The Good: Interesting features like the optical navigation key and two capacitive selection buttons that you don't really see on featurephones; great physical QWERTY keyboard; Social Beat for access to social networks and Gmail.
The Bad: 2.5 mm headphone jack; strange placement of shortcut buttons may take some getting used to; optical navigation key isn't perfect.
The Verdict: The Pantech Jest is a great mid-range messaging device that performs well and offers plenty of additional features for those who want a little more out of their phone.
With its optical navigation key and two capacitive selection buttons, the Jest is unique in the messaging phone market. It's 2.5 mm headphone jack and 2 megapixel camera may not be anything to write home about, but it's QWERTY keyboard is fantastic and with Social Beat and mobile e-mail, you'll have plenty of options for staying connected.
Design and Features
The Jest is categorized as a messaging phone by Verizon, but it can do so much more. It is a vertical slider, so it has a squarish shape when the keyboard is tucked underneath the main display. It measures 3.7 inches in height, 2.5 inches in width, and is .6 inches thick. Weighing in at 4.1 ounces, the Jest isn't too heavy but it feels solid in the hand. The main display is a 2.6-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels and supports up to 262,000 colors. Right below the screen is where you'll find the optical navigation key that functions with swiping gestures. To the right is the clear/voice recognition button and the end/power button. To the left is the talk/send button and the dedicated music shortcut button. Directly below the display are two selection keys. These keys are touch sensitive, but the display itself is not a touchscreen, hence the navigation key.
The right side of the Jest contains the Task Bar button, the camera shutter button, and the microUSB port. Most phones have the camera button positioned as the lowest shortcut button on the spine, however, on the Jest, it is above the Task Bar button. This took some getting used to. Several times I pushed the Task Bar button when I meant to press the camera button. Moving on to the top of the phone, there you will find only the microSD card slot which will support an up to 16 GB card. The left side of the device contains the 2.5 mm headphone jack, volume rocker buttons, and the speakerphone key. I'm disappointed by the 2.5 mm headphone jack, but since it's not entirely impossible to find a compatible set of headphones at stores, I digress. The back of the device contains only the 2 megapixel camera with it's self portrait mirror, the speaker, and the battery cover which houses the 920 mAh battery.
Usability and Performance
To start with, the Jest offers fun customizing features. You can change the design theme, the main menu layout, and more. Assuming that the Jest is marketed primarily for kids, I think these are features they'll really enjoy.
From the main menu, you'll see that you are given tools for navigation, e-mail, and social networks. VZ Navigator is usually a solid performer and though Verizon's mobile e-mail feature has always been a hit-and-miss for me, it's nice to have those options available. The feature I was most excited about was Social Beat, a program that gives you access to Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Gmail, and an RSS feed reader. The program functions very well and even gives you background notifications when you receive a new message.
Jest's keyboard is superb. It's similar to ones that we've seen on other messaging phones in that it features very tactile keys that are easy to type on. Because of the style of the phone, the keyboard is smaller than ones that slides out from the side of the device, but this didn't seem to hinder it's performance at all. The keys aren't very raised and they're set up in a grid format, but because of the grippy texture I mentioned, the keyboard is still easy to use. The dedicated spacebar row is also a plus. The Jest features threaded text messaging though it's not the typical staggered format that we usually see in messaging phones. The messages are still displayed in a list, but each message is color-coded. Your message will be in one color and the message below it, the one sent to you, is in another color.
With a 2 megapixel camera, picture quality is predictably mediocre to standard. The Jest does offer a few other photo features though, like different color effects, resolution adjustment, white balance adjustment, and it also captures video. The self-portrait mirror is also nice to have. Obviously, the quality isn't going to be good enough for printing photos or uploading videos to YouTube, but I was satisfied with what I got and I would say for daily sending of quick photos to friends or family, it should be just what you need.
A few other features that the Jest comes with are Family Locator, V Cast Music with Rhapsody and background music support, and mobile web. Though these are services that you'll have to pay for, they do offer a little more expansion to the phone and they do perform well.
All of this is powered by a 920 mAh battery. I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of this battery. On standby, the phone stayed on for nearly one week and I managed to get about two days of heavy use before I had to charge it again. Call quality on the device was also good. Though it wasn't as clear as a smartphone, I could hear the caller just fine and they could hear me, even in high traffic areas. Of course, this is one thing that will depend heavily on network coverage in your area.
The Pantech Jest is a great phone for anyone who does a lot of texting or youngsters getting their first phone. It may not have the greatest camera and the 2.5 mm headphone jack may cause a few frustrations, but it performs well, is easy to use, and has a fantastic QWERTY keyboard. Probably the best part about this whole package is that it's free. Yup, right now at Verizon, you can pick up the Jest for free after signing a new contract and receiving your rebates. Check one out a your local Verizon store and see what you think.