PROS / The Perception's gesture controls and moderate specs feel more like a flagship phone from last year than a budget phone from this one.
CONS / From its camera and processor to its older version of Android, it's notably outdated and outmatched in every category.
VERDICT / Free though it may be with a two-year contract, the Pantech Perception isn't fast or feature-packed enough to make you fall in love.
You could be forgiven for having not heard of Pantech. The company is best known for creating budget-level smartphones that fall at the bottom of search results when you're browsing your carrier's device selection. Next to big hitters like Samsung and LG, Pantech's Android phones can be easily overlooked. Its new Perception is the best smartphone the company has made so far, but compared to the bigger-named competition, it feels like an escapee from last year's Android lineup.
The Perception's screen is surprisingly decent: a 4.8-inch AMOLED display that packs 720p resolution, for an overall pixel density of 306ppi. That may be low when measured against the flagships offered by other manufacturers, but it's still respectable for a phone you don't have to pay for when signing a two-year contract. It features a hard plastic shell that's decently rugged, though you'll still want to buy a case to keep it safe.
The Perception's camera is a low point for the phone. It captures images through a narrow ƒ/2.6 aperture, which results in low-light images pockmarked by colored flecks and odd artifacts. Its panorama mode does a poor job of stitching images together, and it lacks staples like burst shooting. That said, it does well in decent lighting conditions, and you can command it to snap a photo by simply saying "Cheese!"
By today's standards, the Perception's processor is slow. A 1.5GHz, dual-core CPU can power day-to-day use, but it can't keep pace with modern games and 3D applications. The problem isn't helped by the phone's 1GB of memory – most competing devices have at least 2GB. This tends to slow down app load times, and can make multitasking more of a chore.
Most of the hardware features you'd expect out of a modern smartphone are present in the Pantech Perception, including the Android-staple near field communication chip. It doesn't have an IR blaster or built-in radio like some of the higher-end phones we've reviewed, but you'll still be able to pair with Bluetooth devices and tether your laptop to its 4G LTE data connection. Surprisingly, the Perception doesn't have a built-in gyroscope. Most Android phones feature a compass, accelerometer and gyroscope to track exactly where the phone is and how it's positioned; without a gyroscope, the Perception won't be able to use some of the apps available on the Google Play store.
The Perception does have a few extra features we were surprised to see in a Pantech phone, chief among them being air gestures. Like Samsung's flagship phone, the Perception uses its front-facing camera to track your hand movements. You can pass your hand back and forth above the screen instead of swiping the screen directly, and the phone will scroll through songs, photos, and just about anything else you'd use swiping gestures to navigate. It's a welcome addition to a phone with an otherwise anemic feature list.
The Pantech Perception is last year's mid-range phone, released this year as a budget option with decent specifications and a fun gesturing feature. Even free, however, it can't come close to competing with options that are available for $100 or even $50 on-contract.