Reviewed February 22, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
in Chief (phone goes on sale Feb. 24th)
The Pantech Duo was one of the first budget Windows Mobile smartphones-- I don't mean one that got discounted after 6 months or a year on the market but rather it was low-priced from day one. You get what you pay for, or sometimes a little more thanks to carrier subsidies and the Duo wasn't the apex of luxury, but it was decent. And it was the first Windows Mobile 2-way slider, making it compact though thick. Fast forward a year and AT&T and Pantech have the let loose the $179 Matrix Pro, opting for the popular feature phone's name over the lukewarm Duo's. Rather than another tepid smartphone aimed at the budget market, the Matrix Pro makes real improvements where it counts: looks, call quality and new features.
The Pantech Matrix Pro is a Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard Edition smartphone with a 262,000 color QVGA non-touch screen that works in portrait and landscape modes. It has 3G HSDPA, quad band GSM with EDGE, aGPS, a 2 megapixel camera and Bluetooth 2.0. The Qualcomm 528MHz CPU is responsive and the phone has 128 megs of RAM and 256 megs of flash ROM. Like the Pantech Duo and Helio Ocean, it features a 2-way slider, one for the number pad and the other for the full QWERTY keyboard. Heavy Hotspot hitters: this smartphone does not have WiFi.
The Matrix Pro looks like its distant relative the Helio Ocean 2. While you won't mistake it for a swanky BlackBerry Bold or HTC Fuze, it does look solid and attractive. The plastic casing feels very sturdy and the Matrix Pro is heavy for its size at 5.34 ounces. The front face is mirror-like and excruciatingly shiny. It looks lovely as long as you handle it with gloves, hence Pantech includes a microfiber sleeve that protects and cleans the phone when you slide it in and out. The mirror-black number pad could be used to flash SOS signals on a sunny day, but the QWERTY pad isn't reflective, though its surround is. The glossy display is attractive when clean, fingerprints quickly cut down on clarity in direct bright light where the haze of finger grease comes to life. The thick clear plastic layer over the display reduces the viewing angle and makes it hard to read the screen outdoors under bright sunlight (non-touch screen phones usually do well outdoors). In contrast, the display looks sharp, clear and bright indoors.
The back is gloss blue but not inordinately shiny. As you might guess, the phone is a bit slippery and given its weight, gravity wants to pull it down and out of the hand. Fortunately, the phone is thick enough (0.85") and ergonomically curved to counteract gravity and slickness. We like the very large and comfy d-pad, but the call send and end buttons, though large enough are so close to the phone's bottom edge that they're hard to operate one-handed. The number pad is stylishly flat and slick, so there's no hint when you've moved your finger from one key to the next, but the buttons are large, clicky and well-lit.
The Pantech uses a proprietary charge/sync/headset jack, but a 3.5mm dongle adapter is included so you can use standard stereo headsets.The SDHC microSD card slot lives under a plastic door along the phone's bottom edge for easy access.
The camera button and USB port on the smartphone's right side.
The QWERTY keyboard is lovely: large, with clicky, clearly marked keys. We wouldn't mind a bit more travel, but that would have meant an even thicker phone. The keys are backlit in white with a hint of magenta and you can set the backlight timeout and time of day when it's active. There's no room for a dedicated number row, but the embedded number pad is easy to pick out thanks to high-contrast white masking. You'll need to hit the Fn key to use the QWERTY keyboard's embedded number pad and to enter most punctuation. A slight inconvenience, the space bar sits in the center of the bottom row of the three row keyboard, again to save room. Two Windows Mobile softkeys flank the top row, but there are no dedicated keys for the Start Menu or OK. Pantech went with HTC's latest design queues on the front controls and there are buttons for Home and back but not Start or OK.
Here's our 5 minute video review of the Pantech Matrix Pro, covering design, a walk around the device, GPS with AT&T Navigator, CV streaming video and more:
Phone and Internet
The Matrix Pro is a GSM world phone that's locked to AT&T. That means you'll have to use an AT&T SIM card with the phone, but it will work anywhere in the world GSM and 3G WCDMA or HSDPA service are available. It's quad band GSM with EDGE and triband 3G HSDPA on the 850/1900/2100MHz bands. Reception is very good on 3G and call quality is good. Voice is a bit louder than average, full and generally clear (we noted some lack of clarity on both ends when calling T-Mobile 3G phones which is odd). The Matrix Pro doesn't sound as good as the excellent Motorola Q9 and BlackBerry Bold, but it's fuller than the HTC Fuze. There's no option to disable 3G and we're in a very strong 3G coverage area so we weren't able to test GSM and EDGE performance. AT&T has been disabling 3G/GSM manual selection on their phones recently, which is a shame for those who live in marginal coverage areas where the phone radio ping-pings between 3G and EDGE and for those who wish to conserve battery.
The phone has speed dial, call history, smart dialing and voice dialing and commands courtesy of Cyberon Voice Commander 2.5 (no voice tags required). It supports handsfree and headset Bluetooth profiles for headsets and car kits and PAN (Personal Area Networking) for Bluetooth tethering with a notebook. The Matrix worked fine with a variety of Bluetooth headsets-- a definite improvement over the Pantech Duo.
For email, SMS and MMS there's the usual Outlook mobile program, called Messaging. It handles POP3, IMAP and Exchange email as well as MS Direct Push email. Messaging can check email on a user-specified schedule if not using MS Exchange with Direct Push for immediate delivery. Windows Mobile works particularly well with MS Exchange (surprise) and does an OK job with POP3 and IMAP email. The phone supports HTML email with the latest versions of MS Exchange server. It can also sync contacts, calendar and tasks with Exchange and with Windows desktops using the included ActiveSync (for Windows XP and earlier) or Mobile Device Center under Vista. Sorry, there's no Mac syncing software, though Mark|Space makes Missing Sync, a $39.95 Mac OS X syncing application. OZ instant messaging is on board and it handles AIM, Yahoo and Windows Live messaging.
Like most AT&T phones, the Matrix Pro comes with CV, AT&T's streaming video service that's included with data plans, XM Radio (requires subscription), MobiTV (requires subscription) and AT&T's own XPress Mail service. CV performance was very good with a decent 3G signal and Windows Media Player Mobile handles the actual playback of streaming clips. It also handles playback of locally stored videos (say on a MicroSD card) and music (MP3, WAV and AAC). Music quality via Bluetooth stereo headphones was above average with full sound, clear highs and pleasing bass.
The Matrix Pro has integrated aGPS that works with AT&T Navigator (TeleNav), a $9.99/month service that provides maps, spoken turn-by-turn navigation, POIs aplenty and traffic information. Maps are downloaded as needed over the air using the AT&T data connection, and this happens quickly over AT&T 3G HSDPA service. In fact, even EDGE is fast enough to keep up with highway travels. The GPS gets a signal quickly and was accurate in our tests. It kept up with us driving on the highway and the speaker was loud and clear enough on the road. The speaker isn't the best in the business, but it is loud and clear enough for driving directions. The Matrix Pro works fine with Google Maps, and the GPS pinpointed us in Google Maps within 15 seconds and latched onto 9 satellites indoors near a window. Not bad!
The Pantech Matrix Pro's camera isn't exciting. At 2 megapixels with a fixed focus lens, shots are average. Outdoor shots have good color fidelity, saturation and are lively, while indoor shots tend to wash out and show some noise in dimly lit shots. Image save times are slow for a low resolution camera. Max photo resolution is 1600 x 1200, and there are a relatively limited selection of settings for quality, white balance, effects, self-timer and multi-shot mode. The camcorder shoots video with audio at 176 x 144 pixel resolution with the same setting options. The Matrix Pro supports AT&T's Video Share service (one-way video calling with a fee required for service).
The Pantech's 1320mAh Lithium Ion battery is beefy enough to easily last a day on a charge with moderate to heavy use. We used it to navigate a 20 minute trip with AT&T Navigator, made 30 minutes worth of phone calls, listened to tunes for 30 minutes over stereo Bluetooth headset, surfed the web for an hour and checked email on a 30 minute schedule. This left us with 40% battery remaining. By smartphone standards, that's quite good.
The Pantech Matrix Pro shows great improvement over last year's Pantech Duo, and it offers that extra dose of smartness over the Pantech Matrix in the web browser, email and syncing departments. With the Motorola Q9 Global and Samsung BlackJack II discounted since they've been on the market a while, the Matrix Pro is a harder sell given the similar feature set and price difference. But for those who don't want a QWERTY bar smartphone and prefer a slider, or better yet dual slider design, the Matrix Pro has its pluses. And that fast CPU is indeed appealing. We're also impressed with battery life given the fast processor, 3G and GPS.
Pro: Relatively small, reasonably attractive, very good reception, good GPS, great audio quality over Bluetooth A2DP stereo. Very usable keyboard given the small size-- good tactile feedback.
Con: Voice quality is good overall, but our test unit's call quality sometimes randomly degraded. No WiFi. Slippery and shows fingerprints like mad. Number pad impossible to use for blind dialing.
x 2.0 x .85 inches. Weight: 5.34 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE. 3G HSDPA on the 850/1900/2100MHz bands.
Camera:2.0 megapixel that can take photos and video. Supports AT&T's Video Share service.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
dongle adapter. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included.
Networking:Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP Bluetooth stereo, FTP, headset, handsfree, serial port, HID and PAN profiles.
Mobile 6.1 Standard Edition operating system.
Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions
of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet
Explorer, and Outlook. Other standard apps include Windows Media Player
Mobile, Internet Sharing, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker, Voice Recorder. Additional applications: Java VM, JetCet PDF viewer, Mobile Banking, Task Manager, File Explorer, Cyberon Voice Commander 2.5.1, AT&T Navigator, many game demos and OZ IM client that handles AIM, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo IM services. AT&T includes XPress Mail, AT&T Mall, MobiTV (requires a monthly fee) and AT&T Music (Napster). ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook 2007 trial for PCs included.
SDHC microSD card slot.
In the box:phone, battery, charger, USB cable, software CD, printed guide, microfiber sleeve, 3.5mm headset adapter.