Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pantech Burst

AT&T, a couple weeks back, attempted to deliver 4G LTE speeds with an affordable price tag while not sacrificing too much in the quality department. The result was the release of the Pantech Burst, a low-end smartphone that is LTE capable. While the phone definitely meets one of those criteria ($50 on contract ain't too bad!) does it hold up to the other part of it (not sacrificing quality)? Find out in my full review of the Pantech Burst!

- Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) Operating System
- 5 MP camera with single LED flash, 720p HD video capture, VGA front-facing camera
- 1.2 GHz Dual-Core processor
- 4" Super AMOLED Display
- Up to 4.5 hours of talk time (1680 mAh battery)
- 16 GB internal memory with expandable Micro-SD card slot for up to 32 GB more
- 4G LTE capable with 4G HSPA+, HSPA, GSM (3G), and EDGE (2G) backhaul
- Available in "Titanium" or "Ruby Red"
- Optional SWYPE keyboard

Arguably, one of Pantech's best phones and for sure one of their "flagships," the Pantech Burst really does offer a lot of great specs for an affordable price. When compared directly to other phones from different manufacturers with similar or even slightly worse specifications, the Burst's $50 price point becomes even more alluring. It should tell you how good the specifications are that it even ended up being reviewed by me since I only take the time to review the higher-end smartphones.

Pantech's niche, however, has always been offering a cheaper phone... sometimes they even offer a phone that's less expensive (differentiation between the two was intended). Only recently have they really broken into the smartphone market and until this phone they haven't really offered up anything that could even come close to shaking a finger at other industry-leading smartphone makers. The Burst is their first real attempt at it. I have to say, they've done a pretty decent job.

The top, front speaker and the front facing camera. My
review model came with an invisible shield so that is on the
When first getting the phone going, I wasn't terribly impressed with Pantech's User Interface (UI). The overlay they've put onto Android is bright and cartoony - even more-so than the UI that LG uses on the Thrill 4G and the Nitro HD. Everything from the buttons to the loading screen is cartoonish and has silly colors on it. I'm not a fan. That's not to say you won't be - I provided a couple of screenshots at the bottom of the review for you to checkout for yourself - but I just prefer to be able to get away from the cartoon look if I want to. Keep in mind that my screenshots have a customer background that only adds to the cartoony look (the background from the original Super Mario Bros for NES).

The back camera with the LED flash and the speaker for the
speakerphone and music
The phone is very contour and feels nice in your hand. The edges taper off and curve toward the front, giving it a more expensive feel and even making it feel slimmer than it really is. Even though the entire phone is made of plastic, it doesn't feel as cheap feeling as some of the Samsung smartphones tend to, the Galaxy S II Skyrocket especially. My review unit was the Ruby Red version which looked very nice. Although I didn't spend a lot of time with it, the Titanium colored one looked metallic and professional. Pantech was most definitely going for a Metallic look when they made the back of the phone too. The lines in the back of the cover indicate a not-to-shabby attempt at fake brushed metal and the slightly indented silver "Pantech" logo inlay on the back is a nice touch.

Getting on into how the phone actually performs, there aren't major complaints here. The speaker is loud when playing music and while on the phone using speakerphone and it's also pretty clear. It's definitely better than a lot of HTC phone speakers I've heard, but not as good as the Samsung Galaxy S II, the Samsung Focus S, or the iPhone 4S. While on the topic or music, I did find that the Pantech Burst was unable to correctly identify over half of the music I loaded onto the phone whether it was on the memory card or on the internal memory. The name of the song was always correct but the Artist was either missing or replaced by the album name. The album name then was usually replaced by the artist name. This made listening to music on the Burst a pain.

I don't currently live near an AT&T LTE market so I wasn't able to test out the LTE speeds on the phone. What I do know, however, is that in my speed test I ran, the phone performed just as well as the likes of the iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy S II (original and Skyrocket), the LG Nitro, the Motorola Atrix 2, and the HTC Vivid. This is, of course, testing from the same place and same time.

The four standard Android buttons on the bottom of the
The display on this phone is decent. Brights are bright, whites are white, blacks are black. It doesn't pop like Super AMOLED plus screens made by Samsung, but I like it even more than other more expensive phones. Typing on it wasn't bad either. When using the standard keyboard on it, it performed fairly. When using the SWYPE keyboard it performed slightly better. I did notice that the SWYPE keyboard on this phone didn't work as well as other phones with the same keyboard. I couldn't figure out if it was just that the keyboard wasn't as responsive or if it was the screen... although I'm leaning toward the screen. The reason is that the soft keys at the bottom of the phone (the "Home", "Back", "Search", and "Menu" buttons) need to be pressed harder than any other touch-screen smartphone I've had.

The charging port of the phone on the right, middle of the
At first I thought that the Pantech Burst didn't have a built-in task manager, but a long-press of the "Home" button reveals that there is. It brings up a screen with a small view of all the applications you have open and you can either press the small screen to switch to that application (this came in very handy) or press the tiny "X" located at the top right of each screen to close out the app from running in the background. I know other tech review websites say that a good phone doesn't need one, but with the exception of the Motorola Atrix 4G and Motorola Atrix 2, I haven't found an Android phone that didn't need one badly. Luckily this one has it because I'm afraid without it I'd be charging it three times a day. The battery life is terrible. It's along the worst I've seen. Only the HTC Status can compare to it in this respect. I literally end up charging it at least twice a day on good days and sometimes have to throw it on three times a day on days when I use it heavily. Internet surfing and texting don't use up the battery life so much as the actual phone does. When talking on that I can almost watch the battery meter go down.

The top of the phone with the headphone jack and the
power/lock button
An interesting design differentiation is that Pantech decided to put the charging port on the right side of the phone instead of the most common buttom or the more common top of the phone. This doesn't really make any difference to me. The charging cord fits neatly between my two fingers when using the phone while it's plugged in so rather than being either good or bad it just is. The power/lock button and volume buttons are of the left side of the phone which is also breaking away from the normal layout of almost every other Android phone ever. It takes some getting used to for me... someone who is used to the boring, everyday, standard layout of almost every other Android phone out there... but once I got used to it, it was every bit as convenient as any other phone I'd ever used.

The back of the phone off, showing the battery, micro SD
card slot and (interestingly) the micro sim
The camera on this phone is on-par with other smartphones I've used with 5 MP cameras. During the day and in great lighting it took decent shots. The camera performed as well as other 5 MP shooters at night (turned people into zombies and vampires with the white LED flash while not being able to focus) but performed better than the horrible camera on the iPhone 4. Close-up shots didn't get the details I'm used to from most high-end smartphone cameras. Taking video was good, just a little choppy when moving, but it showed up nicely on my computer later on. The front-facing camera is alright for video chat and taking the occasional drunk self-portrait of you and your friends but nothing to write home and probably isn't Facebook profile worthy either.

The volume rocker on the left side of the phone
Over-all, I did like the little guy for one thing only... the price. It puts an LTE device with decent specifications into the hands of people who can't afford to spend $200 on a phone. The downsides are the battery and the camera, but again, you get what you pay for and the Burst is very affordable. If you can afford a better phone or if you are only hesitant to spend $200 on a better one, consider this: you're going to have whatever you choose for the next two years. An extra $150 now is better than frustration later with a device that is already lagging behind the big players. If you honestly can't justify it or can't afford it, the Burst is your ticket to sweet data speeds and decent over-all performance. Then your questions becomes simply this... "Ruby Red or Titanium?"

A screenshot of the homescreen
A screenshot of the pull-down menu with the settings buttons easily accessible

The battery cover

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