It's not every day you see a smartphone with a dual-core processor, 4G LTE capabilities, and a Super AMOLED display going for fifty bucks on-contract. For a phone of that caliber, you would generally expect to pay at least $100, if not $200. To tell you the truth, I'm not entirely sure why or how the Pantech Burst is so inexpensive, except for maybe Pantech wants to be aggressive in establishing itself in the smartphone market. Pantech doesn't have the best reputation, nor does it have a reputation of any kind in the high-end market, but I can tell you after reviewing several Pantech devices, I've never been completely disappointed by any of them. Some of them, in fact, were the best in their class from my point of view.
Despite the Burst's low price, it's not a phone to be taken lightly. This phone is packed with terrific hardware and features. You'd be hard pressed to find another phone with the same specs for such a reasonable price. However, regardless of how inexpensive it is, is it still worth your money? That low price makes you wonder - what's the catch? Keep on reading to find out if this is a phone that's too good to be true or the best deal on earth.
Design & Features
There's one thing about inexpensive phones that I always pay attention to, and that is hardware. I suppose some manufacturers feel that if the price is low enough, you won't care what the phone looks like. Pantech didn't take that route but instead designed a sleek-looking phone. The top and bottom feature black accents that taper down to the sides. The mixture of black and titanium-colored plastic (the phone also comes in red) creates a somewhat futuristic look. The back cover curves down at the top and bottom of the phone and has a brushed metal design, though it is not textured.
This isn't the thinnest smartphone in the world, measuring .45-inches thick, but it feels slim since it's tall rather than wide. It also doesn't feel too light, weighing 4.32 ounces. The volume rocker buttons are on the left side of the phone, the microUSB port is on the right side of the phone (smack dab in the middle of the right side, an odd position) and the 3.5mm headphone jack and Power/Screen Lock button are on the top of the phone. Underneath the battery cover, you'll find the 1650 mAh battery, SIM card slot, and a microSD card slot. The phone does not ship with a memory card but has 16GB of its own storage built-in and supports up to 32GB of additional memory. A note about the SIM card slot, the Burst uses a microSIM so keep that in mind if you're planning on buying it unlocked and popping your own SIM card in.
The 4-inch Super AMOLED display on the Burst is as beautiful as any. The resolution of 480 x 800 may be low compared to some of the HD displays on the market today, but the pixel density of 233 ppi is nothing to scoff at, especially in this price range. That gives you more pixels per inch than the Samsung Galaxy S II and nearly as many as the Motorola DROID RAZR. A close examination will reveal individual pixels, but it's clear enough and displays rich colors thanks to the Super AMOLED technology. My only complaint about the display is that I wish it were brighter. Even at full brightness, it still seems a little dark. Below the display are the four Android buttons for Menu, Home, Back, and Search, in that order.
Usability & Performance
On the software side of things, you have Android 2.3 Gingerbread with Pantech's own UI. This User Interface has always been a colorful and graphical one, with bright accents and plenty of geometrical designs. I've always thought of it as a mix between Samsung TouchWiz and HTC Sense. It has the colorful elements that used to dominate TouchWiz and the customization of Sense with several different design and size options for the included Pantech widgets. It's a heavy UI, effecting virtually every aspect of Android. I've found that heavy, colorful UIs tend to have a polarizing effect on people so try to check this one out in person to see if it suits you.
The dock at the bottom of the home screen features shortcuts for Phone, Messages, Web, and Applications and cannot be customized. The app drawer can be viewed as a list or a grid and you can change the background. You can also easily delete some of the pre-installed apps from the app drawer, a nice feature since AT&T has included several apps of its own. The notification panel features five toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Alarm, and Sound as well as five more hidden toggles for Auto Rotate, Bluetooth Setting, Tethering Setting, Sound Setting, and Manage App, all of which can easily be revealed by pressing an arrow above the top row of toggles. The Phone and Messaging apps have received an extreme make-over and Pantech has included its own e-mail client with a widget.
Performance by the Burst was excellent in testing. The phone packs a dual-core 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor and 1 GB of RAM. I've experienced little to no lag even with multiple apps running, a few widgets active in the background, and playing graphically intense games. Transitions are seamless and pinch-to-zoom is smooth. The Burst scored a 2,170 on the SmartBench 2012 Productivity Index (it's notable that the phone scored a whopping 3,123 on the Gaming Index, thanks to the Adreno 220 graphics chip), a 3,396 on the Quadrant Standard benchmark test, a 6,178 on the AnTuTu Benchmark test, and 52.66/82.76 MFLOPS in Linpack Single- and Multi-thread tests, respectively. These scores are the same or higher than scores by AT&T's other high-end phones like the HTC Vivid, LG Nitro HD, and the Samsung Galaxy S II.
Here's one of the kickers with the Burst: it runs on AT&T's new LTE network. Talk about getting the most bang for your buck. AT&T only has four other phones that are compatible with its LTE network and all of them cost at least $200 on-contract. While testing the phone in the Dallas area, LTE speeds have been great. I'm averaging 11 Mbps for downloads with a couple test results of 25 and 27 Mbps. For uploads, I'm averaging 10-13 Mbps with a high of 16 Mbps and a low of 4.4 Mbps. I've seen other users get consistent download speeds upwards of 20-24 Mbps with the Burst. Needless to say, data speeds have been excellent and web browsing is a breeze. These fast speeds also make the included Hotspot feature even more appealing and useful.
Pictures taken the Burst's 5-megapixel autofocus camera came out a little too soft. However, close-up shots had excellent detail and colors showed up well overall. There is a single LED flash for low-light settings. The camera did a good job of balancing the flash with keeping a natural amount of exposure, but it simply wasn't enough to capture any details and the photos were grainy. The camera has a few features like Single- and Multi-Shot Mode and a couple of neat filters. The Burst has a VGA front-facing camera that can be used for video chatting. In addition to capturing still photos, the camera also records 720p HD video at 30fps. We've uploaded a sample video using the Burst's camera so you can get an idea of what audio and video quality are like.
Being an LTE phone, don't expect the best battery life. Pantech estimates that you should get 4.5 hours of talk time and 10 days of standby time with the phone's 1650 mAh battery. After 3.5 hours of fairly heavy use (gaming, pulling e-mails, updating Twitter every 15 minutes, and running tests), the battery was at a 55 percent charge. You may be able to get through a work day with the phone, but you will probably need to charge it in the evening or at night.
The Pantech Burst is easily the best budget-friendly smartphone on AT&T. It may not exceed the power or features of AT&T's other high-end phones like the Samsung Galaxy S II or HTC Vivid, but the fact that it can at least hold its own against them is a huge statement for a phone in this price range. Not only that, but you can get the Pantech Burst and the Pantech Element tablet together for only $250. Simply put, if you have $50 and you want an awesome smartphone, get the Burst.
The Good: LTE capable; gorgeous Super AMOLED display; great price; futuristic hardware design; super-fast dual-core processor; 16GB of internal memory.
The Bad: Pictures taken with the camera were too soft; HD video quality was disappointing; LTE means sub-par battery life; Pantech's UI is love it or hate it.
The Verdict: It's not perfect but the pros far outweigh the cons. Definitely check out the Burst, even if you're not on a budget. Heck, check out the Burst and the Element and get them both for only fifty bucks more than the Galaxy S II Skyrocket by itself.