Pantech isn't really known as a juggernaut in the smartphone world, especially when compared with HTC or Palm. However, it has made some inroads in the smartphone market in the past. There was the Verizon Wireless-branded PN-820 flip phone with Windows Mobile 5, and though it wasn't exactly a full-blown smartphone, Pantech is also the manufacturer behind the much-touted Helio Ocean. Perhaps the company learned a thing or two from Helio's design department, as the new Pantech Duo from AT&T features the same dual-slider design as the Ocean. It comes loaded with features like a megapixel camera, Bluetooth, quad-band support, HSDPA-level speeds, and all the other productivity tools you would expect from a Windows Mobile device. Because it has 3G support, the Duo also has access to AT&T's stable of broadband services like AT&T Music and Cellular Video. That said, we weren't too pleased with the phone's exterior--it looks and feels like a cheap plastic toy, and the QWERTY keyboard is poorly designed. If given a choice, we would definitely go for the better-designed and more robust AT&T Tilt over the Duo. The Pantech Duo is available for $199.99 after a 2-year contract and a $100 rebate.
The Pantech Duo gets its name from its dual-slider design, which is similar to the design of the Helio Ocean. Sliding the phone up vertically reveals a numerical dialpad, while sliding it horizontally reveals a QWERTY keyboard. The keypad and keyboard are on separate layers, and you can't keep both open at the same time. That's where the similarity with the Helio Ocean ends. The Pantech Duo is much smaller than the Ocean at 4.02 by 1.97 by 0.83 inches, and is also a lot more lightweight at 3.88 ounces (The Ocean weighed around 5.6 ounces). Even so, the Pantech Duo is quite the bulky device due to its triple layers, and it doesn't fit comfortably into a pants pocket.
Also, just because the Duo has an innovative dual-slider design doesn't mean we liked anything else about the phone's appearance. The Duo is saddled with a chintzy plastic shell that makes the device seem more like a kid's toy than a serious smartphone. Not only that, but the dull gray finish is quite fingerprint prone, and the dimpled border around the screen makes the phone look like something out of the 1990s. To make things worse, the sliding mechanism for the QWERTY keyboard feels rather flimsy and loose.
Thankfully, the 2.2-inch QVGA display makes up for some of the design imperfections. The 262,000-color screen supports a 240x320 pixel resolution, resulting in a lovely display that's easy on the eyes. Images look clean, fonts are legible, and colors are bright. Video looks pretty good on it, too. The screen switches position from portrait mode to landscape mode when the QWERTY keyboard is slid out, for easier surfing and texting. Do note that the display is not a touch screen, if you are concerned about that. Like all Windows Mobile 6 phones, the Duo has the Today screen as the home screen, which you can customize by changing the theme, the displayed menu items, the background image, the backlight time, as well as the font size.
Below the screen is the navigation array, which consists of two soft keys, a five-way toggle, a Home button, a Back button, as well as the Talk and End/Power keys. There's also a dedicated Quick List key that brings up a menu of different power and sound profiles. The Quick List key doubles as a Keyguard lock. As we mentioned, you can slide the phone up to reveal the number keypad. The navigation array and the number keypad have similar bubblelike keys with a nice curved texture that makes it easy to dial. That said, we do wish the keys were less slippery. Also, the Quick List key seemed a bit too small for our tastes.
The QWERTY keyboard, on the other hand, is one of the Duo's biggest sins. You get the typical QWERTY layout as well as two tiny soft keys to either end of the keyboard (you use them when the screen is in landscape mode). Not only are all the keys tiny, they are also way too flat and flush to the surface of the phone, making it difficult for us to thumb-type comfortably. We usually had to resort to using our fingernails in order to type out text messages.
Rounding out the phone's exterior is the volume rocker on the left spine, a voice-record button, and dedicated camera key on the right, plus a microSD card slot on the top. On the back of the device is a camera lens plus an LED that functions as the camera's flash.
Though we were disappointed with the Pantech Duo's design, we were quite impressed with its wealth of features. It is one of the first AT&T devices to have the Windows Mobile 6 platform (Standard Edition), which features a number of upgrades over Windows Mobile 5. There's a new Calendar ribbon, a new smart e-mail search function, and many more OS updates that will be sure to please the mobile professional. Be sure to check out our review of Windows Mobile 6 for the full rundown of what's new with it.