I've heard many people complain about the repetitive nature of smartphones these days. It seems like they all look the same and, in reality, they do. Some have larger displays or different build materials, but you don't see a lot of ingenuity when it comes to the overall design. Pantech has never been afraid of bold designs. Some of the most eye-catching hardware concepts have come from the little-known Korean company. Think of phones like the Jest, Crux, Impact, and Laser. If you're looking for phones that stand out, Pantech is the company to go to. And for the most part, their phones have been successes. The Link and Laser are two of the best messaging phones I've ever tested and I've always loved Pantech's physical keyboards.
Only recently have we started seeing smartphones from Pantech in the U.S. The Crossover was the first and now Pantech has released their newest endeavor, the Pocket with, as usual, an interesting design. Instead of being long and narrow, the phone is short and wide. The display has a 4:3 aspect ratio. According to Pantech, this design is made to improve the experience when web browsing, reading e-books, playing games, and watching videos. Does it? Is the Pantech Pocket worth your consideration?
The stand-out feature of the Pocket is the design of the phone itself. Coming in at 4.5-inches tall and 3-inches wide, it's rather square-looking. This unique design is a love it or hate thing. It was awkward to hold and use, but it does have its benefits which we'll talk about later on in the review. The entire shell of the phone has a bumpy, texturized finish. Despite being wide, the phone is fairly thin, only .44-inches thick. It's also lightweight, weighing only 4.41 ounces. Despite being a lightweight phone, it feels solid in the hand. The only quality concern I have is with the back battery cover. It's extremely thin and flimsy, more so than battery covers on other smartphones, and some of the snap-on points don't always seem to connect securely.
The main LCD display is a 4-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 600x800 pixels. The display is clear and bright. Text is smooth from a normal viewing distance and it handles graphics decently. The seemingly cheap quality of the touchscreen itself made it feel more rough than other touchscreens on the market. This didn't prove to be a big issue when using the device, but there were times when my finger would stick to the screen rather than smoothly gliding across it.
Below the display are four physical buttons for Menu, Home, Back, and Search. The volume rocker buttons are on the left side of the phone, the microUSB port is on the right side of the phone, and the Power button and 3.5mm headphone jack are on the top of the phone. The placement of the microUSB port is odd since it is in the middle of the spine. This made it uncomfortable to use the keyboard when the charger was plugged in. Beneath the battery cover is the microSD card slot. The phone ships with a 2GB card and supports up to 32GB of external memory. The phone itself has 600 MB of internal storage, though only 350 MB of that is available to the user due to pre-installed apps from AT&T and Pantech. Thankfully, these pre-installed apps can be uninstalled. As a note, the Pantech Pocket uses a microSIM card, not the standard-sized SIM card that is seen in most smartphones today.
Powering the Pocket is a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 processor. The phone has 512 MB of RAM. The processor scored a 1,246 on the Quadrant Standard test and 34.095 MFLOPS in 4.95 seconds on the Linpack Benchmark. Overall performance has been great. Most tasks can be performed with little to no lag. The web browser is where I experienced the most problems in terms of performance. The browser had a hard time handling sites with a lot of Flash content and the overall experience was inconsistent. There would be times when pinch-to-zoom, panning, and scrolling were smooth and there would be times when it would be extremely laggy and choppy. However, outside of the web browser, I experienced few problems with the device.
The Pocket is an Android smartphone and ships with version 2.3.4 (Gingerbread) along with a custom UI made by Pantech. Pantech's UI makes several design changes to Android and is far from a stock Android experience. You have a new color scheme, toggles in the notification bar, aesthetic changes to the Messaging and Phone interfaces, a new multi-tasking interface, and a customizable app drawer to mention a few aspects of the UI. Some people are turned off by custom UIs that change the look of Android so much, but if you don't mind them, then Pantech's UI is one of the more customizable UIs out there. For example, not only do you have the option to view the app drawer in a list or a grid format, but you can also choose a custom background for it. Also, Pantech has included several widgets, all of which have at least a few different style and size options. The clock widget, for example, has fifteen different styles. Pantech's widgets are well-designed and very useful. The UI is immersive and detailed.
Pantech claims that the Pocket's unique design makes for an improved media experience. Though I was skeptical at first, I soon became a believer. The 4:3 aspect ratio gives you the feeling that the screen is larger than it really is. Web browsing was more comfortable (at least when the web browser cooperated), watching videos was more enjoyable, and games looked much better. It truly is almost like having a mini-tablet in your hands. It may not seem like such a small thing as changing the aspect ratio of the display would make such a big difference, but it does. Despite the improvements the display brings to media, I did experience choppy video playback, even when watching videos that had been saved to the device. This was disappointing given the fact that such an effort was made to improve the media experience.
Other than improving the media experience, the unique display also makes for a very comfortable typing experience. Even in portrait mode, you still have about 2.5 inches of keyboard real estate. Therefore, the keyboard is spacious and very easy to type on. I could type quickly with little to no mistakes. By way of keyboards, you have at your disposal the Android keyboard and Swype.
Picture quality delivered by the Pocket's 5-megapixel autofocus shooter has been good but it does lack a flash for low-light settings. Though colors looked washed out and faded, overall quality and clarity was still surprisingly good. The Pocket's camera captures 720p HD video. Video and audio quality were atrocious. Objects lacked detail and looked pixelated and the audio sounded muffled. Despite the poor video capture quality, still pictures turned out well for a mid-range device. (Sample pictures can be seen in the video review of the Pantech Pocket. An HD video sample is also available to view.)
The Pocket is a 4G device and uses AT&T's 14.4 Mbps HSPA+ network. Unfortunately, we were not sent a SIM card with the device and since it uses a microSIM rather than a standard-sized SIM, I was not able to test data speeds or call quality. Additionally, because the phone was never connected to a network, my test results for battery performance will be skewed. The phone ships with a 1680 mAh battery.
There is one thing for certain about the Pantech Pocket: it is unique. Some people will like that and some people won't. For those who don't mind the quirky design, you'll be blessed with a better media experience and a great mid-range phone overall. Pantech took a risk here, and it definitely paid off. The sub-par camera performance and under-performing web browser would not deter me from recommending the Pocket since you can't expect perfection in every area from a phone of this caliber. However, those are some things to take note off and may be deal-breakers for you.
The Good: Unique display design makes for an improved media experience; clear and bright display; Android 2.3; good still picture quality.
The Bad: Terrible video capture quality; inconsistent web browser performance; odd-looking hardware design.
The Verdict: If the unique hardware doesn't turn you away, you'll enjoy a better experience when texting, web browsing, reading e-books, playing games, and watching videos.