The Pantech Flex is one of AT&T’s underdogs among a group of heavy hitters, but even with your Samsung Galaxy S3s, Motorola Atrix HDs and Samsung Galaxy Note 2s of the world there might still be room for such a fellow. Is the Pantech Flex worth taking a second look at? And has Pantech finally come into their own in the Android space? Let’s find out in this review.
The Pantech Flex doesn’t do anything uber special but it’s a very safe device. Instead of the sideshow gimmicks usually associated with trying to market a phone by an unfamiliar manufacturer the Flex goes with the “less is more” mantra that some companies are beginning to grasp. The result is a thin and attractive looking device that looks like it can hold up to the test of time. I wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen holding this device in public at all, and sometimes that’s what it comes down to for most people looking for a phone.
Being a tech head, though, I’m more concerned with what’s under the hood than anything else. Well, I was… until I realized that this phone doesn’t live or die based on sheer power. The 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus and 1GB of RAM inside might have been an industry best at one point, but that is no longer the case with devices such as the LG Optimus G and Samsung Galaxy Note 2 coming with quad-core processors and 2GB of RAM.
But do I care? No. In fact, I couldn’t care less. This device is still a beast when it comes to sheer specs, and it can do anything that the aforementioned competition can without much effort. Considering the phone is aimed toward casual and first-time smartphone owners I approached this review with the “typical” user in mind, and even as a power user I’d have no problem carrying this device around for an extended period of time. It can handle everything thrown at it, and it does it all with the battery efficiency that the S4 line is known for (speaking of which, battery life on this phone is quite pleasing and should easily last you most of the day with moderate usage).
The 4.3 inch Super AMOLED display boasts only qHD resolution, and while it’s a bit weird to use up against the HD monsters of today it was a very quick adjustment for me. And while 8GB of internal storage can be off-putting, the ability to expand that capacity should make this a non-issue for most people. Throw in an 8 megapixel 1080p camera, 2 megapixel front-facing camera and 4G LTE, and we’d say this device has an impressive tale of the tape up against other devices in its current price range.
The Pantech Flex does its bidding with a customized version of Ice Cream Sandwich, but Pantech’s done something very interesting here. They’ve made an “easy mode,” of sorts, and it allows you to simplify the Android experience with the click of a button. Multiple home screens die, the lock screen is compressed into vital information and a simple light switch, and the menus are laid out like the menus of a feature phone would be.
Easy mode was a very interesting experience for a die-hard user like me. While I did miss my multiple home-screens chock full of widgets and shortcuts, I could see and understand why a new smartphone owner would be more attracted to the simplified experience it provided. Useful information like the time, date, weather and battery life were blown up in my face and hard to miss. And all of the device’s features and settings could be accessed within one menu hierarchy.
Sure, I missed being able to set things up exactly how I wanted but I can see how easy mode will help alleviate some of the stress others will experience when they see a seemingly endless stack of options at their finger tips. The beauty of it all is that you can easily revert to the full Android experience at any time, which will give you all the flexibility your heart desires.
Perhaps most interesting is the fact that the UI seems to house two different apps for each mode. For instance, the messaging app was pretty bare bones and dry in easy mode, but in normal mode it looked like your typical Android texting hub. This not only makes it easy for new users to navigate the phone, but to also use its many apps without feeling like they’ve abandoned the feature phone experience they’ve become used to.
Overall the UI is nothing special, but it’s also nothing horrible. That’s a good balance that OEMs must be able to achieve, and Pantech doesn’t do a bad job. It’s fast and lightweight despite there being a lot of influence from Pantech. Aesthetically it looks nice enough, and the UI doesn’t take away the familiarity of Android once you get back into normal mode.
People will have to come to grips with the fact that OEMs need custom UIs for product differentiation, and all you can hope for in this day and age is that they don’t go overboard. The crop of apps that Pantech includes are useful enough that I don’t mind them (the pill reminder is actually quite useful), and while I can do without AT&T’s collection of apps I had no problem “disabling” them.
Camera, Media, Odds and Ends
Like the rest of the device, there is nothing that stood out much at all. For the camera, the 8 megapixel shooter produced exceptional photos in favorable lighting conditions but the quality of the sensor couldn’t hold a candle to Samsung’s line (or the iPhone’s, for that matter). For what it’s worth, though, no one’s expecting camera performance to mirror even a cheap point and shoot so what we get here should suffice. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just nothing spectacular.
Radio quality is a bit more tricky of an issue than anything as my area is a tough spot for all carriers. At the very least I was able to muster up good call quality over the constant one bar I was getting throughout my time with the device. Likewise, 4G LTE and HSPA+ coverage isn’t the best in my area and speeds suffered because of it, but the speed I did get at least remained consistent.
HSPA+ averaged at around 2 megabits down and 1.5 megabits up, while LTE speeds would teeter around 8 megabits down and 6 megabits up. The LTE speeds are great for the limited coverage I have so AT&T’s network had no problem impressing me. I’m not sure if that’s because this area isn’t as congested for AT&T as it is for Verizon, but I’m not complaining.
Gaming on the device is quite fine as its processor ensures it can handle anything that is thrown at it, though the lower resolution display will make controls feel a little cramped if you’re coming from a device with a higher resolution.
As for the rest of the multimedia wheel you’ll want to invest in a pair of headphones as the external speaker on this device won’t deliver great sound quality. It’s loud, but sound tends to get distorted at the highest level and it’ll make you want to shut the content off. It’s great for notifications and ringtones, but that’s about it.
For the price, the Pantech Flex will be a great device for anyone, but it’s clearly aimed at those who want a smartphone but are intimidated by what could be a scarily unfamiliar experience. Easy mode alleviates all of that, and once you grow out of that the Pantech Flex stands quite nicely as a full-fledged Android smartphone.
The theme is that while there is nothing here that’s going to blow you away, there’s nothing that’s going to turn you away either. It’s a very solid experience from top to bottom with everything from its build quality down to the pleasant experience that is easy mode. It’s the first time I can say, with confidence, that I wouldn’t mind being confined to a Pantech phone for two years.