Other than incredible data speeds, the one thing that has been common to all 4G LTE devices released on Verizon thus far has been an inflated price tag. The recently released Pantech Breakout finally bucks that trend by delivering a 4G LTE handset for just $99 on contract. So how does the rest of the package stack up to the competition? Read on to find out.
1. 4G LTE
So is $99 4G LTE any different than $299 4G LTE? Thankfully the answer to that is of course not. The Pantech Breakout serves up the same glorious speeds that we’ve become accustomed to from Verizon 4G LTE devices and actually did a better job maintaining a connection than some of the other LTE handsets I’ve used.
Alright this isn’t normally a category that we include, but especially in a time when the standard pricing seems to be trending ever upward, a $99 4G LTE phone is worthy of a point. Perhaps even more significant is that a $99 start point means that the Breakout could easily be free on contract by the end of the year.
3. Build Quality
This is probably where you would expect a $99 phone to break down, but I was pleasantly surprised by the look and feel of the Breakout. The back of the phone and the bottom bezel have the same raised crosshatched pattern that I really enjoy. The sides of the device are all matte black shifting to a somewhat shiny black plastic that frames the top. I like the varied textures and coloring, but it may not be for everyone. The phone feels solid, and while the plastic would certainly be scratched, I don’t think it would have any trouble holding up to the occasional drop.
4. Form Factor
I like the look and even the feel of the Breakout, but that doesn’t forgive the fact that it is huge. It’s taller and nearly as wide as the HTC Thunderbolt despite its 4-inch screen. If you’re going with a smaller screen, you should get the smaller device to go along with it. The Breakout basically has a double chin at the bottom; the first section is carved out for the Pantech logo and the second is reserved for the physical buttons. Now I happen to like the physical buttons, but the significant gap between them and the screen seems unnecessary.
Pantech Breakout Gallery
5. Android 2.3.4
Good for Pantech for getting the current version of Android on this phone and shame on the likes of Motorola, HTC and Samsung for failing to do so on all of their releases. Now I wouldn’t be laying down significant cash on Pantech updating this to Ice Cream Sandwich, but chances are if you’re opting for this device you aren’t obsessed with always having the current version of the OS anyway. The overlay that Pantech has is most reminiscent of TouchWiz, and similarly, I didn’t find anything particularly compelling in it.
We aren’t quite there yet, but we are rapidly encroaching on the point where a dual-core processor is table stakes. The Breakout uses the same 1 GHz Snapdragon processor found in the HTC Thunderbolt and the Droid Incredible 2. But the Breakout only has 376 MB of RAM as compared to 768 MB on the Thunderbolt, and that difference is perceptible in use. Regardless of the reason, the end result is that the Breakout just isn’t quite as snappy and will occasionally hiccup or have a slight delay.
7. Rear and front-facing cameras
The Breakout has a 5MP rear-facing camera capable of capturing 720 video and a VGA front-facing camera. The rear camera is adequate for the occasional snapshot or quick video, but I wouldn’t rely on this to replace my point and shoot. The front-facing camera is certainly good enough to handle the occasional video chat with your friends or family, and I wouldn’t be worried about VGA versus 1.3-2MP at this stage in the mobile video chatting game. I hovered on the up or down vote here as the cameras merely do a satisfactory job. But in the end, I’m giving it a positive mark for at least offering two cameras.
Pantech Breakout Camera Samples
The Breakout has a 4-inch capacitive LCD at 800×480. I’m not giving it negative marks here for the the size or resolution, though. I prefer the larger displays, and I can understand that they aren’t for everyone. My main complaint with the screen is that the color reproduction seems poor. It’s particularly noticeable when browsing the web or viewing pictures; everything has a slightly washed out quality. If you were to view the screen in isolation, it likely wouldn’t be that noticeable. But viewed side-by-side with another device, the Breakout lacks the contrast that any of the recent high-end phones offer.
9. Battery Life
No surprise here, but Pantech hasn’t figured out any secret sauce to making a 4G phone not messily devour its battery. I could make it between 10-12 hours before the Breakout would have to take a trip to the charging spa. That’s pretty comparable to what I’ve seen on the Thunderbolt. I will give the Breakout a tip of the hat for its battery conservation when not in use, though. My Thunderbolt will knock back a good 10-12% of its battery if I forget to plug it in at night, and the Breakout was closer to 3-4%.
10. Call Quality
The Breakout really shined as a phone for me. Callers sounded markedly clearer and louder than what I’ve been accustomed to with many of the smartphones I’ve handled lately. The recipients of my calls also were impressed with the clarity. If making phone calls is one of the top priorities for your smartphone, the Pantech Breakout would serve you well.
The Pantech Breakout isn’t going to be setting any benchmark records or topping any must-have lists, but it does offer a budget option for Verizon customers that I’m not ashamed to say runs Android. I mean that to be more of a compliment than it likely sounds; most budget Android handsets I’ve used in the past have been abysmal. The Breakout launched with the most up-to-date version of Android on hardware that, while certainly not competitive with the high-end handsets, is good enough for a first time smartphone buyer on a budget.
With that said I still think the Breakout needs a price drop if Verizon wants it to sell. Particularly in light of AT&T announcing the Atrix 2 for $99, the bar has been raised. And despite it’s 4G LTE advantage, the Breakout can’t clear that bar. With the Droid RAZR, HTC Rezound and the Galaxy Nexus all about to debut on Big Red, it seems inevitable that the rest of the lineup will take a price cut in response. Someone walking into a Verizon store looking for a free phone could do a lot worse than a 4G LTE handset running Android.