The Pantech Marauder is unique for a couple of reasons. For one, it's one of the few phones out there that have a physical QWERTY keyboard. You just don't see those very often anymore. It's also unique in that it has the same dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor found in some flagship phones (Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X) that retail on-contract for $200+, but it's only fifty bucks on contract. To find a phone in this price range with power like that is rare. But probably the most unique feature of the Marauder is its two user modes - Standard and Starter. Starter Mode creates a simplified experience for the first time smartphone user while Standard Mode is the general-standard experience you would expect from any Android smartphone. This feature is interesting, to say the least, but is the phone itself worth buying? I've been using it for about a day now. Here are some of my first impressions of it.
- Right off the bat, the Marauder isn't the best-looking device. I have enough experience with budget-friendly phones to know that hardware is never a strong point for phones in this price range; however, I do feel that Pantech could have chosen a less polarizing design. That being said, this is one of those areas where everyone will have their own opinion. Considering the phone has a slide-out QWERTY, it's relatively thin, though slightly heavy.
- The 3.8-inch WVGA display looks great. It doesn't boast Super AMOLED or Super LCD technology, but that doesn't seem to make a difference. Text and graphics are clear - it just looks great. What helps is its smallish size. Even with a resolution of 480 x 800, when you stick that on a 3.8-inch screen, you're going to get a pretty high pixel density - 246 ppi, to be exact. I am having some problems with the responsiveness of the touchscreen, though. Hopefully this will correct itself in time.
- Out of the box, you've got Android 4.0 beneath a thick layer of Pantech UI elements and customizations. In my experience, Pantech has generally boasted one of the heavier skins and its newest version takes it even further. The nice thing is that some of these custom elements are actually very handy. For example, the custom dock at the bottom of the home screen is scrollable, as is the toggle bar in the notification panel. Along with Pantech's virtual keyboard, Swiftkey is also included. Not everyone likes custom UIs, so you may want to use this one first-hand before you decide.
- Now about the Starter and Standard Modes. Starter Mode basically dumbs the phone down to a featurephone with web connectivity. All of the apps and functionality are still there, but there's less customization and things like the home screens and app drawer are organized more like they are on a featurephone. It's hard to say for sure if this is actually helpful to someone who's new to smartphones since I'm obviously not in that group. It seems practical, but I'll have to give it to an Android newbie to see what they think of it.
- I was so stoked when I found out that the Marauder had a physical QWERTY because I love being able to touch actual keys when I'm typing. Virtual keyboards are the best they've ever been, but you can't beat the real deal. The Marauder's keyboard has been fantastic so far. It's spacious, large, and well-designed. The keys have a rubbery texture which makes typing easy. There is a dedicated number row and the Space Bar isn't squished in a row of letters. The keys are flat which may cause problems over time, but my initial impression of the keyboard is good.
- Historically, I've had great experiences with Verizon's LTE network and the Pantech Marauder has continued that legacy. I'm consistently pulling 14-16 Mbps down and upload speeds have been around 12-15 Mbps. I even used the phone's Hotspot capabilities for my Mac when my wireless internet was acting up to upload two HD videos to our PhoneDog YouTube channel. No complaints in this department and I don't foresee any coming up.
There are a few things I still need to test out like the camera and the battery. So far, I'm impressed by the Marauder and I'm excited to continue my testing. For $49.99, it's easily one of the best deals out there. It may not be as amazing as other phones that run for $50-100 more, but I have very little to complain about thus far.