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Review: Pantech Discover for AT&T

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Jan 18, 2013, 10:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Pantech puts the big boys on notice with the Discover, its latest Android smartphone for AT&T. It offers all the performance you'd expect from a flagship device at one-quarter the cost of the competition. Here is Phone Scoop's full review.

Form 

Is It Your Type?

Pantech breaks into 2013 with the Discover, a new flagship smartphone for AT&T. This piece of Android goodness claims to have it all -- 4G, HD display, killer camera -- and it might actually deliver on that promise. At just $50, there's no excuse not to discover what Pantech's latent device has to offer.

Body

The Pantech Discover is perhaps the company's finest device. It’s not perfect, but compared to the company’s past efforts, the Discover is its piéce de résistance.

Pantech embarked on a new course for the design of the Discover. Gone is the blunt look from devices such as the Renue or Pocket; in its place you'll see smoother lines, sleek curves, and more attention to detail. The Discover is still a mostly rectangular slab, but the contours and accents give it a hint of a personality not often evident in Pantech's designs.

What probably stands out the most are the stereo speakers. The two black mesh speaker grills are fitted snugly into each side of the phone, and almost look like twin smiles grinning out. Speakers aren't often positioned so, but Pantech had good reason. (More on the speakers later.)

 

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The aspect I like most about the Discover's design are the slopes along the back surface. The battery cover swells near the bottom and top, which makes it thicker and the ends than in the middle. It’s subtle, though, and has real-world practicality in that it makes the device fit well in the palm of your hand. It’s a comfortable phone to hold and use. The front surface is entirely smooth due to the glass, while the battery cover has a patterned texture with a matte finish. It’s thin and light, and slips easily into a pocket. I'd call the materials of average quality. They're not anodized aluminum or polycarbonate, but they're a few steps above the cheap plastics I've seen on some competitors' devices.

The Discover uses on-screen buttons for Android’s back and home keys, so there are no extra keys below the display. The volume toggle is on the left edge of the phone. It’s easy to find, has a pleasant feel to it, and produces excellent travel and feedback. The same can be said of the screen lock button, which is on top of the phone. Considering how many crummy screen lock buttons I've encountered of late, the Discover's is a relief. The headphone jack is on top, too, and the microUSB port is on the bottom. There is no physical camera key.

The battery cover can be removed with the aid of a thumbnail. It is pried off easily. Once removed, you can access the microSD card with no problem, but you need to pull the battery to access the SIM card. This is a pretty typical set-up.

Performance 

Screen

The Discover has a 4.8-inch display with 1280 x 720 pixels (HD). This LCD panel is sharp, bright, and colorful. Text is nice and crisp, pictures look rich, and the graphics and icons are completely free of jagged edges. It works well when used outdoors, and I had no trouble snapping some photos under a partly cloudy sky.

Signal

The Discover performed well on AT&T's HSPA+ and LTE networks. It switched seamlessly between the two when appropriate, and always found AT&T's signal no matter what I took it. During my review period, the Discover did not drop any calls, nor miss any, and it connected all calls on the first dial. Data speeds were good on both HSPA+ and LTE, though of course performance was faster across LTE. The Discover's radio works well.

Sound

I got slightly mixed results with the Discover's phone functions. The quality of calls themselves is only so-so. About half the calls I made were fine, and the other half had some sort of interference, noise, or echoes. This inconsistency was spread around different testing areas, with different network connections. The volume of both the earpiece and the speakerphone, however, is incredible. Whatever amplification mojo Pentech sprinkled behind the earpiece and speaker grills works very well. The earpiece is loud enough to be heard pretty much almost anywhere. The same goes for the speakerphone. It's worth pointing out that the quality of calls sent to the speakerphone is not as good as through the earpiece. Alerts and ringtones can be heard throughout your house, apartment, or office, no problem. The vibrate alert is good and strong.

Battery

There's no need to worry about battery life with the Discover. In my tests, it handily beat my minimum 7AM - 11PM requirement. Heavy use did not appear to stress the 2100mAh Lithium-Ion power cell, even when surfing on AT&T's LTE 4G signal. You will have to charge the phone each night, however (or at least once daily). It would often call it quits if left unplugged for more than 24 hours.

Basics 

Menus

The Discover runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, with a too-busy-for-me user interface skin from Pantech. It also has the Pantech Easy Mode and Standard Mode tools, which alter the entire experience of the phone.

Why do I say "too busy"? There are at least five different segments to the home screen, each with its own background, buttons, and functions. I've seen much cleaner homescreen treatments. It simply looks like a jumbled mess. The regular mode includes five home screens and a typical allotment of widgets and apps. One of the cool features is an expandable dock of icons at the bottom of the screen that slides to the left or right just like the home screens do.

The regular mode also has the killer Pantech lockscreen shortcut tool. 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 include messaging and camera. They can be customized if you wish.

The main app menu can be arranged in a ton of different ways, including alpha grid, custom grid, and list. Individual apps within the app menu can be hidden from view, and some can be deleted.

As for the easy mode, it really tones down the clutter. It makes all the icons larger and easier to read, reduces the number of home screens down to one, and uses alphabetical lists for the settings and app menus. One bummer is that it 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. It will probably be easier for first-time smartphone users to begin with the easy mode enabled, but it really cuts down on some of Android's best features (widgets, and so on.)

There's no difference in the way either performs. The fast processor under the hood gives the Discover's noticeable muscle to speed along. I did notice a lot of app crashing, though.

 

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Calls/Contacts

Aside from the lock screen shortcut that takes you directly to the call log, there's little setting the Discover apart from other Android handsets when it comes to the phone app. You can, however, select from five different dialpad styles.

 

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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 you create a miniature contact list that is accessible from the home page. It holds at least ten people, and includes their thumbnail photo.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging

The Discover 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 are two separate AT&T messaging apps, as well. The first is really a general inbox for SMS, voicemail, and missed calls all in one. I really don't see the point of it since the native tools work just as well. There's a second app called Social World, which is used to manage social network account messages, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. It's easy enough to set up and use. It lets you see your entire feed, as well as respond to direct or instant messages.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Extras 

Media

The Discover doesn't stray too far from the stock Android 4.0 music and video tools. The Google Play Store is, of course, available for purchasing and renting music, movies, TV shows, books, and magazines. The Discover also has a simple music player and simple video player app available, in addition to the stock YouTube app. AT&T Live TV service is available, as is the MOG service. Both are streamed over the network and require extra monthly fees.

The real star here is the stereo speaker set-up on the Discover. The audio player has a boost mode that can pump enough power into the Discover's little speakers to fill an entire room with music. It is really insane how loud these little speakers can be. The speakers work really well for watching video content, too. If you're at home, you won't have to bother with earbuds to enjoy your favorite movie.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Camera

I really like the Discover's camera application. Though there's no dedicated button, the app opens quickly thanks to the lock screen shortcut.

The controls are laid out plainly enough down both the left and right sides of the screen. Perhaps my favorite control feature is a little button that lets you toggle the HDR shooting mode on and off without having to dive into the deeper menu settings. (Turning on HDR also automatically turns off the flash. Smart.)

The full settings tools let users adjust most facets of the camera's behaviors (scenes, exposure, effects, image quality, and so on) without too much fuss. The little tools can be dragged out of the menus and onto the viewfinder for easier access.

 

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Photos

The Discover has a 12.6-megapixel camera and I was quite impressed with the results. Focus was quick and sharp, exposure was accurate, and white balance was spot on most of the time. I achieved the best results when taking photos outside, but the camera app gives you enough flexibility to make sure you can get good shots inside too (if you know what you're doing). The bulk of images I captured were very good, with a few treading into "excellent" territory.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video

The Discover's video camera did a very good job of recording HD video. The 1080p footage I captured looked sharp and clean. Focus and exposure were accurate the majority of the time. The Discover is a perfect companion for capturing those moments that often pop up out of nowhere.



Gallery

The Discover uses the stock Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich gallery application. The app syncs with your online accounts for sharing and offers a decent selection of tools for modifying images after the fact. Photos can be cropped and rotated, red eye can be fixed, and a number of effects (sepia, B&W, etc.) can be applied for fun. You can also straighten images, flip them, sharpen them, and reduce bright spots.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Apps

There are way too many apps on the Discover, and you can't delete any of the ones that I'd qualify as junk. There are no less than 12 AT&T-branded apps on board. That's ridiculous! Thankfully, you can "hide" some of them, which essentially means force them to not appear in the main app menu.

Bluetooth

The Bluetooth radio on the Discover can be used for the usual tasks: phone calls and music, as well as file exchange. Calls sent through my car's hands-free system were very, very good, and music sounded excellent when sent to stereo Bluetooth speakers (not that you need them, thanks to the awesome auditory powers of the Discover's stereo speakers).

Browser

The Discover includes the stock Android browser, and comes with some customizations added by AT&T. The browser has a little pop-up bar that runs along the bottom of the screen. It's mostly for social networking, as it lets you easily share whatever is on the screen to Facebook, Twitter, etc. The pop-up toolbar also includes links to Yahoo-populated Sports, News and Entertainment web sites. The rest of the browser performs as you'd expect from an Android device. It is very quick at surfing the web over AT&T's network.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Clock

The Discover 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 with icons, it can sometimes be hard to see the clock in a quick glance.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

GPS

The Discover ships with AT&T Navigator and Google Maps/Latitude on board. They behave the same on the Discover as they do on other devices, and I didn't run into any trouble using them. The GPS radio of the Discover itself was nice and quick. It often took less than 10 seconds to locate me. Accuracy was within about 25 to 30 feet, which is very good.

Wrap-Up 

The Discover is without doubt Pantech's best and most well-rounded effort yet. It scores well across the board. About the biggest misstep the device makes is the cluttery look of the home screen and undeletable AT&T bloatware. These are minor quibbles at best.

The hardware looks good and functions well; the radio, phone, screen and battery all exceeded my expectations; and the Android 4.0 platform serves as a solid base for the good camera and excellent media options. The loud-as-hell speakers are a bonus, in my book. When you consider that the Discover costs only $50 with a contract, you have a no-brainer on your hands.

The Pantech Discover is an excellent smartphone for the money that easily outperforms devices that cost more than twice as much.

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Subject Author Date
"...easily outperforms devices that cost more than twice as much." mike87 Jan 19, 2013, 1:04 PM
Thanks for your great reviews o2qc418 Jan 18, 2013, 6:52 PM
 
 
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