If you want Verizon's 4G LTE, but you don't want to drop a lot of money on an expensive phone, the Pantech Breakout is worth a look. It's the first LTE phone from Big Red with a price tag under $100, so you're getting zippy speeds at a bargain price.
There's a caveat attached, though: it's an ordinary phone with an especially disappointing camera, so to truly enjoy the fast network speeds, you'll have to look past some pretty serious performance flaws. In addition to being the cheapest LTE phone, the Breakout is also the lightest at just under half an ounce. It doesn't feel cheap, with sloping sides and a textured plastic frame, and it's smaller than most 4G phones.
The small size translates to a smaller screen than its peers, but at 4-inches, the display never seems puny. The display is clear and sharp, and there's nary a pixel in sight. Yes, it's a little small if you want to watch "Titanic" on repeat trying to figure out how Jack could've fit on that stupid floating thing at the end, but if you just want to watch a short YouTube clip, play a game or browse Facebook, the display is more than adequate. But the problem, rather, is the vibrancy. Instead of an AMOLED display, the Breakout uses older TFT technology. And rather than 16.7 million colors, the 262,000-color screen is dull and lackluster.
Meanwhile, the 5-megapixel camera is where there's a serious problem. The lens is terrible, unusual for a phone in this price range. And there's no LED flash, so your pictures will turn out even worse at night. The image processing software is easy to use, but don't even bother taking the following kinds of pictures: close-ups, pictures in low light, photos in bright light and images of moving objects. Unless you're enrolled in an art class called "Perfecting the Art of Kitsch through Taking Blurry, Grainy Photos," you'll want to avoid the Breakout if you need a camera -- just assume it doesn't come with one in your phone-buying decision. Video, purportedly at 720p, is choppy, as expected. If you are in that class, you'll have a decent amount of space to store the awful videos, since the Breakout comes with an 8-gigabyte microSD card, and it can be expanded considerably.
If you can get past the camera, the software is much better: the Breakout is equipped with Android Gingerbread, customized through slight adjustments by Pantech, and the overall software experience is pleasant. Besides pre-installed bloatware, there's nothing to complain about, since the Pantech UI mostly just makes the software more colorful. Gingerbread runs smoothly on the 1-gigahertz Snapdragon chip, so it's definitely up to the task.
Sadly, the battery life is not. With 4G turned on, the phone will run out of power well before your work day is over. Heck, if you take it to an average baseball game, you'll need to carry your charger.
The Breakout is marred by a weak battery and an embarrassing camera. But other than that, it's still a LTE phone at an affordable price. Your decision will depend a lot on what you want out of your phone. If you're looking for a cutting-edge network without emptying your pocketbook, it's a decent pick. But if you're more focused on a well-rounded device with a serviceable camera, skip ahead and don't look back. ♦
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