AT&T’s Pantech Discover smartphone: Hot hardware for a cool $49

AT&T introduced the Discover smartphone on Monday at the International Consumer Electronics Show. The phone, built by Pantech, will cost $49 with contract when it goes on sale Jan. 11. Pantech may not be looked upon as a Samsung or Apple(s aapl) when it comes to handsets, but the AT&T (s t) Discover may help change the perception that the company makes only low-end smartphones.

Pantech DiscoverCase in point: The low-priced Discover uses a large, 4.8-inch 1280 x 720 display and fast 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm(s qcom) Snapdragon Pro chip. The Discover runs Android(s goog) 4.0, includes an NFC radio and works on AT&T’s LTE mobile broadband network. The 12.6 megapixel rear camera records full 1080p video and the phone has dual speakers with “3D surround sound.”

AT&T’s DriveMode software is featured on the Discover: The app can diable text messages once the phone detects it’s in a vehicle moving 25 mph or faster. Users can customize DriveMode to send auto-replies for texts, emails and calls in this scenario.

On paper, the AT&T Discover doesn’t sound like yet another forgettable phone from Pantech. Instead, when it comes to hardware and software, the Discover could rival current popular and capable smartphones that are priced much higher. And even though U.S. smartphone owners are in the majority now, a phone like this could quickly help move ┬ámore AT&T feature phone owners to the carrier’s revenue making data plans.