Review: Pantech Breakout for Verizon Wireless
Sep 30, 2011, 10:54 AM by Eric M. Zeman
Pantech surprises with a highly capable LTE 4G Android smartphone for Verizon Wireless. Find out what works and what doesn't in Phone Scoop's full review.
The Pantech Breakout is a budget-level Android smartphone for Verizon Wireless that includes one killer feature: LTE 4G. If you're in the market for a 4G smartphone that doesn't cost an arm and a leg at the register, you can do a lot worse than breaking out the Breakout.
It isn't very easy for hardware makers to differentiate their Android phones these days. There's only so much you can do with the slab-style form factor, and I find most designs wind up uninspiring and somewhat boring. The Pantech Breakout at least attempts to be a little different.
The Pantech Breakout is about the same size and shape as most other Android slabs, but the back surface is covered in a patterned, matte black finish that feels like the handle of a handgun. The matte black really works for me, especially because it doesn't collect finger oils or other grime. It also gives the Pantech Breakout a feeling of legitimacy and strength. The side edges of the Pantech Breakout are smooth, and the front surface is glossy and glassy. It fits well in the hand, and will easily fit into a pocket.
Slab-style Android devices don't have many options when it comes to designing the front controls: It's either capacitive or physical buttons. Pantech opted for the latter on the Breakout. Rather than give them a boring design, however, Pantech gave them a nice masculine look with a mix of silver and black accents. The Home and Back buttons are placed together in a silver semi-circle that is raised nicely from the surface of the front. All four buttons feel great under the thumb and offer excellent travel and feedback.
The volume toggle is on the left side of the Breakout, near the top. Both the up and down halves have a perfectly shaped nub to let you know which is which, and the buttons feel great. There is a voice command key below it, closer to the bottom of the edge. It also has a good shape, and feels good to use.
On the right side, there's a hatch that protects the microUSB port. It's a big hatch, but functions without issue. The power/lock button is placed right in the middle of the right side. This is an odd spot for this button. I'd prefer it to be closer to the top of the phone, if not actually on the top itself. In fact, I often found myself pressing it accidentally believing it to be the camera button. It's a little bit on the small side, but has a nice shape to it and it works well. Ditto for the dedicated camera button, which is in the usual camera button spot near the bottom of the right edge.
The 3.5mm headset jack, which allows you to use your favorite stereo headphones, is on the left side of the phone. I'd prefer it to be on top, but you may not care about that.
The battery cover slides off with a bit of firm pressure. Neither the SIM nor microSD card can be removed without first removing the battery. This is annoying (at least as far as the microSD card is concerned), but I suppose it isn't the end of the world.
In sum, the hardware mostly rocks. The Breakout has to be the best hardware I've ever seen from Pantech. It's solid, functions well, looks good, and feels good to use.
The Pantech Breakout has a 4-inch display with 480 x 800 pixels. I found it to be bright, sharp, and easy to read no matter the lighting conditions. The only issue I saw was the glare caused by too many fingerprints on the screen. Otherwise, the Pantech Breakout's display worked well for all tasks.
The Pantech Breakout has radios to access both Verizon's LTE 4G network and its EVDO 3G network.
LTE performance in New York City was quite good. The Pantech Breakout quickly found the LTE signal once I arrived, and didn't suffer from any of the annoying flip-flopping between 4G and 3G that other LTE devices have shown. During my time in Manhattan, it stayed connected to Verizon's LTE network 100% of the time. This has not happened with Verizon's other LTE devices I've tested, which waffled between 4G and 3G. Data speeds were fantastically quick no matter what reading the signal indicator gave me.
As for the Pantech Breakout's 3G performance, it was rock solid. I had no trouble making/receiving calls, and the Breakout never dropped any calls. Data performance over 3G was noticeably slower than via 4G, but it was still acceptable.
Voice calls made with the Pantech Breakout were good, but not great. I'd rate them at 3 out of 5 stars. Volume was good enough and most calls were problem free, but every so often the Pantech Breakout screeched at me, causing me to pull the phone away from my ear. It was some sort of interference, andÂ I experienced it in several different locations with different callers. Sinve I haven't experienced this with other Verizon phones in the past, I am inclined to blame the Breakout in this instance. The speakerphone provided excellent volume behind calls, but the quality mirrored that of calls made through the earpiece. It was also prone to distortion if cranked all the way up. Ringers and other alerts can be set to pissing-off-the-dog volumes, and the vibrate alert was nice and strong.
The Pantech Breakout fared OK in the battery life department. I was only able to test it under 4G conditions for about 6 or 7 hours, but it didn't die during that time. Even so, it drained quickly. It went from a full charge to 40% during that stretch of LTE time. It lasted out the rest of the day under 3G conditions. When only using Verizon's EVDO 3G network, it lasted a day and a half or more. Bottom line, battery life will depend a lot on your network connection and of course how much you use your phone. For the control freak, you can turn off the LTE radio to conserve power.
The Pantech Breakout uses Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread with a slight skin treatment from Pantech. Perhaps the best feature is the unlock screen. As other Android handset makers are doing of late, the Pantech Breakout lets you access select phone features directly from the lock screen.
The basic unlock screen has a large circle in the middle with two small buttons, one on each side. Slide the one on the left into the circle to unlock the Breakout, or slide the one on the right to go straight to the speakerphone. There are three other shortcuts at the bottom of the screen to take you directly to the phone application, the SMS/MMS application, or the email application. These types of lock screen shortcuts are great. Just drag and go.
Another aspect of the Pantech Breakout that sets it apart from the Android masses is that it offers four different modes. Each mode can be configured to include different wallpapers, widgets, ringers, and other settings making each mode unique. For example, if you want one profile to use during business hours, you can set it to include the Gmail widget, fast access to your top business contacts, etc. Same goes for a profile that you might use on the weekends, which has fitness apps, your to-do list, and so on.
Beyond these, the menus of the Pantech Breakout behave like most other Android devices. There are seven home screen panels that can be customized, plenty of widgets on board for interacting with applications, and the main app menu can be edited to suit your own needs.
The calling and contact applications of the Pantech Breakout work well together to make reaching out to friends, family, and loved ones a breeze, though they will look familiar to anyone who has used an Android device before.
As noted, you can go straight from the lock screen to the phone app by using the little shortcut. This is a great feature when you need to make a call in a hurry. The phone application itself has been given its own appearance, but has the same underlying architecture as other Android handsets. In-call features include mute, speakerphone, adding a line, and sending to Bluetooth.
The contact application syncs well with Gmail, Exchange, Facebook, Twitter, and other contact databases. You can merge the data or leave it all separate. From the contact app, it's a cinch to access the recent interactions you've head with your contacts from their info card. I particularly like how you can swipe left or right from the contact app to see shortcuts to the phone app or messaging app.
As with most Android devices, you can add contact short cuts directly to the home screen panels, which is the quickest way to reach your favorite people.
The Pantech Breakout relies heavily on the stock Android tools for managing your communication needs. It includes the stock Gmail, email, SMS/MMS, and GTalk apps. All of these applications work just as they do on other Android handsets.
The Gmail application works perfectly with the online Gmail service and is a fantastic email client. The generic email program works almost as well, and can be mated to any POP3, IMAP4, or Exchange account.
The SMS/MMS app offers threaded messaging and allows you to embed photo, video, and audio files in line with your conversations. The GTalk application works well with Google's IM service, and lets you see who's available and who isn't. The catch-all IM application from Verizon works with AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo. It is serviceable, though it hasn't been updated in a while.
When it comes to social networking, the Pantech Breakout includes the Social Net application, which is a catch-all tool for managing Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. It also plays nice with RSS feeds. Using this application, you can post status updates to multiple networks, check your Direct Messages and Facebook email, as well as see what your social networking friends are up to.
If you want all the features of your favorite social network, you'll have to find and download the dedicated applications to do so.
The Pantech Breakout uses the stock media player application for your music-listening needs. In the Breakout's case, Pantech hasn't enabled any special features. All it offers is shuffle and loop. There are no other settings with which you can fiddle.
Other music apps on board include V CAST Music, V CAST Tones, Rhapsody, and Slacker. These offer a variety of avenues towards streamed music or downloadable tracks. Each has its pros and cons. Music tracks purchased from Verizon, for example, cost $2.49 each, which is 150% more expensive than from Amazon or iTunes.
If you're looking for video entertainment, you have a number of apps from which to choose. The Pantech Breakout ships with the stock Android video player and YouTube apps. The video player plays nicely with most side-loaded content (as long as it isn't copy-protected).
If curated, streamed video consumption is more your bag, you can use Verizon's V CAST Videos application to consume bite-sized chunks of video. The quality is pretty good over 3G and 4G conditions, but the selection of content is extremely limited.
If you'd like to rent movies, you may do so from the Blockbuster application.
Bookworms will appreciate that both the Amazon Kindle and Google Books applications are on board, as well.
The Pantech Breakout's camera software is straightforward and easy to master. The basic viewfinder offers controls on the screen for the front camera, shutter button, and video camera. Tap the screen anywhere, and another set of controls appears on the other side. These let you adjust the level of zoom, brightness, timer, and shooting mode (single shot, multi-shot, division shot, and instant shot). Only when this secondary set of controls is visible can you access the full settings menu via a software button in the lower-right corner.
The full settings menu allows users to choose from 11 different scene modes (normal, portrait, landscape, etc.), and alter other functions such as image stabilization. These menus all have a plain look and they don't require a lot of digging to use. This makes them a snap to interact with.
The Breakout's camera has one major failing, however: It is fatally slow.
The camera application is opened with the least fuss if you press and hold the camera button. It takes about two seconds to fire up. When you're ready to take the shot, press the physical shutter button or the software shutter button. Either way, the camera takes about three seconds to focus, and then another two or three seconds to take the image and save it to the gallery. It is slow enough that you are definitely going to miss "the moment", especially if you have a moving subject (such as your kid).
The gallery application is the stock Android tool, which merges the albums on the device itself with those in your Picasa/Google account. Albums are stacked in groups, and can be viewed in a timeline or in a grid.
Photos are easy to access, and setting up slide shows or sharing photos to Facebook, email, MMS, and so on is no problem at all. Editing functions are limited to crop and rotate.
The Pantech Breakout's camera registers 5 megapixels. As it lacks a flash, it's somewhat limited when it comes to indoor photography. I found most images had excellent focus and good white balance. Colors were also accurate. I did see some problems, however. Exposure was inconsistent, and the camera didn't like unbalanced lighting situations, such as dark shadows or bright windows in the background. Details in these instances were totally lost. The other problem I noticed was grain. It marred many of my indoor shots, though outside it wasn't as much of an issue.
Bottom line, the Pantech Breakout takes reasonably good photos, but the inconsistency bugs me. The best shots will certainly be Facebook-worthy.
Video performance falls mostly in line with still image performance. The Pantech Breakout can capture video at a maximum of 720p HD. While focus, colors, and white balance are all spot-on, the video also had trouble handling extreme lighting conditions and was speckled with more grain than I care to see. The best results are obtained when the Breakout is used to shoot video outside in good sunlight (as with most phones). It's much more difficult to obtain good results when indoors.
The Breakout includes the stock Android browser. The browser software itself is unchanged and has the same features found on other Android handsets. What sets the Pantech Breakout apart, of course, is its LTE 4G radio. For those who live in areas covered by Verizon's LTE network, the Pantech Breakout offers breathtakingly-fast web browsing. You'll notice that when you transition from 3G to 4G, the Breakout goes from Camaro speeds to Ferrari speeds in a jiffy.
The Breakout gets an above average rating when it comes to user customization. The option to create four different modes lets users cater the phone's behavior to different pieces of their life. That's more than most Android phones can do (the exception being HTC's Sense phones). Add to that the seven home screen panels and you have a handset that can be made fully your own.
As Verizon is wont to do, it has loaded the Pantech Breakout with plenty of bloatware. There are no fewer than six Verizon-branded applications, as well as an odd assortment of games, sports, news, and weather applications. Of course, the Android Market is always available if the stock apps aren't of your ilk.
The Pantech Breakout's Bluetooth powers work as expected. I was able to pair it with multiple devices, including mono and stereo headsets, PCs, and other phones. Phone calls routed through Bluetooth headsets were not that good. There was a lot of noise. Music sent to Bluetooth headphones sounded good, but dropped in and out far too often to be enjoyable. Passing files to other devices was not a problem.
The Breakout's lock screen offers a white digital clock tucked into a brightly colored circle. This makes the time hard to read (one light color on top of another light color), especially when outdoors. It would be easier to read the time quickly if it was on a black background.
The Breakout ships with Google Maps and VZNavigator. Google Maps gains new features almost weekly, and at this point it rivals the software from long-time GPS giants such as Garmin, TeleNav, and Navteq. Paired with the GPS receiver in the Breakout, I found Google Maps to perform excellently. VZNavigator is also a very solid performer, and is perhaps more robust in its feature set than Google Maps (at least for now). It's a shame that the app costs $10 per month to use.
I'll be honest, the Pantech Breakout surprised me. I was not expecting it to perform so well. The hardware isn't quite as me-too in appearance as the current crop of competitors, and feels great in the hand. It is easily the most solid and functional piece of hardware to come from Pantech.
The Breakout gets decent marks on all the key metrics, including screen quality, signal performance, and battery life. The one weakness was voice calling, which was inconsistent, but not terrible.
The messaging features of the Breakout don't break any new ground, but cover the basics just the same. The media powers of the Breakout are just as good as the competition's. I wish the Breakout took better pictures and captured clearer video, but if imaging isn't high on your list of must-have features, this niggle can be overlooked.
The browsing performance, in particular, was quite impressive under Verizon's LTE network and was decidedly more consistent that Verizon's earlier LTE efforts.
Bottom line: the Pantech Breakout could be the breakout hit that Pantech really needs to get on the map with Verizon Wireless customers.
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Also, a correction; the lock screen ...