Lightning Review: Pantech Matrix Dual Slider Mobile Phone

The Gadget: Pantech's Matrix dual sliding phone was just announced today on the AT&T network. Unlike last year's WInMo-running Pantech Duo, the Matrix opts for a more straightforward dumbphone interface while adding 3G HSDPA, GPS and a slick looking design into the mix.

The Price: $US80 (after two year contract)

The Verdict: For an $US80 phone, the Pantech Matrix is really good deal. Pantech could have skimped on the build quality and pushed out a cheap, flimsy phone, but instead created a product that feels solid and slides smoothly in any direction. Despite being about an inch thick, the Matrix doesn't feel oversized—they made it as narrow and short as possible so that it doesn't feel too cumbersome. As a result, the Matrix sits nicely in the hand, and when the backlit keyboard is exposed, it almost feels sleek. I really like the 0-9 keypad, as its flat design and glowing numbers gives it a clean look. And though buttons aren't physically separated, each one has a bit of a bubble on it that gives a nice click when you press down.

Call quality is crystal clear and signal strength is never a problem wherever I'm at in San Francisco. The microSD port allows for memory expansion for files like photos or mp3s. The non-smartphone OS is responsive and well organized, suiting a phone like this well.

Some features aren't as powerful or developed as they could be, but given the price, it's understandable. It only has a 1.3 MP camera, and doesn't have much in the way of an internet browser or media player. But that's not what Pantech is focused on with the Matrix. This is a phone for texters and emailers, and as a result, it has most major IM clients preinstalled, and preconfigured access for Yahoo, AOL and Hotmail (No Gmail?! Hello, 1997!). GPS features are also limited to AT&T's TeleNav subscription service.

But there are also features which are inexcusably lacking. My biggest complaint lies with the keyboard. It's not that it's too small as much as it's that the buttons are too mushy and flush with the surface. Sometimes you push a button down and there's no tactile response; and each button seems to feel a little different which doesn't help the familiarity factor. If buttons were just a tad more distinguishable and clicky, they keyboard would be perfect. The soft keys and call/end buttons feel a little small and understated on the front of the phone, undermined by the (admittedly cool-looking) circular layout.

The bottom line is this: the Pantech Matrix is an inexpensive, multi-functional phone that does more good than bad. If you can work with the flawed keyboard and accept that its not a multimedia powerhouse, you might be impressed with what it does well—call and message.

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