The Renue has Bluetooth and Internet access over AT&T's 3G network, but you won't find Wi-Fi, unfortunately, so anything you do will eat up data. You'll also notice a toll with the mobile e-mail app, which lets you sign into various accounts, including Gmail, AT&T Mail, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, and AIM. There are GPS and mapping apps, like the optional AT&T Navigator with turn-by-turn directions. The first 30 days are free; you can also buy a day pass for $1.99 or subscribe monthly for $9.99. Other applications include AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Maps, and the Where apps.
Other apps include a Web browser, your MyAT&T account, Yellow Pages Mobile, and an app manager to delete or update your downloads. Multimedia plays a role as well, with a basic music player and video player, plus an online music store. Shortcuts to Facebook and Twitter's mobile sites are loaded by default. A hearty helping of essential tools all get their own bucket, where you'll find an alarm clock, a calendar, a notepad, a sketch pad, a voice recorder, and a world clock. There's also a calculator and tip calculator, a unit converter, a stop watch, and a timer.
If you're looking for more, there's a link to AT&T's online storefront where you'll be able to buy and download items like additional apps and games.
In addition to apps, there's an array of settings you can apply to customize the phone. The Renue will let you set up profiles for certain scenarios, like flight mode and outdoor. It isn't exactly clear what each setting means, but I assume the outdoor profile boosts the audio alerts and ringtone volume. On the display front, you're able to swap out the home screen and menu screen wallpaper. You're also able to select your clock type, change the lock screen image, choose the font, and select backlight times for the screen and keypad. Battery is a scarce resource on the Renue, but power-saving mode can help prolong it.
If a camera is your most important phone feature, you may want to keep looking. The Renue's 3-megapixel camera/camcorder lacks a flash, which is already one limitation. Unfortunately, mediocre image quality is another. Photos are set to medium quality by default, but they also go one notch higher and one lower. Even at high quality, the image isn't very sharp or saturated, and the camera seems to struggle with correctly lighting a scene.
There's a lot you can do in the settings to tweak the image setup. If you really want, you can drop the resolution down four levels, from the 3-megapixel setting of 2,048x1,536 pixels down to 320x240 pixels, the QVGA resolution of the screen. There are also five white balance settings, four effects, and brightness controls. You can turn on the self-timer and turn off the irritatingly loud shutter sound. (Get a sampling of cell phone camera quality here in our comparative photo gallery.)
Videos you take on the Renue will also be basic. The handset can capture and play back in the MPEG-4 format. A 15f/s, QVGA size is the maximum; it'll also record in 176x144 and a smaller size specifically for MMS. You'll still get brightness settings, a self timer, white balance presets, and three quality options. In addition, you can manually zoom in.
Unsurprisingly, video quality isn't a strong suit. Clips, which are clearly envisioned as multimedia messaging content, cut off at the 30-second mark and are extremely blocky on playback. Volume on the subject is low and colors look dull and drained.
I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSDPA 850/1900) Pantech Renue in San Francisco on AT&T's network. Call quality was acceptable, but there were apparent weak spots. Volume was a tad low, and voices sounded thick and muffled. On the plus side, background noise was undetectable and there weren't any interruptions in the line. While my callers always sounded natural, sometimes their voices flared in a "hot" flash.
On their end of the line, callers agreed that my voice sounded thick and muffled, but exceptionally clear. No interruptions bothered my test partner, but my chief partner did hear clipping at the higher voice frequencies.
Pantech Renue call quality sample Listen now:
I tested the speakerphone at waist level. Volume dropped in the switch from standard to speakerphone, and my caller sounded rather unintelligible -- fuzzy, hollow, and more robotic, with a lot of distortion at the higher registers. Listening to it was very uncomfortable and I had to ask my caller to repeat himself more than once. On his end, my test companion said I sounded good over speakerphone, but perhaps a bit quieter. There's a little echo, but nothing beyond the normal amount.
Data speeds are strictly 3G on this feature phone, and that's OK since texting and making calls will probably trump data usage as your primary focus. If you're moving up from a simple phone or are a new phone owner, it may be just fine, but compare speeds to today's high-speed 4G networks and you may get some data envy. You also won't break any land speed records navigating around on the phone's Qualcomm QSC6270 processor, but again, communication is the name of the game here, not speed. Just so you know.
Unfortunately, the Renue's battery life may hinder marathon communication. It has a rated battery life of 5.2 hours talk time and 17.7 days of standby time on the 1,000mAh battery. During our battery test for talk time, it lasted 6.92 hours.
People who want to text and make calls and do little else besides should keep the Pantech Renue in the ring when picking out a new feature phone. The price is fair for a handset of this type that isn't being subsidized to abnormally deflated levels, and the compact shape and size let it offer different dimensions than what we typically find on store displays. Its flat keyboard may slow you down at time and being a slave to the charger is always a drag, but my overall impression is of a likable phone that gets other things right, like predictive texting and large screen icons. I really do wish the camera were better at rendering images, even for the megapixel size, but if you're not buying a phone to double as a camera, the shooter still beats that of a flip phone for capturing the moment when no other cameras are around. Because of its shape and interface, the Renue seems geared toward teens or to the young at heart, and its eco certification through AT&T's new program gives it a few bonus points for reduced packaging and recycled materials.