Pantech Breeze III (AT&T)

Plenty of shoppers still want cell phone that are “just phones.” the Pantech Breeze III is aimed squarely at that group. the Pantech Breeze III looks very similar to the Breeze II (3.5 stars), but given the Breeze III’s mission, that’s probably a good thing. It’s still a solid choice if you don’t need much in the way of features, and want to avoid AT&T’s mandatory data plan charges.

Design, Call Quality, and Apps the Pantech Breeze III measures 3.9 by 2.0 by 0.7 inches (HWD) when closed, and weighs 3.6 ounces; it’s a tenth of an ounce heavier, but a tenth of an inch shorter than before. It’s available exclusively in dark grey plastic, with a silver finish inside. the external, passive matrix color display displays the time and call status, as well as the track name, artist, and time slider when listening to music. the 2.2-inch LCD has 240-by-320-pixel resolution; it’s as sharp and bright as before. this is the easiest-to-use phone on the market today; the oversized function keys, five-way control pad, and numeric keypad make it simple to dial phone numbers and get around the icon-based menus. There are still three programmable shortcut keys up on the lid, beneath the screen; this time around, they’re also larger and easier to press than before.

The Breeze III is a quad-band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and dual-band HSDPA 3.6 (850/1900 MHz) device with no Wi-Fi, meaning the Breeze III can hit 3G data networks here, but only 2G data networks overseas. Voice calls sounded good for the most part, with plenty of gain and a natural tone in the earpiece. Transmissions were a little computery sounding through the microphone, but my voice was intelligible the entire time. Reception was below average; signal strength was fairly weak compared to a nearby Samsung Infuse 4G ($199, 3.5 stars). Calls sounded clear through an Aliph Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129, 4.5 stars). Voice dialing worked fine over Bluetooth; I couldn’t trigger it from the headset, but there’s a large voice command button that’s easy to find without looking. the speakerphone sounded clear, but distorted at the top volume setting, which wasn’t very loud. Battery life was fine at 5 hours and 7 minutes of talk time.

The list-based menu system is well laid out, and makes more sense than the typical flip phone. the sharp screen resolution and large fonts are a nod to folks with poor eyesight. You can also discard the lists in exchange for AT&T’s typical, bloatware-infested, icon menu. Unfortunately, you have to use the ugly icons to start the music player app. Opera Mini still powers the Web browser; both WAP and desktop HTML pages look good on this phone. There’s a pill reminder app to help with taking daily medications.

The TeleNav-powered AT&T Navigator offers voice-enabled, turn-by-turn directions for $9.99 per month or $2.99 per day, and there’s a 30-day free trial. Garmin’s My-Cast Weather delivers localized updates and severe weather alerts, but at $3.99 per month, it’s way too expensive when you can just hit the Weather Channel’s WAP page. AT&T’s OZ-powered instant messaging app works with AIM, MSN, and Yahoo, but not Google Talk; the carrier’s e-mail app works with all major Web services, but costs $5 per month. TeleNav GPS can be worth it if you don’t already have a device, because it’s good, but the rest of the bloatware is a waste of money, especially because Opera Mini does so well with Webmail and weather sites.

Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions last time around, we dinged the Breeze II for burying the microSD memory card slot underneath the battery; sadly, that hasn’t changed. at least the phone boots relatively quickly. My 32GB SanDisk card worked fine, and there’s also 78MB of free internal storage.

Pantech has made the headphone jack part of the microUSB charger port. That means it’s tough to find third-party earbuds, and impossible to find ones that sound good; Pantech doesn’t include any in the box, either. Fortunately, there’s stereo Bluetooth; music tracks sounded clear and full through Samsung Modus HM6450 ($99, 4 stars) Bluetooth headphones. the music player app works fine and displays small album art thumbnails, but it’s a little confusing to navigate and takes a while to load. You can browse the Web while listening to music, but be prepared for occasional audio hiccups.

The 1.3-megapixel camera has no flash or auto-focus. Test photos had poor color vibrancy, blown out highlights, and some out-of-focus indoor shots. only outdoor photos looked good enough to keep. Recorded 320-by-240-pixels played evenly at 15 frames per second, but looked almost colorless. this is the same camera sensor as in the Breeze II, so I expected these results. but even on today’s low-end phones, you see plenty of 2- and 3-megapixel sensors that take better photos in testing.

So despite some minor issues, the Breeze III is still a good phone. It’s just beginning to feel more outdated as time goes on. I would have liked to see a better camera and less bloatware this time around. besides, AT&T has a packed lineup. at this point, the cell phone market is slowly dividing into two categories: low-end feature phones like the Breeze, and real smartphones. Midrange feature phones no longer make sense when you can squeeze into an Apple iPhone 3GS ($49, 4.5 stars) or Android-powered Samsung Captivate (4 stars) for $49.99 up front, with data plans starting at $15 per month. if you’re trying to avoid data usage, the Pantech Pursuit II ($49, 3 stars) is a good alternative; it adds a touch screen and a QWERTY keyboard for messaging, although it’s larger and heavier.

Benchmarks Continuous talk time: 5 hours 7 minutes

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