That pool looks cool and refreshing, and all of the kids are having the time of their lives. Problem is, it's in an exclusive club, leaving you to stare at it longingly from the opposite side of a chainlink fence. We know the feeling, and it ain't fun -- yet, the state of LTE in the US over the last year has had just a pinch of elitism due to its high cost of entry and exclusion from most rural areas. Devices running on the near-miraculous speeds haven't exactly been cheap, with handsets like the Samsung Droid Charge and Motorola Droid Bionic at an asking price of $250 to $300 on contract. Needless to say, lots of customers have felt the underlying feeling of inadequacy because their wallets may come up a Benjamin or two short.

The Pantech Breakout is the fifth phone in Verizon's LTE lineup, and the first clear departure from the piggy bank-busting prices that its predecessors command. With Big Red boasting a 4G lineup full of monotonous 4.3-inch behemoths, we've been anxiously awaiting something different. Something -- anything -- that could likely appease a different set of customers eager to take advantage of this speedy network. The 4-inch Breakout certainly is capable of appealing to a wider demographic, but with an uncharacteristically low $100 price tag with a two-year commitment, does it ooze cheapness or is it a fair bargain? Follow us after the break to find out.

Pantech Breakout review

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Hardware

What's this -- Verizon's LTE selection has now grown to include a handset that doesn't offer a 4.3-inch display? 'Tis true: the Pantech Breakout feels like an appropriate name for the first device to break from the 4G mold by featuring a smaller screen and a much lower cost. We know, it's not too often that we gush about a phone that takes advantage of less screen space, but we feel strongly that a variety of different options in a lineup is typically a good thing; the average customer likes having an opportunity to choose from a wide selection of devices.

The Breakout's also the lightest choice in the lineup, weighing 4.9 ounces (138g). Measuring 12mm (0.47 inches) thick, it sizes up well against the Samsung Droid Charge and is only a millimeter bulkier than the Motorola Droid Bionic. Despite landing in the budget category, the Breakout doesn't feel all that cheap -- it's not likely to shatter into a million pieces if dropped on concrete, though it's probably not the most durable option in the lineup, either. If nothing else, it's easier to hold in the palm of our hand comfortably, due to its smaller size, gently inward-sloping sides and textured back.

Despite its bargain-price status, Pantech managed to toss in a WVGA display -- the same as the Thunderbolt and Revolution. The only difference here is a slightly higher pixel density as a result of the smaller screen, and consequently our viewing experience was never interrupted by pixels attacking our eyes. Not shying away from performance, either, the Breakout has a modest but fully usable 1GHz single-core CPU with 512MB of RAM. In addition, the device comes with a 5MP shooter in the back, a VGA front-facing cam, an 8GB microSD card and a 1,500mAh battery.

Interestingly, the Breakout crams all of its ports and buttons onto the left and right sides. We typically see a few features on top or bottom, but these were likely moved to help maintain the body's smooth curves without disruption. The microUSB port, power / lock button and dedicated camera button are all found on the right side, while the left side houses voice activation, the volume rocker and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the upper left -- though forcing the headphones to shoot out the side of the phone isn't our top design choice.


On the front, we're greeted by four physical navigation keys -- the standard setup of menu, home, back and search apply here. Much like the Samsung Conquer 4G, the buttons offer just the right amount of give without sticking too far out of the device itself. We also felt they enhance the Breakout's overall design, causing this budget phone to exhibit a more expensive aura. Above the display we find the front-facing cam, sensors and phone speaker. Giving the phone a full 180-degree turn, the 5MP camera and external speaker grille sit atop the textured back. The obligatory Verizon 4G logo is emblazoned on the battery cover, which hides the battery, SIM card (for LTE, not GSM -- sorry travelers, this phone won't help you overseas) and microSD.

Software

Pantech's decorated Android 2.3.3 with its own proprietary skin, which we'll dive into in more detail since the company's only released one other device in the US that runs off of Google's mobile OS: the Froyo-based Crossover on AT&T. The UI has grown up substantially in the last four months in terms of look and functionality, adopting select features from other Android skins and bringing them into its fold.

Pantech Breakout screenshots

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We're happy to report that the lock screen's graduated substantially from the earlier days of "peel off the sticker," opting instead for a simple slide to unlock option on the left side and throwing in a few other helpful features. On the right side, you're able to slide your finger to the left to toggle your device between ringer and silent modes. As the battery gets low, a subtle percentage indicator pops up just under the date and time in the middle. Also, Pantech's borrowed some inspiration from HTC's Sense 3.0 lock screen by offering three shortcuts at the bottom -- phone, messaging and email -- that you can drag and drop into the middle in order to quick jump to that respective app. We like that the option is included, though we'd prefer the ability to change the shortcuts to whatever app we want. Sadly, the lock screen also lacks any type of music playback control, which grows frustrating when we want to quickly skip to another hot track.

Upon entering the home panel, you're treated to a slightly cartoonish look, but the UI seems clean otherwise. Pantech has its own "wheel of widgets," so to speak -- it's a set of home screen widgets separated from the typical Android collection, splayed out in a circular fashion at the very bottom of the screen. If you don't see the one you're looking for, there's a handy "Android" button underneath that will let you switch over to the standard list of widgets without having to jump out to the main screen and hop back in.


Pantech's notification bar is definitely unlike any we've seen before. At first it appears that one row of toggles is offered on the top, but that's just the "easy setting." Pressing a tiny button on the top right corner will bring up a second row with more shortcuts. Music playback options are limited on the notification menu; rather than offering the standard set of controls, it simply throws in a shortcut to take you directly to the music app. Aside from this, there aren't any other significant changes.

When looking through the application menu, it gives you a feeling that you're using TouchWiz. The menu is presented in a left-right orientation and uses panels, much like Samsung's proprietary UI does. It also features some flexibility in organizing the apps here, letting you move them around to fit your personal style, and here's the best part: again, just like TouchWiz, there's an option to tuck certain apps away in a dedicated "Hide" folder that disappears as soon as you exit the editing mode. Unfortunately, you can't make your own custom folders, but at least we found pleasure in throwing the hoardes of bloatware pre-installed on the phone into its own app purgatory.

Bloatware on the Breakout is rampant. Together, Pantech and Verizon have doused the interface with more pre-installed apps than is necessary. We make no secret of the fact that we find this a nuisance, especially when there's at least 30 of them. And we'd likely find exception to this if they were at least uninstallable -- problem is, none of them are. We hope you love Let's Golf 2, because it -- just like every other single piece of carrier-mandated programming -- is there to stay. We're glad to have the Hide folder to tuck them away into, but it's unfortunate to have all of these programs taking up valuable space on the handset that could be used for other things.

Camera

The Breakout's camera appears to be one area that was victimized by cost-cutting measures. While a 5MP sensor is still commonplace in devices at this price range, its lack of an LED flash is unfortunate, as well as the camera's basic UI. We appreciate having a dedicated shutter button, but movements are rather difficult to capture since it's unable to lock in focus or exposure beforehand as you normally can with two-stage (double detent) buttons. Instead, pressing the shutter will initiate the camera's autofocus, which adds three to four seconds to the process of taking a picture -- leaving you vulnerable to potentially missing a Kodak moment.

Pantech Breakout sample shots

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We expected an average showing from the camera, and that's precisely what we got. As anticipated, images ended up reasonably crisp and bright, though colors had a knack for getting washed out in direct sunlight. We gave up on taking close-up shots, as our subject would turn out fuzzy more often than not. Macro focus is not available on the Breakout, so we just had to give objects more distance before photographing them -- albeit, without as much detail as we'd prefer.

The user interface was surprisingly minimalistic in comparison to most Android cameras. When you first enter the app, the only visible icons are the touchscreen shutter button, camcorder and front-facing toggle switches and a GPS indicator on the right side. Upon pressing the menu key, however, a sidebar appears on the left and the right sidebar's icons change into options for gallery and random settings. On the left, we find four icons: zoom, exposure, shot mode and a miscellaneous icon that opens up to lighting, white balance, timer and focus (auto, manual and spot) settings. In additional settings, we can change resolution, scene mode and anti-shake, as well as a couple other random choices.


The video capture resolution on most standard smartphones is now drifting into high-def territory, which means the Breakout's 720p HD camcorder is par for the course. We found the performance to be average, with only minor amounts of lag scattered about. The videos were slightly choppy when capturing sudden motion, but was smooth otherwise. Audio quality turned out great, as our voice could be clearly heard above the noise of a busy street.

Performance and battery life

Much like Verizon's first three LTE phones, the Breakout sports a predictable 1GHz single-core CPU. It doesn't feel long ago that such a processor speed was considered top of the line, and now it's bordering on low-end. However, that's not a reason to discount the phone's real-world performance. Provided you're not looking to overload your device with graphics-intensive games or try to do 50 things at once, you can expect to find buttery-smooth performance. We experienced a slight amount of lag when bogging down the CPU with a laundry list of tasks, but otherwise it ran just fine. Hard as we tried, the phone didn't crash or shut down on us. In case you're a numbers fan, however, we ran our standard benchmarks and compared the results with comparable LTE phones below.



Benchmark Pantech Breakout LG Revolution HTC Thunderbolt Samsung Droid Charge
Quadrant 1,323 1,913 1,886 943
Linpack (MFLOPS) 38.5 39.6 40.1 13.6
Nenamark (fps) 33.7 39.2 32.7 42.2
Neocore (fps) 58.3 65.1 59.5 56.9
Sunspider (ms) 4,001 4,591 6,213 7,905

The above benchmarks show a device that can certainly keep up with its LTE compadres, and its Sunspider score only puts it 100ms shy of the Motorola Droid Bionic. In our own testing, we couldn't see any noticeable difference in the phone's performance when compared to the other single-core darlings.

We also came away with admiration for the Breakout's little speakers that could. While media playback through our headphones wasn't anything to write home (or a review) about, the speaker grill on the back of the phone held up very well when watching movies or listening to music. Likewise, we had an enjoyable time using the speakerphone -- the other line came through loud and clear, and it's great to use a phone that we have to turn the volume down in order to hear comfortably instead of vice versa.

When it comes to LTE handsets, we've already come to expect less-than-stellar battery life. The Breakout's 1,500mAh juicepack doesn't depart from those expectations, though it's at least bearable for anyone who doesn't plan to use their phone for constant video / music streaming or gaming. In our standard video rundown test, the battery lasted for four hours and 50 minutes before taking its final electronic gasp and shutting off. We were able to get through the full workday with moderate usage, but it may not be a bad idea to have a charger with you if you find yourself getting into some heavy emailing, internet browsing or media playback.

Wrap-up


All said, Pantech's done a commendable job of cutting corners in all the right places. It still features a CPU with the same clockspeed as the Thunderbolt and Revolution, carries a competitive amount of RAM to accompany it, has an above-average display and exudes a design more elegant than its price tag would normally suggest. Don't get us wrong: it's no Droid Bionic, but it doesn't try to be. Even then, however, we were expecting much worse from a handset that undercuts its 4G counterparts by at least $150. Instead, we found a device that does well at keeping up with its older brothers (with the glaring exception of the Droid Bionic, of course). It's unfortunate news for the members of that exclusive club, because we have a feeling the pool's going to get a lot more crowded very soon.
Pantech

Pantech Breakout

Pros

  • Brings LTE on the cheap
  • Durable and easy to grip
  • Good performance

Cons

  • Battery life
  • Bloatware overload
  • Subpar camera
Conclusion

The Pantech Breakout is a decent option for heavy downloaders on a budget.

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Pantech Breakout review