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Pantech Renue (AT&T) review: Pantech Renue (AT&T)

Heavy texters will find much to like in the cute, compact Pantech Renue, but its short battery life and underdeveloped camera are setbacks.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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I updated this review August 10, 2012 with Pantech's revised battery ratings. Online specs originally pointed to a rated battery life of 3 hours and 10 days standby time. Pantech provided CNET with documentation of 5 hours talk time and over 17 days of standby time. We will update this section to include our own battery drain tests.


Pantech Renue (AT&T)

The Good

The <B>Pantech Renue</b> has an appealing design, a touch-friendly interface, and a quite decent slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

The Bad

Poor speakerphone, mediocre camera, and shorter battery life are the Renue's biggest deterrents.

The Bottom Line

Heavy texters will find much to like in the cute, compact Pantech Renue, but its shorter battery life and underdeveloped camera are setbacks.

I always look forward to reviewing Pantech phones, in part because the lesser-known brand is often undersung, and in part, because you never know what you're going to get. It might be something like the sleeker, sophisticated Pantech Burst Android phone, the Sidekick-style Swift, or the overgrown Pocket. In this case, AT&T's eco-friendly Pantech Renue continues the carrier's staunch support for the phone-maker in a compact messaging phone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that's more in the style of U.S. Cellular's slide-up Verse than the other three designs.

In typical Pantech fashion, the design and interface are high points, and the tools are fairly filled out for a feature phone. However, there are some technical problems when it comes to capturing good quality photo and video, and elements like speakerphone. However, the $69.99 price tag -- with a two-year contract -- and the lack of a recurring data fee will attract those who just aren't ready or interested in a smartphone, so long as they can look past detractions like a medium-life battery and iffy photos.

Pantech Renue (pictures)

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Every phone-maker has a signature style, and for Pantech, it's "cute." As a lover of many things cute, I say that's a good thing. It lets Pantech inject some youthful character that can help its handsets stand out from more industrial or generic designs. Oftentimes, "cute" means small, as with the Renue. (But not always; the Pantech Pocket was actually the size of my pocket.) In Pantech's case, it's also synonymous with a more polished design that pays attention to visual details like texture and shape.

Like many of Pantech's phones, the Renue is a compact rectangle with rounded-off corners. It has a glossy, all black face, but the battery cover is a rubbery material etched with diagonal grooves. At only 3.9 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by about 0.47 inch thick, the compact Renue folds easily into the palm of a hand, tucks into a pocket or purse, and excels at one-handed touch-screen operation. It's snug on the ear as well. At 4.5 ounces, it's heavy for its size, but make it much lighter and it would start feeling cheap and breakable. The weight gives an impression of sturdiness.

AT&T's eco-freindly feature phone has five semi-customizable home screens. Josh Miller/CNET

Fitting to its petite dimension, the Renue has only a 3.2 inch TFT screen with a 320x240-pixel resolution and support for 260,000 colors. Hues look bright, but the display resolution isn't very sharp or detailed, and text looks jagged around the edges. Responsiveness, however, is high, which makes the act of navigating fairly easy.

When you firmly slide out the four-row QWERTY keyboard, you're greeted with oblong plastic keyboard buttons accented in aquamarine. The keys look bubbly, but are actually pretty flat to the surface. They feel good underhand, but keys that rise higher would make it easier to type like the wind. As it is, the flatness stalled me a couple of times. Otherwise, I found the placement spacious despite the more compact width (I also have smaller fingers.) Smart predictive suggestion boxes help keep spelling in check, and a couple of dedicated punctuation buttons on the keyboard will keep grammarians happy.

Below the display are three touch-sensitive buttons for talk, back, and end. The left spine houses the Micro-USB charging port and the right spine has the volume rocker. Up top are the 3.5 millimeter headset jack and the power button. On the back you'll find the 3-megapixel camera lens with no flash. Behind the back cover are slots for the micro-SIM card and for the microSD card. The Renue accepts up to XYZGB in expandable memory.

Features and OS
As a feature phone, the Renue runs on Pantech's proprietary operating system, based on BREW. There's a lock screen with shortcuts to open to the camera app, message composition screen, call log, or voice mail if you'd rather skip the home screens.

Speaking of home screens, you'll find five of them. They're semi-customizable. In addition to the main screen (which has your clock,) Pantech has designated one screen each for photos, contacts, favorites, and the Web. You're able to add what you'd like within that framework, but you'll hit your head against a wall if you're trying to add bookmarks where your contacts live. Pantech may restrict your customizing freedom, but they got it right with large, tap-friendly widgets and icons. At the bottom of the touch screen are four static icons for the dialer, contacts, messages, and the application tray.

Pantech Renue
The Renue's QWERTY keyboard is petite, but well-appointed, and the large icons are easy to see and press on the smaller screen. Josh Miller/CNET

The app tray fits 12 large, finger-friendly icons on each "page." Rearranging them is easy by pressing and holding, then moving the icons around once they're activated. You can also add shortcuts to specific files, settings, and tools by pressing and holding, or create folders.

The Renue has Bluetooth and Internet access over AT&T's 3G network, but you won't find Wi-Fi, unfortunately, so anything you do will eat up data. You'll also notice a toll with the mobile e-mail app, which lets you sign into various accounts, including Gmail, AT&T Mail, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, and AIM. There are GPS and mapping apps, like the optional AT&T Navigator with turn-by-turn directions. The first 30 days are free; you can also buy a day pass for $1.99 or subscribe monthly for $9.99. Other applications include AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Maps, and the Where apps.

Other apps include a Web browser, your MyAT&T account, Yellow Pages Mobile, and an app manager to delete or update your downloads. Multimedia plays a role as well, with a basic music player and video player, plus an online music store. Shortcuts to Facebook and Twitter's mobile sites are loaded by default. A hearty helping of essential tools all get their own bucket, where you'll find an alarm clock, a calendar, a notepad, a sketch pad, a voice recorder, and a world clock. There's also a calculator and tip calculator, a unit converter, a stop watch, and a timer.

If you're looking for more, there's a link to AT&T's online storefront where you'll be able to buy and download items like additional apps and games.

In addition to apps, there's an array of settings you can apply to customize the phone. The Renue will let you set up profiles for certain scenarios, like flight mode and outdoor. It isn't exactly clear what each setting means, but I assume the outdoor profile boosts the audio alerts and ringtone volume. On the display front, you're able to swap out the home screen and menu screen wallpaper. You're also able to select your clock type, change the lock screen image, choose the font, and select backlight times for the screen and keypad. Battery is a scarce resource on the Renue, but power-saving mode can help prolong it.

If a camera is your most important phone feature, you may want to keep looking. The Renue's 3-megapixel camera/camcorder lacks a flash, which is already one limitation. Unfortunately, mediocre image quality is another. Photos are set to medium quality by default, but they also go one notch higher and one lower. Even at high quality, the image isn't very sharp or saturated, and the camera seems to struggle with correctly lighting a scene.

The 3-megapixel camera disappointed, as did the Renue's video quality. Josh Miller/CNET

There's a lot you can do in the settings to tweak the image setup. If you really want, you can drop the resolution down four levels, from the 3-megapixel setting of 2,048x1,536 pixels down to 320x240 pixels, the QVGA resolution of the screen. There are also five white balance settings, four effects, and brightness controls. You can turn on the self-timer and turn off the irritatingly loud shutter sound. (Get a sampling of cell phone camera quality here in our comparative photo gallery.)

Videos you take on the Renue will also be basic. The handset can capture and play back in the MPEG-4 format. A 15f/s, QVGA size is the maximum; it'll also record in 176x144 and a smaller size specifically for MMS. You'll still get brightness settings, a self timer, white balance presets, and three quality options. In addition, you can manually zoom in.

Unsurprisingly, video quality isn't a strong suit. Clips, which are clearly envisioned as multimedia messaging content, cut off at the 30-second mark and are extremely blocky on playback. Volume on the subject is low and colors look dull and drained.

Call quality
I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSDPA 850/1900) Pantech Renue in San Francisco on AT&T's network. Call quality was acceptable, but there were apparent weak spots. Volume was a tad low, and voices sounded thick and muffled. On the plus side, background noise was undetectable and there weren't any interruptions in the line. While my callers always sounded natural, sometimes their voices flared in a "hot" flash.

On their end of the line, callers agreed that my voice sounded thick and muffled, but exceptionally clear. No interruptions bothered my test partner, but my chief partner did hear clipping at the higher voice frequencies.

Pantech Renue call quality sample Listen now:

I tested the speakerphone at waist level. Volume dropped in the switch from standard to speakerphone, and my caller sounded rather unintelligible -- fuzzy, hollow, and more robotic, with a lot of distortion at the higher registers. Listening to it was very uncomfortable and I had to ask my caller to repeat himself more than once. On his end, my test companion said I sounded good over speakerphone, but perhaps a bit quieter. There's a little echo, but nothing beyond the normal amount.

Data speeds are strictly 3G on this feature phone, and that's OK since texting and making calls will probably trump data usage as your primary focus. If you're moving up from a simple phone or are a new phone owner, it may be just fine, but compare speeds to today's high-speed 4G networks and you may get some data envy. You also won't break any land speed records navigating around on the phone's Qualcomm QSC6270 processor, but again, communication is the name of the game here, not speed. Just so you know.

Unfortunately, the Renue's battery life may hinder marathon communication. It has a rated battery life of 5.2 hours talk time and 17.7 days of standby time on the 1,000mAh battery. During our battery test for talk time, it lasted 6.92 hours.

People who want to text and make calls and do little else besides should keep the Pantech Renue in the ring when picking out a new feature phone. The price is fair for a handset of this type that isn't being subsidized to abnormally deflated levels, and the compact shape and size let it offer different dimensions than what we typically find on store displays. Its flat keyboard may slow you down at time and being a slave to the charger is always a drag, but my overall impression is of a likable phone that gets other things right, like predictive texting and large screen icons. I really do wish the camera were better at rendering images, even for the megapixel size, but if you're not buying a phone to double as a camera, the shooter still beats that of a flip phone for capturing the moment when no other cameras are around. Because of its shape and interface, the Renue seems geared toward teens or to the young at heart, and its eco certification through AT&T's new program gives it a few bonus points for reduced packaging and recycled materials.


Pantech Renue (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6