Pantech PN-820 Smartphone Review

by Reads (65,859)

The Pantech PN-820 is both the first Windows Mobile device from South Korean manufacturer Pantech to make it to the U.S. market, and the first clamshell smartphone that Verizon has carried since the demise of Samsung’s i600 line.

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These qualities make it a bit more notable than the it might otherwise be, considering the fact that its specs are nearly identical to the year-old Motorola Q.

The Pantech PN-820 is also sold on Telus Mobility of Canada as the PN-8200.

Design & Construction

The device looks fairly unassuming on the surface, with a simple black and silver color scheme that–while not unappealing–also isn’t excessively flashy. The styling neither shocks nor delights, as well, but not necessarily in a good way.

It’s an adequate clamshell phone design, and feels decent in the hand, but there’s a definite awkwardness to certain of the design elements. Most notably, the extendable stub antenna sticks out of the device like it was welded on well after the original design phase.

The buttons are similarly nothing too surprising, but they are pleasantly large and well thought out. The only stumbling block is that the Home and Back keys, typically located in a left/right alignment on Windows Mobile Smartphones, are instead placed above and below the directional pad. This takes a little getting used to if you’re used to it other way.

 
D-pad and Keyboard
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  Rear casing: battery latch, external
antenna connector, main antenna

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The design oddities start piling up a little when you look around the rest of the casing. The standard battery is really rather thin compared to the rest of the device. There’s a very noticeable downslope from the thicker upper portion of the device to the battery cover, enough that you could probably attach a double-capacity extended battery and have it come out flat. It’s a pity that they didn’t do this as standard, or else thin out the upper portion of the casing–either change would have made the device more remarkable and worth attention.

 
Standard battery (single piece including cover) and compartment
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  MiniSD slot with partially inserted card
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The Pantech does win some points by passing up the increasingly ubiquitous microSD slot for a technologically superior MiniSD option. This means a maximum memory card capacity of 4 GB for the device, rather than the 2 GB of microSD, greatly enhancing the prospect of using it for music. The MiniSD slot is also suitable for a Wi-Fi card, if you feel so inclined.

The placement of the slot and the rubber cover make it a little awkward to maneuver a card inside at first, but once it’s there you can be assured it won’t easily pop out, and the cover will protect it from moisture and dirt.

Next to the camera lens is a small LED that the phone uses as a flash. It’s completely unsuitable for that purpose, really, providing not nearly enough light to take a photo except at point blank range–a foot or so. It does, however, serve as a rather nice LED flashlight, conveniently accessible from going into the camera application and pressing "2."

 
Camera lens, LED light, headphone/headset jack cover.
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  Side view
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The PN-820 avoids the mini-USB plug so popular on most newer devices in favor of a more conventional docking connector. This necessitates a proprietary charger and USB cable, of course, but personally I find the connector on this smartphone to be rather more robustly built than your average mini-USB port. Not the least reason for which being that it sports a snap-lock to prevent the cable from becoming detached.

In addition, the included USB cable does double duty both syncing and charging the device, effectively giving you two chargers when used with a computer.

Let me make something very clear: I have absolutely no problem with an external antenna, as long as it brings me more signal strength than an internal antenna. But the PN-820’s antenna doesn’t seem to do much of anything. In fact, it gets noticeably less signal than almost any Verizon-based device really should, given the local coverage.

One explanation for this might be the fact that the antenna seems to be, quite literally, a prop. In messing about with the phone, I at one point unscrewed the antenna from its base. Lo and behold, not only did the phone continue to hold a signal, but it displayed almost the exact same three bars that it had when the antenna was still attached.

I’d go as far as to say that if you wanted to, you could probably cut off the plastic bump that the antenna attaches to, fill in the area with automotive putty, paint it black, and have yourself an antenna-less Verizon smartphone with nearly the same RF performance. Or alternatively, a little rewiring could give you a fixed stub antenna with a lot more signal, if you’re the modder type.

 
Left, Pantech PN-820. Right, Qtek 8500
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  Top, Qtek 8500. Bottom, Pantech PN-820
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The overall build quality of the PN-820 seems to be moderate. It doesn’t have the same rugged, tank-like feel I’m familiar with from the Cingular 3125, despite the fact that the Pantech model weighs more. On the other hand, it also doesn’t give up much if any ground to the various Motorola clamshell phones that I’ve dealt with, so its durability certainly isn’t any worse than the average.

Hardware

Processor: 312 MHz XScale PXA270
Operating System: Windows Mobile 5.1 (Smartphone) with AKU 2.3.1
Display: 2.2 inch, 320 by 240 pixel internal LCD; 1.1 inch 96 pixel 96 external LCD
Memory: 64 MB RAM; 128 MB flash storage (58 MB available to user)
Size & Weight: 3.84 inches long (without antenna: 5.2 inches including) by 2.03 inches wide by 0.78 inches thick; 3.92 ounces
Expansion: Single MiniSD slot
Docking: Proprietary USB/power connector
Communication: Dual-band CDMA/EV-DO (Revision 0); Bluetooth 1.2
Audio: 2.5 mm headphone/headset jack; speakerphone; microphone; earpiece
Battery: 950 mAh replaceable Lithium Ion
Input: 12-button numeric keypad; Smartphone standard keys
Other: Microsoft Voice Command

Performance

This smartphone continues its mimicry of the Motorola Q in its selection of processor. The 312 MHz XScale CPU gives the PN-820 significantly more kick than your average smartphone’s roughly 200 MHz processor.

Combined with the high-speed wireless it includes, this makes the PN-820 particularly attractive for those planning to stream music or video. It’s also within the range of processors that are viable for Voice-over-IP, however the lack of built-in Wi-Fi would make that problematic.

Software and Operating System

Something that surprised me was the fact that besides Verizon’s Wireless Sync application, and a pre-installed copy of Microsoft Voice Command, there was literally no additional software or customizations on the device. Unlike most other carrier devices, the Pantech is sold completely clean, with no branded services or add-ons. It’s a bit refreshing, since so often the services pushed by carriers are grossly overpriced, useless, or both.

There’s also one other thing missing which users will find a little more necessary. The built-in task switching application, found on every other Windows Smartphone I’ve used, is conspicuously absent from the PN-820. I don’t know why, or what logic there is behind eliminating it, but the bottom line is that it’s gone.

Don’t get too excited by the mentions of GPS in various places around the OS. This is "Assisted GPS," or AGPS, and the device isn’t set up to provide that information to any user programs. (Assuming that you could even get an accurate enough fix for navigation, which with AGPS is far from guaranteed.) It does, according to the specs, support location-based services, but since Verizon doesn’t have any such services which support Windows Mobile, it’s rather a moot point. The only real use of the internal GPS hardware is in E911 emergency calls.

Communication

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The PN-820 has a fairly standard repertoire of wireless. Obviously, most of the functionality rests with the dual-band CDMA/1xRTT/1xEV-DO radio, both for voice and data.

EV-DO in this model is "Revision 0," the original EV-DO implementation that still comprises most available coverage. This is as compared to Revision A, which supports slightly faster speeds and lower latency. While the PN-820 doesn’t support this, it does still get more than adequate performance out of its basic EV-DO implementation.

Something important to bear in mind is that like all modern CDMA smartphones, the PN-820 does not support running on analog towers. This means that large parts of Verizon’s coverage in the plains states and the West is useless to it. To get an accurate picture of coverage, users need to look at the all-digital map for Verizon’s service.

The Bluetooth implementation in the PN-820, like almost all new Windows devices, fully supports A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) for Bluetooth headphones, as well as AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) for the playback controls sometimes integrated into said headphones. It also supports OBEX, or Object Exchange Profile, and Dial Up Networking (DUN), two things that Verizon is known for sometimes disabling on their devices.

Battery Life

The Pantech is rated for 209 minutes of talk time, or about 3.5 hours. This will vary of course based on signal strength and type of usage; however, as a general figure I’ve found it to be accurate.

You can expect more life if you’re simply going to be talking, versus cutting fairly close to the rating for Internet access, particularly any streaming.

For best use, though, I would definitely recommend a higher-capacity battery. It wouldn’t ruin the lines of the device at all, but it would make it much more of a marathon contender.

Camera

Not as bad as some I’ve seen, but not impressive either, the PN-820’s camera produces images typical of your basic phone, as represented here. Images have been resized and re-compressed for upload, but quality has not been substantially altered.

Conclusion

If you must have a more traditionally designed Smartphone on Verizon, the Pantech is pretty much your only option. Otherwise, the Pantech PN-820 doesn’t really do anything that hasn’t been done elsewhere.

It’s not a bad device by any means, but EV-DO and the use of a MiniSD slot are its only substantial advantages over the slightly cheaper and much more stylish Cingular 3125.

Still, it’s good to see other manufacturers recognizing the need for quality clamshell smartphones, and the PN-820 is a better first effort than many.

Pros:

  • EV-DO
  • MiniSD slot
  • Clamshell design

Cons:

  • Somewhat awkward styling
  • Moderate radio performance
  • Unremarkable feature set

Bottom Line:

A decent but not very compelling smartphone whose main claim to fame is being the only clamshell design available on Verizon.

 


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