The Pantech Laser ($100 with a two-year contract from AT&T; price as of November 28, 2010) is a slim yet sturdy feature phone equipped with a beautiful AMOLED display and a full QWERTY keyboard. Unfortunately, the Laser’s overall performance is hurt by an unresponsive and poorly implemented touchscreen.
Thin design, full-QWERTY keyboard
Measuring 4.45 inches by 2.28 inches by 0.39 inch, the Laser is the thinnest keyboard phone that AT&T offers. The phone is light, too, at 4.06 ounces, so you can easily carry it in a pocket without feeling weighed down. The Pantech Laser comes packaged with an instructional booklet, a micro-USB cable with AC adapter, and an interactive tutorial CD.
The 480-by-800-pixel 3.1-inch resistive touch AMOLED display shows pictures vibrantly and clearly. AMOLED displays more often appear on higher-end phones such as the HTC Droid Incredible.
Below the screen are Talk/End keys and a Back button that felt cheap and flimsy, as though you could easily pull it off. One side holds the volume up/down keys, and the other accommodates a screen lock key. Situated on the top of the phone is a micro-USB port that you can use for charging the device or for connecting it to your computer to transfer files. However, transferring files also requires a microSD card, which Pantech did not provide with our review unit.
The Laser’s full-QWERTY keyboard slides out smoothly with no hint of wobble. The keys nice and big, and they’re set far enough apart that even a person with thick fingers can type out long text messages with ease.
The main interface is simple and straightforward: You have three different “screens” to swipe through, and in each you can add shortcuts to your favorite applications or contacts, with the center displaying the time and the name of your carrier. The four tabs at the bottom of the screen send you to the dialer, to your contacts, to your messages, or to the full menu, where you can see all the applications currently installed on your phone.
If you slide the phone open, the tabs and multiple screens disappear and are replaced by social apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and AT&T’s Social Net. Alternatively, you can access your e-mail, Mobile Web, Contacts, the full menu, or any open and ongoing text conversation you may be having.
The Menu includes Mobile E-mail, Mobile Video, AT&T GPS, YPMobile, AppCenter, AT&TMusic, Applications, and Camera as well as bookmarks to mobile versions of such social networking sites as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. The Laser can handle some basic multitasking, but the number of apps you can run in the background depends on the amount of memory they take up. Usually I couldn’t run more than two applications in the background without having the phone ask me to close one of them because it was getting low on memory. I also noticed that the screen sometimes flickered as I was opening or closing applications.
Navigation is almost exclusively via touch input. This caused problems when I was scrolling through my contacts or text messages: The resistive touch screen is finicky about distinguishing swipes from taps.You can recalibrate the touchscreen if you like (and I found that doing so did help a little), but all too often I inadvertently opened apps while trying to swipe to the next page.
Even over a 3G network, the Laser’s online multimedia performance was disappointing. Files downloaded speedily, but loading a Web page such as Facebook was an exercise in patience and controlled frustration. If you want to use your phone to surf the Web, you should probably look elsewhere.
Call quality was adequate over AT&T’s 3G network. The person on the other end of the line said that my voice came through crystal clear. Though the Laser lacks a second microphone, it did a good job at filtering out most of the background noise during the calls I made. The phone is compatible with Bluetooth 2.0, as well, so you can use a headset with it.
The 3-megapixel camera on the Pantech Laser doesn’t produce professional-quality photos, but for informal shots it gets the job done. Though you can adjust basic settings like zoom and white balance,the touchscreen makes these simple tasks a lot harder than they ought to be. Video recording was subpar in my tests, and while colors and lighting came out okay, the video itself looked quite grainy. I would recommend using the camera in well-lit rooms; pictures and video taken in low light suffered from especially poor image quality.
I would recommend the Laser to parents looking for an inexpensive new phone for their text-happy teenager. The youngsters will enjoy easy access to their favorite social media sites, and the keyboard will keep them satisfied as they text up a storm.