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

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.

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

Performance

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.

Pantech Vybe (AT&T) call quality sample

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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.