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Pantech isn't really known as a juggernaut in the smartphone world, especially when compared with HTC or Palm. However, it has made some inroads in the smartphone market in the past. There was the Verizon Wireless-branded PN-820 flip phone with Windows Mobile 5, and though it wasn't exactly a full-blown smartphone, Pantech is also the manufacturer behind the much-touted Helio Ocean. Perhaps the company learned a thing or two from Helio's design department, as the new Pantech Duo from AT&T features the same dual-slider design as the Ocean. It comes loaded with features like a megapixel camera, Bluetooth, quad-band support, HSDPA-level speeds, and all the other productivity tools you would expect from a Windows Mobile device. Because it has 3G support, the Duo also has access to AT&T's stable of broadband services like AT&T Music and Cellular Video. That said, we weren't too pleased with the phone's exterior--it looks and feels like a cheap plastic toy, and the QWERTY keyboard is poorly designed. If given a choice, we would definitely go for the better-designed and more robust AT&T Tilt over the Duo. The Pantech Duo is available for $199.99 after a 2-year contract and a $100 rebate.
The Pantech Duo gets its name from its dual-slider design, which is similar to the design of the Helio Ocean. Sliding the phone up vertically reveals a numerical dialpad, while sliding it horizontally reveals a QWERTY keyboard. The keypad and keyboard are on separate layers, and you can't keep both open at the same time. That's where the similarity with the Helio Ocean ends. The Pantech Duo is much smaller than the Ocean at 4.02 by 1.97 by 0.83 inches, and is also a lot more lightweight at 3.88 ounces (The Ocean weighed around 5.6 ounces). Even so, the Pantech Duo is quite the bulky device due to its triple layers, and it doesn't fit comfortably into a pants pocket.
Also, just because the Duo has an innovative dual-slider design doesn't mean we liked anything else about the phone's appearance. The Duo is saddled with a chintzy plastic shell that makes the device seem more like a kid's toy than a serious smartphone. Not only that, but the dull gray finish is quite fingerprint prone, and the dimpled border around the screen makes the phone look like something out of the 1990s. To make things worse, the sliding mechanism for the QWERTY keyboard feels rather flimsy and loose.
Thankfully, the 2.2-inch QVGA display makes up for some of the design imperfections. The 262,000-color screen supports a 240x320 pixel resolution, resulting in a lovely display that's easy on the eyes. Images look clean, fonts are legible, and colors are bright. Video looks pretty good on it, too. The screen switches position from portrait mode to landscape mode when the QWERTY keyboard is slid out, for easier surfing and texting. Do note that the display is not a touch screen, if you are concerned about that. Like all Windows Mobile 6 phones, the Duo has the Today screen as the home screen, which you can customize by changing the theme, the displayed menu items, the background image, the backlight time, as well as the font size.
Below the screen is the navigation array, which consists of two soft keys, a five-way toggle, a Home button, a Back button, as well as the Talk and End/Power keys. There's also a dedicated Quick List key that brings up a menu of different power and sound profiles. The Quick List key doubles as a Keyguard lock. As we mentioned, you can slide the phone up to reveal the number keypad. The navigation array and the number keypad have similar bubblelike keys with a nice curved texture that makes it easy to dial. That said, we do wish the keys were less slippery. Also, the Quick List key seemed a bit too small for our tastes.
The QWERTY keyboard, on the other hand, is one of the Duo's biggest sins. You get the typical QWERTY layout as well as two tiny soft keys to either end of the keyboard (you use them when the screen is in landscape mode). Not only are all the keys tiny, they are also way too flat and flush to the surface of the phone, making it difficult for us to thumb-type comfortably. We usually had to resort to using our fingernails in order to type out text messages.
Rounding out the phone's exterior is the volume rocker on the left spine, a voice-record button, and dedicated camera key on the right, plus a microSD card slot on the top. On the back of the device is a camera lens plus an LED that functions as the camera's flash.
Though we were disappointed with the Pantech Duo's design, we were quite impressed with its wealth of features. It is one of the first AT&T devices to have the Windows Mobile 6 platform (Standard Edition), which features a number of upgrades over Windows Mobile 5. There's a new Calendar ribbon, a new smart e-mail search function, and many more OS updates that will be sure to please the mobile professional. Be sure to check out our review of Windows Mobile 6 for the full rundown of what's new with it.
But first things first--the Duo is still a phone, so we start off with voice features. It's equipped with quad-band GSM support with world-roaming capabilities, a speakerphone, voice commands and dialing, and a vibrate mode. The phone book is limited by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), and you can store up to 12 numbers per entry as well as e-mail and home addresses, an IM screen name, important dates, and more. You can also pair up an entry with a caller group, as well as a photo or one of 10 polyphonic ringtones for caller ID.
Getting down to business, the Duo comes with plenty of productivity applications for the working professional. They include the full Microsoft Mobile Office Suite for creating and editing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, as well as an Adobe Reader client for viewing PDFs. Other PIMs include a clock, a ZIP manager, a voice recorder, and a calculator. You can also handle multiple applications via the Task Manager. E-mail and messaging are key features that mobile workers will love. It ships with Microsoft's Direct Push technology for real-time e-mail delivery, as well as synchronization with all your contacts, calendar events, and tasks via the Exchange server. Of course, the Duo supports regular POP3 and IMAP e-mail as well. Instant messaging is supported. The Duo also comes with Bluetooth 2.0 (which supports stereo Bluetooth as well as dial-up networking). Though not quite a business application, we also found its support for TeleNav Maps and Navigator tremendously helpful. Do note that the Duo does not have built-in GPS though, so if you really want to make use of the TeleNav applications, you might want to get an external Bluetooth GPS receiver. You can read our full review of TeleNav for more details.
Definitely one of the most noteworthy features on the Duo is its ability to handle 3G/HSDPA speeds. AT&T has therefore provided the Duo access to AT&T's broadband content courtesy of AT&T Mobile Music and AT&T's Cellular Video services. Via these services, you have access to clips from content partners like Comedy Central, MTV, and ESPN, as well as streaming music, thanks to XM Radio. The Mobile Music store grants you permission to purchase songs from third-party music subscription services like Napster to Go, Yahoo Music, and eMusic (All songs can be purchased over-the-air, with the exception of Yahoo Music, for an additional fee). Downloads took mere seconds, and we're happy to report that streaming video and audio was rather zippy as well, with little rebuffering. If you prefer, you can upload your own music to enjoy, as the Duo supports a variety of music formats like MP3, WMA, and AAC.
Of course, what's a smartphone these days without a megapixel camera? Though the Duo only has a 1.3-megapixel camera, we were very impressed with the photo quality. Images were saturated with color, and outlines were crisp without a lot of blurring. Camera settings include four resolutions (1280x1024, 640x480, 320x240, and 176x144), three quality options, four white balance modes, four color effects, a self-timer, brightness, 4x zoom, and a multishot mode. There's also a built-in camcorder for short little movies. Settings for the camcorder are pretty similar to the still camera, except the camcorder can only record in two modes: 176x144 and 320x240 (Both in MPEG4 format). Video quality was not as good, with blurry movement and pixelated imagery, but was serviceable for a phone's camera.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE; UMTS/HSDPA) Pantech Duo in San Francisco using AT&T's service. Call quality was great; callers reported hearing us loud and clear with little noise and static in the background. Similarly, we heard them quite clearly as well. Speakerphone quality was not as good, as we were often instructed to speak up, and there was a slight echo whenever we spoke. We also paired the Duo with a Cardo S-2 stereo Bluetooth headset without any problems.
As far as download speeds go, the Duo knocks it out of the park. Downloads took mere seconds, and we're happy to report that streaming video and audio was rather zippy as well, with little rebuffering in between video clips. The phone's performance was good too, and we had no problems managing contacts and transferring over documents like PDFs. However, certain applications sometimes felt a bit sluggish. We experienced slight delays when launching the camera application, and doubly so when we tried to use the TeleNav navigator, as the phone kept trying to get a GPS signal.
Video looks quite good on the Pantech Duo, though the streaming video from AT&T's Cellular Video sometimes appeared slightly pixelated and blurry. Music quality was decent, but we wouldn't rely on the phone's dinky speaker system to listen to your favorite songs--we suggest opting for a stereo Bluetooth headset instead.
The Pantech Duo's rated battery life is up to 3 hours of talk time and up to 10 days of standby time. We managed to get a tested talk time of 4 hours, 55 minutes.