed flat against the face of the device, doubling as a cover for the screen. It is held in place by the magnets on the keyboard. This is where the acrylic portion of the keyboard comes into play, exposing a small portion of the screen which will display vital information like network strength, battery life and time.

Typing on the U1000 takes getting used to. The keys are well spaced out, and typing with the device on a tabletop gave us decent speeds and accuracy. Don't expect the zippiness you will get on a Treo or Blackberry, though. The larger form factor of the U1000 just doesn't allow it. Furthermore, the keyboard is not backlit, so typing in the dark will be a challenge. Also, the fact that the backspace key is below the P key caused a few more typing errors than we liked, but it is a teething problem which most users will get used to after a few sessions with the keyboard.

One thing you notice about the U1000 is that it is meant to be used only in landscape mode. You can switch it to portrait mode in the settings, but once the keyboard is attached, it goes into landscape mode. The other writing options such as Block Recognizer and Transcriber are available as well, but unless you decide to throw the keyboard out and use the portrait orientation completely, they won't be very useful.

If you do still choose to use the U1000 in landscape mode without the keyboard, left-handers will find it difficult because the navigator is on the left and the stylus silo on the right. The fact that the bezel is thicker on the left side than the right also indicates that it is meant to be carried in the left hand, leaving the right hand free for writing.


When it comes to wireless options, there's no faulting the U1000. Besides HSDPA and 3G capabilities, it also comes with Wi-Fi and GPS. As such, there's no reason you can't be connected at all times with it. The large display also makes it perfect for use as a GPS device in the car. Note that no GPS application or maps are bundled with the U1000, so factor in that extra cost if navigation is an important feature for you.

Update: We took the U1000 for a drive to test out its GPS function. Usually, getting a location fix is the most time-consuming process, but that wasn't the case with the U1000. It came with an application which downloads a small file using the GSM network. This gives an approximation of the location of the device, making it easier to get a GPS fix on the current location. The MapKing application along with the Singapore map we tested was accurate and gave clear spoken directions when driving from location to location. What really stood out when navigating using the U1000 was the sheer size of the screen. There was no danger of not being able to see the map because the 5-inch display is as large as or, in some cases, larger than what you will find on dedicated GPS devices. The standard U1000 bundle does not include the software, maps or a car cradle, so take these into account during purchase if you will be using it as a navigation tool.

Connectors are found on the left side of the device. Besides the regular mini-USB jack for charging and syncing, there is also a 3.5mm audio jack for connecting a headset or a pair of headphones for music playback. This is a good inclusion as no adapter is required to hook up a favorite set of headphones.

That feature is especially useful considering the U1000 has an 8GB MicroDrive built in. This makes it a perfect candidate as a portable media player. Music playback is good, comparable with most flash-based MP3 players, though the Audio Manager application may not be as advanced as those found on dedicated MP3 players. For videos, most files that will run on your desktop's Windows Media Player will run fine on the U1000 as well. For those that don't, well, there are applications out there for Windows Mobile which will allow playback of other files.

The third connector right beside the other two is one that lets you attach a provided accessory which ends in a VGA connector. A monitor or projector can then be hooked up to the U1000, displaying whatever that's on the 5-inch touchscreen on a much larger display. Together with Office Mobile, this feature makes it possible not to have a notebook around and still be able to give a presentation. Of course, don't expect to be able to show as many cells in Excel Mobile or have many fancy animations on PowerPoint Mobile as they are possible only in the desktop versions.

One application that is especially useful on the U1000 is the Task Manager utility, which closes programs instead of just minimizing them when the X button is tapped. Long time Windows Mobile users will know that tapping X usually will just put the program in the background. If many applications are active, using the device will start to feel sluggish. The Task Manager application solves that problem, making the U1000 more efficient.

The shortcut key which brings you to the browser also acts as an activator for the VueFLO motion sensor. This feature makes scrolling through Webpages more convenient by allowing the user to tilt the U1000 to get the scroll bar moving. Pressing and holding the button will activate the sensor, and an icon on the information bar at the top appears to show that it is active. The angle which the U1000 is at when VueFLO starts becomes its default position. Tilting downward scrolls the page down, while tilting upward scrolls the page up. This even works for scrolling left and right, so even if you were viewing full desktop pages, it would be useful. The option screen for the VueFLO application shows that it works for only Internet Explorer and the Opera browser installed, but we hope developers will take note of this and make it useful for other applications and games as well.


One of the most embarrassing things about using a very large mobile phone is having to put it up to your face when answering a call. In a strange way, Dopod has solved that problem by not giving the user that option. Picking up a call immediately activates the speakerphone mode, and that cannot be turned off unless you connect a headset. Ironically, having to speak loudly into your handset in a public place is more embarrassing than putting a large slab of phone near your ear. We'd rather Dopod had left the option to use the U1000 as a phone in the normal sense than to remove it altogether. In any case, using a wired or Bluetooth headset is the ideal method.

The speakerphone does well in calls. In our test calls, the other party had no problems picking up what we said. Their voices also came through clearly on our end. The speakerphone was audible in most situations, and will be useful especially when driving. But in public places where there was quite a bit of noise, it wasn't loud enough. In such situations, once again, using a headset would be best.

Surfing on the U1000 as an Internet device is fantastic thanks to the many wireless options. Wi-Fi at hotspots usually gave us the best connection speeds when outdoors, but when that was not available, we went online using HSDPA and 3G. The Intel 624MHz processor made sure that was very little slowdown, which added to the browsing experience even when we loaded graphics-intensive sites. This was helped by the fact that there were very few applications running in the background, thanks to the earlier-mentioned Task Manager program.

Also in the U1000 is the ATi Graphics Chip W2284. There are not too many handheld devices that have a dedicated graphics chip, and so very few applications specifically make use of them. But the fact that it is present in the U1000 helps to relieve some load off the main processor whenever images are displayed, thereby making it more efficient when running other applications in the background.

Images shot using its 3-megapixel camera are sharp, and framing shots is a joy due to the huge screen. We felt colors of the images could be more saturated, and bright conditions tend to make the shot overexposed, so it will be good to do some adjustment of the various settings before hitting the shutter.

We got about two days of battery life on one full charge of the 2200mAh battery. This included normal phone usage, the occasional Internet browsing at hotspots and 3G use. It included about an hour of music playback using earphones. Note that we did not leave Bluetooth on all the time, which would be the case if you were to use a Bluetooth headset. Also, using the U1000 as a media player will significantly drain the battery because the 8GB MicroDrive is a small hard drive and not flash-based. Charging can be done either via the AC adapter or when it is connected to a computer via the supplied USB cable.


It's obvious the U1000 is not for everyone. Most users will want a handheld that can fit into a pocket at least, and not invite stares every time it is whipped out. But for those who want the best in a portable device, the U1000 is it. The VGA screen makes for great Internet browsing, and the sheer size of that 5-inch display means you don't have to squint to do so.

From its pricetag of S$1,998, it becomes clear that this is a gadget lover's gadget. Many people spend that amount or even less on a notebook, so there's no way the U1000 will gain mass adoption. But for those willing and able to fork out the money, the Dopod U1000 is the most maxed-out Windows Mobile device one can buy.