It's been a while since I've seen the compact, slide-up design found in the Pantech Verse, and it's a welcome comeback for a product that lives up to its literary name. From its slide-up QWERTY keyboard to its electric-lime accents to the bubbly menu font, the messaging-friendly Verse has some teen- and preteen-friendly features, but it also nails the basics in usability and design. The slower data speeds and shorter battery life are a shame, but the price is right for heavy texters: $29.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate with a new two-year service agreement, or $69.99 to buy the Verse prepaid.
Cute and compact, the Verse is a black bubble with some textured surfaces and bright green accents that pop out. It stands 3.7 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick while closed, and feels really great in the hand, like a smooth, oversize pebble. Yet, the slightly rubbery backing and dimpled plastic face keys help keep the Verse easy to grip. The whole unit slides up and down with just the right amount of pressure, and feels secure. It weighs a sturdy 4.1 ounces.
If you're used to touch screens, the Verse will take some getting used to, since its 2.2-inch display isn't receptive to fingers, only to navigation buttons. The QVGA resolution, 240x320 pixels, is acceptable for the smaller screen, but the overall quality of the resolution and screen material is noticeably blockier. The Verse doesn't deal well with color gradations or fine text or graphics. In addition to displaying small text, images on Web sites are frequently broken up too. More pixelated images are one trade-off for faster Web loading times, but the reading experience serves as a reminder that the Verse is an entry-level texting phone made on a budget.
To its credit, navigating the Verse is a breeze. In addition to the usual menu structure, there's an extra physical button that pops up a shortcut to the task bar, from which you can also open tools, messages, the call log, and so on, while bypassing the menu.
Below the screen is the land of physical buttons.There are two large, round soft keys, a roomy directional pad with a central OK button, and buttons for Talk and End, speakerphone, and Clear. All are responsive and easy to press. Slide the phone face up and there's the four-row QWERTY keyboard below. The buttons are a little on the smaller side, which suits more-slender fingers. However, the keys are raised and easy to press, and I was able to type and dial numbers like a demon. If you connect with keyboards, you should like the feel of this one.
Pantech's focus on the physical also extends to a few extra buttons: shortcuts to launch a new text message, turn on vibrate mode, and launch the notepad. It doesn't stop there. The right spine is packed with the standard Micro-USB charging port, a decidedly (and unfortunately) non-standard 2.5mm headset jack, the aforementioned convenience key that toggles through menu actions by default, and a great camera shutter button. On the flipside, you'll find the volume rocker, a voice actions button (it runs Nuance, as on many phones), and a microSD card slot that can take up to 32GB of external storage.
The back of the Verse is home to the 2-megapixel camera lens and a tiny bubble that serves as a miniscule vanity mirror for self-portraits.
It comes as no surprise that the Verse is lighter on features, and most are related to composition. There's Bluetooth support, plus those voice commands. The phone book holds up to 1,000 entries, with room for multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses, a birthday, and notes. You can assign a contact to a wider calling group, affix a picture ID, and further customize your friend with one of 31 ringtones, or none at all.
Tools make a prominent appearance on the Verse, and include an alarm clock, a calculator, a tip calculator, a calendar, a diary, a stopwatch, a world clock, and a notepad. There's also a music player and a Pac-Man demo.
Since the Verse is all about messaging, the phone comes complete with a 2-megapixel camera that's suitable for sending photo and video messages. The camera's 2-megapixel lens isn't very advanced and photos aren't very good: dull and softly detailed. They're marginally better outdoors, and I'd say don't even try low-light or night shots with this flashless camera module. Being able to adjust white-balance settings, resolution, brightness, and the self-timer is helpful. Video quality is also subpar (pixelated and blurry), but you do get options to limit snippets to 15 seconds for multimedia sharing, or to record up to an hour to save on your own, and there are similar settings to adjust white balance and shutter sound.