Pantech Perception (Verizon Wireless) review

The Pantech Perception for Verizon Wireless isn't perfect, but its favorable price-to-feature ratio proves that the midrange smartphone is better than ever.
Photo of Pantech Perception (Verizon Wireless)

The midrange smartphone has come a long way. Whereas $100 once would get you something decent or slightly above average, now you can often find many of the same specs and features in phones that cost half the price of their high-end competition. The Pantech Perception is a $99.99 case in point. It gets you speedy performance and innovative features like motion control, which is similar to what you’ll find on the Samsung Galaxy S 4, though the Perception only costs half the price. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a good budget-focused option that proves the midrange phone is better than ever.

Design, Connectivity, and Call Quality
There’s something about the Pantech Perception that looks very Motorola. I think it’s the curvature of the phone’s corners. But whereas Motorola can get away with the curvaceous look on the Droid Razr HD by using high-end Kevlar material, the Perception’s plastic build feels solid, but looks a little cheap. I like the faux-tarnish on the back cover and I can see how the design may appeal to some, but overall, it doesn’t work for me.

The Perception measures 5.23 by 2.7 by 0.35 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.83 ounces. I was mostly able to use it with just one hand, but it’s still on the large side. There’s a standard headphone jack and a covered power port on the top panel, a Power button on the right, and Volume buttons on the left. The battery panel snaps off to reveal an empty microSD card slot and a removable 2,020mAh battery. Pantech has added a power saving feature to the phone’s settings that it claims can extend battery life up to 20 percent. Without it turned on, the phone was good for an average 9 hours and 47 minutes of talk time. And since the battery is removable, you can always carry a spare.

The 4.8-inch, 720p Super AMOLED display looks rich and vibrant. It boasts an impressive 306 pixels per inch, but I’m not a fan of the PenTile layout, which can make text and images appear slightly fuzzy. All of the function buttons are on-screen, and typing felt fine using the software keyboard.

The phone runs on Verizon’s 3G and 4G LTE networks here in the U.S. and can roam on quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz) overseas. There’s also 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. Reception is good, though I noticed the phone sometimes had trouble picking up a 4G signal. We’re currently testing to see which carrier has the fastest mobile network speeds in the nation, but Verizon took home the honor last year, and the Perception pulled in average speeds for what we’ve been seeing in New York City lately.

Voice quality is average, though they sounded a little thin in the earpiece in my tests. Volume goes very loud, but the louder it gets, the fuzzier call quality becomes. Calls made with the phone sounded clear and loud and slightly digitized, with good noise cancellation. The speaker goes loud enough to hear outside but distorts the higher it goes. I had no trouble connecting to a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset and the standard Android voice dialing app worked fine.

Processor, Android, and Apps
Powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960, the Perception packs the same processor you’ll find in the Samsung Galaxy S III, while most newer high-end phones like the Galaxy S 4 include even more powerful quad-core chips. But that dual-core processor still holds its own, and the Perception turned in respectable scores on all of our benchmark tests. Performance felt fast and fluid across the board, and you’ll be able to run any of the 800,000+ apps in the Google Play store.

The Perception runs Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which is really dated. Pantech has promised an update to Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), but hasn’t announced a timeframe. It’ll probably take a good deal of time, since Pantech has made some fairly major modifications to Google’s operating system.

(Next page: Multimedia and Conclusions)

You can choose between regular and starter modes. Starter mode modifies your phone so that it has four different home screens. One comes prepopulated with a list of favorite apps. The next has a weather widget and space to add three quick contacts. Then there’s a phone dialer, and a list of favorite sites with a Google search bar. The Apps menu has also been simplified, so that it only shows eight very large icons at a time. This mode isn’t meant to please power users, but it can be helpful if this is your first time using a smartphone.

Standard mode also has many modifications from stock Android. It feels like Pantech has subscribed to the “more is more” theory with mixed results. For instance, I like the scrollable shortcuts at the bottom of each screen. I also like the quick on/off switches on the notifications bar. But when you add Settings shortcuts underneath them, there’s barely any room to view your actual notifications. And that’s just one of the instances where Pantech adds extra features at the expense of cluttering things up.

Pantech has also infused a number of motion controls into the Perception, like Samsung has done with the Galaxy S 4. For instance, while you’re listening to music you can wave your hand left or right above the screen to play the next or previous song. You can also use similar controls with your photo and messaging apps. It’s gimmicky, sure, but I like it.

There aren’t many uses for NFC yet, but the Perception has it. And there’s no HDMI-out or MHL, but you can connect to a compatible HDTV via DLNA.

While the Perception has been stuffed to the grilles with features, it’s also been loaded with bloatware. There are at least four apps from Verizon, three from Amazon, Audible, Color, NFL Mobile, Shark Dash, and Slacker, among others. Now I like some of those apps, but there’s no guarantee you will, and there’s no way to delete them.

Multimedia and Conclusions
You get 10.24GB of free internal storage, and my 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards worked fine. For music, I was able to play AAC, MP3, OGG, WMA, and WAV audio files, but not FLAC. Sound quality was good over both wired 3.5mm headphones and Altec Lansing BackBeat Bluetooth headphones. For video, all of our test files played back at resolutions up to 1080p.

The 8-megapixel camera is pretty good. Shutter speeds are essentially instantaneous, but it is possible to snap photos before the autofocus locks in. The camera captures some good detail, but colors are a little light and washed out—especially brighter colors. Video camera performance is a little more uneven; capturing 1080p video at 25 frames per second indoors and 30 frames per second outside. Video recorded indoors looks a little faded, and the camera continually refocused whenever it was moved. There’s also a 2-megapixel camera around front for video chat.

The Pantech Perception proves you don’t need to pay top dollar to get a smartphone filled with great features—but that doesn’t necessarily make it your best bet. The once top-of-the-line Motorola Droid Razr HD can now be had for less than the Perception, and has a better build quality, longer battery life, and a newer version of Android. That also goes for the Droid Razr M, which is free, but has a smaller, lower-resolution display. The LG Spectrum 2, meanwhile, costs a little less than the Perception, and is expecting an update to a newer version of Android any day now. 

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network GSM, CDMA, LTE
Screen Resolution 1280 x 720 pixels
NFC Yes
Dimensions 5.23 x 2.7 x 0.35 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 a/b/g
Video Camera Resolution 1080p Rear
1080p Front-Facing
Battery Life (As Tested) 9 hours 47 minutes
Available Integrated Storage 10.24 GB
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 Dual-Core
GPS Yes
Service Provider Verizon Wireless
Total Integrated Storage 16 GB
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev A, LTE, CDMA 1X, HSPA
Weight 4.83 oz
Screen Type Super AMOLED HD
Operating System as Tested Android 4.0.4
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 8 MP Rear
2 MP Front-Facing
Screen Pixels Per Inch 306 ppi
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 700
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 4.8 inches
Bluetooth Version 4

Verdict
The Pantech Perception for Verizon Wireless isn't perfect, but its favorable price-to-feature ratio proves that the midrange smartphone is better than ever.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc