Most cell phone carriers in the United States now sell three types of handsets. Fancy smartphones like the iPhone 4S appeal to people who want it all, basic handsets like the AT&T F160 are for anyone who just needs to communicate, and feature phones like the Pantech Link II are built for folks who need something in between. Though it lacks the high-end features you'd find on an Android or iOS device, the Link II sports a camera, it doubles as a world phone, and the full keyboard makes for easy texting. The design is simple, the interface is user-friendly, and call quality shines. And best of all, it's just $9.99 with a new AT&T two-year contract and a $30 rebate.
Don't feel bad if you thought that the Link II was a cheap BlackBerry when you first saw it. Indeed, with its keyboard and curved bottom, it has a BlackBerry-esque shape. Pick it up, however, and you'll see that the similarities end. The Link II's plastic skin gives it a decidedly un-premium feel, even with the textured surface on the back cover. I won't knock off a lot of points since it is a budget device, but the Link II is not a handset that I'd abuse. At 4.5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.39 inch deep, the Link II is a comfortable size and it fits squarely in my hands. It weighs just 3.3 ounces which is great for portability, but not so great if you prefer a device with some heft.
The 2.4-inch display supports 262,000 colors and 320x240 pixels. No, it won't blow you away with its beauty, but colors are bright and graphics are better than you might think. The display's high point, however, is the clean and basic interface. You should have no trouble navigating through the icon-based main menu (complete with simple animations) or the list-based internal menus.
The navigation controls continue the Link II's simple theme. There's a square toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a back button, a dedicated speakerphone control, two soft keys, and the Talk and End/power control. Thankfully, all of the keys are large and have a pleasant domed shape.
The keyboard buttons are raised as well, which makes typing a comfortable experience. With just four rows of keys, however, the keyboard was the slightest bit cramped. I got used to it after a few minutes and users with smaller hands may not have a problem at all. Letters share space with numbers and symbols, though the handset offers a fair number of specialty keys including a vibration control, a Symbol key, and a ".com" shortcut. The space bar is small, but it's smack in the center of the bottom row of keys.
Remaining controls include a thin volume rocker on the right side and a Micro USB/charger port and camera shutter on the left side. The camera lens is on the top end of the Link II's rear side next to a small speaker. It's conveniently located--as long as you remember to keep your fingers out of the way when snapping a photo. The memory card slot is behind he battery cover, but I like that you don't need to remove the battery as well.
As I mentioned, the Link II has a standard feature that's built around communication, but with a few extras. The phone book holds 1,000 names with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, a company name and title, an e-mail, a mailing address, a nickname, a birthday, a photo, and notes. And, of course, you can add one of eight polyphonic ringtones and eight alert tones.
Basic features include an alarm clock, a calendar, a notepad, a voice memo recorder, a world clock, a calculator, a currency and unit converter, a stopwatch, and a timer. You'll also find Bluetooth 2.1, a speakerphone, USB mass storage, text and multimedia messaging, Web-based POP3 e-mail, and instant messaging.
The Link II's 2-megapixel camera takes photos in four resolutions (a full 2 megapixels down to 320x240). You also get a few editing options like four white balance settings, three color effects, a self-timer, an adjustable brightness meter, three quality settings, and a 2x zoom. There's just one shutter sound, but you can turn it off. The video camera shoots clips in two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144) and comes with a similar set of editing choices. Clips meant for a multimedia message last about 30 seconds, but you can shoot for longer in standard mode.
I wouldn't give the media player a second thought. Not only is its feature set minimal, but also its sound quality, even through headphones, is abysmal. Sure, it's there if you absolutely need it, but you're better off with a real media player. You can load songs easily through a USB cable and a memory card and you can download tunes through AT&T Music. And if that's not enough, there's AT&T radio. For storage, the Link II has 200MB of internal shared space with a microSD slot that can accommodate cards up to 32GB.
The Link II comes with a fair selection of games and apps. Most are just the trial versions, though. Options include AT&T Navigator and Maps, Uno, AT&T Social Net (Facebook, Twitter, and MySapce), Yellow Pages Mobile, MobiTV, Tetris, Scrabble, WikiMobile, AT&T Family Map, AT&T Code Scanner, and Family Feud. You can download more apps through the carrier's AppCenter. The WAP browser will be painful if you're used to a used to a smartphone with a full HTML browser. But if that describes you, then I doubt you're even reading this review.
I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was very good on the whole. The volume was loud, I didn't encounter any static or interference, and voices sounded natural. And unlike if I were using an iPhone in San Francisco, I had no trouble getting a signal. There was a slight amount of usual "GSM buzz" especially when I was near other electronic equipment.
Pantech Link II call quality sample Listen now:
On their end, callers said that I was loud and clear. A couple friends complained that I sounded "far away," but they were in the minority. Thankfully, I had no trouble with automated calling system even when I was walking down the street. Speakerphone calls were just average. The speaker is loud and I didn't have to be close to the phone, but I also heard a vibrating sound at the highest volume levels.
I really liked the handy menu that appears on the display when making a call. With just a few clicks I could put the call on hold, record the call, send a text, and access the address book without hanging up. It's very user-friendly to have it all in one place.
The Link II has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. The latter is fine, but the promised talk time is short for such a basic phone. According to FCC radiation tests, the Link II has a digital SAR of 0.93 watt per kilogram.
With the Pantech Link II, what you see is what you get. Yes, it has a simple design and the media features won't impress, but it's a user-friendly device with respectable call quality and a few fun extras. So while it won't amaze, it does just what a phone should do.