Not all that long ago, “budget” Android phones were, more often than not, synonymous with junk. Rapid growth in Android’s efficiency as an operating system and decreasing costs for higher-spec’d hardware have conspired to make this notion a relic of the past.
That isn’t to say that the Pantech Discover is a “budget” phone. At $49.99 with a two-year contract from AT&T, it’s not going to break the bank, but it has many of the features found on current high-end phones. In our review, we’re going to take a look at how the midrange Pantech Discover holds up not only to phones in a similar price range, but higher-end phones as well.
As you may recall, we first got a look at the Pantech Discover at CES a little while back. While it wasn’t quite the showstopper that some of the other devices we saw on the show floor were, it was instantly clear that the Discover isn’t the result of a company shoveling out a midrange phone with little thought to design or usability.
The flowing design of the Pantech Discover is eye-catching. Even though the device isn’t boasting the newest software or latest hardware, the style and care put into the design help it overcome those minor setbacks.
It seems that Pantech has put a lot of thought into making the Discover easy to hold and use. The back of the device is textured very similarly to the LG Spectrum 2 we reviewed last month, and I am quickly becoming a fan of this type of texture. The slight bump on the back of the device actually helps as well, making holding the phone during calls much more comfortable than the numerous all-flat designs we keep seeing.
While it would be reasonable to assume that the bump on the back of the Discover is there for the camera lens, this isn’t the case; this actually makes room for the stereo speakers. Pantech makes a point of talking about this feature whenever possible, and its for good reason. While the size of a phone is never going to allow for big, booming bass, the Discover can pump out a good amount of volume without the breakup that occurs with a lot of other devices.
The only hardware buttons you will find on the Pantech Discover are the power button and the volume rocker. Everything else is handled by on-screen buttons. Personally, I like a few capacitive buttons at the bottom, but judging from recent conversations I’ve had, I may be in the minority here.
The screen on the Pantech Discover is a 4.8-inch, 720p TFT display with a resolution of 1280 x 720. While this may not seem particularly impressive when compared to the upcoming influx of 1080p phones, you have to remember that we’re looking at a phone that sells for a far lower pricepoint than those phones are likely to meet.
We’ve seen better 720p displays, sure, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the display on the Pantech Discover. Photos taken with the camera (see below) looked as rich on the Discover as they did on other screens, and there was no noticeable blowout on the edges of the screen, as will sometimes happen on lower-priced devices.
Performance was pretty much exactly as expected. With so many devices running the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus chipset, it’s fairly easy to guess how well a certain device will perform just by looking at the model numbers and specs. So no, it isn’t going to outperform the current crop of high-end devices, but for the most part, it’s going to handle any apps and system-related tasks you throw at it quite easily.
Gaming performance takes a small hit, as does any app that hits the GPU harder than the CPU, but it isn’t exactly likely that anyone who is super enthusiastic about Android gaming is going to be buying a midrange phone in the first place. In daily use, you’ll likely never find yourself cursing the Pantech Discover for running slowly.
The Pantech Discover runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Fortunately, Pantech has said that an update to Jelly Bean is on the way. Somewhat less fortunately, we don’t know whether it will be 4.1 or 4.2.
On the plus side, the Pantech Discover has some useful software built right in, including a personal favorite of mine, SwiftKey. If you do a lot of typing on your phone, chances are fairly good that you’re already familiar with SwiftKey, but it’s nice to have it built in right out of the gate.
Unlike a lot of phones we see, the Discover isn’t absolutely loaded with bloatware. There are a few apps included by Pantech and AT&T, but not nearly as many as we’ve seen on some other devices recently.
While many of us aren’t fans of skins, it’s worth noting that Pantech’s skin can be customized fairly heavily, ranging from the homescreen to the lock screen.
It may not offer the crazy filters and effects that are finding their way into the stock camera apps on more and more Android devices lately, but the Pantech Discover’s camera was definitely usable. In addition to standard functionality, it offers HDR and panoramic modes.
Low light performance was generally good, producing clear images with minimal grain. This is a place where smartphones rarely excel though, so take the previous statement with a grain of salt. I found the flash to be overly bright, but this is an issue that isn’t even limited to phones, and when you need it, it’s nice to have a flash available.
Video was surprisingly decent, as this is generally a weak point on even high-end devices. The framerate is solid, colors are reproduced faithfully, and despite the Discover’s light weight, there was minimal shakiness.
While the battery is only 2,200 mAh, the Pantech Discover’s fairly modest specs allow it to get a reasonable amount of juice. I have noticed that Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets have a knack for providing a decent balance of battery life and processing power, and that seems to be the case here.
One feature that is going to make a lot of people happy is the removable battery. Many phones seem to be phasing this out, much to the chagrin of their users. Whether that trend will continue remains to be seen, but it’s always nice to see a new device released that allows you to pop out the battery.
As I mentioned at the top of the review, we’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time. A few years ago, the thought of getting a phone like the Pantech Discover at the price it is selling for was unheard of. That said, if you’re looking for a top of the line device, this isn’t it, but it’s doubtful that anyone reading this review would think that was a case.
If you want to keep your spending on a new device low, but don’t want to sacrifice points for style, the Pantech Discover is certainly worth keeping your eye on. There may be other phones aimed at capturing the same portion of the market, but right now it seems that with the Discover, Pantech is the one to beat.
It’s been available for coming up on two weeks now, so you may already have gotten your hands on a Pantech Discover. If so, what do you think of it? Let us know in the comments below.