Big screen phones used to be the sole domain of top-tier manufacturers like Samsung and HTC, but Pantech is flipping that paradigm on its head with its new 4.8-inch Discover. Available on AT&T starting Jan. 11, the Discover is about as budget-friendly as a smartphone can get, at $49.99 with a two-year contract.

During our hands-on time, the Discover proved extremely responsive, thanks in large part to its  1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM 8960 processor and 1GB of RAM.  Home screens flew by with ease as we swiped across the phone's 1280 x 720 resolution display, and apps launched instantly. We did, however, notice a slight delay when shooting pictures with the smartphone's camera.

It's not just the Discover's display and speed that make it an intriguing offering, though. Pantech has also managed to pack the phone with a 12.6-megapixel rear-facing camera as well as a 2-megapixel front-facing shooter. Inside, the Discover features a and 16GB of onboard storage. Flip the phone over and pull off its rear panel to access the Discover's 32GB microSD card slot and removable 2,100 mAh battery.

From a design standpoint, it's clear that Pantech has gone to great lengths to ensure that its halo phone is unique enough to stand out without being too ostentatious. It's sleek curves are reminiscent of rolling waves, while its edge-to-edge display gives it the feeling of a phone that costs more than twice as much.

Pantech has also taken the unusual step of situating the Discover's external speakers along its left and right edges. The placement helps to ensure users can listen to music or watch movies with the phone resting flat without muffling the audio. Couple that with the Discover's Dual 3D surround sound audio, and you've got a phone that doesn't need a docking station for users to blast their tunes. 

Out of the box the Pantech Discover runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich, which is a bit of let down since you won't get access to such cool Jelly Bean features as Google Now. Still, Pantech assured us that an update for Jelly Bean is on the way. Overall, the Discover offers a standard Android experience with a few tweaks. Key changes include a custom lock screen and app launcher docked at the bottom of the screen to which users can add up to 15 of their favorite apps.

Pantech also included its Easy Mode feature, which cuts down on home screen clutter to make the interface more inviting for less tech savvy users. Finally, the Discover serves as the first AT&T smartphone to include the carrier's DriveMode app, which prevents users from sending and receiving calls or texts when they are driving above 25 miles per hour.

From what we've seen so far, the Pantech Discover is shaping up to be an exciting budget-friendly smartphone that should please both first-time smartphone users and power users alike.