Pantech Flex review: A good looking budget phone

At a Glance
  • Pantech Flex

The Pantech Flex is an affordable Android smartphone that packs quite a punch into a slim and attractive package. The phone is available on AT&T and retails for $50 with a new two-year contract (price as of 9/26/2012). The Flex is only 0.01-inches thicker than the iPhone 5 and has the same dual-core S4 processor that's in the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X—not bad for a phone that costs less than most people's monthly phone bill. That's not to say the Flex is perfect, however, as both its call quality and photo taking capabilities leave some room for improvement.

Design

Measuring in at 5.11 by 2.64 by 0.31-inches, the Flex is one of the thinnest LTE phones currently available in the United States. The phone has a 4.3-inch qHD (540 by 960) Super AMOLED display—which looks good when playing videos or games, but it can be a bit difficult to see outdoors and has a tendency to oversaturate colors. Much like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Motorola Droid Razr M, the Flex uses the virtual navigation buttons native to Ice Cream Sandwich in lieu of physical ones. These buttons look somewhat squished, but will get you around the phone's various menus without much trouble.

One strange thing about the Flex is that the power button is located halfway down the phone's right spine (beneath the microUSB charging port). The button's awkward placement takes some getting used to; I wish it were placed higher up on the phone. I had no trouble holding and using the Flex comfortably with one hand, though people with smaller palms may want to try holding the phone before they buy it.

A bit of good news: The back cover can be removed, giving you access to the SIM and microSD card slots, as well as the battery.

Performance

The Flex is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 processor and 1GB of RAM. This beefy processor keeps the phone running smoothly when doing things like browsing the web and navigating menus, though I did notice some dips in performance while playing games like Temple Run. Games would randomly slow down and textures would occasionally pop in and out at strange times. If you were planning on playing a lot of games on your phone, I'd suggest looking elsewhere.

The Flex's call quality also left a lot to be desired. The phone did a good job at filtering out background noises, but voices sounded dim and far away. Even in an area with good reception, I had trouble hearing what the other person was saying. Cranking up the earpiece volume helped some, but still didn’t keep me from asking the people I called to constantly repeat themselves so I could hear them. While I was disappointed by the quality of calls on the Flex, I wasn't disappointed with its data speeds. Using the Ookla Speed Test app here in San Francisco, I managed to get download speeds of around 14.5-megabits per second and upload speeds of about 16.3-megabits per second while connect to AT&T's LTE network. At those speeds most webpages will open instantly, and even larger apps will take only a few minutes to download. Your results will vary depending on where you live, so it's best to check carrier coverage maps to see how service is in your area.

After using the phone for the past week, I can safely say that you can expect to get around 6-7 hours of battery life out of the Flex before it runs out of juice. Even on days when I was using the phone heavily to download apps, watch dumb YouTube videos, and crank call my friends, I still managed a pretty respectable 4.5 hours of use before I needed to plug the phone into an outlet.

Software

The Pantech Flex ships with Android Ice Cream Sandwich and two different custom overlays. When you first set up the Flex, the phone will ask you to choose between the "Pantech Easy Experience" and the "Pantech Standard Experience". Depending on what you pick, the phone will load one of two very different overlays that affect the look and feel of the OS. Selecting the Pantech Easy Experience gives you only one home screen and makes all the icons and buttons large and colorful. It's meant for smartphone newbies that don't want to be overwhelmed by countless settings and options. It's worth trying out if you're looking for a more simplified smartphone experience, and you can switch over to the Standard Experience at any time by going to the phone's Settings menu.

Pantech's Standard Experience looks a lot like stock Android Ice Cream Sandwich: You have a dock near the bottom of the screen that you can pin apps to, and you also get five home screens that you can organize to your liking. This overlay also features a different lock screen than the Easy Experience, one that allows you to quickly launch apps from the lock screen without first having to unlock the phone. Since you can switch the between the two overlays at any time, I'd suggest trying both out to see which one you prefer.

Camera

The 8-megapixel camera on the Flex took some decent photos, though they aren't as sharp as what you'd get from an iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III, or even a cheap point-and-shoot camera. The camera settings were really basic, and the camera itself takes a few seconds to fully focus on a subject. The Flex is capable of recording videos in 1080p, but the videos I shot had a good amount of artifacts in them and weren't as clear as I would have liked . The camera will work in a pinch, but you won't want to film anything more than a YouTube video with it.

Bottom line

The Pantech Flex is a slightly above average phone at a hard to beat price. Its internal specs and LTE compatibility mean that the phone won’t feel outdated any time soon, however the Flex has its share of limitations that keep it from being one of the best Android phones out there. If you're looking for a svelte budget phone and don't mind the paltry call quality, then the Flex may be a good phone for you. For everyone else, it might be worth saving a few more dollars and picking up aMotorola Atrix HD or Apple iPhone 4S instead.

This story, "Pantech Flex review: A good looking budget phone" was originally published by TechHive.

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • Pantech Flex

Related:
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.