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If the most recent crop of budget smartphones are any indicator, the phrase "entry-level" is being redefined from the ground up.  What once referred to low-end Android smartphones with measly 1 GHz single-core processors is now referencing devices with Snapdragon S4 CPUs, 8-megapixel cameras, and 4G LTE connectivity.  There remains a difference when it comes to software features, camera quality, and display resolution, but for most users, the "new" entry-level smartphone is a great way to get into a feature-rich device without spending too much.

The Pantech Flex is part of AT&T's new "Simplicity Seeker" line, which like it sounds, is marketed at those migrating over to smartphones for the first time.  But the wild card is in the specifications: Pantech's flagship smartphone sports a fast 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU, 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display, 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video recording capabilities, 1,830 mAh battery, 4G LTE connectivity, and Android 4.0 with Pantech's UI.  Pantech's user interface may cause the extreme power user to look elsewhere and some will want the HD display and other goodies that are still reserved for high-end devices.  But for everyone else, it's a feature-packed handset that's available for a reasonable $49.99 with a two-year agreement.

I've spent the past few days getting to know the Flex a bit better.  Some thoughts:

  • I really like the industrial design of the device, though it's a bit hard to pick up off of a flat surface due to it extending outward at its base as opposed to curving inward.  The left side of the unit houses the volume rocker, while the right spine has the microUSB charging port and power button.  The top contains the 3.5mm headphone jack.  Overall, the industrial design looks nice, and the back has a textured battery cover with humps reminiscent of the HTC DROID Incredible.
  • The 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 processor is as fast as you'd expect it to be; combined with the 1 GB of RAM, Flex had no problem sailing through the tasks I threw at it.

  • Though it can't claim to be HD, the 4.3-inch qHD Super AMOLED display offers 540x960 pixels and is impressive.  Think of it as generic prescription drugs or the low-cost version of your favorite potato chip; it's not as crisp or vivid as a true HD display - but for most, qHD combined with Super AMOLED will be more than enough.  I'm impressed with how solid and rich the colors look overall.
  • Flex ships with Android 4.0, along with Pantech's custom UI.  I'm still torn on Pantech's skin - it's not nearly as intrusive as Motorola's legacy MOTOBLUR offering, but it's still a step down from more established UIs that HTC, Samsung, and Motorola (now) offer.  I tend to be of the mindset that it wouldn't be acceptable at the $200-$300 price point, but given the target demographic with Flex, it's a bit more permissible.

  • The 8-megapixel camera offers 1080p HD recording capabilities, and both work relatively well.  It's not going to go head to head against the Galaxy S III or One series (with ImageSense), but images were mostly decent.  Editing options include a plethora of effects, modes, and various other settings.
  • I'll have full battery numbers in the review, but so far, I've been incredibly pleased with the Flex's 1,830 mAh battery.  I gave it a full charge on Thursday afternoon, and took it off of the charger.  With light to moderate use, I'm sitting at 31 percent on Tuesday afternoon.  I'll have more concrete numbers in the full review, but that's a fantastic combination of talk/use and standby time.
  • AT&T's 4G LTE, while not as widespread as Verizon's offering, sports strong download and upload speeds in most markets.  In both the Charlotte and Dallas metro areas, I'm recording download speeds between 20 and 33 Mbps, along with upload speeds between 11 and 16 Mbps.

If you're looking for a nice, inexpensive Android smartphone to pit against the Nokia Lumia 900 in your AT&T buying decision, the Pantech Flex could be the best contender.  Stay tuned for more!

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