Feature phones like the Pantech Jest 2 for Verizon Wireless are pretty rare these days, so I have to get in a different frame of mind when one lands on my desk. "Remember," I tell myself, "It's supposed to be a simple device, so don't get too picky about what it lacks."
Actually, I don't really say that, but it is important to judge a feature phone like the Jest 2 for what it is. Unfortunately, I wouldn't put the Jest 2 at the top of my list as a text-messaging phone, either. It offers a fair number of features, a bright display, and an easy-to-use interface, but the keyboard is cramped and call quality was mediocre. Even though it's free with service, I'd recommend paying a bit more and going for the LG Cosmos 2 instead.
If you're familiar with the original Pantech Jest, you'll see that the Jest 2 inherits its squat shape and rounded corners. Personally, I've never much liked square phones, though I can understand how their compact builds endear them to other users. At 3.7 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick, the Jest 2 is exactly the same size as its predecessor and it weighs just as much (4.1 ounces). It travels well and feels sturdy even with the plastic shell.
The display measures 2.4 inches, which is a bit smaller than the Jest's 2.6-inch display. It's an odd change, but it makes no difference in usability. Of course, given the phone's shape, the display has a landscape rather than a portrait orientation, which makes it suitable for composing tests. The display supports just 262,000 colors and 320x320 pixels. That's low compared with a smartphone, but fitting for a budget device. The display is bright with sharp graphics and animation, and you can personalize the wallpaper and text font size. The menu interface is easy to use, as well.
Below the display is the navigation array. I was glad to see that the circular toggle and central OK button are easier to use than they were on the Jest, and I appreciate the extra space surrounding the soft keys, Talk and End/Power controls, speakerphone shortcut, and Clear button. In a nice move, those last two controls also have a textured surface.
The backlit keyboard just below has four rows of keys so numbers share space with letters. There are a few useful shortcuts, but it's a basic arrangement on the whole. The bigger problem is that it's much too cramped. Granted, I have big hands, but I think that even someone with smaller mitts may have a problem, especially when dialing phone numbers. On the upside, the keys are raised and the slider mechanism is appropriately stiff. A red ring around the keyboard adds some style, but basic black is the dominant color.
On the right side are a Micro-USB/charging port, a camera shutter, and a control that opens a shortcuts menu. They're easy to use, but it's disappointing that the headset jack just above is 2.5mm (the standard 3.5mm would be better). On the left spine are a microSD card slot, a voice commands control, and a volume rocker. Though the Jest 2 gets props for having the first two items on that list, the volume rocker is too small. On the rear side are the camera lens, a self-portrait mirror, and a small speaker.
The Jest 2's feature list covers all the basics while offering a few extras for passing time when you're not communicating. The phone book holds 1,000 names with multiple fields in each entry and there's Verizon's Backup Assistant for storing your contacts on the carrier's servers. Other essentials include an alarm clock, a stopwatch, messaging, a world clock, a tip calculator, a calendar, and a notepad. Voice commands and stereo Bluetooth help you go hands-free and you can sync your phone with the USB mass storage feature.
The Jest 2 also supports POP3 and Microsoft Exchange e-mail and instant messaging. Just be aware that both services use a clunky Web interface and will cost extra. E-mail access is $9.99 per month and instant messages will count against your monthly message allotment. One feature I haven't seen before is an E-Diary. After selecting a "weather" and "feeling" setting (you get a few choices like sunny, cloudy, smiley, and angry), you can add a photo, text, and a wallpaper. It's cute, I suppose, especially if you like to chronicle your every moment.
Like its predecessor, the Jest 2 has a 2-megapixel camera that takes pictures in five resolutions, from 1,600x1,200 pixels down to 160x120. You can adjust the white balance and brightness, use the self-timer and digital zoom, and choose from three color effects and three shutter sounds (and you can silence it completely if you prefer). That's not a lot of options, frankly, and I'd prefer to see a second model offer some improvements, but it's suitable for quick shots. As you'd expect, the photo quality is rudimentary with washed-out colors and image some noise. What's more, the viewfinder doesn't use the full width of the display.
There's also a video camera that records only in a 176x144-pixel resolution. Videos meant for a multimedia message are capped at 15 seconds, but you can shoot for as long as an hour if you're saving the clip to the phone. Videos are pretty poor, but in line with what I've seen from other low-end phone cameras. The Jest 2 has about 40MB of user-accessible memory and you can use a memory card for more room. The phone accommodates cards of up to 32GB, though you don't get a microSD card in the box.
Audiophiles can use the included music player. No, it can't compete with an iPod in terms of audio quality or features, but it's better than I was expecting. You can create playlists and use the repeat and shuffle modes. Getting music onto the phone was easy and I like the menu option for transferring tunes between the phone and the memory card. You even can lock tracks so you can't delete them accidentally. Don't forget to use headphones when playing music, as the sound quality over the external speaker is pretty poor (more on that later). The Jest 2 also comes with a fair number of ringtones, which you can pair with individual contacts. Plenty of alert tones and message tones are onboard, as well.
Even in the context of a basic phone, the Opera Mini browser isn't a pleasure to use. Graphics and photos don't render well and the 2.5G 1xRTT delivers a slow connection. The mobile sites of CNET and the New York Times (the phone defaults to mobile versions of sites where available) took about 20 seconds each to load. Busier sites will take longer, of course. Full HTML sites took almost a minute, but usually with incorrect formatting. Also, because the Jest 2 doesn't have a touch screen, scrolling through pages, zooming, and clicking on links using the navigation toggle became tedious quickly.
For the same reasons, I didn't enjoy using the included Web-based applications for Myspace, Facebook, and WeatherBug (not that I ever had a Myspace account). You can download more applications, including the carrier's VZ Navigator, but I really don't see the point. Honestly, if apps are that important to you, you're better off getting a more capable phone.
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Pantech Jest 2 in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service. Big Red's reliable reception delivered here: I didn't have a problem getting a signal and it remained strong when I was in a building or underground. Audio clarity, however, was a different story. Voices on my end sounded flat and a bit robotic and the volume fluctuated slightly. When it was all the way up, I could hear very well, but the Jest also has a sensitive sweet spot. Even when I barely moved it from my ear, the volume fell sharply.
Pantech Jest 2 call quality sample Listen now:
On their end, my friends didn't report any significant issues outside of some background noise. They did know that I was using a cell phone and a couple mentioned the flat audio that I heard, but on the whole my callers were more positive about the Jest 2's audio than I was. Maybe the phone performs better one way or maybe I'm just too picky. For keeping track of your calls, the Jest 2 has call timers.
Speakerphone quality was serviceable, but far from outstanding. I could carry on a conversation, but I needed to be close to the phone and remain in a quiet place. If I used it outside, it was pretty much a no-go.
I've no problem with basic phones, so take a minute to read this before you call me a smartphone snob. Indeed, basic phones are very appropriate for people who just want to text and talk, maybe snap a photo or listen to tunes, and avoid a data plan. The trouble here is that the Pantech Jest 2 isn't a very good basic phone. If it had a bigger keyboard and better call quality, I'd be all over it. But for now, I'd recommend other Verizon options.