Review: Pantech Marauder for Verizon Wireless
Pantech's Marauder is a slim and stylish slider that packs a punch. With Android 4.0, LTE 4G, and a cool 'Starter Mode' for Android newbs, the Marauder means business.
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The Pantech Marauder targets messaging maniacs who need their QWERTY but don't want to lose out on sex appeal. It's a sideways slider that includes Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and 4G LTE in slim package. Do a hardware keyboard, modern smartphone operating system, and the fastest data possible make for a killer product? Phone Scoop digs in.
The Marauder is fairly thin, as far as sideways sliders go. This device type is quite often bulky and lacking in the style department. The Marauder suffers neither affliction. That's probably because it's been put through the "squish" effect. It's thinner, but has a fairly tall and wide footprint instead. Though it makes use of black-on-black coloring (as any marauder should) it still manages to show a little bit of personality thanks to the design.
The quality of the device, its materials, and how well it is assembled impressed me. Pantech is perhaps most well known for its entry-level devices. The Marauder doesn't feel entry-level at all. It’s a solid phone that's been put together well.
The semi-rough texture of the battery cover provides enough friction so that it won't slip through your fingers, but the side and front surfaces are all smooth and comfortable against your skin. It's thin and light enough that you won't have trouble dropping it into a pocket and forgetting about it for while.
The only controls on the front are four capacitive buttons below the display. Even though the Marauder runs Android 4.0, it has Back, Home, Multitasking, and Menu keys. Pantech did something interesting with the menu key. As in Android 4.0 itself, the button's icon is three vertical dots. These same dots appear in the system software from time to time to let the user know that there are options available. Using the same icon on the hardware itself will help new Android 4.0 users learn their way around the software better.
The volume toggle is on the left, and is somewhat hard to find. I wish it had more travel and feedback. The microUSB port is below it. The power/lock button is on top, as is the 3.5mm headset jack. I thought the button worked well.
The slider mechanism has a good feel to it. There's no grating or grinding, just smooth action. It’s spring assisted, so you don't have to push it too far before the springs take over and snap it open or closed.
The QWERTY keyboard itself is a generous, five-row affair. The top row is reserved for numbers, and the remaining four are for letters and other symbols. I like that the keyboard includes dedicated period and comma keys. It also has directional arrows for positioning the cursor in text, and dedicated shortcuts for the SMS app and browser. The buttons have a decent feel to them. Travel and feedback is quite good, but I wish the keys had just a bit more shape. As they are, I found them to be somewhat flat. Overall, though, it's a solid keyboard.
The battery cover fits perhaps too snugly. The clasps are tight enough that I had to break out my jackknife to pry the cover off. Sadly, you have to remove the battery to access both the SIM card and the microSD card slot.
The Marauder's screen boasts some fairly ho-hum specs. It measures 3.8-inches across the diagonal and includes 480 x 800 pixels. It's certainly not HD. That said, I think it looks really nice. The smaller size and lower resolution work well together, and text, icons, and graphics all look smooth. I had to hold the phone inches from my eyes to pick out any individual pixels. It's also plenty bright for indoor use, but suffered from the common sun glare problem outside that many phones do. I was able to use the camera easily enough, but checking the time had me angling the device away from the sun and seeking shade.
The Marauder performed on-par with other Verizon devices with respect to the network. The only time it dropped Verizon's network is when it should have — when I was underground on the subway in NYC. All other times, it remained firmly attached to either the 3G or 4G network. The marauder connected all calls on the first attempt, and didn't drop any during my review period. Data performed to my expectations. It timed out once or twice when surfing the web in congested areas using the 3G network but never had any problems with the 4G network.
The Marauder is an excellent voice phone. All of the calls I made were completely devoid of interference and noise. Further, the earpiece produces plenty of power. The Marauder can be heard in most environments with the volume set at about 75%. Ramp it up all the way, and you'll be able to hear the Marauder over a noisy school bus or screaming kids with no problem. The speakerphone, too, is quite loud and free of distortion and noise. The Marauder could easily replace a standard desktop speakerphone for use in the boardroom. Ringers and alert tones can be set loud enough that if the phone goes off while you're in church, the Almighty just might reach down and smite thee. The vibrate alert is also quite strong.
Oh no, the Marauder's first real weak spot! The Marauder made it through a full waking day (7AM to about midnight), but not much past that. On some days, the battery was begging for mercy closer to 8 or 9PM. It's conceivable that if you're going out partying after work on a Friday night, you could run out of juice before you get home if you're not careful. The device doesn't allow the LTE 4G radio to be turned off, which could help, but it does have some power saver tools to help manage battery life Bottom line, charge it every night and keep an eye on power consumption the first few weeks until you can really predict its behavior.
Here's where the Marauder really sets itself apart. The Marauder has two available modes, one is standard, and the other is sort of a beginner’s mode. It's all based on Android 4.0.3, and runs smoothly thanks to a speedy dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor.
First, Standard Mode: The standard mode is a close-to-stock version of Android, though Pantech has tweaked it a bit. The best feature is probably the lock screen. There's a large ring in the center of the lock screen and it is surrounded by six apps. Drag the app you want into the circle and you go directly there. Out of the box, those apps are the phone, SMS/MMS, email, browser, camera, and the media player.
The Marauder has five home screens that can be customized with widgets, shortcuts, and apps. There is a dock at the bottom that provides access to the phone, contacts, messaging, browser, and main menu. This dock is visible across all of the home screens.
One unique feature I really like is the ability to change the appearance of the app icons. There are two sets preloaded (Verizon hasn't said if more will become available). Basically, if you don't like the stock Android app icons, you can switch to a second set of icons, which has a bit more style. There's no real benefit other than adding your own touch to the device.
Now, on to Starter Mode: Starter Mode drastically simplifies things. In increases the size of all the icons, reduces the amount of clutter on any given screen, and makes it dead simple to make changes (add shortcuts, contacts, etc.) to the home screens.
Starter Mode drops the handy lock screen shortcuts, and disables the use of widgets entirely. It also hides the bulk of the apps installed on the device, leaving only the main communications tools available. Aside from these visible changes on the home screens, all the apps themselves behave just as they would on any Android device. In other words, all the features are still there.
Personally, I don't think it's any easier to use Starter Mode, but it is less assaulting on your brain. There's less information to process at any given time, and things (fonts) are larger and easier to read.
There's no difference in the way it performs compared to the Standard Mode. Both are extremely speedy and won't get in the way of your fast-moving fingers.
The Marauder also includes all the standard Android-based tools for customizing the phone's behavior.
Aside from the lock screen shortcut that takes you directly to the call log, there's little setting the Marauder apart from other Android handsets when it comes to the phone app. The function of the phone dialer, recent calls, and favorites tabs on the top of the screen is exactly the same as on any stock Android handset.
The contacts application, too, is that of stock Android. The one thing setting it apart is a really useful home screen widget. The widget lets create a miniature contact list that is accessible from the home page. It holds at least ten people, and includes their thumbnail photo. Press any of the faces, and a second screen appears with info such as the last call, email, and SMS received by that person, as well as links to the phone app, full contact app, and so on.
The Marauder covers all of the messaging basics. It runs the stock messaging (SMS), email, Gmail, Google+, Google+ Messenger, Latitude, and Google Talk apps. All of them work well, though they don't present any new features. There’s no pre-loaded support for third-party instant messaging, so you'll have to scout through the Android Market to find the right IM apps.
The Marauder comes with both the full Facebook and Twitter apps, as well as some handy widgets for both.
A few words on typing. Aside from the physical keyboard, the Marauder also comes with SwiftKey X for faster touch keyboard input. SwiftKey has its own way to predict words as you type them. I found it to be very accurate — and very necessary. The Marauder's touch keyboard is way too narrow, and the keys themselves are narrow strips instead of nice, round or square shapes. Bottom line: without SwiftKey, typing on the touch screen would be nearly impossible for those of us with fatter thumbs.
The Marauder relies on stock Android 4.0 tools when it comes to interacting with music and video content. There are generic Android music and video players, as well as Google's Play Store for music, movies, apps, TV shows, and so on. All of this software has been around awhile and works very well. The native media player apps easily spotted side-loaded content and played it back without issue.
Movies and other video looked good on the Marauder's display, and the quality of sound playback was excellent.
The Marauder has a DLNA app on board for sharing media with other compatible devices. It is called Net Media. It's a terrible app. The older one worked much better. The user interface is horrid, it's slow, and simply doesn't work as it is supposed to.
The Marauder's 5-megapixel camera is as easy to use as any other on an Android device. As is fairly typical these days, there is no hardware camera button, so you'll have to open the camera with the lock screen shortcut or via the menu itself. It opens somewhat slowly.
At a glance, the only tools visible are the shutter, gallery, and video/camera buttons. Tap the screen gently and a second set of buttons appear or customizing the camera's behavior. Those options run the gamut, and let users control the white balance, scene, resolution, and so on.
This is one feature of the Marauder that fails the speed test. The camera is slow when it matters most: opening the app, and firing off shots. It takes nearly five seconds to load the camera. Once you press the shutter button, the image freezes on the screen, then there's a pause, and then it captures the image. The screen remains frozen for another second or two to process the image before you are returned to the viewfinder.
Bottom line, you might miss shots when your subject is moving quickly.
Photo quality is so-so, I'm afraid. I found a lot of images were out of focus and grainy. White balance was mostly OK, but images lacked pop and vibrancy. They had a pall over them that made them all seem dim and lacking in life. That said, the Marauder still managed to capture the occasional winner.
Video quality, too, could have been better. The Marauder shoots 720p HD video at its highest setting, and the results are average at best. The device gets lighting and exposure correct, but I noticed some herky-jerky motion and poor sound capture. As with the camera, the Marauder will get things perfect from time to time, but don't count on it for important video recording needs.
The Marauder's gallery application is very close to the stock Android 4.0 gallery app. The app automatically syncs your Picasa and/or Google+ photos if you have them, as well as other configurable online accounts, including Flickr.
The basic view includes a mish-mash of photos from all your accounts in one epically huge grid. Using the tools at the top of the page, you can shift the view to specific folders or collections of photos.
The editing features are more fun than functional. Sure, the Marauder allows for cropping, rotating, resizing, and renaming, but it also allows budding artists to apply Instagram-esque filters, eliminate red eye, and highlight faces. I found the tools intuitive and easy to use.
Verizon didn't go too far overboard with respect to bloatware. The Marauder is stocked with an extra, Verizon-curated app store, MyVerizon Mobile, V CAST Tones (really, Verizon?), and VZ Navigator. Most of the rest of the apps are stock Android. Perhaps the oddest inclusion is AmexServe. This app lets you send/move money between accounts and send it to people, sort of like Western Union. This app would make sense to me on a prepaid phone, but not on a standard smartphone from a Tier 1 carrier. As with most phones, some of these apps can be deleted and some cannot.
The Marauder supports mono and stereo headsets, phone book access, and object push with its Bluetooth radio. I had no trouble pairing with headsets and other phones. Sound quality of calls through the headsets was very good. Stereo music sent to a set of Bluetooth speakers sounded pretty good.
The stock Android browser works very well on the Marauder. Paired with Verizon's 3G/4G networks, it was speedy and did a great job of rendering pages. Personally, I prefer Google Chrome, which is available to the Marauder (but not preloaded).
The Marauder has its own version of the Android lock screen clock. The time is displayed in white digits in the center of the lock screen circle. Since the lock screen is a bit busy, it can sometimes be hard to discern the time in a quick glance.
The Marauder has Google Maps in addition to VZ Navigator. Both work fine, though of course Google Maps is free and VZ Navigator costs an extra $10 per month. In terms of GPS radio performance, I found it to be quick and accurate.
Pantech really did a good job with the Marauder. Perhaps its only real weakness is the camera. The hardware is some of the best I've seen from Pantech, which squeezed a lot of functionality into a slim and pocketable smartphone.
It's also one of the best-performing phones I've seen from Pantech in a long time. It's an excellent voice phone, showed strong network performance, and aside from the slightly-less-than-awesome battery life, is a great communicator.
That's what makes the camera and video camera such a bummer. It's not so bad as to nix the Marauder from your list, but if photography is your primary use for a smartphone, you might want to consider something else.
In sum, it's not every day that you come across a sideways slider that gets this many features right.