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Pantech Marauder – The budget phone that shows Android has no budget phones [Hardware Review]

August 23, 2012 | by Ben Crawford

Android OS, Android Phones, Android Phones and Devices, Featured post, Pantech, Reviews, Verizon, Video Reviews

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Evaluated version: Pantech Marauder (ICS 4.0)

Pros: Ice Cream Sandwich, few UI changes from AOSP, color scheme, QWERTY keyboard

Cons: Bulky, small screen, no camera flash, so-so keyboard spacing

The Pantech Marauder is my first Pantech phone, and its first Ice Cream Sandwich phone for Verizon. While handling the phone for the first time, I knew it was a mid to low tier smartphone, however, the software from Pantech disguises any blemishes and preconceptions you may have about the word “budget.” Maybe it’s ICS, maybe it’s the fact that Pantech basically left ICS alone, or maybe it’s a result of significant hardware/software growth in the past two years, but I can barely distinguish the microseconds between scrolling and opening an app.

Hardware

The Marauder is as simple as it comes. The power button (at the top of the phone instead of the side), volume rocker, headphone jack, and USB charging port are all that surrounds the outside of the phone. A front and back camera are standard and unobtrusive. Pantech decided to go with capacitive buttons (Back, Home, Tasks, Menu) instead of on-screen keys which I personally dislike, but I know a lot of people still like having the menu button around.

The Marauder is very much a hardware vs software phone. While the phone lacks things like a camera flash, an ambient light sensor for automatic brightness, and a large screen, ICS runs very smoothly. Without a quad core processor it doesn’t handle apps like a Galaxy S 3, but its keyboard appeals to business consumers otherwise turned off completely from Android.

The keyboard is completely foreign to me. It has convenient shortcuts for the SMS app and browser, but it lacks shortcuts to the regular Android keys (home, back, tasks, and menu). The buttons have a decent tactile feel to them, however, my fingers were too big for the spacing between keys, and I found myself mashing multiple keys at once. All in all, I can type much quicker and much more conveniently with Swiftkey or Swype than I ever could with physical buttons that I have to physically press down with no auto-correction.

Screen/Camera

Even compared with other devices in its price range, the Marauder is still on the small side it terms of screen size. With a 400×800 resolution, the quality of the screen isn’t something that will blow you away, and it has no fancy name like SuperAmoled Plus to make it stand out. The contrast and clarity of the colors are strong, but not on par with the upper echelon of devices (i.e. Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X, etc). The glare from windows or being outside in the sun noticeably washes away the screen, and with no light sensor for an automatic brightness setting, it’s a chore to change the brightness from blinding in the dark to a dim nothingness in the sun. Unlike newer devices like the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S 3 that have a black, seamlessly integrated screen and body, the Marauder’s screen is a grey color when turned off which doesn’t blend in well with the black body.

The Marauder comes with a 5MP back camera and a VGA front camera. Nothing spectacular, but if you’re just pointing and shooting, the Marauder will take decent shots. Pictures don’t have sharpness and are darker than I would expect, even from a $50 phone. Without a flash, the Marauder isn’t a phone that will replace even a budget digital camera. The Marauder’s camera takes a long time to focus and take the picture, and I don’t really understand how Pantech devolved the stock ICS camera into something this slow.

 

Software Performance

Finally, the Marauder shines with the Ice Cream Sandwich OS and very few UI changes. If nothing else, the Marauder is proof that ICS is Google’s big leap in perfecting their OS. The Marauder is fast with a sleek color scheme and design. A noticeable deviation from ICS, but extremely helpful, was Pantech’s option to change to a starter or standard interface. Pantech clearly understands its target demographics, and the starter mode, for very basic and new Android users, is almost feature phone simple. The homescreens contain only a big dial pad, weather, favorites, bookmarks, and contacts. Users can add and edit some of these, but most standard functionality is removed in favor of simplicity. This is a great, necessary feature.

The standard mode is very similar to AOSP. You can edit the dock, there are quick toggles, and the lock screen has multiple shortcuts to apps. While it’s still on the basic side compared to Sense or Touchwiz, I enjoyed having a similar setup to AOSP with a couple extra features. I also enjoyed the slate/turquoise color scheme throughout the phone even if it’s missing in a few places. There are tons of personalization settings in the settings menu, and probably the most convenient is the default programs which lets you choose what programs are the defaults.

Unfortunately, the 4G LTE radio was extremely spotty before I completely reset the device. Since then, it has been better, but once a day, I will completely lose a signal for a few minutes where my Nexus is fine. I also found the speaker to be tinny instead of clear, but the call quality was good through the ear piece. Another positive was the GPS. Every time I used Google Maps I had instant lock-on within seconds. The Marauder is easily one of the best GPS devices I’ve used.

App Performance

I’m really starting to question my GNexus after the Marauder beat it opening apps handily. Too handily for a “budget” device. The scrolling was a little laggy on the home screens and in the app drawer, but apps ran remarkably well. Even the recent tasks was quick and could switch between apps just as quick as my Nexus running Jelly Bean with Project Butter. It’s honestly amazing how fast this device is with no extra help from replacement launchers or ROMS.

Battery life was mediocre for me. I’ve seen a few different reviews for the battery life, but it lasted about 15 hours with moderate usage for me. Nothing to gush about, but it can certainly last a day if you’re on the semi-cautious side. As I mentioned, I like the theme and overall look of the device. There are some nice animations when moving around screens and adding widgets.  Pantech also added a nice weather widget to rival HTC. The usual Verizon bloatware comes pre-loaded, but nothing surprising made the cut. Unfortunately, the Pantech only comes with a diminutive 4GB of internal storage so the pre-loaded apps really eats up your storage space. The Marauder does have an external microSD slot, but it doesn’t come with a card. The ultra convenient six app shortcut lockscreen rounds out the Marauder’s extras.

Final Thoughts

The Pantech Marauder comes with a lower tier mindset: simplicity for new and basic users, cheap plastic parts, and minor changes to Google’s AOSP. It brings a keyboard to the 4G market for the dwindling keyboard-using crowd. Maybe ICS covers up a few of the Marauder’s problems, but this phone runs circles around apps and tasks. When you’re using the phone itself with blinders to anything but Angry Birds and Temple Run, the Marauder can hang with any phone, even the big boys.

If you’re looking for a phone that will replace your camera, that you won’t feel in your pocket (can’t expect this with a keyboard phone), or a phone to watch movies on, the Marauder probably won’t be for you. Even it’s main selling point, the keyboard, isn’t as solid and spacious as I would like it, but regular keyboard users or smaller handed individuals may find it acceptable. The Marauder breaks down the new arguments for cost effective vs full feature phones. The software is easily the best part of the phone and the most apt to keeping the phone feeling new. The feel and corner-cutting exemplifies the low budget market. However, instead of getting an Android 2.1 phone when 2.3 is released like two years ago, you’re getting a unified Android 4.0 without a camera flash. The trade-offs have certainly made the feel of a “budget” device seem a lot like the pricey alternatives.

You can get the Marauder on contract at Verizon and Wirefly, for free on a new two year contract, and at Amazon for $49.99.