CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Pantech doesn't normally come to mind when we think of high-end feature phones, simply because most Pantech handsets we review are of the lower-end, basic variety. (See the Pantech Breeze, for example.) Pantech surprises us every once in awhile, though, as it did with the Pantech C610. At first glance, the C610 looks just like any other flip phone, but underneath its exterior is a high-speed multimedia handset with HSDPA and GPS capabilities. That said, we weren't crazy about the handset's blocky design--much less the flat keypad. The Pantech C610 is available from AT&T for $49 with a two-year contract, making it one of the most affordable 3G phones around.
Aside from its vibrant red hue and shiny chrome accents, the C610 has a pretty minimalist design. Measuring 3.67 inches long by 1.81 inches wide by 0.72 inch thick, the C610 is straight and blocky, with slight curves around the edges. At only 3.25 ounces, it feels very lightweight and certainly won't weigh down your pockets. On the front is the camera lens at the top as well as the 1-inch external display. The external display supports 65,000 colors, which is fine for photo caller ID. It displays the date and time, but not much else. You can't adjust the brightness or the backlight. You can't activate the camera with the phone closed, so you'll have to take self-portraits with the phone open. The external screen does act as a self-portrait viewfinder, so there's no need for a mirror.
Flip open the phone and you'll find a vibrant 2.2-inch display with 262,000-color support. The colorful menu definitely takes advantage of this, and we appreciate the crisp detail of the graphics and images. You can adjust the backlight timer, the brightness, the font style (Gothic or Free style), the color theme, and the menu type (List or Grid), but not the font size.
Underneath the display is one of the most annoying navigation arrays we've ever come across. Not only are the keys completely flat, but we also found certain buttons like the Clear key and the arrow keys to be a little too small for our liking. The array consists of two soft keys, a four-way toggle with a middle confirmation key, the Call and End/Power keys, and the Clear key. The toggle doubles as a shortcut to get to a new message, the instant messenger application, the Contacts list, and the My Stuff folder (which houses things like audio files, graphics, games, and applications). The middle confirmation key also acts as a shortcut to the Web browser.
Like the navigation array, we also found the keypad to be way too flat for our liking. There is hardly any delineation between each key, plus the keypad itself felt crowded, which made it difficult to dial and text. We certainly wouldn't recommend dialing by feel.
The left spine is home to the volume rocker and microSD-card slot, while the charger jack and camera key are located on the right. Since the C610 is a music phone, we would've liked to see external music-player keys as well.
The Pantech C610 has quite a number of advanced features for what looks like a simple flip phone, but before we get to that, let's begin with the basics. The C610 has a 500-entry address book, with room in each entry for five numbers, two e-mail addresses, a Web URL, a street address, and a memo. Contacts can be arranged by groups and paired with a photo or one of 10 polyphonic ring tones for caller ID. Other features include text and multimedia messaging, a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, a calendar, an alarm clock, a notepad, a calculator, a tasks list, a stop watch, and a unit converter. More advanced users will like the voice-command support, voice-memo recording, a mobile Web browser, e-mail support (for Yahoo, AOL, AIM, Windows Live, AT&T Yahoo, and BellSouth accounts), instant messaging (AIM, Windows Live, an Yahoo Messenger), stereo Bluetooth, and GPS support (via AT&T Navigator).
Arguably the most impressive feature of the Pantech C610 is that it has 3G/HSDPA, allowing it access to AT&T's full stable of 3G services. Those include AT&T Mobile Music, which lets you stream and download music from a variety of services (including Napster and eMusic), and AT&T's Cellular Video, which lets you stream video from content partners like NBC and ESPN. The C610 also supports AT&T Video Share, a live video-sharing service that lets you stream one-way video to another Video Share-compatible phone.
The C610 has a built-in music player under the AT&T Music umbrella. It supports MP3, MIDI, iMelody, MMF, WAV, SMAF, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, and AAC+V2 audio formats. The interface is pretty generic, but you can still create and manage playlists, set the tracks on shuffle or repeat, and it comes with preset equalizer settings. As part of the AT&T Music service, you also get access to MusicID, a music recognition service, and Billboard Mobile for the latest music news. The C610 comes with 12MB of internal memory, but there's a microSD-card slot if you want additional storage. You can multitask; for instance, you can listen to music while sending off a text message, and you can also turn on flight mode (as in turning off the cell phone's RF), so you can still listen to tunes while on the plane.
The 1.3-megapixel camera on the C610 can take pictures in six different resolutions (1280x1024, 1024x768, 640x480, 320x240, 176x220, and 176x144), four white-balance settings, four color effects, and three quality settings. Other camera settings include a self-timer, a timer-sound toggle, and a shutter-sound toggle. Photo quality was pretty good, with crisp detail and bright colors. The built-in camcorder can record in two resolutions (128x96 and 176x144) and in two lengths--a short one for MMS, and a long one for the remainder of the memory. Video quality was predictably choppy and pixilated, but good enough for short video clips to be shown on the Web.
You can personalize the Pantech C610 with wallpaper, graphics, and a variety of sounds for alert tones (and if you want more, you can download them via AT&T's Media Mall store). The C610 comes with a few games and applications, like Tetris, Bubble Bash, Diner Dash 2, MobiTV, My-Cast Weather, and Mobile Banking. And if you want more, you can get them via the Media Mall, as well.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSDPA) Pantech C610 with AT&T in San Francisco. Call quality was impressive, though we did hear some static occasionally. Callers could hear us loud and clear, and reported natural sounding voices. Speakerphone calls were good as well, though they did sound a little tinny. Similarly, music-audio quality was decent, but we recommend using a stereo headset for the best sound.
We were impressed with the HSDPA speeds of the C610. We managed to download a game in about 30 seconds, and streaming video had little to no buffering issues. The quality of the streaming video is less than stellar, with quite a lot of pixilation, but that's more to do with the service than the phone itself.
The Pantech C610 has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and 10 days standby time. Our tests showed a talk time of 3 hours 23 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the C610 has a digital SAR rating of 1.16 watts per kilogram.