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AT&T introduced a slew of new messaging phones at CTIA 2010, and one of them was the Pantech Link. A long overdue update to the Pantech Slate, the Link is just as skinny as its predecessor, though it offers slightly updated features. It has 3G functionality and GPS, and it'll be one of the first few devices to support AT&T's cloud services like Social Net and the Online Locker. Combined with a set of basic multimedia offerings, the Pantech Link will satisfy those who want a low-end messaging phone that is light in both ounces and the wallet. The Link will cost only $9.99 with a two-year contract with AT&T.
For its low price, you might think the Pantech Link would feel cheap and shoddy in the hands. Fortunately, it doesn't. The Link measures 4.5 inches long by 2.4 inches wide by 0.39 inch thick, and it's surprisingly sturdy, despite how thin it is. In fact, it's probably one of the thinnest messaging phones we've ever used. It has a nice rubberized texture on the back for improved grip, and the overall build of the phone feels solid, even though it has a plastic housing. The Link is very lightweight as well, at only 3.2 ounces.
On the front of the phone is a really nice 2.4-inch 262,000 TFT color LCD. It has a 320x240-pixel resolution, which is quite a bump up from the Slate's 176x220 pixels. The display is crisp and colorful as a result, with sharp images and legible text. You can adjust the backlight time, the brightness, the font style, the menu type, and the appearance of the clock and the text on the home screen.
Underneath the display is the navigation array, which consists of two soft keys, a dedicated speakerphone key, a Clear key, a round toggle, and the Send and End/Power keys. The toggle has a spun metal surface on the outer circle plus on the middle confirmation key, and the rest of the keys have a nice curved surface so it's easy to navigate by feel. The toggle also acts as a shortcut to a new text message, the instant messaging menu, the AT&T Address Book, and e-mail.
Beneath that is the full QWERTY keyboard. The keys are all raised above the surface and have a bubble-like texture, so it's easy to speedily dial and text. There are the typical function and symbol keys, and we like that there's a dedicated .com key as well. The number keys are marked in blue.
On the left side of the phone are the volume rocker and the microSD card slot; the headset/charger jack and camera button are on the right. We're a little disappointed that the phone doesn't have a 3.5mm headset jack since it has a music player. On the back is the camera lens and self-portrait mirror.
The Pantech Link has a 600-entry phone book, with room in each entry for six numbers, three e-mail addresses, a company name, a messenger ID, a Web address, three street addresses, a birthdate, an anniversary date, and a note. You can organize your contacts into caller groups, pair them with a photo for caller ID, or pair them with one of eight polyphonic ringtones. Basic features include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a notepad, a voice recorder, a world clock, a calculator, a tip calculator, a stopwatch, a timer, and a unit converter.
For the slightly more-advanced user, you also get stereo Bluetooth, voice command, instant messaging (AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo), GPS with support for AT&T Navigator, and mobile e-mail. The latter gives you access to a variety of e-mail providers like Yahoo, AOL, Windows Live, and you can enter in your own POP or IMAP server information as well. Do bear in mind that you have to use a Web interface for e-mail; there's no real dedicated app for it. The Link also uses the att.net browser, which is based on Opera. This lets you view HTML Web pages, though the relatively small screen size does mean you have to do a lot of scrolling around. You can read more about this browser in our review of the Pantech Reveal.
The Link is also one of the first phones to offer AT&T's cloud services. This lets you back up your phone's contacts to AT&T's Address Book online. You can also send messages and import contacts from it. Another service is AT&T's Online Locker, where you can store photos and videos on AT&T's servers. You get 250MB of online storage but the file transfer isn't free. Each transfer is 35 cents, or you can pay $10 for 50 transfers. Also bear in mind that there's a 10MB cap in file size.
If you prefer, you can use AT&T's Mobile Share to send those media files to other sites like Facebook, MySpace, or Photobucket. To send nonmedia messages, the Link also has a Social Net platform that lets you quickly send status updates to Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace.
We're glad to see 3G support on here, which gives the Link access to AT&T's array of broadband services. These include Mobile Video, which lets you watch streaming video from a variety of content providers, and Mobile Music, which lets you purchase and download music over the air from Napster or eMusic. The music player on the Link is pretty rudimentary, but you do get the ability to create and edit playlists, and set songs on repeat or shuffle. The Link has a microSD card slot that can support up to 16GB cards. The Mobile Music app also has additional features like XM Radio Mobile, a song ID app, a ringtone creator, streaming music videos, and access to music fan sites.
The 1.3-megapixel camera on the Pantech Link can take pictures in four resolutions and three quality settings. Other options include white balance, color effects, a self-timer, shutter sounds, and a timer sound, with silent options for both. The photo quality is really quite good for a low-megapixel camera. Images look sharp and not too blurry, and colors look bright as well. The Link also has a built-in camcorder.
You can personalize the Link with wallpaper, graphics, and ringtones. You can use your own images and MP3s if you want, or you can download them from the AT&T store. The phone comes with a few games and apps--MobiTV, Mobile Banking, FunScreenz, PicDial, Tetris, Block Breaker Deluxe 2, Ms. Pac-Man, World Series of Poker, and TextTwist 2--but you can download more of those as well via AT&T's AppCenter.
We tested the Pantech Link in San Francisco using AT&T's network. Call quality on the whole was mediocre. On our end, we could hear our callers loud and clear with nary a hint of static. They sounded quite natural as well.
However, callers had a lot more trouble on their end. They could hardly hear us through the crackling and the hissing, and sometimes they didn't hear anything at all or the call would be dropped. When we did manage to get through, callers said we sounded OK, with a natural-sounding voice. Speakerphone calls suffered from the same problem.
Audio quality from the speakers was quite tinny and hollow. We would probably use a headset for listening to music. We enjoyed pretty good 3G speeds with the Pantech Link. We loaded the mobile version of CNET's page in just 20 seconds, and had little buffering issues with the streaming video.
The Pantech Link has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time, and 10 hours of standby time. It has a tested talk time of 4 hours and 2 minutes. According to the FCC, it has a digital SAR of 0.75 watt per kilogram.