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Pantech's C610 handset is sort of like a Volkswagen Bug with a Mercedes engine dropped in. It's a basic clamshell phone made to access AT&T's slick 3G services, like Internet browsing and streaming video. So the results are mixed: You may be traveling at 120 mph, but you're still in a Volkswagen. The 3G services are cool, but you have to access them using the C610's alphanumeric keypad and small display screen. That said, the C610 performed reasonably well overall.
3G is no longer the sole purview of pricey smart phones; Pantech's C610 is part of a wave of more basic handsets supporting the high-speed network. It's one of eight inexpensive ($50 or less after rebate) 3G cell phones offered by AT&T if you sign up for a two-year service contract. You can expect to pay at least $15 a month for data services; voice plans range from $40 to $100 per month.
First, the basics. The C610's call quality seemed fine, but not extraordinary, with voice quality clear and loud enough. I heard no interference as I walked around the office with the phone. For voice calls, AT&T's 3G (HSDPA downstream, UMTS upstream) network is a vast improvement over its predecessor, which had call-clarity issues, at least in dense, urban environments like San Francisco.
I liked the simple, no-nonsense clamshell design of the Pantech C610. Its 1-inch external color screen displays the time, or the caller ID information from an incoming call. I found the functions of the buttons and ports intuitive, and navigation to applications and data within the phone would probably be easy for anyone who has used a cell phone in the last five years.
The C610 uses the common interface of three-by-three icons for accessing music, messaging, Yellow Pages, Internet, Media Mall (where you buy ringtones and such), GPS, My Stuff, address book, and settings. I had no trouble finding the location of basic features like contacts, call logs, and text messaging.
To see how the phone performed when connected to AT&T's fancier 3G services, I tried AT&T's CV video service, which comes with the $15-per-month Media Net Unlimited package. The first couple of video streams I watched worked fine and looked passable. The second two streams were pixilated and jittery, and the audio track was noticeably out of sync with the video. I appreciated the C610's ability to switch over to landscape view, a big help when watching video on a small, rectangular screen. And to be honest, the video passes the airport test--that is, if I were waiting for a flight and had nothing else to do, watching video on the Pantech would be good enough to pass the time.
I give slightly higher marks to the GPS-enabled AT&T Navigator services ($10 per month), which include driving directions, local search, and traffic flows. Keying in your driving destination or search keywords is a bit of a pain because of the small keypad, but the applications remember your destinations and searches, so you might not have to do the whole thumb exercise every time. Once it was going, I liked the audio driving directions issuing from the little speaker and the 3D route views on the screen, which, though small, seems big enough to convey the information. The business search feature worked fine, quickly sniffing out a couple of out-of-the-way places--a little wine shop and a sandwich joint--near our offices here in downtown San Francisco.
The music player uses an iPod-like main menu, making finding and playing your music easy. The process of moving music from your PC to the phone is also pretty easy, once you have the right gear. You have to buy a special USB cable to link the phone to your PC, plus a MicroSD card on which to store the music. Neither ships with the phone; you have to buy them separately at the AT&T store. This lack of accessories is another price you pay for a "cheap" phone.
At your PC you can use Windows Media Player version 10, 11, or Vista, and drag and drop your MP3s, WMA, AAC and AAC+ files over to the player, which is represented in the right-hand panel of the application. You can also transfer music directly to your phone from eMusic or Napster (part of the AT&T Mobile Music package) for two bucks per song (or five for $7.50), plus data transfer charges.
E-Mail and Instant Messaging
Both the mobile e-mail and the IM applications on the phone worked well in my tests. I entered the user name and password for my Yahoo Mail account and was able to load my e-mail onto the phone, which supports POP3 accounts. I found it surprisingly easy to read and navigate through the e-mail. Responding to those messages, however, is more difficult due to the phone's small, flat-surface keypad.
I also entered my AIM handle and password and was able to IM with an associate here in the PC World offices. Typing short IM responses was not a problem; for detailed conversations, it might be best to find some other handset.
You can open the camera with the push of a button on the side of the phone, and then push it again to snap a picture. The photo quality is what you might expect from a 1.3-megapixel lens: medium resolution and a little grainy. Shooting video requires a few clicks down into the menus, and creates medium-quality video.
All in all, the C610 isn't a bad phone, and it's certainly priced reasonably. The deciding factor should be whether or not you can live with its small keypad and display, which might put a crimp on the usefulness and enjoyment you get out of the fast 3G services being delivered through the phone.
A 3G phone for for a low price; not bad if you can live with the small keypad and display screen.
- Access to lots of nice 3G services
- Low price
- Small keypad and display screens
- Lacks USB cable and memory card
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