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Pantech Breakout (Verizon Wireless) review: Pantech Breakout (Verizon Wireless)

Pantech Breakout (Verizon Wireless)

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Jessica Dolcourt
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Pantech Breakout (Verizon Wireless)

The Good

The <b>Pantech Breakout</b> runs on Verizon's 4G LTE network. Android 2.3 Gingerbread is dressed up with a handy custom UI, and the phone has good call quality.

The Bad

The Breakout doesn't have a flash, and it has a poor front-facing camera, jerky video, and shutter lag.

The Bottom Line

If you don't give a whit about the camera or video, the Pantech Breakout is a fast and straightforward Android handset for Verizon.

It was only in June that Pantech released its first Android phone for U.S. markets, the Pantech Crossover for AT&T. Just months later, the phone maker is doing it again, this time for Verizon. The Pantech Breakout doesn't take its name lightly. In addition to being Pantech's first Android smartphone for Verizon, it's also grabbed hold of Verizon's 4G LTE network.

The specs are respectable, with a 5-megapixel camera, front-facing VGA camera, 720p HD video capture and playback, and a 1GHz processor running the show. However, performance hit some snags during our tests, which cast a shadow on the camera hardware in particular and on the phone's LTE readiness. At the time of writing, the Breakout costs $99.99 after a $50 rebate with a new two-year service agreement.

The Breakout may be the company's first CDMA smartphone, but Pantech has been making hardware for a long time, and has given the Breakout a physical design all its own. Matte black plastic all around, the Breakout sneers in the face of greasy fingerprint smears and butterfinger dropsies with its finely pebbled surface. A pair of metal accents--a navigation half-moon on the front and camera lens surround on the back--help break up the monotony of black and add a little class, but they can't save the handset from looking like a perfectly decent but plain and middling smartphone.

The Pantech Breakout has a 4-inch touch screen and a nubbly backing to keep it from slipping away.

The Breakout's proportions, though, are good: 5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide and just shy of 0.5 inch thick. At 4.9 ounces, it feels reassuringly heavy for its size. Those tiny plastic bumps on the phone's body should help keep it in your grip, but if it doesn't, the Breakout strikes us as sturdy enough to take a clout or two without dissembling. It feels a tad bulky for some pockets, but it's on par with many other smartphones, so you should get along just fine.

While nothing special, the Breakout's 4-inch TFT touch screen is definitely acceptable. Its WVGA (480x800-pixel) resolution supports 262,000 colors, rather than the millions of colors supported by premium phones. On its own, it's just fine to gaze upon, even though colors appear a tad washed out, the contrast isn't as good as on other phones, and nothing really pops. Still, it's plenty bright and colorful, and we appreciate the default background animations of Pantech's Android skin.

Speaking of which, the Breakout features Pantech's own flavor of Android, just like on the Crossover. It's just as easy to navigate as other Android phones, though we're not fans of the default wallpaper in the application tray, which visually mimics the phone's dotted finish. There are seven home screens by default, but you can pinch to see an overview of them all, and delete any you don't want. You can also pull down the notifications bar to access Bluetooth, GPS, data, and Wi-Fi controls.

Pantech does a couple of neat things to dress up the typical Android lock screen as well. You can easily unlock the phone with a swipe, or get more granular by dragging icons for either the dial pad, messages, or e-mail inbox into the center to unlock the phone on one of those--we've also seen this trick in the HTC Sense 3.0 custom Android interface. Pantech also has an eye out for your well-being: you or someone else can access your ICE (emergency) contacts from the lock screen without unlocking the phone.

Below the screen are four hardware buttons for the Menu, Home, Back, and search, which is Bing by default. Two buttons are black plastic, and two join together in that aforementioned half-moon that gives it some style. On the left spine are a 3.5mm headset jack, a contoured volume rocker, and a voice control shortcut button. On the right are the Micro-USB charging port, the shared power and lock-screen button, and the camera shutter button. On the back is the 5-megapixel camera, with the front-facing VGA camera lens.

Once you push off the back cover (hint: apply pressure about a quarter-inch under the camera lens, on the seam where the cover meets the chassis), you'll be able to access the Micro-USB card slot. The Breakout comes with an 8GB card preinstalled. Luckily for you, the phone accepts up to 32GB in extra storage. Less luckily, you have to remove the battery to swap cards.

Most Android phone makers seek ways make the software on their phones distinctive, most often with custom skins, preinstalled software, or both. After all, like other Android Gingerbread phones, the Breakout has a nearly bottomless address book capacity, Wi-Fi, texting and multimedia messaging, Bluetooth, GPS, and a direct hook to Google services, including turn-by-turn navigation and YouTube. There's also the typical Android music player.

Verizon's 4G LTE speeds were fast as promised on the Breakout.

It's customary to see the manufacturer and carrier add their own apps as fixtures, but on the Breakout Pantech goes overboard. The phone is stocked with Amazon Kindle, Blockbuster, CityID, Converter, DocViewer, Guided Tours, Handy Memo, and Let's Golf 2. On top of that, you'll find Mobile IM, NFL Mobile, NSF Shift (another game), Rhapsody, Slacker Radio, Tip Calculator, TuneWiki, and Nuance Voice Control.

That doesn't even cover Verizon's apps, like VZ Navigator; the suite of V Cast apps for music, videos, and ringtones; and other Verizon account management apps. If you're unhappy with the arrangement of icons, you can go into the Menu to manually rearrange them.

In addition to all these, there's the Swype keyboard, which is turned on by default, but you can always switch over to the default Android keyboard. Of course, there are also other essential apps: a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, and voice search.

We found both the front-facing and rear-facing cameras on the Breakout unimpressive.

Apart from the custom interface, the Breakout's largest claim to its own individual character comes in the two cameras. However, these also this phone's weakest point. We've never taken high-quality, or even flattering, shots from a front-facing VGA camera on any phone, and this is one of the worst we've seen in a long time. Photos were grainy, unfocused, blurry, and generally poor.

The rear-facing 5-megapixel camera fared better, though it definitely falls short of best-in-class. The shutter takes a long time to focus and colors were washed out and uneven. Flash can be hit-or-miss, sometimes overexposing or distorting color, but we'd rather see it than not.

And then there's video. In our tests, video playback lacked any software stabilization, which resulted in herky-jerky playback that also had a tendency to pause or lag, which made for an unpleasant viewing experience.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; LTE 700) Pantech Breakout 4G on Verizon's network in San Francisco. Call quality in San Francisco was mixed. On our end, volume was loud and clear, and uninterrupted by background crackle or white noise. A friend's voice sounded a bit buzzy at times, almost like it was mildly autotuned. On their end, callers said our voice was loud, but sounded muddied and not entirely natural.

Pantech Breakout call quality sample Listen now: "="">

We were pleasantly surprised when it came to the speakerphone and wound up carrying on a 15-minute conversation over speakerphone while holding the phone at waist level. In addition to excellent volume, voices sounded rich. It wasn't all fun and games, though. The phone vibrated slightly when our caller spoke, and there was still a mechanical element to the sound. On the other side of the line, callers reported that speakerphone volume was uncomfortably low, making it hard to hear. Our friends were less eager than we to carry on a 15-minute discussion. Voice clarity was about the same as on the standard call, our friends said--a clear line but slightly muddied voice.

The Breakout is a 4G LTE phone on a network that prides itself on being fast. So far, Verizon has given us great performance as well from phones like the Motorola Droid Bionic and the Samsung Droid Charge. The Breakout loaded CNET's mobile-optimized site in 11 seconds and the full, graphically rich CNET site in about 25 seconds. Similarly, the New York Times' mobile-optimized site loaded in just under 10 seconds, while its full site loaded in about 30 seconds. We also didn't have too many complains about the internal performance, with the exception of the camera's multiple seconds of shutter lag.

The Breakout has a rated battery life of 5.8 hours talk time and 12.6 days standby time on its 1,500 mAH battery. FCC radio frequency tests measure a digital SAR of 1.05 watts per kilogram.

In a perfect phone, the strength of the hardware would match that of the software. In this case, the Pantech Breakout 4G's software bested its hardware. If all you do is make calls and operate apps and the browser, you and the Breakout will get along just fine. The custom interface and dial pads are all easy to use on the nice, large screen. Call quality was pretty good to our ears, and the phone felt fine in the hand. Those 4G LTE speeds didn't hurt, either. Try out the video and camera, however, and watch the contempt march in--unfortunately, the camera quality ruined the experience for us.

The $99 price tag (after $50 rebate) is a good price for 4G access--if you don't plan to use the camcorder or front-facing camera much, then it's worth considering. If camera quality is important to you, though, you'd be better off shopping around.


Pantech Breakout (Verizon Wireless)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7