I updated this review August 10, 2012 with Pantech's revised battery ratings. Online specs originally pointed to a rated battery life of 3 hours and 10 days standby time. Pantech provided CNET with documentation of 5 hours talk time and over 17 days of standby time. We will update this section to include our own battery drain tests.
I always look forward to reviewing Pantech phones, in part because the lesser-known brand is often undersung, and in part, because you never know what you're going to get. It might be something like the sleeker, sophisticated Pantech Burst Android phone, the Sidekick-style Swift, or the overgrown Pocket. In this case, AT&T's eco-friendly Pantech Renue continues the carrier's staunch support for the phone-maker in a compact messaging phone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that's more in the style of U.S. Cellular's slide-up Verse than the other three designs.
In typical Pantech fashion, the design and interface are high points, and the tools are fairly filled out for a feature phone. However, there are some technical problems when it comes to capturing good quality photo and video, and elements like speakerphone. However, the $69.99 price tag -- with a two-year contract -- and the lack of a recurring data fee will attract those who just aren't ready or interested in a smartphone, so long as they can look past detractions like a medium-life battery and iffy photos.
Every phone-maker has a signature style, and for Pantech, it's "cute." As a lover of many things cute, I say that's a good thing. It lets Pantech inject some youthful character that can help its handsets stand out from more industrial or generic designs. Oftentimes, "cute" means small, as with the Renue. (But not always; the Pantech Pocket was actually the size of my pocket.) In Pantech's case, it's also synonymous with a more polished design that pays attention to visual details like texture and shape.
Like many of Pantech's phones, the Renue is a compact rectangle with rounded-off corners. It has a glossy, all black face, but the battery cover is a rubbery material etched with diagonal grooves. At only 3.9 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by about 0.47 inch thick, the compact Renue folds easily into the palm of a hand, tucks into a pocket or purse, and excels at one-handed touch-screen operation. It's snug on the ear as well. At 4.5 ounces, it's heavy for its size, but make it much lighter and it would start feeling cheap and breakable. The weight gives an impression of sturdiness.
Fitting to its petite dimension, the Renue has only a 3.2 inch TFT screen with a 320x240-pixel resolution and support for 260,000 colors. Hues look bright, but the display resolution isn't very sharp or detailed, and text looks jagged around the edges. Responsiveness, however, is high, which makes the act of navigating fairly easy.
When you firmly slide out the four-row QWERTY keyboard, you're greeted with oblong plastic keyboard buttons accented in aquamarine. The keys look bubbly, but are actually pretty flat to the surface. They feel good underhand, but keys that rise higher would make it easier to type like the wind. As it is, the flatness stalled me a couple of times. Otherwise, I found the placement spacious despite the more compact width (I also have smaller fingers.) Smart predictive suggestion boxes help keep spelling in check, and a couple of dedicated punctuation buttons on the keyboard will keep grammarians happy.
Below the display are three touch-sensitive buttons for talk, back, and end. The left spine houses the Micro-USB charging port and the right spine has the volume rocker. Up top are the 3.5 millimeter headset jack and the power button. On the back you'll find the 3-megapixel camera lens with no flash. Behind the back cover are slots for the micro-SIM card and for the microSD card. The Renue accepts up to XYZGB in expandable memory.
Features and OS
As a feature phone, the Renue runs on Pantech's proprietary operating system, based on BREW. There's a lock screen with shortcuts to open to the camera app, message composition screen, call log, or voice mail if you'd rather skip the home screens.
Speaking of home screens, you'll find five of them. They're semi-customizable. In addition to the main screen (which has your clock,) Pantech has designated one screen each for photos, contacts, favorites, and the Web. You're able to add what you'd like within that framework, but you'll hit your head against a wall if you're trying to add bookmarks where your contacts live. Pantech may restrict your customizing freedom, but they got it right with large, tap-friendly widgets and icons. At the bottom of the touch screen are four static icons for the dialer, contacts, messages, and the application tray.
The app tray fits 12 large, finger-friendly icons on each "page." Rearranging them is easy by pressing and holding, then moving the icons around once they're activated. You can also add shortcuts to specific files, settings, and tools by pressing and holding, or create folders.
The Renue has Bluetooth and Internet access over AT&T's 3G network, but you won't find Wi-Fi, unfortunately, so anything you do will eat up data. You'll also notice a toll with the mobile e-mail app, which lets you sign into various accounts, including Gmail, AT&T Mail, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, and AIM. There are GPS and mapping apps, like the optional AT&T Navigator with turn-by-turn directions. The first 30 days are free; you can also buy a day pass for $1.99 or subscribe monthly for $9.99. Other applications include AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Maps, and the Where apps.
Other apps include a Web browser, your MyAT&T account, Yellow Pages Mobile, and an app manager to delete or update your downloads. Multimedia plays a role as well, with a basic music player and video player, plus an online music store. Shortcuts to Facebook and Twitter's mobile sites are loaded by default. A hearty helping of essential tools all get their own bucket, where you'll find an alarm clock, a calendar, a notepad, a sketch pad, a voice recorder, and a world clock. There's also a calculator and tip calculator, a unit converter, a stop watch, and a timer.
If you're looking for more, there's a link to AT&T's online storefront where you'll be able to buy and download items like additional apps and games.