What do you get when you cross a manufacturer that typically makes good, affordable phones that fly under the radar, and a carrier that's padding out its 4G LTE lineup with a range of Android handsets? That would be the Pantech Burst, a $50 LTE phone with a surprising number of goodies. Sure, the 5-megapixel camera isn't the absolute sharpest, but it does have a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen that hits the sweet spot, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chatting, and a 1.5MHz dual-core processor.
Besides all that, the eye-catching design is a breath of fresh air compared with the numbing sameness of so many Android 2.3 Gingerbread phones. The phone's call quality is a red flag, however, I'm sad to say, so if you intend to frequently use the phone as (gasp!) a phone, then you may want to test it out in your neighborhood before buying the Burst, wallet-friendly price notwithstanding.
From the moment I first laid eyes on the Burst at CES 2012, I liked what I saw. It's a great medium-large phone (more medium by today's standards) with some interesting style and a splash of color--at least if you lay your hands on the ruby-red version I reviewed. It also comes in titanium. It has rounded shoulders, a black glossy face, and shiny black accents on the side, creating a tuxedo effect. I like the two strong ridges on the back, where the phone curves into the spines.
The Burst fit my hand well. At 5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.45 inch thick, the phone for me hits a sweet spot of being big enough that I can see the screen, but not so large that I can't still operate the phone with one hand and squeeze it into a front jeans pocket (albeit with a bump). At 4.3 ounces, it is neither too light nor too heavy.
The Burst's 4-inch Super AMOLED screen immediately drew me in with its brightness, high contrast, vibrancy, and clarity. It counts as one of those pleasant surprises you may not expect in a phone with such a moderate price tag. Android 2.3 Gingerbread runs the show, with Pantech's very usable interface on top. I like the lock screen motif, with six icons you can drag into a central circle to unlock to show the home screen, the music player, the call log, the browser, e-mail, or the messaging inbox--similar to HTC's Sense UI. I just wish there were one to open the camera.
As with other Pantech phones (and many other Android handsets in general), there are seven customizable home screens on the Burst, which you can see at a glance when you pinch the screen. The drop-down notifications menu includes system settings--like for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi--that you can turn on or off with a finger tap.
When it comes to other hardware features, the Burst keeps it straightforward. Above the screen is the 2-megapixel camera lens, and on the back is the 5-megapixel lens, with flash. The right spine has the Micro-USB charging port and the left has the sleek, black volume rocker. Up top, you'll find the 3.5mm headset jack and the Tic Tac-shaped power button.
Pry off the stubborn back cover to reveal the microSD card slot (I had to use the edge of a spare standard SIM card to do this.) But it won't be a standard SIM you'll use to get service; the Burst uses a smaller microSIM.
If you're worried that the budget Burst skimps on features, don't be. The handset comes with the usual support for GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, and can act as a hot spot for up to seven other devices. Pantech's custom interface makes it easy to add accounts for Google and corporate e-mail, integrate Facebook and Twitter into your contact list, and provide updates.
There are also accounts for the video chat app Qik Lite and a Social Network widget that provides autoupdates every 10 minutes to Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace (this could run down your battery more quickly--beware!)
You'll encounter Google's typical services, such as Search, Talk, Books, Maps, Places, Latitude, and YouTube. As always, you get a clock/alarm clock, a calendar, a browser, a music player, and voice search.
AT&T has of course placed its own cadre of apps on the Burst, including AT&T Navigator, a code scanner, a family map, your account info, and U-verse live TV. There are many more preinstalled apps besides, starting with Adobe Reader and Amazon Kindle, moving on to Clock tools, a compass, and a converter, and continuing with a document viewer, a memo pad, and a shortcut for installing a movie app.