When Pantech first emerged in the US market it was a no-name player with no reputation. Since that time, the manufacturer has come out with some really good quality phones and some really bad ones; thus making it hard to tell what kind of reputation it has made for itself. The Pantech Slate was an example of a phone that was nice in concept but overall the execution could have been much better. It was boxy and too large, made of cheap plastic, and was missing 3G. Not a lot of things were going its way.
The Pantech Link, coming to AT&T on April 18, is exactly what the Slate should have been in the first place. It’s thin, made of sturdy material, comes with a 3G antenna, and just by looking at the phone I can tell it will be a large success. It will be sold at AT&T stores for $9.99 after mail-in rebate with contract, making it a very affordable phone for the young texters out there.
Let’s get straight into the review.
Design of the Pantech Link
The design is where the Link shines the most when compared to the Slate. Where the Slate was boxy and thick, the Link is 10 mm thin and curvy enough to be stylish. Where the Slate felt like a rock in your hand, the Link is a great fit and easily gripped.
A unique feature of the Link which I wish could be found on more devices is the rubber backing.
On the back, it’s very easy to notice and feel that it isn’t a shiny or glossy material; it’s definitely rubberized, like the edge of the Samsung Rugby or any Motorola iDEN phone. Whether it’s rubberized enough to protect it from drops is still up for discussion, but it certainly is easier to handle because it’s more grippy than the standard glossy phones. Personally, I want to see more devices with this kind of coating since I get slightly annoyed getting fingerprints on my phones every single time I touch it. This particular rubber backing does not look out of place, and doesn’t add any amount of bulk to the phone whatsoever.
Let’s take a tour of the outside of the Link. We’ve spent some time on the front, so here’s a look at the left side of the Link.
As you can see, it doesn’t have anything shocking; MicroSD slot with volume keys and a lanyard spot. I don’t personally use a lanyard but I still think it’s a smart idea to at least include one for those who use them religiously.
On the right side there is a charger port (standard Pantech proprietary charger) and a camera button.
Features of the Pantech Link
It’s not like the Pantech Link has thrown in anything completely new. But frankly, that’s perfectly fine. Not every single new phone coming out has to be a game-changer so long as it’s packed with all the necessary features that its targeted demo is looking for. The Link definitely passes that test with flying colors, and with a large deal of affordability.
AT&T Address Book, or “Mobile Backup for free” as I like to call it, is now a feature showing up in new devices but unfortunately is not available in previously launched models. I love the concept of being able to use a small piece of AT&T’s server to back up all my contacts just in case I need to get a new phone, be it through upgrade or warranty replacement. It’s a very simple idea that sadly has taken telecoms a long time to figure out. The other wonderful part of this is that I can manage those contacts online using my PC or Mac in addition to using my phone. I find this handy if I ever need to change to a phone that doesn’t have the Address Book feature but still need to access all my numbers.
To login to Address Book from your computer, go here.
The Link also features AT&T’s Online Locker and Mobile Share services, giving you the opportunity to easily upload images and videos and share them with friends and family via social networking services or a dedicated website that features your collection. Having 3G on the Link definitely helps speed up the process, and it only took a minute or two whenever I uploaded images. The Online Locker is not a service that comes with your unlimited data plan, however; expect to shell out another $10 monthly for the privilege.
Another key feature in the Link that doesn’t show up in most other phones is the call recording. During the call it’s very easy to access a menu on the right hand side of the screen, and call recording is one of the options on that menu. Simply press the down nav key during the call until you reach the record button, and then record as much as you want (or as much as memory will allow, whichever comes first). Once the recording is finished, feel free to access the file in My Stuff, under Audio > My Voice. The file will be stored in WAV format, and from there you can save them on MicroSD or send them as MMS.
Messaging is also nicer on the Link now that your messages come in the form of “conversations” and show up threaded. This allows you to read all of your texts back and forth to the same person as if it really is a conversation, much like on an iPhone or other smartphone. One part that doesn’t make sense is that MMS pics still show up separately; they aren’t a part of the same conversation.
The camera, as mentioned earlier, is a 1.3 MP resolution and offers both still shots and video. I won’t spend a lot of time putting down the image quality of the Link because, well, it’s a 1.3 MP camera. Every picture I took came out exactly as I would expect on a low-end camera. And I get it — Pantech was keeping the camera low-end in an effort to make the Link as inexpensive as possible. I just have a hard time believing it would cost much more to opt for a now-standard 2.0 MP res. But even so, the 1.3 MP camera and video performed precisely as I would expect.
Another curious thing is that Voice Command was touted as one of the key specs on the press sheet I received, but I looked all over the phone and could not find it. I certainly hope it is just hidden somewhere or perhaps is accessed as an unknown shortcut.
I did like the fact that the Pantech Link does use MicroSD and has music player options. It even allows for stereo bluetooth, which is a saving grace for the phone considering the Link uses a proprietary jack for wired headphones that are hard to find in a store and will not let you charge the phone while you listen to music. This little oversight is painful on any entry-level device that does not use a 3.5 mm jack, and the Link is no exception to that.
I could also tell that AT&T had a significant involvement in a lot of the software, as it does with most of its QMDs. AT&T Music, GPS, AppCenter, and att.net were all front and center on the main menu, and it’s impossible to customize the menu to whatever order you want.
Finally, the internet browsing experience on the Link is confusing. There are actually two different browsers that can be used to access the internet. The one that’s easiest to access takes you into att.net as the home page, which tries to be an all-encompassing type of browser much like Opera is, that offers web search, bookmarks, and even local and social networking options. It is possible to access regular websites, but you have to find the right box to type the URL into before it actually takes you there. As an alternative, the standard Pantech browser is hidden away in My Stuff > Applications, and is found at the very bottom of the applications menu. Not exactly the most convenient option, but once you find it, it will give you the ability to go directly to your desired URL or choose a bookmark.
Performance of the Pantech Link
The Pantech Link is not a powerhouse, and does not pretend to be. What it does do is all the simple things, and does them rather well. Calls made with the Link were very easy to hear. The audio quality was great. No static, no dropped calls, no failures of any kind. The dedicated speakerphone button is wonderful to use, and the speaker is incredibly loud. Battery life on it is rated at 5 hours of talk time, and I never had an issue regarding the battery draining too fast.
Overall, the Link is my favorite Pantech phone thus far, and is well worth the $9.99 price tag with contract. But this doesn’t make it perfect. While I loved the hardware and most of the included features, I could tell that AT&T had a big hand in the software, and some features were sacrificed to cut the price. Frankly, I could understand most of the quirks of the device were due to it not being a smartphone or powerful phone of any kind.
For what it is meant to do — being a Quick Messaging Device with some internet surfing capability — the Pantech Link excels. If you’re looking at getting a device that can do half the stuff any smartphone can do, you will not be interested in this one. But if you are a large-volume texter that wants to listen to music or do some simple web browsing, this will work great for you.
Below is my video of the Pantech Link, as well as a hefty gallery of images I took.
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