Hands On With Pantech’s Extra-Wide Pocket

SAN DIEGO – Pantech is broadening its product line. Literally. Yesterday the company announced the Pocket, an unusually squarish Android smartphone for ATT that the company says brings more screen real estate, at less money than competing devices.

I spent about 15 minutes with the Pocket, and I genuinely don’t know what to think. It’s definitely weird.

The phone is noticeably wider than other Android phones, with a 4-inch 800-by-600 screen. At 4.5 by 3.3 by 0.4 inches inside, it doesn’t feel thick, but it definitely feels big; my hand is used to holding a lot of phones, and, well, yeah, it’s wide. But I feel I could get used to the Pocket’s dimensions, unlike with true 5-inch devices like the Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0, which will never be truly pocketable.

The Pocket has a highly textured case and pattern on the back that Wyatt Whaley, Pantech’s vice president of product marketing, said helped protect the phone from being scratched. It felt unusually pleasant to hold; an interesting feeling on your fingers, and not slick or greasy in any way.

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The Pocket runs a slightly altered version of Android Gingerbread 2.3.4. The lock screen is an attractive circle with a bunch of icons around it representing commonly used apps and alerts; you drag one of the icons into the circle to jump straight to that app. It’s similar to what HTC does on its Sense phones. The phone’s home screens default to a good-looking custom weather widget and some customizable application icons. Pantech and ATT unfortunately altered some of the standard Android app icons for no apparent good reason, but they didn’t heavily skin the OS otherwise.

The phone has a memory card slot under the back cover, which works with 32GB memory cards. The battery is unusually large at 1680 mAh, which promises very good 3G talk time.

This phone isn’t a spec monster, though. Pantech is all about making technology affordable, so the company went with midrange specs: a 1-Ghz Qualcomm 8255 S2 processor and a 5-megapixel camera, for instance. The result, hopefully, will be a low price, although ATT hasn’t announced a price for the Pocket.

Okay, so what’s a wide screen good for? A better portrait-format keyboard, for one thing; the keys are just wider, and easier to hit. You can also see more of a Web page, and more of a map, in portrait mode. I didn’t feel like it made a huge difference for e-reading, though, as the book I took a quick look at just had wide margins.

My one major worry about the Pocket is that third-party Android apps won’t support its unusual 800-by-600 screen resolution, or won’t look good in that layout. Whaley said Pantech had worked specifically with the developers of more than 100 top Android apps to make sure they run well on the Pocket, and that they were continuing to reach out to ensure compatibility. The phone comes preloaded with Amazon’s Kindle app.

We’ll review the Pocket when it comes out on ATT, probably in early November.

For the top stories in tech, follow us on Twitter at @PCMag.

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