Pantech’s journey has been very interesting. Once known as a feature phone manufacturer, the firm has branched out to accommodate the growing demand for smartphones – but it’s staying true to to its roots with a smartphone that bridges the gap between first-time users and die-hard Android junkies.

The phone;’s price point may sway consumers into believing that the Pantech Discover is a low-end smartphone, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The device is available at AT&T for $49.99 and offers a 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 CPU, a 4.8-inch HD display and 4G LTE. Spec-for-spec, it’s right in line with high-end devices such as the HTC One X+ and Samsung Galaxy S III. It even forgoes the industry-standard 8-megapixel camera for a 12.6-megapixel shooter. 

I like the overall design of the device. The textured battery door is nice for ensuring the phone doesn’t slip out of my hand, and the stereo speaker design is a nice touch.  The curves and texture make it feel like it’s worth more than the $50 price tag it commands. The 4.8-inch display is adequately large and displays beautiful colors in 720p resolution, and the camera takes a solid picture.

I haven’t had a ton of time to test the call quality but, so far, the overall audio quality has been solid. AT&T’s 4G LTE network performs admirably in the Dallas metroplex as well, and I’ve found that download speeds have range between 20 Mbps and 35 Mbps.

The one drawback to this device is that it runs the older Android 4.0 operating system. Pantech said the Discover will be updated in due time, but given the comapny’s software upgrade history, I doubt we’ll see Android 4.1 anytime soon. In other words, if you’re keen on quick software updates, this isn’t the device for you.

Pantech’s user interface will likely turn Android purists off, though I found a few little software tweaks to be beneficial. In “Recent Apps,” for example, you can select from three commonly used apps, including a convenient “Note” option which allows you to take notes while navigating the device.

All in all, the Discover appears to be a great smartphone that’s a solid option for first-time smartphone buyers and power users alike. The brand reputation isn’t as solid as HTC, Samsung, LG or Apple, but Pantech is making waves, and I expect that to continue as the company continue its move into the smartphone realm. At $49.99, the Discover is $150 less than competing Android smartphones, so expect Pantech to hit the airwaves hard with a marketing campaign that’s highlighting the savings.

As with any device launch, a great deal of the Discover’s success (or failure) will be based on the perception retail sales representatives assign it.If AT&T reps decide to push the HTC One X+ or Samsung Galaxy S III over the Pantech Discover, sales will falter. Half of the battle is getting the device into retail stores, but the other half of the battle is educating sales reps on when to recommend the device. Given the brand loyalty behind the top contenders, Pantech could have a battle on its hands.