Review of the Pantech 3200


Pantech is a name unfamiliar with most North Americans, but theyíve been around making cell phones for quite some time (usually for other name brands). The PN-3200 is the first model to be marketed under their own name here in Canada and it gets them off to a fairly good start.

The Pantech 3200 is available on Telus PCS.

Last Updated: 01-Oct-2006

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: I compared the RF performance of the 3200 against a Nokia 6265i, which I reviewed a few months ago and found to have excellent RF sensitivity (like most Nokia phones). Tests were performed at the Ikea store on The Queensway in Etobicoke where all of the providers have considerable trouble. Under those circumstances the Pantech is the equal of the Nokia. So it seems that the new Pantech phone is among the best you can get as far as RF sensitivity is concerned.

Over-the-road Performance: Once again, comparisons were made against the Nokia 6265i, as it deals quite well with signal issues as calls are made on the move. Both phones faired about the same through challenging areas, but the Nokia won out by making those disturbances sound somewhat tamer. Just the same, the differences were slight and in this regard the Pantech is an excellent performer.

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: Iím left with mixed feelings on this aspect. On one had the tonal balance is markedly better than most of the CDMA phones Iíve tested of late, and when looked at in a vacuum I had no real issue with the way people sounded when they called me (though my mother sounded a bit odd on a couple of occasions). The problem is when the phone is compared to the Nokia 6265i, which has really smooth and natural tonal balance.

By comparison to the Nokia, the Pantech is a bit harsh-sounding in a way that makes you want to pull the phone away from your ear at times. Direct comparisons were made by calling an audio test line, which is a number on Telus PCS that plays a continuous loop of different samples spoken in various male and female voices. The Nokia makes them all sound smooth, while the Pantech makes some of them sound rather annoying. Overall however, it is miles better than a typical LG or Audiovox phone (based on my previous tests).

Sound Reproduction: I had no big complaints here however. The Pantech does as good a job as any CDMA phone Iíve ever tested (including the Nokia) for reproducing the nuances of speech accurately (harshness notwithstanding). ďSĒ sounds are generally quite natural-sounding, with very little sibilance.

The only really annoying audio-related issue is that the backlight generates a high-pitched whine that (depending upon whether you can still hear frequencies that high) can be quite aggravating. Fortunately the sound goes away once the backlight goes off, and so itís really only a problem for short calls.

Outgoing sound quality is superb, and definitely among the best Iíve ever tested on a CDMA phone. I threw all sorts background noise at the Pantech during test recordings, but the phone masked that noise with little or no distortion to my voice under all but the most extreme conditions (driving by a tractor-trailer with an open window on the highway for example). If someone were to call me using a Pantech 3200, Iíd be hard pressed to even tell that it was a CDMA phone. Thatís high praise.

Earpiece Volume: Also excellent. The 3200 produces plenty of earpiece volume that never distorts, though it does sound a bit harsher as the volume increases. I never had any trouble hearing the phone, even under some of the noisiest conditions.

Speakerphone: Sadly the speakerphone is too faint and too messy-sounding to be used for real conversations (though I did try). Itís really only suited for those times when you are on hold waiting for someone to pick up the phone. Even then, it only works in a quiet environment, because otherwise you canít hear the speakers at all.

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: All of the ringers use the same speaker as the speakerphone, and not surprisingly they arenít very loud. In fact, most of the ringers provided on the phone are faint tinkly little music numbers that are great for polite company, but useless for outdoors or in crowded shopping malls. Fortunately Pantech does provide at least 2 ringers that are loud enough to rank as mid-pack and can probably be heard in moderate to mildly-loud conditions.

Keypad Design: Even though the keys are flush-mounted, which I believe is a monumentally stupid idea no matter how well implemented it is otherwise, I have to hand it to Pantech for making a flush keyboard I can actually live with (sort of). While most of the major keys are easy to find and press (with excellent tactile feel), the 4-way cursor key is tiny and difficult to use accurately. Iíve said this about many 4-way cursor keys, but the one on the 3200 is extra-poor and sorely needs to be redesigned. I donít have the biggest fingers around, and so I can only guess how much of a hassle this will be for people with really big thumbs.

Display: The display boasts 176 x 220 pixels (which is identical to most Motorola phones) and it looks quite nice. Unfortunately the backlight isnít particularly bright and itís hard to see outdoors. The external display is also color, but like most color external screens, itís even dimmer and even harder to see in bright sunlight.

When calls come in the font used on the external display is super-tiny, and so you had better have the eyes of an eagle if you want to quickly see whoís calling you. In contrast to the tiny font on the outer display, the font used to display the numbers you are dialing on the inner display is positively enormous. Thatís generally a good thing, especially combined with the automatic hyphens added to those numbers as you type. Unfortunately, when you type a number that includes a ď1Ē at the beginning the font is too large and the exchange wraps around, something like this:

1-888-1
12-4567


Perhaps a slightly smaller font would have been a better idea.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: Iím not even sure why they bothered, because all you get is a measly 640 x 480 resolution (0.3 mega-pixels), while other phones offer much higher resolution (typically 1.3 mega-pixels, or even 2 mega-pixels in the case of the Nokia 6265i). The lens seems good, but the overall quality of the photographs is low and thereís plenty of digital noise in the darker areas of the image. This camera is really only intended for sending MMS photos to other phones and nothing more.

Bluetooth: While it is always great to see a phone that supports Bluetooth, the Pantech provides it only for use with headsets and tethering a laptop to the internet. There is no OBEX capability, not even OBEX Push as you find in phones such as the Motorola i580 on Telus Mike. OBEX refers to the ability to use Bluetooth to transfer files from one device to another. Full OBEX allows one device to browse all of the files on another.

Data: The Pantech 3200 only supports 1X, so you wonít get the blazing speed offered by EVDO. If you live in an area where EVDO isnít offered (and probably never will be), this is a moot point at best. So is the fact that the phone doesnít really have all that many data-driven features that would cry out for the faster data rates.

Conclusions

Except for slightly harsh tonal quality, low-volume ringers, a poor speakerphone, a few other minor quibbles, the Pantech 3200 is actually quite a good phone. It has exceptional outgoing sound with incredible resistance to background noise, excellent RF performance, plenty of earpiece volume, and reasonable over-the-road performance. You could hardly ask for more, except perhaps a lower price.

Price is sadly the major problem with the 3200. As it stands the phone is an excellent entry-to-mid-level model, but itís priced much closer to the upper end than anything in the range in which it falls. It is unavoidable to compare the 3200 with the Nokia 6265i because Telus prices that phone only $50 higher when the phone is bought outright and only $30 more on a 3-year contract. What does that extra $50 buy you? The list is rather extensive and reads like a laundry list of must-have features in modern cell phones.

The 6265i offers a higher-resolution screen (320 x 240 vs 220 x 176), a higher-resolution camera (2.0 mega-pixels vs 0.3 mega-pixels), external memory cards (up to 2 GB), an MP3 player, full-featured Bluetooth including OBEX, and the ability to put your own material on the phone without going through Telus and paying big time for the privilege. Add to that much smoother tonal balance, and slightly better over-the-road performance, and itís hard to think of any reason not to spring for the extra $50 and go for the Nokia. To be fair, the 6265i has slightly lower earpiece volume and poorer ability to cope with background noise on outgoing calls, but thatís hardly a damning list.

I normally donít compare two phones on the basis of price in my conclusions section, but the vast gap between the features and capabilities of the Nokia 6265i and the Pantech 3200, combined with a minimal price difference, makes this comparison inevitable. Itís really too bad for the 3200, because it is a phone worthy of your consideration. However, like the personnel officer who must choose between 2 almost equally-talented applicants, theyíre going to choose the one with the better degree, or the greater work experience, or something else that distinguishes one from other. To complete analogy therefore, the Pantech 3200 is the applicant with a high school diploma going up against an equally-talented contender with a university degree. We all know who ends up with the job.

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