Pantech has been quietly making pretty good, inexpensive phones for Verizon and AT&T for years. Like many of its brothers and sisters, Verizon's Pantech Perception is the kind of device you won't want to overlook if you're in the market for an affordable handset.
The Perception, which costs $99.99 with a new two-year service agreement, is a large, solid, middle-of-the-road Android 4.0 phone that comes with a fast dual-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera that takes 1080p HD video. It also happens to bundle in a large helping of useful features, from using arguably the most popular virtual keyboard around to motion control and personalized settings options.
The handset is far from perfect, and you may even pass it up for another sale model. However, Verizon customers looking for a phone for $100 or less should at least give the Perception a look.
Design and build
Apart from affordable price tags, one thing you can count on Pantech to provide is an eye-catching design that sets its phones apart from the usual herd, at least somewhat. In the Perception's case, that means some sharper angles on the back plate and a faux-brushed finish. There are also some subtle edges to make the phone's shoulders slightly rougher around the corners. The spine design softens the look with a curvier, almost elongated teardrop element, and the Perception gets a pinprick of red in the right spine's power/lock button.
Not every design element endears me. The Micro-USB jack on the top edge sits too close to the 3.5-millimeter headset jack, and the flap covering the charging slot gets in the way of the charging cable. The battery cover pops off without a problem when I used my thumbnail, though it didn't work very well when I tried curling it off with the nails on my middle and index fingers.
Physically, the Perception is a fairly large device that stands 5.2 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.35-inch thick. Because of all those edges on the back panel, the phone doesn't quite conform to your hand's curves but I wouldn't call it uncomfortable to hold, either. The phone's dimensions are about on par with other handsets of the same size, and it fits into pockets and purses the same way.
As for bulk, the Perception's 4.8-ounce weight feels neither too heavy nor too light, but adds a certain amount of heft that makes you feel like you're holding a powerful electronic, not a prop.
There's no mistaking that when you're using the device, the screen is the star of the show. The Perception's 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display features a 1280x720-pixel resolution, with a pixel density of 306 ppi. This isn't the 1080p HD resolution of today's killer smartphone screens, but it's still a good 'un, with bright, rich hues and deep blacks, balanced by sharp, legible lettering. Of course, the screen looks better brighter, but automatic brightness settings were good enough for me in most situations.
There are no physical navigation buttons to be found on the Perception, but you can find the 2-megapixel camera module above the display, and the 8-megapixel shooter on the back cover, right above the LED flash. Beneath the back cover are the microSD card slot and removable battery.
OS and features
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is technically two versions behind the most recent Android build, but you won't sacrifice too much essential functionality on the Perception. There's no Google Now, and the notifications aren't as rich, but you'll still see the majority of Jelly Bean's most useful tricks.
While Pantech doesn't push its personality as far as some other manufacturers do, it does add some of its own flavor in the custom skin department. The Perception's lock screen, for instance, lays out shortcuts to the dial pad, messaging, camera, and music player, in addition to the general unlock button. In addition, Pantech has added its own style of system shortcuts in the notifications shade, as well as a skinned settings menu for the wallpaper presets and for the app tray.
Fewer Android handset-makers follow Google's original Android 4.0 vision of using entirely on-screen controls. The Perception does this, scuttling any touch-sensitive navigation buttons in favor of software buttons at the bottom of the screen.
The Perception supports all the usual connections you can think of: Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, NFC, and it can also serve as a mobile hotspot for up to 10 devices over 4G (and as many as 5 over 3G).
There's support for extra motion controls that let you perform actions such as answering the phone with a wave of your hand, or advancing through your playlist with a similar wrist wiggle.
Keyboard snobs will appreciate Swiftkey for Pantech, a variation on the popular third-party keyboard app. You'll get the virtual QWERTY's penchant for learning from your social networks and other writing styles over time, as well as your preference to choosing predictive text or relying on autocorrection. Swiftkey is installed by default, though you can also switch over to Pantech's standard keyboard.
Pantech doesn't stop there. The Perception comes with some easy-access personalization controls that let you customize the look of your lock screen, wallpaper, and other items from a central control menu.
For those who prefer training wheels while learning to use Android's many features, there's the option to switch into Easy Mode, a stripped-down and finger-friendly version of the OS that lets users access the most important parts of the device more intuitively.
When it comes to apps, the Perception has plenty. You'll find, of course, essentials like an alarm clock, calendar, and calculator, and Google's services, like search, mapping, and e-mail. Beyond these, Pantech and Verizon set you up with the full suite of Amazon apps, including Audible and Amazon Kindle for e-reading. There's Camnote, Color, a document viewer, NFL Mobile, some game demos, and a task manager. Viewdini, Smart Voice, and Slacker Radio are others you'll see on top of Verizon's own suite of management apps and storefronts.