The Pantech Duo is a new Windows Mobile device that has just about everything that a smartphone user could ask for — a QWERTY keyboard for fast text entry, dedicated numberpad, and 3G — but manages to still stay usable as a better-than-average phone.
It’s almost perfect for those looking for just a little bit more than a RAZR or Chocolate but not looking for iPhone prices.
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As a Phone
Some of those who looked at the Pantech Duo asked me if it were the Helio Ocean (or, “is that the new Helio”). And, at first glance, it’s totally possible to make that mistake. Both are dual slider phones that feature enough connectivity and communication options to satisfy the needs of most users. At the same time, once they got their hands on it, even those unfamiliar with smartphones quickly realized that there is more under the hood than just a simple phone.
Everything starts with the Windows Mobile Today screen. This has five program shortcuts; a link to download AT&T’s Xpress Mail application; the next calendar appointment; the current phone profile; any new SMS/MMS messages; and another shortcut section devoted to AOL, Windows Live Mobile, and Yahoo Go. To put it simply, there is a lot to do and no touchscreen to do it, so scrolling is involved. Thankfully, there are 10 different Today screen themes to choose from, with many of them cutting down on the amount of information shown.
Once you get past that initial shock of so much information being at your fingertips, you can begin to actually use the Duo. Dialing a contact is as simple as sliding up the face of the device to expose the number-pad. Typing in a number will automatically search for matches.
The buttons for accepting and ending calls are well designed and simple to hit whether your looking at the phone or not. On the other hand, the 5-way navigation button is a bit less friendly. It feels as if it should work more like a wheel than by button presses only. A caution those who might have longer fingers: you might need to open the slider to keep your thumbs from doing some extra stretches. The Duo is pleasantly small when closed, but the buttons are much less comfortable to reach that way.
Once on a call, these ergonomic issues aren’t an issue. Besides being clear in reception and signal strength, increasing the volume to all but the highest level makes for clear calling. The speaker phone, while a bit buried in menus compared to RIM and Palm offerings, was nice and clear. Background noise was not as filtered, but comments from people I talked to about the voice quality noted that it was acceptable even from 3-4 feet (1 m) from the phone.
SMS and MMS messages are handled by the default Windows Mobile Messaging application. This means no threaded text messages to Treo fans. Third-party solutions are available, though.
Battery life is outright impressive; the Duo managed two days on a charge. This included voice calls, continuous connection to Microsoft Exchange, and 10 to 20 text messages per day. It was definitely refreshing not to charge the Duo at the end of the day, and find that it made it the entire second day with no issues.
Overall, the Pantech Duo is a solid phone. It doesn’t do much badly, and at the same time there is nothing that stands out as impressive or genre breaking. That being said, the phone is only one layer of this impressive device. Sliding the face to the right opens the QWERTY keyboard, and a whole slew of other options and uses become evident.
As a Communicator/PDA
These days, slide a phone numberpad out and people just look and go “eh.” Some even do so when you slide out a side keyboard. But to do both from the same device gets a new stares and questions. “What can it do?” “Can you view the Internet?” “Could you read Word documents on it?” The Pantech Duo does this and more, and it’s in this versatility that makes it a solid option for many light and near-heavy mobile users.
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The Pantech Duo runs the Windows Mobile 6 Standard operating system. It is called “Standard” because it does not support the use of a touchscreen as an input method. Nevertheless, navigating around the Duo is very quick and seamless.
The Marvell PXA270 processor keeps things running smoothly whether there is 1 or 11 applications running. There’s a total of 54 MB of user accessible memory; however, much of that is taken up by the installed applications (less than 15 MB available after a restart).
But don’t let the lack of heavy stats sway you. This is a $200 smartphone that has plenty on its plate to keep you productive and playful at the same time. Office Mobile and Outlook Mobile are staples on the Windows Mobile platform, and make an appearance here as the default document and PIM applications. Office Mobile does suffer from the inability to create new documents on the device. However, you can sync a blank document and then ‘save as’ into a different file name any time that you are working on a new document.
Using the slide out QWERTY is one part great, and another part frustrating. The design is great, except for the placement of the soft buttons (not labeled well enough). The keys could use more feedback, but do offer a sound click when pressed. It can keep up with fast typing, though if available memory is low, it will lag some. Unfortunately, if you are in portrait mode, and want the QWERTY and slide it out, it will take a few seconds to catch up to your ideas. It’s not jarring, but if you are writing an SMS or reading a web site and wanting to go somewhere else, it can be a bit a nuisance.
ActiveSync handles the transmitting of information from the Duo to a host computer. It is what it is; pretty predictable and easy to set up if you are on a Windows-based machine. If you are using another computing platform (Linux or Mac) you will have to find third-party solutions to sync your information and install updates.
The 1.3 MP camera is nothing to call great. The tightly packed nature of the controls on the screen means that some practice is needed to become familiar enough with them to take a good picture, but most will just want to take a picture and be done with it. There are three zoom levels, and yet none of them seems clear enough on the screen. Maybe it’s just me, but there just seems to be too much of the “view” taken up by the controls. The pictures are your normal camera phone fare; not spectacular, but the sunny days tend to make things alright.
Like the phone aspect, there is nothing unpredictable about the PDA side of the Duo. It is solid, well honed, and customizable. And the latter might be the best aspect. Because while there is not a lot of internal memory to do things, adding a microSD card (SDHC not-confirmed) and a host of third party applications can really set the Duo as the hottest thing in your pocket/purse.
Now, you might be wondering what special features a $200 smartphone could have. At one of the lowest prices for a smartphone, there cannot be much right? Well, no. AT&T and Pantech really decked the halls with the Duo in terms of additional programs. Here is a brief of what all you can find already installed on the Duo:
- Voice Command
- ClearView Document and PDF viewer
- A specialized IM application that does AOL, Windows Live, and Yahoo Messenger
- AT&T Music
- Cellular Video
- AT&T Mall
- My-Cast Weather
- MySpace Mobile
- Trial version of Brain Challenge, Jewel Quest, Midnight Pool, Scrabble Blast and Tiger Woods PDA Tour 2007
- And finally, a shortcut to download and subscribe to AT&T’s offering of the TeleNav navigation service.
As you can tell, there is a lot to the Pantech Duo. Much of the Duo seems to be designed for exploration. From the various channels on MobiTV to the challenges of the various games, there’s just a lot to do. Great for the price point, though might be a bit overwhelming for some in the target audience.
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There are more and more smartphones being released every week it seems. Not all of them do a great job of differentiating themselves from the pack. The Pantech Duo’s combination of innovative hardware (dual slider) and value-added software tends to help it stand out some in a crowded field.
Those who have owned a smartphone before might notice aspects such as the loose slider that tempers confidence when holding it to your head. At the same time, coming from feature phones and even some older smartphones, a person could be thoroughly satisfied with the great battery life, 3G speed, and versatility of the Duo.
Like its methods of text entry, the Duo has two opinions that could be taken. But when looked at as a whole, it’s a nice device, and not at all the rip off of the Helio that it will be mistaken for from time to time.