Review: Pantech Pursuit
Jun 8, 2010, 6:30 AM by Philip Berne
AT&T's new quick messaging phone, the Pantech Pursuit, is an adorable little feature phone with a few cool gimmicks on board to set it apart.
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Is It Your Type?
If smartphones seem too old, stodgy and business-like for you, an adorable phone like the Pantech Pursuit is probably a better fit. With a touchscreen, social networking features and a few surprises, the Pursuit won't leave you feeling out of touch, but it won't fulfill every need, either. That's okay, because for the right crowd, the Pursuit will get by on its looks alone.
The short, squat quick messaging phone has become quite a popular form factor in the last year or so, but most of these devices have either looked like a compact makeup case or they've been chunky and awkward. Enter the Pantech Pursuit, a nearly square phone that looks and feels fun from the first time you pick it up. It's got a great, playful blue color with a clean white band around it, and it feels much happier than the blacks and dark colors I've seen on similar devices. It makes me think there should be more blue phones. The phone has a mix of textures, from a scaled band around the screen to the shiny sparkle of the keyboard to the circular tile on the back panel. It's a lot of colored plastic, but it doesn't feel cheap at all. There's a density that makes the Pursuit feel like a quality device.
On the left side of the phone there's a volume rocker, and it was a bit stiff for my taste. There's also an external microSD card slot. On the right side, there's a camera button, which is nice and big. You get a screen lock / power button, which is tiny. Then there's the multitasking key. Seriously, multitasking on this simple, quick messaging device. Also, it does a magic trick that I'll discuss below.
Finally, Pantech uses a proprietary port for charging and headphones. I hate proprietary ports, especially on a device from Pantech, who doesn't make many phones. That means accessories and replacement parts are hard to find (I know from experience), even in AT&T stores. Pantech, and every manufacturer, should just use microUSB, and preferably a separate 3.5mm port for headphones. The Pursuit doesn't come with a headphone adapter or a handsfree microphone, so Bluetooth will be the easiest bet to avoid using this port.
Beneath the screen are three touch buttons: Send, End and Back. I'm not a fan of touch buttons, but these three were pretty responsive to my taps.
The 4-row QWERTY keyboard slides open with a solid click. Pantech has done a fine job assigning keys. The period, comma and question mark get their own key, and Pantech even fits a dedicated ".com" key onto the bottom row. It's surprisingly convenient. Keys felt pretty good. On a device this size, my favorite keyboard is still on the Nokia Surge, because it has more travel and a better, springy feel, but the Pursuit keyboard was good enough.
The Pantech Pursuit uses a 2.8-inch screen driving 320 by 240 pixels. It's a little large for a QVGA display, so you'll notice some blockiness or jagged edges from time to time, but nothing that was distracting. Indoors, the screen was bright and colorful. Outside, in bright sunlight, it was much more difficult to read, but not impossible like some OLED screens I've tried.
Calls on the Pantech Pursuit sounded pretty good. There was a bit of static and hiss on some of my calls, but with a strong signal, callers sounded nice and clean. On their end, my callers said I sounded fine, though some occasionally reported a slightly distant sound. The speakerphone sounds even better, but can't quite reach the volume I'd like. Music and calls were drowned out by louder ambient noises in the car and a loud office space. Ringtones also sounded good, but they could have been a bit louder to catch my attention.
The Pursuit uses AT&T's 3G network. I had no trouble finding a signal, and the Pursuit usually hovered around 3 bars of service. Its reception was comparable to other AT&T phones I have on hand, including my iPhone 3GS. When reception dipped, I did notice some sound problems during calls, but when reception was stronger the sound improved. I experienced a couple dropped calls, notably during my long talking tests, but this wasn't a serious problem. Data speeds were surprisingly good on the Pursuit. The Web browser is a simpler mobile browser, but pages still loaded quickly without any stalling or trouble.
I got about 6 hours of talk time out of the Pantech Pursuit in my calling tests. The phone will easily make it through a couple full days of use. Again, I wish there was a more compatible way to charge the phone, rather than relying on Pantech's proprietary charger.
The Pantech Pursuit uses a resistive touchscreen. Though I'm usually not a fan of the technology since it's less amenable to fingertips, the Pursuit was surprisingly responsive to the touch. The phone uses a three panel system for the homescreen and the menus, and it was easy to control the sliding action. Even the tiny buttons in the camera app were easy to tap on the first try. This was the first sign for me that the Pursuit was a better-than-average phone. While much more expensive smartphones - like the LG Fathom I reviewed recently - tend to earn a failing grade on resistive touch sensitivity, the Pursuit rarely gave me any trouble. A few times the idle screen, the middle home screen wouldn't respond at all to my swipes. But when it perked up again, it worked perfectly with no delay. I'm guessing that's a software problem, and not a symptom of the touchscreen.
Clearly inspired by recent smartphones, the Pantech Pursuit offers a three panel design on both the main home screen, and then again on the menu screen one level down. That main screen features an idle screen in the middle, an Apps screen to the left and a "Favs" screen to the right. On the middle, idle screen you'll find the clock and, if you choose, a shortcut to the Drawing Commander (more on that in a moment). You can't modify the middle screen, but you can add to the other two. The shortcuts screen lets you add applications. You can arrange them in a grid or lay them out however you like. If you run out of room, you can even scroll up or down to add more. The Favs screen lets you add contacts, songs and even specific messages instead of apps. So, if you have an important text message that you keep returning to - with directions or a passcode, for instance - you can set up a shortcut on the Favs screen. It's a convenient option, going far beyond what most simple messaging phones offer.
Beneath the customizable screens, there are always buttons for the dialpad, the address book, the messaging inbox and the main menu. The main menu also uses a three panel approach, but you can't rearrange the icons in the grid. That's okay, because it's much easier to set up your own shortcuts and arrange them how you like.
Think that's good enough? Not even close. The Pursuit has a few other cool tricks up its sleeve. Open the Drawing Commander, and you can trace gestures on the screen to jump directly to apps or other shortcuts. You can assign contact number to dial with a specific gesture. The Drawing Commander has a preset list of recognized gestures, including the alphabet and a few easy symbols, and though you can't create your own, you can assign them how you like. So, you can draw an "e" to open up e-mail, or to call your friend Edward. You can draw an "e" to open up the phone or call Diane, if you like. Whatever makes sense to you.
Second, that task manager key on the side also acts as a Shake Key. Hold it down and you get the task manager for multitasking. Press it quickly, however, and a small menu pops up with three customizable shortcuts. Shake the phone once for the first choice, twice for the second choice, etc. Seriously. The best part is that this really works. It always knew if I was shaking two times or three times.
Are these gimmicks? Sure, but I have no problem with gimmicks on a phone that nails the basics. I might not use the Drawing Commander, but for fast calling, it makes a quick, two step option with literally dozens of assignable shortcut gestures. The shake control was a fun way to open the music player or the Web browser. Again, I've used high end Sony Ericsson Walkman phones that can't get shake control right, but Pantech keeps it simple and it actually works.
The Pantech Pursuit does a fine job with contact shortcuts, but for straight dialing it could be a little faster. Pressing the Send key opens up the call log, not the dial pad. That's fine, but there's no direct link from the Recent Calls screen to the dialer, you have to back up and choose the Dial option from the menu screen. If you press the Send key from the phone's app menu, nothing happens. I prefer jumping to the dialer quickly whenever I press Send.
I also wish there was a faster method to search contacts. You can't simply start typing a name in the Pursuit to have it find the number you need. You can start dialing when the keyboard is open, but only digits register.
That Recent Calls screen is well appointed. When you tap a number, you get options to call, send a message, start a one-way video call (if you're a paid subscriber to AT&T's Video Share service), or check your recent call history with that specific contact.
Once you're in a call, the Pursuit offers all the controls you need in buttons on the calling screen. You can turn on the speaker, mute the call or even record the conversation quickly. You can also open the dialpad, and if you dial a number and press send, the phone starts a new call. Joining a second line for a three way conference was easy, and the Pursuit lets you break off calls individually with some onscreen buttons. There's no menu digging required. If your caller uses AT&T's video share service, you can also start a one-way video conference.
The contact list was nice looking but fairly basic. You can add up to four phone numbers, two email addresses and a variety of other information. You can send an email directly from the address book, but you can't start a navigation session using the postal address entered for a contact.
The Pursuit also gets AT&T's new online address book feature. Though the Pursuit won't sync with Google or Yahoo contacts or other online services, you can sync with an address book on AT&T's Web site. You can then add or edit information from the Web, if you need a contact and you don't have your phone. It's also a nice storage option, though I wish it were more compatible with other services.
Messaging on the Pantech Pursuit is a mixed bag. In some ways, mostly email and social networking, it was disappointing. Like all of AT&T's newest quick messaging phones, the Pursuit uses a threaded style for text messaging. Messages pop up in a line of conversation balloons, like an instant message chat, so they are easier to follow. Some pictures in MMS messages did not come through when sent to the phone. AT&T should have given this phone a top notch text messaging app, since the audience for the Pursuit will rely heavily on SMS.
Instant messaging is available for AIM, MSN and Yahoo. It's a fairly basic app, but it looks nice and it works well. There was some lag on my conversations with my IM buddies, but all my messages went through.
E-mail is available through AT&T's Mobile Email service. It costs extra every month to use the service, and this is one of my biggest problems with this phone. Everything good costs extra. People who buy this phone are probably hoping to spend less per month on service than if they bought a smartphone, but when you start adding in all the extra features, the bill racks up quickly. AT&T Navigator, Mobile Email, the Where location-based search app; these all cost an extra fee. On a smartphone, similar features would be free, and with AT&T's new cheaper data plans, I can't help but wonder if these fees aren't a cynical way of pushing customers to spring for a more expensive device. It's a shame.
In social networking, the Pursuit starts to make up for these problems. The phone gets shortcuts for Facebook and MySpace in the main menu, but these are something of a red herring. Tapping the Facebook icon just opens the mobile Web browser and directs you to the Facebook mobile page. It's not a dedicated app with any special features. The phone does get AT&T's Social Net app, though. Social Net gathers updates from MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and even RSS feeds. It's very basic, offering little besides status updates, but if you just want to stay informed, Social Net will get the job done and AT&T doesn't charge extra for it. Unfortunately, there's no way to upload photos to Facebook, either through the mobile Facebook Web page or the Social Net app.
The music player on the Pantech Pursuit was surprisingly good. I loaded a bunch of songs onto a microSD card and the player found them with no trouble. All of my album artwork came through, as well. The player has a fun look. Once a song starts playing, the player turns the album art into a CD icon and starts spinning it around. Beyond the solid playback controls, though, there's also an equalizer with a few presets and three configurable slots to customize the sound how you like. It's too bad the device didn't come with a headphone adapter so I could use my own earbuds. I did listen through the speaker and through a set of Bluetooth wireless headphones. Sound was okay through the speaker, clear but not very loud. Bluetooth headphones would tend to cut out when I moved the phone around, a common problem with stereo Bluetooth devices.
The Pantech Pursuit may pack a lowly, 2 megapixel sensor, but the camera software was pretty good. All of the settings are available as buttons on the viewfinder screen, no need to dig through menus or leave the action behind. The camera sprang to life in under two seconds, and after a quick preview of the picture you just shot, you can take another quickly by pressing the shutter button again.
The Pursuit has some fun effects for the camera. The standards are mostly there, including white balance, negative and sepia tones, and a variety of resolution settings. But there are also a few wacky options, as well. The camera can detect faces, and Pantech includes a Face Effect mode, where the camera will apply various effects to the central face in view. These include a fisheye effect, a radial blur, a red-faced tint and even falling snow. Strangely, the camera never properly detected my face, but it had no trouble recognizing the face of a scary clown on my computer monitor, so I've included some examples of him with my sample images.
Viewing images on the Pantech Pursuit is easy with the highly competent image gallery. You get a list view or a grid view, but the list view is much more useful. From the list, there's an arrow next to each picture that lets you send the image via MMS, via Bluetooth or to AT&T's Online Locker. Of course, AT&T charges an additional fee for online photo storage, a feature that's free on most smartphones. You don't get any editing capabilities, not even cropping or rotating photos. But you can tag faces in your pics and store the images by the person's name. Too bad the Pursuit can't take the tagged pics to Facebook; that would be a real coup for this phone.
Unfortunately, even with the great camera interface and goofy effects, the Pantech Pursuit takes lousy pictures. I didn't expect much from the 2 megapixel camera, and the Pursuit met my expectations. Indoors, pictures were blurry, noisy and washed out. Outside, I saw the same lack of details and blurriness, but especially bright light wreaked havoc with my pics. You can see a dramatic white aura around my dog in the pics below. Since the phone doesn't have many upload options, anyway, I would say images are fine for MMS messages and some emailing, but you won't be too proud sharing any of these.
The Pantech Pursuit shoots video in QCIF resolution for multimedia messages or QVGA. Videos looked okay. Actually, as bad as the still images are, I'm surprised the video camera wasn't much worse. It still produced blocky, jerky videos, but colors were okay and my movies didn't waver or blur too much with motion.
3GPP / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 1.1 MB
The Web browser is probably the most disappointing feature on the Pantech Pursuit, which is a shame because the phone relies on the browser for numerous social networking shortcuts. The browser is a simple mobile affair. It will try to render full HTML, but it can hardly manage mobile sites, let alone larger pages. Navigating a Web page is a real chore. The touchscreen that was so impressive in every other app, but it falls flat on its face in the Web browser. There's no kinetic scrolling, so you'll be flicking pages multiple times to get from top to bottom. Motion was jerky and it was easy to accidentally press a link. There's a simple zoom that backs up one zoom level to give a wider view, but text is rendered illegible when zoomed out, and it was still difficult to navigate large pages.
There are lots of customization options on the Pantech Pursuit. Besides the main screens that I've discussed, with their apps and favorite shortcuts, there are other ways to customize the device. You can change the theme to three different color schemes, including one that is mostly white text on a black background, and one that is the inverse. You can customize the shortcuts in the Drawing Commander and the Shake control. You can tweak sounds and notifications, as well, and set up different calling profiles so you'll have different sound effects in the office than you'll have outside, for instance. These are great features, and I've hardly seen a feature phone with so many custom options.
Bluetooth worked well on the Pantech Pursuit. I was able to pair with my headsets with no trouble. The phone can also push pictures over Bluetooth to your PC, and this partly makes up for the lack of a USB cable.
There are a bunch of different clock styles on the Pantech Pursuit. Some are fun and whimsical, but some are more serious, with a dual clock option for world travelers. The phone also offers a clock on the lock screen, and keeps a clock up top in the notification bar in most apps.
The Pantech Pursuit offers plenty of location-based apps. For navigation, you can subscribe to AT&T Navigator, and it worked well in my tests, following me on a few trips in and out of the city. There's also a local search app in Where, though again, you'll have to pay a subscription. You can also subscribe to AT&T Family Map. This app gives you the location of the rest of your family, provided they are using compatible phones. The camera can also geo-tag photos with coordinates so you can view location info with your pics.
There are a ton of extra little apps and demos on the Pantech Pursuit. Almost none of these are free, and it's shocking which apps require a subscription. There's a weather app, My-Cast, from Garmin, and that's the best free app available. There's also a mobile banking app, but it doesn't work with my bank (Bank of America, a very large bank). AT&T charges to use MobiTV for streaming video, Hip-Hop Official and even IMDB. I understand charging for a streaming video service, though I would never recommend users shell out the cash. However, it's just silly to charge for access to a Web site like IMDB that would otherwise be free.
If you want to download more apps, the Pursuit gets a link to AT&T's AppCenter. The AppCenter mostly offers more games, ringtones and other very basic apps.
There are plenty of phones that attempt half the fun tricks that the Pantech Pursuit pulls off, and they usually fail miserably. I was ready to lower my expectations for the touchscreen, the music player, even the sound quality, but the Pantech Pursuit actually came through and surprised me with great performance in all these areas. There's room for improvement, but for a quick messaging device, the Pantech Pursuit comes out ahead of the pack, and it's one of my favorites in its class.
The phone is adorable. It's fun to pick up and use, and it makes people smile when they see it, but in a fun way, not in a pretentious "oh, is that the new iPhone?" way. My biggest complaints are more with AT&T, not with Pantech's device. I hate that AT&T tries to milk its feature phone customers with a load of apps that only work with a $5+ subscription. Sure, it's not much, but it all adds up, and you could easily add $20 or more to your monthly bill if you use the Pursuit to its full potential. That's wrong, especially when most smartphones offer all of these features for free. AT&T should realize that people looking to buy the Pursuit are looking for a simple, fun experience, both in the phone and in their monthly bill.
That said, if you can avoid email and navigation, among other features, there's still a lot to like in the Pursuit. It's limited in Web browsing and camera work, but it comes through in almost every other way. Plus, it's got a nice style and a few cool gimmicks thrown in that are actually fun and useful. This is definitely an easy phone to recommend.
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Philip Berne, you are a great addition to the Phonescoop team, you bring balance to the trifecta. There's Rich Brome (wiki) knows more about phones than I know about my wife, Eric Zeman(the NewsMan) and now Philip Berne (making phone reviews fun).
I have been a visitor for a long time, but just recently became a member.
pictures to facebook
Just so we know to avoid it in other handsets.