Pantech Perception review:

A good, but not great, midtier Android phone

For those who prefer training wheels while learning to use Android's many features, there's the option to switch into Easy Mode, a stripped-down and finger-friendly version of the OS that lets users access the most important parts of the device more intuitively.

When it comes to apps, the Perception has plenty. You'll find, of course, essentials like an alarm clock, calendar, and calculator, and Google's services, like search, mapping, and e-mail. Beyond these, Pantech and Verizon set you up with the full suite of Amazon apps, including Audible and Amazon Kindle for e-reading. There's Camnote, Color, a document viewer, NFL Mobile, some game demos, and a task manager. Viewdini, Smart Voice, and Slacker Radio are others you'll see on top of Verizon's own suite of management apps and storefronts.

Cameras and video
Nothing about an 8-megapixel camera sounds midrange from the outset, and I was really excited to test this one out. Unfortunately, photos were mediocre across the board, in both indoor and outdoor shots. That's too bad, since a high-resolution camera with autofocus and LED flash for a $100 package sounds like a steal.

The central flower is so devoid of detail, you'd hardly think I focused on it. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The camera quality isn't devoid of merit, though focus seemed extremely hit or miss, color reproduction was weak, and image details were flatter than they should have been. Zoomed in to full scale, subjects were noisy.

Pets are hard to photograph because they move around so much. This subject sat still long enough to take this not-too-crisp shot. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Perhaps the most telling image issue was our controlled indoor studio shot, always taken with a flash when the camera has one. In this case, the photo came out with a brick-red tint over the entire scene that we couldn't disregard.

CNET's standard studio shot gets eery through the Perception's lens. Josh Miller/CNET

My complaints also applied to the 1080p HD video recorder, which never got as crisp or clear as it should have, and to a lesser extent, to the 2-megapixel front-facing camera. High-end lenses and sensors cost more, and in this area, Pantech had to make concessions in order to meet its expected price.

Third time's the charm. The flash washed out this stove-browned tortilla during my first attempt. This third try was the best. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

If the camera is low on your list of smartphone priorities, you'll still be happy to know that the usual modes and presets are all there, such as the choice to lower the camera's resolution and its change white balance presets. The Perception is slim on effects and modes, but you can give photos the look of a Polaroid picture or multiply photos into four smaller sizes, which is handy for creating your own wallet-size images.

Panorama and HDR (high-definition range) modes are tucked into onscreen controls that actually make them a little hard to find, but they're there.

I shot this Victorian house outdoors around dusk. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Call quality
I tested the Pantech Perception's call quality on Verizon (CDMA 800/900/1900/2100; LTE 700/2100) from my San Francisco base. Audio was totally passable, but not a fantastic experience. Voices sounded a little hollow and slightly unnatural, and also muted and never completely clear. On the plus side, volume was strong at medium-high, and the line was clear with no background noise. There's a noise-canceling control on the screen, but neither my test partner nor I could tell much of a difference.

My test partner also thought my audio sounded off and that I came across distorted, but he had a better audio experience than I did. He said I sounded pretty good, though a little unnatural, and also lacking the sharp finality you get with a crystal-clear call.

Pantech Perceptioncall quality sample Listen now:

I found speakerphone equally flawed when I held the phone at hip level. It was distractingly buzzy and and a little echoey, and volume did drop enough for me to punch it up a notch. On his end, my tester also noted dropped volume, but otherwise thought that audio quality sounded about the same as the my voice did through the earpiece.

Verizon's 4G LTE network courses through the Perception, but when I ran numbers on the diagnostic app, something strange happened. The app consistently returned much slower results than I'm used to seeing. Speeds were fine when I whipped out the stopwatch to measure download and upload times, but other times, the pokiness returned. I had no problems, of course, using Wi-Fi.

Results from two diagnostic tests, one to measure processor performance (left) and the other to measure network speed. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

On the processor front, the Perception packs a respectable 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chipset, which not too long ago was a pinnacle of performance. It did well in its own Quadrant diagnostic test, scoring 5,314. To add some perspective, the two fastest Android smartphones on the market today score 11,381 (Samsung Galaxy S4) and 12,194 (HTC One.)

Pantech Perception (Verizon)
Download CNET mobile app (3.8MB) 41.5 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app 7.4 seconds
CNET mobile site load 4.2 seconds
CNET desktop site load 11.7 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 27 seconds
Camera boot time 2 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 1-2 seconds, no auto-focus

The Perception has 1GB RAM and 16GB internal storage, with a microSD card slot that welcomes up to 32GB more. It's got a rated talk time of 11.6 days standby on its large 2,020mAh battery. Anecdotally, the Perception's battery life seemed to last a day before needing a charge, and it ran 7 hours, 20 minutes in our battery drain test playing looping video.

One last figure you might like to know is the Perception's digital SAR, which the FCC measured at 1.03 watts per kilogram.

So, should I buy it?
So long as you're not hung up on the camera or having the absolute speediest handset in town, you'll find a fair number of features in the attractive Perception. I like the processor and the phone's edgy look, Pantech's relatively uncluttered take on Android, and features like motion control as well. Yet, Verizon has also dropped last season's hottest phones down to the Perception's price.

For my money, I'd probably opt for Samsung's newly discounted Galaxy S3 over the Perception at this price. The LG Lucid 2 is another worthy $100 contender. Yet, if you wait for Verizon to drop the price, the Perception would be a fantastic $50 buy.

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