The Pantech Breakout is a budget device through and through. The first time you hold one, you'll notice its grippy plastic and matte finish.
This grippy plastic feels robust, but not exactly high quality.
There's also a slight lip around the edge of the device, a ridge that you'll surely thumb as you navigate the phone's 4-inch display. But it's neither irritating or sharp enough to complain about, and after a few days you'll stop noticing it entirely.
Despite the mid-sized screen, the device feels small and heavy - but less like a brick than a phone you know can take a drop or two.
At 12mm thick, the device feels a bit thick. Gripping the phone reveals the Breakout's first strange quirk: its chassis is lined with more buttons than an elevator at a sewing convention.
There are no buttons on the top, but there's a lock/power button centered on the phone's right side, as well as a dedicated camera button placed below it. The left side contains a volume rocker and a dedicated microphone button.
It does sort of look like a brick, though.
The four buttons on the device's face are the same four Android buttons you'll be familiar with, albeit it's been a while since we've used a device with real physical push buttons as opposed to touch capacitive, flush buttons. These buttons feel large and are easy to navigate, even without looking at the device.
Surprisingly, only one button awakes the phone from sleep (the lock button). For a device with this many buttons, having only one that unlocks the screen is actually not ideal, but it's a small concern, until you're trying to capture a moment with the camera.
There's a 3.5mm headphone jack oddly placed on the side of device, which presents a problem for pocket listeners. Plugging headphones into the device will put undue stress on your headphone cable - if it even fits in your pocket.
On the back of the device is a branded, removable battery cover. The cover is ultra thin once removed, but fits snuggly and securely.
The attached charger flap hides a micro-USB slot. While it fits snuggly while connected, it's a little harder to adjust than it should be and has one of those "matter of time before it breaks" feeling.
The Pantech Breakout features a heavily skinned proprietary version of Android. Many of it's standout features seem pulled straight from other offerings, ranging from Sense to MotoBlur, but as long as they're helpful features, we're not complaining.
The lock screen is the first place you'll find a custom interface. A delightfully simple widget allows you to unlock the phone or set it to vibrate by pulling one of two circles over a larger circle in the center. As you pull it, the center circle flips, like a coin.
The lock screen of our dreams
There are three button shortcuts on the bottom that allow quick access to your email, phone, and texts. Why are we going on about this lock screen? Because it really stands out as an exceptional screen, and the Breakout animations give the budget phone a sense of quality.
Once inside, you can pinch to zoom out like Sense, or tap the pagination buttons up top to display a 3D carousel. This animation looks a little gross and doesn't make the process of switching between pages any faster - so we're not really sure what the point of it is.
Widgets also display uniquely - in a semi-circle on the bottom of the screen. Again, it's a novel approach, but it doesn't actually make anything better, so it's sort of just different for the sense of being different.
The Breakout's notification bar is similarly unique. Pulling the bar down supplies options for Volume, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Data. But there's also a small button that gives even more advanced options, ranging from Mobile Hotspot, to Display Settings.
We like the idea of advanced features being hidden, but we're not sure why there's a button for Bluetooth and Bluetooth Setting, as well as why Airplane Mode is in Advanced Settings. Undeniably trivial, but confusing nonetheless.
App Tray looks a lot like TouchWiz, with apps displayed from side to side. They're also hide-able, which is great because the Pantech Breakout has a lot of bloatware. Like, a ton. But we'll get there.
Ultimately, there just seems to be so much going on, and it doesn't feel cohesive inside, especially since you'll have to rely on the phone's big buttons and touchscreen - almost in unison - to get things done. It just feels a bit disjointed, but it's not awful, though we'd wager you'll hit the audio recording button on accident more times than on purpose.
Upon opening the messages app for the first time, the Breakout displays a tutorial for swype, and it's on by default. It's obvious that the Breakout is championing the alternate keyboard - almost to a point of fault.
The keyboard can't be turned off by long-pressing the always on-screen Swype button. So what does that do? Brings up tips, and tutorials. Maybe it's just because Swype doesn't feel that new to us, but we're not sure why a tutorials button should eat up keyboard space at all times.
This might be what your first Swype conversation looks like.
Another "feature" of messaging on the Breakout is the noise it makes during each key press. It's not much of an exaggeration to say this noise is likely the single most grating typing noise we've ever heard on a phone. The fact that it happens every time you tap, will insure you use Swype (less key presses), or you head to settings and shut it off immediately.
All the common criminals are packaged in the Breakout. The messaging app sends both texts and emails, but real emailing will almost indubitably be sent from the Email app or Gmail app.
The Email app works the same as past Gingerbread clients, and the familiarity is nice. The familiarity doesn't stop there however,
Other than those exceptions, messaging is pretty standard fare for Gingerbread devices. Emails can be sent from the messages app, the Email app, or the Gmail app.
Contacts and calling
Dial, Call log, contacts, group, and Speed. Speed is a huge grid of assignable speed dials. If you use this to any great effect, it's hard to imagine that it will be any faster than simply scrolling through your long contacts list, though it's nice to assign a few heavy rotation numbers to the first, say five, before you hit that point of diminishing return.
The Pantech Breakout features a huge dialer, but it's convoluted by a confusing drop-down button that doesn't actually drop down. It also doesn't feature auto-complete, so unless you've memorized dozens of phone numbers, you'll spend most of your time picking from numbers from the Contacts, Speed Dial, or Groups pane.
Call quality was alright, though background noise and an overall tinny sound reduced did affect many of our calls.
LTE for less than a hundred bucks is definitely the Breakout's big selling point. But as fast as LTE is (and it's fast), if the browser is lackluster, even LTE won't sell many uses. So how does the Pantech Breakout perform?
Admirably. The Breakout features the same Android browser we've come to expect from 2.3.3, but like most of the UI, the browser is heavily skinned, but stays out of your way.
Ultimately, it's the sheer speed of LTE that sells this device, and we're happy to report it was every bit as fast as the other LTE phones we've tested.
In fact, the Pantech Breakout reached even faster speeds than a few LTE phones we've tested - reaching 20.45Mbps download and 18.66Mbps uploaded.
That speed comes at a price, and as fast as you can upload you can also watch your battery go down. But if you buy this phone, LTE was probably the reason, so we'd advice bringing a charger just about everywhere you go, so you can tear through the internet anytime, any place.
Camera and Video
To keep the Breakout cheap, sacrifices had to be made. Perhaps nowhere else is this as noticeable as the camera - which doesn't feature a flash, and has a mediocre-at-best front-facing camera (granted, it could have foregone one entirely).
The 5-megapixel rear-facing camera focuses when the shutter is pressed, which adds time to the process of taking a picture, and is in fact, rather slow. If you're hoping to "capture the moment" falling snow with your Pantech Breakout, you might be more likely to capture a cold waiting.
The physical camera button is also unusually slow. We've dealt with 1 GHZ snapdragon processors that had no problem popping the camera up, so we're not entirely sure what the deal with the Breakout's is. You have to hold the button down for what feels like a full second before the phone registers the command (likely on purpose, to avoid hitting the button over and over on accident).
Frustratingly, it doesn't wake the camera from sleep, meaning by the time you hit the physical power button, swipe to unlock, than hold the physical camera button down, you've already missed the shot.
After you take a picture, the Breakout forces you to deal with it - then and there - before taking another photo. We recommend shutting this "feature" off in settings immediately after unboxing your phone.
That doesn't mean it's entirely horrendous, and when the subject is still and the light is right, you can still capture plenty of quality photos. The 5-megapixel sensor lives up to a majority of current cameras, but if you're planning on catching any nightlife, you'll want to Breakout a different camera.
Video suffers in the same area that the camera does (no surprises), and isn't able to make up for it's lackluster performance with the variety of settings.
Similar to the camera, so many settings must be fiddled with that you'll likely miss anything you were trying to record, before you've recorded it.
Switching between the camera and video recording is done via a small, sometimes finicky, button on the bottom right of the screen. Tapping on the screen next brings up the three buttons; digital zoom, digital brightness, and "function" which contains three features you might actually use.
These features include white balance, filters, and a timer. There's no quick way to sort through all of these, so you'll have to tap them until you've cycled through and found the one you're interested in. It's a clunky process for a feature that needs more finesse.
Battery and connectivity
The phone comes with a 1500 mAh battery, which gets absolutely smoked with LTE on. But turn it off (and you'll definitely turn it off if you own this phone) and you're greeted to a manageable battery.
Without the LTE, the phone can survive a workday with moderate usage. The Breakout is rated for 5.8 hours talk time, and 300 hours standby.
While those are perfectly manageable numbers, it doesn't really change the fact that the budget phone's major selling-point is its LTE-capability, and using it will absolutely murder the phone's battery.
If you use your Breakout to stream content over LTE, you can expect a sub 3-hour phone, as we did. This is obviously an expected casualty of a lighter price tag, but as the poster child for budget-priced LTE phones, it's a shame we can't recommend actually using the LTE.
The Pantech Breakout supports a slew of mid-level connections. It packs a dual-band antenna with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as Bluetooth 3.0.
Net Media serves as Pantech's included media file sharing app. It allows you to serve up files between DLNA-enabled devices.
We found the set up process to be simple enough - just connect to Wi-Fi and select your category of media (displayed in three huge buttons on the bottom of the screen that divide pictures, music, and video).
The phone is also connectible through included USB, which we found to both work without a hitch, and transfer files faster than Net Media.
Maps and apps
The Pantech Breakout has the same Google Maps app we've seen on just about every other Gingerbread device, but it's what we expected to find - and fortunately Pantech hasn't tried to spiffy it up with any tacky additions. Here, Google works it's charm.
We received accurate geolocating, were given good directions, and the Maps app opened quickly and formed routes quickly.
VZ Navigator is the Yang to Google Maps' Yin. The VZ Navigator icon is actually just a link to download it, and upon opening will alert you to its use of data, as well as any critical updates that you'll be required to download.
For those willing to be deterred to Google's superior app, the VZ Navigator (ironically) doesn't navigate you anywhere. The free version of the app presents you with maps, you'll need to allow Verizon to locate you at all times (another alert).
The whole process sends you through a handful of setup options, but does offer some unique options. VZ Navigator will show you the cheapest, closest gas prices and movies screening nearby, and a variety of other options we've become accustomed to being offered by Garmin and other GPS hardware.
VZ Navigator also gives you the option to pay for some pretty spiffy, but ultimately underwhelming, 3D maps.
The Pantech Breakout comes with more bloatware than any phone we can remember in recent memory. There are no fewer than 20 apps of dubious value on this device, none of which can be properly deleted.
We'd go through each app and explain the value (or lack thereof), but it'd likely take a few thousand words and mostly just tell you what you already know - bloatware can cheapen any device. And the already cheap Breakout is bloated beyond belief.
City ID, Clock Tools, Converter, Doc Viewer, Guided Tours, Lets Golf 2 (demo), Mobile IM, News & Weather, NFL Mobile, NFS Shift, Rhapsody, SetupWizard, Slacker, V Cast Media Manager, Music, Tones, and Video, Nuance Voice Control, and VZ Navigator all sit on the device, and each are hidable, but undeleteable.
The Pantech Breakout has positioned itself as the cheapest ticket to the LTE train, but it's not exactly "budget."
This manifests itself in the hefty-for-a-cheap-phone price tag of $100, as well in the quality of the phone's construction. It's no iPhone - but it does usually cut the right corners.
Certain cut corners, like the absence of an LED Flash just seem too drastic. And speaking of drastic, we can't stand the overflowing tray of bloatware that we can't get off the phone.
We know these subsidize the cost of the phone in one way or another, but we quiver at the misleading subscription-based apps and trial versions some beginner smartphone users will have to sift through (or worse, unknowingly purchase) after unboxing their phone.
The battery is unsurprisingly heinous, but for those who don't mind switching the LTE on and off, they'll be able to power through the day.
Like a puppy that keeps making messes everywhere, we just can't stay mad at the Pantech Breakout. Sure, it's an overall mediocre phone but it doesn't have any reservations about that.
Solid build quality and a just-right price make it feel like a winner, and the Pantech overlay takes dozens of our favorite parts from other mobile OS's (and did we mention that smooth lock screen?).
While the 1GHZ Snapdragon processor isn't top of the line, it was perfectly fast for everyday tasks.
If you've just got to save money - but have LTE - this is the best phone to do it with. The Pantech Breakout is a mixed bag, but so long as you aren't trying to pit it against the best-in-class, and you can live with some almost ludicrous shortcomings, the phone's well-worth the asking price.