Pantech Vybe (AT&T) review: Bare-bones QWERTY great for basics

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.0
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 7.0
Review Date:

The Good AT&T's inexpensive and easy-to-use Pantech Vybe makes solid calls, takes decent photos, and is equipped with a spacious and comfortable keyboard.

The Bad A slow processor, low-resolution screen, and minimal Web offerings drag down the handset's user experience.

The Bottom Line The Vybe is a competitively priced device that'll please messaging enthusiasts and smartphone neophytes who don't want high-end features.

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It's been a while since Korean-based mobile manufacturer Pantech released a phone to the US market. So it's nice to see that the company, which has a good track record of delivering reliable handsets at low-budget prices, recently launched its Vybe messaging device for AT&T.

Sure, the handset is no head-turner. Its basic aesthetic hearkens back to the simpler times of the early 2000s, and its capabilities are limited to the calling, texting, and basic Web browsing phone functionality of that era as well.

But with its clear call quality, responsive keyboard, and passable camera, this no-muss-no-fuss device will suit your most basic needs. In addition, at $29.99 on-contract (or $199.99 for those who don't want to be locked in a carrier agreement) the Pantech Vybe is competitively priced. And knowing that you won't break the bank on your next handset always gives off good vibes.

Design

With its petite frame, the Pantech Vybe measures 4.49 inches tall, 2.32 inches wide, and 0.51-inch thick (114.05 x 58.93 x 12.95mm). When closed, it's easy to maneuver with one hand, and at just 4.94 ounces (140.05g), it is lightweight and comfortable to hold.

Although the device itself isn't a rugged handset, it feels quite durable. Its edges are thick and have a rubber-like exterior. Its dimple-textured battery door helps with grip, and its matte coating wards off unsightly fingerprints.

On the left edge is a volume rocker and at the dead-center of the top edge is a 3.5mm headphone jack. To the right are a Micro-USB port for charging, a sleep/power button, and two physical shortcut keys: one to launch voice commands and another to open the camera.

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The Vybe has shortcut buttons on its edge for the camera and voice commands. Josh Miller/CNET

The backside houses a 3-megapixel camera lens (which doesn't have a flash) and the audio speaker. A small slit to the right back plate lets you pry it off and access the removable 1,200mAh battery and microSD card slot that can hold up to 32GB.

While it's quite easy to peel off the battery door, putting it back on is a different story. Oftentimes, it was difficult to get the plate securely snapped in at the edges. One side would end up always bulging slightly upward, and I'd have to forcibly hit the plate against a hard surface, like a table, in order for it to finally snap in completely.

As for the front of the phone, the Vybe's 3.2-inch touchscreen display has a meager 400x240-pixel resolution. Because of the low resolution, images, texts, and icons look notably grainy and pixelated. The screen itself is also not very accurate or responsive. It often registered incorrect taps when I wanted to select or open an item, which was irritating. It is, however, easy to view in direct sunlight when brightness is cranked to its maximum level. This will drain the battery faster, so this should be adjusted only when necessary. Below the display are three hotkeys for recent calls, back, and end.

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The device's four-row keyboard includes an alt-function key and a vibrate ring mode button. Josh Miller/CNET

Typing on the device's four-row keyboard is comfortable and easy. Keep in mind that I have rather small hands, but the keys' bulbous shape and the fact that they are raised slightly above the surface of the handset helped locate the buttons by touch. Each button is generously sized and spaced and are easy to press. The keyboard includes includes an alt-function key for secondary commands, a shift key for capitalizing letters, a shortcut key for putting the phone on vibrate, a key to call up text symbols, and a ".com" input button. Sliding the keyboard in and out was smooth as well, and the snapping mechanism was secure. After several openings and closures, it didn't get feel loose or shaky.

Software features

The phone runs a proprietary OS from Pantech that is straightforward and incredibly user-friendly, even when set to its advanced user interface mode. If you want the UI to be even more stripped down, however, there is an easy mode option that is more streamlined, easy to use, and larger to see.

For your homescreen, you have three homepages on which to add your favorite apps, commonly visited Web pages for faster access, and a customizable clock widget. On the bottom right is the icon to launch the menu, where you'll find several tools and apps. This includes a contact book, native email and browser clients, music and video players, and Bluetooth. The email client has support for several providers, such as Yahoo, AOL, and Gmail.

Facebook and Twitter are loaded too, along with three carrier-branded apps from AT&T: its GPS tool; myAT&T, which lets you check your plan balance and info; and a driving-safety app called DriveMode.

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Big icons and a minimalistic menu keep the handset's interface extremely user-friendly. Josh Miller/CNET

Finally, under the Tools icon, you can launch even more useful functions like an alarm clock, a calculator, a calendar, a converter, a note- and sketchpad, a timer, a voice memo, and more. There's even a pill reminder where you can input a dosage schedule and the name and dosage information about specific drugs.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider AT&T
  • Weight 4.94 oz
  • Diagonal Size 3.2 in
  • Sensor Resolution 3 pixels
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