LAS VEGAS—Easy, cheap and good-looking? Sounds like what a lot of people look for in Las Vegas. But you're talking to a tourist whose every move's among the purest, and we get our kicks from cell phones, Sunshine. Thus: The Pantech Discover, the most smartphone you'll get for $50 with contract. I spent a few minutes with it at AT&T's developer conference here at CES.
The Discover doesn't feel like a $50 smartphone. It's slim at 5.3 by 2.7 by .36 inches (HWD) and comfortable to hold at 4.76 ounces, clad in black plastic with chrome accents that doesn't feel flimsy or cheap. I found it easier to hold than its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S III, because it's a little narrower—2.7 inches as opposed to 2.78—and the textured black plastic back is easier to grip than the smooth plastic on the Galaxy S III.
There's a bulge at the top which makes room for two side-ported stereo speakers, one on each side. They're unusually good: I pumped up music to high volumes without distortion. When you lay the phone down on the table, the speakers aren't muffled, and they work for the speakerphone, too. That means better conference calls when the phone is sitting on your desk.
The Discover has a 4.8-inch, 720p HD TFT LCD display, a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8960 processor, 16GB of storage plus a memory card slot, NFC for mobile payments, and AT&T 4G LTE support. The two cameras are 12.6MP on the back and 2MP on the front, and it's all backed by a 2100mAh removable battery with ten hours of talk time. All that makes for a powerful, high-end smartphone, on par with the popular Galaxy S III.
The 720p screen was rich and sharp, although not outrageously bright. Pantech has added some software to the existing Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" build, including the ability to "float" a music player, video window or notepad over a main application window, multitasking. Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" is coming, Pantech said, although reps wouldn't say exactly when.
Pantech showed me a video floating over a Web browser window, and the video was playing smoothly—still, though, I didn't see any really intensive multitasking uses. The phone certainly didn't stutter while I was trying it.
This phone also has two "easy use" modes—the Pantech Easy Experience and AT&T DriveMode. First introduced on the Pantech Flex$19.99 at AT&T Mobility, our Editors' Choice for a budget smartphone, Easy Experience increases the size of text and buttons across the Android interface, with simpler navigation and limited scrolling. Our mobile analyst Alex Colon called it "quite helpful for a newbie." (You can check it out in the slideshow attached to this story.)
Hands On With The Pantech Discover at CES 2013
Of course, you don't have to use either of those modes, but it gives you options. And to have this kind of power in a $50-with-contract phone that can start with a simplified interface means you have a smartphone here that can really grow with its users.
The Pantech Discover may replace its predecessor, the Pantech Flex, as our Editor's Choice for budget smartphones. Of course, we'll have to give it a full review to find out, but we'll do that soon.
The Pantech Discover goes on sale January 11. While it's $50 with contract, it's $399 without contract, which sounds like a lot until you remember that AT&T sells the Samsung Galaxy S III for $549 without contract. If Pantech can keep this up, it'll put real pressure on Samsung.