Pantech and AT&T have a history of making some pretty reliable phones, including the Pantech Crossover and the Pantech Laser. In the Pantech Pocket, you see Pantech's easy-to-use Android Gingerbread skin, HSPA+ 4G speeds, and a good-quality 5-megapixel camera, all for a very reasonable $50. In an interesting twist, however, the Pocket's standout trait--its wider, shorter build--is also its Achilles' heel, since the dimensions make it awkward to grip with smaller hands. Video quality will bum out budding videographers.
A black phone with a textured, slightly rubberized finish coating the phone's rim and back, the Pocket immediately stands out for its short, squat, rounded build. Even though its 4.52-inch height makes it no more vertically challenged than the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Transform Ultra, the handset's 3-inch waistline is much ampler than most. At 0.44 inch thick, the phone steers clear of bulkiness, and at 4.4 ounces, it's light without being flyaway.
What makes the Pocket more pocket-filling than most is the 3:4 ratio of its 4-inch touch screen. This translates into an SVGA, or super-VGA, resolution of 600x800 pixels (there's support for 16 million colors.) The screen itself is bright and colorful for the size, and graphics look smooth, not jagged or pixelated.
Pantech bestowed the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system on the Pocket, then added its own touches. While there's nothing we haven't seen before from other manufacturers, Pantech's take is fairly intuitive and easy to use. The lock screen shows a circle surrounded by "spokes" of icons, each one representing an app you can open right from the lock screen. They lead to the browser, the call log, e-mail, the music player, the messaging app, and the home screen. The center of the ring conveys your battery status.
Pantech's custom interface also gives the Pocket seven customizable home screens and a pull-down navigation menu with quick access to system settings like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, sound profiles, and the alarm. There are also stylized onscreen navigation buttons for the dial pad, texting menu, browser, and app tray. One nice perk is that the extra-wide screen also begets an extra-wide virtual keyboard. Swype is installed, but isn't selected by default.
Getting back to the design, you'll find four physical buttons below the display. They call up the menu, home, back, and search. They rise above the surface and are responsive, but are a little too narrow for my tastes. On the right spine sits the Micro-USB charging port. The volume rocker is on the left, and up top are the 3.5mm headset jack and the power button. I wish Pantech had been less thrifty with the button's size. I wouldn't call it uncomfortable, but a larger or shapelier button might feel better under the fingertips.
The camera lens on the back belongs to a 5-megapixel lens, but note that there's no flash. Behind the back cover there's the microSD card slot, which comes filled with a 2GB SD card for storing apps and multimedia.
An Android Gingerbread phone, the Pocket is already equipped with Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth. There's built-in support for as many contacts as your memory can support, and standards like personalized ringtones, calling groups, and photo ID. Text and multimedia messaging are also routine, as is support for multiple types of e-mail inboxes, including your corporate work address.
The Pocket has essential apps like your calendar, clock, a calculator, a browser, and a basic music player. It happens to be fully stocked with over three full pages of apps--a bonus or detriment, depending on your take--so you'll also find a compass, a measurement converter, a document viewer, an RSS reader, a memo pad, and a weather app.
Google loads up all its Android devices with apps for Google services, so you'll be able to access maps, turn-by-turn voice navigation, Places, and YouTube, among others. Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Kindle, and City ID are also in residence, as well as a sketch pad, a PC connector, a stocks app, and a voice memo app.
AT&T also gets into the game with its customary installations: Navigator, Family Map, U-verse Live TV (streaming content for $10 per month), YPmobile (Yellow Pages), AT&T Address Book, AT&T Code Scanner, and MyAT&T. Whew!
When it comes to photos, the Pocket's 5-megapixel camera proved to be a handy sidekick, taking some crisp, clear outdoor shots with good color representation. Indoor photos presented more of a challenge, especially since the camera lacks a flash. Colors were flatter, details were more blunted, and focus was harder to achieve. Still, it's a serviceable shooter, and fine for the camera's price, though I think that had Pantech put in more resources, it'd be even better.
Let's take a look at the camera software, for example. There are all the usual tools for white balance and self-timer, multiple shooting modes, brightness adjustments, and zoom. However, it has limited effects (the filter setting) compared with many other cameras. There's autofocus, but no flash. Shutter lag is present while the autofocus kicks in. Though you can easily view your last shot right after you take it, and can skip over to the image gallery from there, Pantech requires a bit more work to access the view mode and photo gallery once you reactivate the camera mode (you'll need to press Menu, then tap an onscreen button).
The video camera repeats much of the same story. You've got white balance and filter options, and you can also set the duration from 10 minutes up to an hour. The Pocket shoots video in five resolutions, starting from 176x144 pixels (perfect for multimedia messaging) up to 1,280x720-pixel (720p) high-definition video. You can choose from one of two encoders, MPEG4 or H.264, a high-definition standard.
Video playback looked "off" in my test films. It was at the same time both overly severe and not quite focused. Worse, pixelation plagued the videos when I played them back both on the phone screen and on the computer as well. The lack of a flash will hamper night videos, too. Still, if your only intention is to take casual movies, this will do. However, Pantech unfortunately wastes the 720p HD video on this phone.
The Pocket has 600MB of internal memory for photos, videos, and music, and holds up to 32GB total. As a reminder, it comes with a 2GB card preinstalled.
I tested the quad-band (850/900/1800/1900; UMTS 850/1900/2100) Pantech Pocket in San Francisco using AT&T's service. The first thing I'll point out is that it requires a Micro-SIM card rather than the full-size SIM that comes with most phones. Call quality was OK, but not great. Volume was fine, but voices sounded slightly distant to my ears, cutting in and out a little. It wasn't a totally smooth listening experience.
To my callers, volume ranged from normal-loud to a little too loud. A low-frequency distortion made my voice sound unnatural and a little muffled, they said. Distortion followed almost every syllable.
Pantech Pocket call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone was much worse. Volume noticeably dropped off to the point where it sounded like the speakerphone was hardly projecting. A metallic buzz occurred each time the caller spoke. The volume also cut on the listener's side, and they said I sounded "canned" and my voice had a metallic, "distracting" quality.
In better news, the Pantech Pocket runs on AT&T's HSPA+ network. The New York Times' mobile site loaded up in 7 seconds, with the full site finishing its download in about 20 seconds. It took about 20 seconds for CNET's mobile site to completely load, and about 22 seconds for the graphically rich desktop site to do its thing. I tested speeds on the diagnostic Speedtest.net app and found that they ranged from about 1Mbps down to 2.7Mbps down over HSPA+.
The Pantech Pocket has a rated battery life of up to 6 hours' talk time on its 1,650mAh battery, and up to 18 days of standby time.
Its extra-wide face may make you take notice, but at the end of the day, the Pantech Pocket is only as good as what's inside. When it comes down to it, the phone's form and performance have ups and downs. The Pocket can ride AT&T's faster HSPA+ network and can take nice outdoor photos, but call quality is rocky, video playback disappointed, and having no flash holds the camera back. The $50 price tag and nice 4-inch screen are the phone's saving graces, making the Pocket an accessible and easy-to-use Android phone. Still, if you're open to other smartphone platforms, the $50 Samsung Focus Flash running Windows Phone is a step up in quality, though with a smaller screen.
Editors' note: This review was updated with the results of our data speed tests.