AT&T today announced that it will begin sales of Pantech's Android-based Crossover on June 5 for $69.99 with a two-year voice contract and monthly data plan.

The Crossover is the first Pantech Android device sold in the U.S.

The low price set by AT&T's for the Crossover, which includes a 3.1-in. touchscreen and slide-out Qwerty keyboard, compares to $250 to $300 for other recently unveiled high-end Android smartphones from manufacturers like Samsung, HTC and Motorola. The latter devices offer more powerful processors and higher screen resolution than the Crossover.

The Pantech model, while much cheaper than some other Android phones, still offers AT&T an opportunity to lock-in a new customers to two-year voice and data contracts. The minimum data plan goes for $15 a month for 200MB. If users exceed 200MB, AT&T automatically charges $15 for another 200MB.

AT&T said the Pantech Crossover is "perfect for first-time smartphone users," which correlates to the marketing strategy all the carriers use to initiate mostly younger cell phone users with the data and browsing capabilities of smartphones.

"This Crossover works to AT&T's advantage big-time," noted Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "AT&T doesn't make much on the hardware anyway, relying instead on voice service and data plans, and if they have a low-cost offering, they will hit a new class of subscribers. And the difference between $70 and $300 is important to some buyers."

The Pantech Crossover runs a 600 MHz processor, compared to the 1 GHz, or even have dual core 2 GHz processors in the higher-end smartphones. The dual core chips are helpful for for graphics and video tasks.

The Pantech device does offer users a 3 megapixel digital camera with camcorder, and a 2GB MicroSD memory card that can be upgraded to 32GB. Pantech and AT&T didn't disclose the screen resolution, although an AT&T spokeswoman acknowledged that it is lower than on some of the more expensive smartphones that the company sells.

The 1500 mAh Lithium-ion battery might be considered slight when compared to more expensive smartphones. AT&T said the Crossover's battery gets up to five hours of active use, compared to the eight hours or more sought by many users.

Crossover runs Android 2.2, and supports HSPA and GSM cellular networks as well as Wi-Fi. It is 4.45 x 2.28 x .56 inches and weights 5.15 ounces, making it heavier than some other smartphones.

Crossover gets some high-end credibility because it can serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five devices for a minimum of $45 a month for a 4GB data plan. The overage charge is $10 per 1GB.

Pantech already makes several mobile phones sold by AT&T. None of them, including the Laser, Ease, Pursuit, Breeze II, Link and Impact, run Android, and some run limited browsers. Primarily, they have been marketed by AT&T as quick messaging phones, with an emphasis on texting.

Pantech already has a reputation as a Windows Mobile device maker and has been a recognized mobile phone brand name in foreign markets for many years, Gold noted.

"They've been making phones a long time, but Pantech is just not a recognized name in the U.S.," Gold said. Often, Pantech would produce devices that carriers would sell without the Pantech brand name on the device, he added.

"It's not a surprise to see low-cost smartphones like Crossover coming to market, because you can already buy a BlackBerry smartphone for $69," Gold said. "But what you'll see happening more and more is these companies like Pantech, ZTE and Huawei latching onto Android and coming to market. They can turn the cranks and produce high-volume product cheaply, since they know how to buy chips and screens in bulk."

Various Asian manufacturers will increasingly produce Android devices for sale in the U.S., including up-and-coming manufacturers based in India, Gold noted.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen , or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected] .

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