Judging from the outside, there's absolutely nothing that would make the Burst stand out above the crowd. In fact, you could argue this handset is the most "normal-looking" Android smartphone Pantech's put out in the US -- one only has to take a quick glance at the Crossover
to validate this theory. The short version: it's a slab with a 4-inch display, a typical plastic build and all of the standard ports. Fortunately the phone attempts to break the monotony by adding a few tiny design tweaks and offering black and red color options. But as we'll find out soon enough, beauty isn't just skin deep; it lies beneath, within all of the circuitry, boards and other gizmos hidden under the exterior.
To specify, let's rattle off a few specs you can expect from the Burst: a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 CPU, a full gig of RAM, Adreno 220 GPU, 4-inch Super AMOLED display, 16GB internal storage (expandable up to 48GB), 5MP rear shooter with 720p HD capture and a VGA front-facing camera for video chat. It also adds quadband (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900) GSM / EDGE, triband (850 / 1900 / 2100) WCDMA / 21Mbps HSPA+ and dualband (700 / 1700) LTE. With only a couple exceptions, this is a highly respectable list of specs we imagine would entice a large number of people. Push all of that into a low-end phone, and you have our attention.
Adorned with your run-of-the-mill plastic without any texture or soft touch material to call its own, we found the Burst to lean toward the slippery end of things, but the smartphone's smaller frame appears to make it easier and more comfortable to hold. It measures 4.98 x 2.46 x 0.45 inches (126 x 62 x 11mm), which puts it in the middle of the pack, thickness-wise. In this case, Pantech designed the phone carefully enough so that it could pull off a sleek profile, regardless of any relative heft. It also benefits from being incredibly light, weighing just 4.32 ounces (122g). While we would have preferred soft-touch plastic to add an smidgen of extra tactility, it was still was a pleasure to hold otherwise.
If you're looking for a smartphone with the latest and greatest HD display, look elsewhere -- would you expect any different from a budget device? The Burst is equipped with a 4-inch Super AMOLED
display that boasts a WVGA resolution of 800 x 480. This may sound incredibly underwhelming by today's standards -- assuming you're comparing this to $300 phones -- but the pixel density of the device is 233ppi, which is perfectly reasonable. Let's put it another way: this is the same panel featured on the Samsung Nexus S
, but without the curved glass. As a warning to those offended by the very existence of PenTile, the Burst is all 'bout the RGBG layout, with some obvious pixelation should you stare at the screen hard enough. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, though, when you remember the price. And while we would love to have a better screen, it's good enough for us to not have any outspoken concerns with it. The colors are well saturated, the viewing angles are tremendous and the screen is bright when used indoors; unfortunately, we struggled to make out the display in direct sunlight.
Flanking the display on its top and bottom are the VGA camera and capacitive navigation buttons, respectively. The keys are configured in the standard formation, with menu, home, back and search from left to right. Turning the phone to the right will earn you an up-close-and-personal look at the micro-USB charging port. The tippity top of the Burst houses the 3.5mm headphone jack and power button, while the volume rocker sets up residence on the left side of the device. The chrome top and plastic bottom (black or red, depending on your color choice) merge together in a curious arrangement, with the chrome bit reaching up on each end and the plastic piece extending down from the display in the middle. We can't say it's the prettiest phone we've ever seen, but we at least appreciate Pantech's commitment to taking design risks in the name of getting noticed.
As an aside, another curious design choice is the plateau on the rosewood-themed battery cover, featuring ridges on the left / right and a gentle slope on the top / bottom. Speaking of which, the battery cover is where you'll find the standard 5MP rear camera and its accompanying LED flash on the left -- a first for Pantech in the US -- and speaker grille on the right. Lifting up the back reveals a 1,650mAh battery, noise suppression mic and slots for a microSD and microSIM card. The microSD slot is empty when you purchase the phone, but there's a very good chance you won't notice it right away -- the Burst is blessed with 16GB of internal storage. If you do need more capacity, you'll be able to stick in a card up to 32GB, which would push the phone's capacity to a grand total of 48GB.
Performance and battery life
When the Burst was officially announced
at the AT&T Developer Summit last month, we were already taken aback by the idea that a low-end LTE phone could boast a 1.2GHz dual-core processor -- in comparison, the similarly priced Breakout on Verizon features a 1GHz single-core chip -- but during the course of our review, we've learned that the spec is incorrect. Rather, the Burst is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm S3 CPU with 1GB of RAM thrown in. Something this significant merited some extra investigation, and not only have we verified this using multiple apps that list components and track CPU use, we've also received official confirmation from Pantech that it is, in fact, clocked at that higher speed. AT&T's website, however, remains steadfast in listing the incorrect spec, which painfully adds to the confusion. We say: if you got it, flaunt it. This is easily the most impressive spec any $50 phone has ever had to offer, and it's being downplayed as if it's not important.
The Burst is powered by a powerful 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm S3 CPU that keeps up with the Skyrocket and Nitro.
Stepping off our soapbox, this powerful CPU lives up to our expectations in both real-life performance and benchmarks. The Burst handled our multitasking and gaming with ease, not giving pause or allowing any hiccups in the process. And the benchmarks certainly seem to back up our own experience: its Quadrant (version 1) score edges out the Samsung Skyrocket
and trumps the LG Nitro
and bests both in SunSpider 9.1. The other two devices came out on top in the other benchmark results, but the Burst didn't trail far behind in any of them. We were completely stunned to see a Pantech phone compete with such bigshots. It's a breath of fresh air to see an inexpensive handset that offers a level of performance that power users can be satisfied with.
Disclaimer: during the course of our review, Quadrant Standard was updated to version 2. The refresh adds ICS compatibility and will more accurately factor in additional cores, as well as making adjustments to the frame rate and other bug fixes. Because of this, the way scores are tabulated will be different as well. While our benchmark results in this review reflect the first version of the app, we have also run Quadrant v2, generating a score of 3,189. We haven't had the opportunity to update and test most of our old devices to offer a truly proper comparison, but we tested the TI OMAP-powered Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx
and got a score of 2,273.
We won't dispute that the Burst doesn't suffer in the speed department, given its LTE connectivity. We can, however, disagree on it being the fastest on said high-speed network. We took the LTE-capable Pantech Element
and ran speed tests side by side to ensure there would be as few external factors getting in the way of our assessment. In the same location, at identical times and with equal bars of service, the Element outpaced the Burst in download speeds by a prodigious margin. While the tablet consistently hit speeds of between 30 and 45Mbps down, the handset averaged in the 20s with occasional bursts (sorry) in the 30s and 40s.
You'll need to beg our pardon, because ever since we reviewed the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx, our view on how long a smartphone battery is supposed to last has become irreversibly upended. After witnessing its 16.5-hour rundown time, we've seen the light and can't go back to the way things were before. There's no reason more handsets, even those that take advantage of LTE, shouldn't follow suit. Indeed, it's difficult to argue against the fact that the Maxx succeeded in raising the bar and rethinking possible. Oops, wrong carrier.
Using our standard video rundown test, the Burst lasted for seven hours and 30 minutes when connected to LTE. This device's 1,650mAh juicepack got us through a full day with moderate usage, but heavy content consumers will need to have a car charger handy.
We never experienced a dropped call during our tests, and we could hear the other end of the line easily enough, but the internal speaker falls on the quieter end of the spectrum. Happily, we didn't receive any complaints, likely due to Audience's dual-microphone noise suppression technology. The external speaker also teetered on the edge of mediocrity, with voices sounding slightly tinny on the other end. We had an enjoyable experience listening to music on our Skullcandy headphones, thanks at least in part to Pantech's equalizer, which offers plenty of profiles and even gives us the option to customize EQ levels to our own personal preference.
The touchscreen was perfectly responsive in the sense that we didn't experience any lag or significant delays, but we noticed it occasionally stumbled when we required extreme precision. On multiple occasions, when we attempted to press a smaller button -- say, a tiny browser link or progress bar in the music player -- the screen would register touch a couple millimeters off. We usually moved the tip of our finger around a bit and found success on the second try, but it happened enough times to be a concern. Unfortunately, we had a similar spat with the capacitive navigation keys below the display as they would often require a second or third press before our touch registered.
We'll just put this out there: Pantech isn't known for placing stellar cameras in its US models. Rather, its shooters seem to be inserted into each phone as more of an afterthought, completely lacking the TLC we've come to expect from vendors like Samsung and HTC. We can't really be surprised by this, though, because the outfit appears to know its place in the US smartphone food chain. That is, Pantech understands that its primary demographic isn't a power user or mobile photography connoisseur. After all, it's trying to serve up inexpensive handsets -- its last three smartphones started at $50 on contract -- and more often than not, the camera tends to be one of the first casualties of corner-cutting.
Pantech isn't known for stellar cameras, and the Burst doesn't do anything to change that reputation.
Setting this expectation, we now turn to the camera experience on the Burst. Pantech sticks with its standard five-megapixel rear sensor, not unlike what you'll find on the Breakout and Pocket, but adds a poor LED flash this time around. While the sensor still lacks attention to detail, we noticed that it at least seemed to gauge white balance accurately. We wish we could say the same about its low-light performance, though, because it's utterly miserable. There are zero options for enhancing the precious little light we could conjure up, and the moon would do better at capturing images in the dark than the Burst's flash. Pictures of objects a mere three to four feet away from us are barely visible, much less exhibiting any semblance of color.