Pantech Hotshot - red (Verizon Wireless) review: Pantech Hotshot - red (Verizon Wireless)
At first glance, the Pantech Hotshot from Verizon Wireless looks like a low-entry smartphone. It has a touch screen, three customizable home screen pages, and you can quit and transition between "apps" in a way that is reminiscent of iOS.
But with a $100 price tag with a two-year contract (or a pricey $269.99 if you pay full retail), the device is actually a feature phone. As such, though it doesn't require a data plan, it can browse the Web and check e-mail like a smartphone.
In the end, straddling between these two identities makes this device not so hot (yes I made an obvious pun, don't judge me). Those who aren't technically savvy may find the handset unintuitive. On the other hand, those who are keen to current phone technology will find this device too elementary. And given the handset's specs and price of Verizon data service, it's not worth its salt as a data device.
The Pantech Hotshot is 4.67 inches long, 2.35 inches wide, and just 0.35 inch thick. Because of its petite frame and plastic build, it's incredibly lightweight, weighing only 3.2 inches. Though the device is easy to handle, and it fits comfortably in a jeans pocket, it also feels incredibly cheap. It resembles a fake toy phone that you'd give a toddler to play with.
On the left side of the handset are a volume rocker and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Above those two is something that really brings me back to the pre-smartphone days of yore: two holes to loop in a cell phone charm or lanyard.
At the top of the Hotshot is the sleep/power button. Moving to the right of the device, you'll see a Micro-USB port that's covered by a small plastic attached door. Below that are two shortcut keys: one accesses the handset's voice command feature that is powered by Nuance Communications, and the other opens the camera function.
The back of the phone is decorated with a small, and rather unpleasant, black diamond pattern, and it includes a camera on the top-right corner. Adjacent to that is a small reflect circle for vanity shots. On the left-top corner are three open grid lines for the output speaker. Only about half the backing is easily removable; the top portion is secured by a small screw. The bottom half, however, just needs to be pushed downward with some force and it will slide out.
Once this segment is removed, you can see the 1,000mAh lithium ion battery, which covers the 2GB microSD card (you can replace the card by removing the battery). The phone can handle up to 32GB cards.
All around the display is a red accent border. The device's LCD display is 3.2 inches and has a resolution of 240x400 pixels. It can show up to 262,000 colors, and its color depth is 18-bit. Needless to say, with numbers like these, the image quality on this handset is understandably below par. Photos appeared grainy and streaky, wallpapers and icons were pixelated, and colors captured on video weren't as vibrant as their real-life counterparts. The only thing that looked decent was the retro game of Pac-Man the came on the phone.
In addition to that, the touch screen isn't responsive; my Pac-Man seemed suicidal since I couldn't get him to turn corners. With plenty of seconds to spare but no sensitive display to rely on, Blinky, Inky, and Clyde usually got the best of me. T9 texting was difficult and swiping between the home screen's pages became a pain; if I happened to press too hard initially, the app that my finger first landed on would open. But when I lightened my touch a tad, nothing registered at all. In the end, it felt like a crapshoot to find just the magical amount of sensitivity to move between pages.
Above the display is the in-ear speaker, and below that is the home button that lights up in white. To quit or switch between apps, hold this button down. Click it twice, and you can switch between your home screen's three pages.
The Pantech Hotshot comes with the bare minimum amount of task management features. Under the icon Tools, you can access the device's built-in voice command feature, tip and standard calculators, a calendar, an alarm clock, a phone book (that can hold up to a 1,000 contacts), a stop watch, a world clock, a unit converter, and a notepad.
There's also Bluetooth, and text, picture, video, and voice messaging. For texting, when you hold the handset in landscape mode, the keyboard switches from a condensed setting (where three letters share a key), to a full QWERTY keyboard. You can also listen to uploaded music and play games. Game prices, however, are ridiculous. When you download a game, you pay either a monthly rate, which varies from depending on what game, or get an unlimited subscription. Scrabble cost $3.99 for unlimited play, Bejewled costs $6.99, and Tetris costs a whopping $7.99. In addition to Pac-Man, the phone also comes with the game Uno.
Again, a data plan is not required, but if you do decide to get one for your Hotshot, you will have to use the onboard Opera web browser. The device also has a mobile e-mail client, where you can add your Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, or AOL accounts.
There's also a My Verizon app, which is a quick way to access your account information and phone plan on the browser; a Media Center that enables you to buy ringtones and wallpapers; and VZ Navigator, a map and navigation feature that costs an extra $9.99 a month on top of your data plan.
The handset's 3.2-megapixel camera features an exposure meter and a settings menu where you can customize your photo options, which include: six white-balance choices (auto, sunny, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, and darkness); a self-timer; a multishot option; five resolution settings that range from 1,600x1,200 to 160x120 pixels; and four color modes (normal, antique, black and white, and negative).
The same white-balance options, color modes, and exposure meter are seen in video recording as well. In addition, you can also customize video quality (choosing between high, medium, and low); recording duration (choosing "for send" lets you record a 30-second video, choosing "to save" enables a 1-minute recording); and video resolution (either 176x144 or 320x240 pixels).
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800, 1900) Pantech Hotshot in San Francisco using Verizon's services. Call quality was impressive; voices were audible and clear, and the maximum volume level was great. Callers said my voice sounded clear as well, and there were no extraneous noises or static on either end. Putting the call on speaker yielded similar results; voices from calls I made were loud and crisp.
I also tested the device while on the train. When I passed through a tunnel, the person on the other side was not able to hear me for a few seconds, but I did not lose the call. Once I exited the tunnel, I was told I could be heard perfectly again.
Pantech Hotshot call quality sample Listen now:
Verizon's 3G network runs on 1xEV-DO r0 technology, so you shouldn't expect blazing data speeds. Loading the CNET mobile site took an average of 6 seconds, and the full site took about 26 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took 5 seconds on average, and ESPN's loaded in 7 seconds. Keep in mind, however, that the mobile sites that loaded on the handset are not the regular versions you would see on other smartphones. A lot of coding is stripped away, so the site is modified to show only some of the graphics and images.
Watching YouTube wasn't pleasant. Videos can't play the full area of the display. In fact, YouTube videos, as well as recorded video shot on the handset, only occupies about a fifth of the screen.
In our battery drain tests, the Hotshot lasted 6.76 hours. While I used it, it had a solid battery life. Then again, it can't really do much to drain the battery life anyway. I spent most of the day browsing the Web, talking on the phone, texting (which takes extra long since the unresponsive screen makes it that much more frustratingly difficult), and watching tiny videos. At the end of all this, only about one battery notch (out of four) would disappear. Charging the device also took a short amount of time. When I plugged it in as it clung onto its last battery bar, the handset only took about 30 minutes before it gained a full charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 1.32W/kg.
Given how entry-level the device's specs are, the photo quality is surprisingly decent. Images are a bit grainy, especially when you zoom in on the pictures, and colors definitely don't appear as rich as they do in real life. Overall, however, objects were easy to make out and in focus.
The camera itself, however, is exceedingly slow. After I clicked the shutter, I had to wait for a long time in order for the photo to turn out clear. There would be heavy motion blur if I made any slight movement a few seconds after I clicked the button. Furthermore, changing the exposure meter was difficult because the touch screen is not sensitive, and it took several swipes of my finger to adjust it.
Video recording is below par. As I mentioned previously, the playback frame takes up only a small fraction of the total screen. It didn't pick up noise very well, either; voices blended together and were muddled, and audio would cut in and out for less than a second here and there. Moving objects were heavily pixelated and grainy, and colors appeared washed out in semi-bright light.
The Pantech Hotshot's dual identity doesn't work well in its favor. As a touch-screen "semi-smartphone," it's too slow. Everything lags, from the network, to switching the phone from portrait to landscape, to moving between what it considers apps, to clicking back to the home screen. What's more, the display is unresponsive, making even the most fundamental tasks, like texting, an annoying endeavor. As a basic feature handset with decent call quality, the price is just too high. There are other options out there that will do the same things better, for less money.