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Pantech Vybe (AT&T) review: Bare-bones QWERTY great for basics

Featuring a QWERTY keyboard and a 3-megapixel camera, the ultrabasic Vybe is available for just $30 on-contract.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
7 min read

It's been a while since Korean-based mobile manufacturer Pantech released a phone to the US market. So it's nice to see that the company, which has a good track record of delivering reliable handsets at low-budget prices, recently launched its Vybe messaging device for AT&T.


Pantech Vybe (AT&T)

The Good

AT&T's inexpensive and easy-to-use Pantech Vybe makes solid calls, takes decent photos, and is equipped with a spacious and comfortable keyboard.

The Bad

A slow processor, low-resolution screen, and minimal Web offerings drag down the handset's user experience.

The Bottom Line

The Vybe is a competitively priced device that'll please messaging enthusiasts and smartphone neophytes who don't want high-end features.

Sure, the handset is no head-turner. Its basic aesthetic hearkens back to the simpler times of the early 2000s, and its capabilities are limited to the calling, texting, and basic Web browsing phone functionality of that era as well.

But with its clear call quality, responsive keyboard, and passable camera, this no-muss-no-fuss device will suit your most basic needs. In addition, at $29.99 on-contract (or $199.99 for those who don't want to be locked in a carrier agreement) the Pantech Vybe is competitively priced. And knowing that you won't break the bank on your next handset always gives off good vibes.

AT&T's compact and user-friendly Pantech Vybe (pictures)

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With its petite frame, the Pantech Vybe measures 4.49 inches tall, 2.32 inches wide, and 0.51-inch thick (114.05 x 58.93 x 12.95mm). When closed, it's easy to maneuver with one hand, and at just 4.94 ounces (140.05g), it is lightweight and comfortable to hold.

Although the device itself isn't a rugged handset, it feels quite durable. Its edges are thick and have a rubber-like exterior. Its dimple-textured battery door helps with grip, and its matte coating wards off unsightly fingerprints.

On the left edge is a volume rocker and at the dead-center of the top edge is a 3.5mm headphone jack. To the right are a Micro-USB port for charging, a sleep/power button, and two physical shortcut keys: one to launch voice commands and another to open the camera.

The Vybe has shortcut buttons on its edge for the camera and voice commands. Josh Miller/CNET

The backside houses a 3-megapixel camera lens (which doesn't have a flash) and the audio speaker. A small slit to the right back plate lets you pry it off and access the removable 1,200mAh battery and microSD card slot that can hold up to 32GB.

While it's quite easy to peel off the battery door, putting it back on is a different story. Oftentimes, it was difficult to get the plate securely snapped in at the edges. One side would end up always bulging slightly upward, and I'd have to forcibly hit the plate against a hard surface, like a table, in order for it to finally snap in completely.

As for the front of the phone, the Vybe's 3.2-inch touchscreen display has a meager 400x240-pixel resolution. Because of the low resolution, images, texts, and icons look notably grainy and pixelated. The screen itself is also not very accurate or responsive. It often registered incorrect taps when I wanted to select or open an item, which was irritating. It is, however, easy to view in direct sunlight when brightness is cranked to its maximum level. This will drain the battery faster, so this should be adjusted only when necessary. Below the display are three hotkeys for recent calls, back, and end.

The device's four-row keyboard includes an alt-function key and a vibrate ring mode button. Josh Miller/CNET

Typing on the device's four-row keyboard is comfortable and easy. Keep in mind that I have rather small hands, but the keys' bulbous shape and the fact that they are raised slightly above the surface of the handset helped locate the buttons by touch. Each button is generously sized and spaced and are easy to press. The keyboard includes includes an alt-function key for secondary commands, a shift key for capitalizing letters, a shortcut key for putting the phone on vibrate, a key to call up text symbols, and a ".com" input button. Sliding the keyboard in and out was smooth as well, and the snapping mechanism was secure. After several openings and closures, it didn't get feel loose or shaky.

Software features

The phone runs a proprietary OS from Pantech that is straightforward and incredibly user-friendly, even when set to its advanced user interface mode. If you want the UI to be even more stripped down, however, there is an easy mode option that is more streamlined, easy to use, and larger to see.

For your homescreen, you have three homepages on which to add your favorite apps, commonly visited Web pages for faster access, and a customizable clock widget. On the bottom right is the icon to launch the menu, where you'll find several tools and apps. This includes a contact book, native email and browser clients, music and video players, and Bluetooth. The email client has support for several providers, such as Yahoo, AOL, and Gmail.

Facebook and Twitter are loaded too, along with three carrier-branded apps from AT&T: its GPS tool; myAT&T, which lets you check your plan balance and info; and a driving-safety app called DriveMode.

Big icons and a minimalistic menu keep the handset's interface extremely user-friendly. Josh Miller/CNET

Finally, under the Tools icon, you can launch even more useful functions like an alarm clock, a calculator, a calendar, a converter, a note- and sketchpad, a timer, a voice memo, and more. There's even a pill reminder where you can input a dosage schedule and the name and dosage information about specific drugs.

For your personal contacts, you can add up to four numbers per person (such as home, mobile, and work), as well as email addresses, and a home address. There's a speed dial option for your most frequented dialed numbers, as well as a menu setting for emergency contacts.

Camera and video

Though the Vybe packs just a 3-megapixel camera, its photo quality was surprisingly adequate. Indeed, I could still make out a noticeable amount of digital noise and blurry lines in the photos I took. Colors also came off a tad muted as well. However, in scenes with ample lighting, objects looked clear and in focus. The camera itself can be slow, however, and you'll need to hold it still after clicking the shutter to prevent motion blur. But with a steady hand (and again, a lot of lighting), you can take decent pictures with the device. For more on the handset's photo quality, check out the test pictures below. Be sure to click on each one to see it at its full resolution.

Video quality was about what I expected with a camera of this caliber -- mediocre, but not the worst I've ever seen. As I mentioned before, the camera does lag, so there was a slight delay between my moving of the phone and the feedback I saw on the viewfinder. And keep in mind that without a flash, recording at night will be out of the question. The lens took a few moments to adjust for focus and lighting, and nearby audio sounded tinny and thin. However, while objects looked pixelated, it wasn't to a degree that the video was unwatchable, and I could still easily make out the recording subject matter.

In this outdoor scene, the buildings are in focus and sharp but appear elongated due to the angle of view. Lynn La/CNET

Understandably, with less lighting, this indoor photo shows a noticeable amount of digital noise. The lighting in the back is also blown out. Lynn La/CNET

In our standard studio shot, objects are clear but have blurred outlines. Lynn La/CNET

The Vybe has a few basic camera features like a brightness meter, five white-balance options, three photo effects, a timer, geotagging, and three picture qualities. There are six photo sizes ranging from 320x240 to 2,048x1,536-pixel resolutions, but take note that the 8X digital zoom does not work with the highest resolution setting.

Video options are nearly identical, except there is no geotagging feature. The three recording sizes range from MMS to 320x240, and you can capture footage in two video formats: MPEG-4 and H.264. You can also pause video while recording.


I tested the tri-band (850/1900/2100) device in our San Francisco offices, and call quality was excellent. Volume range was satisfactory, and I had no issues hearing my calling partner. Audio was adequately loud enough, and I didn't hear any extraneous buzzing. In addition, none of my calls dropped and my call continued consistently.

The audio speaker yielded the same solid results; however, my partner's voice did come off a bit tinny and sharp. The speaker itself doesn't offer much depth, but I was able to still hear what was being said clearly and easily.


As for my end, I was told that my voice sounded clear as well. There were no issues with static or volume levels, and during times of absolute silence, neither party heard any outside noises.

In general, 3G speeds on this handset were slow but stable. I was easily able to email photo attachments smoothly and easily, though it takes about under a minute for a 500GB picture to finish sending. And while the Web browsing experience is sluggish, navigating to Web sites and entering in URLs were easy. On average, it takes 27 seconds for the browser to launch. Mobile sites for CNET, The New York Times, and ESPN loaded in about 53, 28, and 13 seconds, respectively. Keep in mind, however, that the sites that are displayed are stripped-down versions of their full selves, lacking much of their coding.

Internal speeds can lag as well. As I mentioned before, the camera has a long shutter delay, and it takes a few noticeable moments for an application to launch after selecting it from the menu or opening it directly from my lockscreen. You'll also need to wait a few seconds after you close an application to return to the homepage. On average, it takes 35 seconds to shut down and restart the phone, and 2.23 seconds to launch the camera.

Being an entry-level phone, the Vybe doesn't pack terribly powerful hardware inside. Josh Miller/CNET

Anecdotal observation of the 1,200mAh battery has shown decent usage times. The Vybe lasted an entire weekend on standby, and it lost only about half its battery percentage with mild usage during the workday. Pantech reports that it has a reported talk time of up to 6.8 hours. In our own lab tests for talk time, it lasted 8.5 hours. According to FCC radiation measurements, the device has an SAR rating of 0.38W/kg.


Considering there aren't many QWERTY phones available on the market, the Pantech Vybe offers an uncommon feature that can be very useful. And while the carrier has more powerful messaging devices (for example, the $49.99 on-contract BlackBerry Q10 has 4G LTE and a dual-core processor), this handset is more for those in the market for a simple gadget.

For users who want the bare-bone functions of talking and messaging, the device will definitely satisfy. Call quality proved to be solid, my texting experience was comfortable and easy, and the camera is decent enough to capture quick, informal moments you want to remember.

In addition, the fact that it has an inexpensive $29.99 subsidized price option makes it a good candidate for budget-conscious consumers. I personally recommend it over the Pantech Renue . Compared to that phone, the Vybe has a larger battery, and a more narrow, pocketable design. Plus, it's still $10 less expensive than the Renue, which is a definite bonus.


Pantech Vybe (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7