Panasonic Eluga £380
30th May 2012 | 15:45
Slimline and waterproof Android smartphone
The Panasonic Eluga is the first smartphone to arrive since the Japanese electronics manufacturer announced its plans to shift over 1.5 million handsets by the end of March 2013, following its re-entry to the European market.
Originally unveiled at the company's European conference in Hamburg in February, and then formally introduced at Mobile World Congress the following month, the Panasonic Eluga dl1 is available from online retailers for around £380 SIM-free in the UK (and $700 SIM-free on Amazon.com in the US, although it isn't listed on the Panasonic US site).
This pitches the company's comeback handset against the likes of the Sony Xperia S and the Motorola Razr - two mobile phones that also boast the same sized display as the Panasonic Eluga at 4.3 inches.
And, for a 4.3-inch smartphone, the Panasonic Eluga is tiny. It's not quite as slim as the 7.1mm Motorola Razr but, with a girth of 7.8mm, it has the same waistline as the HTC One S.
But, because it is around 7mm shorter and narrower, and its extra sharp curved edges bring its lowest thickness measurement down to around 3mm, it appears even slimmer than those competitors at first glance. And it's easily the lightest 4.3-inch-screen mobile phone that we've come across too, at a slender 103g.
One of the key features that Panasonic is keen to push is the Panasonic Eluga's water and dust-proof skills.
It has nabbed itself an IP57 certificate, which means that it can handle a dip into water (up to 1m and for up to 30 minutes) and that dust can't enter in a large enough quantity, thanks to the gaskets and O-rings, to cause it any bother.
We didn't go the whole hog of taking it snorkelling for half an hour, but we did leave it in the sink, under a running tap, and it didn't seem to cause it any problems.
On the top of the Panasonic Eluga are its only moving parts - two flaps that make way for a micro USB port and micro SIM insertion - and these seemed to keep the water out without issue.
You may have already gathered from the lack of a third flap that there's no microSD option on board - a real shame when you consider that built-in storage is a rather underwhelming 8GB.
The display, as mentioned, is a 4.3-inch one with a 960 x 540 qHD resolution, which puts it on a par with the likes of the HTC One S and the Motorola Razr, but it's not quite up to the 1280 x 720 standards that Sony set with the Xperia S.
It's an AMOLED display, which offers vibrant colours and great viewing angles, if somewhat muffled in crispness, thanks to a touch of over-saturation.
The Panasonic Eluga's matt black or silver finish to its back means that it's comfortable to hold and won't suffer too much from smears and fingerprints.
The power and volume rocker button placement isn't ideal, though. They are easy enough to access if you're operating your smartphone southpaw-stylee, but try pushing them with your right hand and you're in for an uncomfortable experience.
The power button, especially, is a tricky little blighter. And we mean little. Sure, Panasonic's gunning for a slimline, minimalist beauty here - but would it really have hurt to make what is a very frequently used button (it also doubles as the sleep/wake one) a bit more accessible?
Also on the back is the Panasonic Eluga's 8-megapixel camera lens, sans-flash, sadly, along with a notification of its NFC capabilities, which we'll come back to later.
The front of the Panasonic Eluga keeps the sharp theme going - not just with the piano black 4.3-inch AMOLED display, but by almost seamlessly blending the screen with the thin bezel.
There's not really much room for anything else up front, save for the Android control buttons, a tiny Panasonic logo, a minuscule speaker grill and a titchy LED for notifications - and if that's one too many superlatives for small, we apologise, but the Panasonic Eluga's raison d'être is its minute attributes.
The Panasonic Eluga is running Android 2.3 Gingerbread for now, although a summer update to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is promised. It runs via a TI OMAP 1GHz dual-core processor, which may have wowed us a bit more last year, before the quad-core revolution hit full wing.
The initial disappointment with the Panasonic Eluga comes when you fire it up for the first time - and that's not because the Panasonic-designed lock screen is naff. It's because you'll see it's running Android 2.3.5.
A lack of Ice Cream Sandwich action, even with a promise of a summer update, is unacceptable for a phone costing nearly £400/$700 in mid-2012.
There is a Panasonic UI over the top, but it's minimal and shouldn't bother Android devotees too much. Panasonic's UI features are more like tweaks than actual platform changes and, in some circumstances, we're not sure why they bothered.
Take, for example, the launcher that appears along the bottom of all of the Panasonic Eluga's five home screens.
Unlike the native ICS bottom panel, you don't get free reign to chuck in any apps or folders that you please. You're limited to changing just three of the four shortcuts with the Rubik's cube-like App List staying put no matter what.
The App Tray has also been slightly tweaked, with apps automatically (without any other options) being sorted alphabetically and the options in the ever-present bottom line reading Preinstall, Download, Update and Home.
A touch and hold on a home screen brings up the option to add a shortcut, app, folder or widget - although the quality and quantity of the latter leaves a lot to be desired.
There isn't the wealth of widget wonders that HTC's Sense UI offers, that's for sure. You can also easily change your wallpaper using this press and hold method.
Back to the lock screen and Panasonic has seen fit to introduce its own unlock mechanism in the form of an arch-shaped swipe that you have to perform to get inside your phone's goodies.
This swipe seems rather rudimentary, though, and it makes a strange clicking noise when performed successfully.
Panasonic does enable you to change this for the more traditional Android pattern unlock, or indeed a whole host of other pin and pattern-based lock ups.
Whatever lock you choose, don't be expecting to be able to access your Panasonic Eluga's stored music files - the lock screen has no media control options, sadly.
The 1GHz dual core chips seem to do the job in terms of app management. Swiping between home screens is pretty seamless, there isn't any notable lag to report, and even an Android novice should have no issues getting to grips with the menu options, settings and app locations.
It's not native Android but it's hardly a fully skinned experience, meaning that Google's intuitive operating system is all there - even if it looks a little bit different.
Contacts and calling
The contacts aspect of the Panasonic Eluga is a pretty standard Android affair, which is certainly a good thing. It means that it's easy enough to get all of your colleagues, clients, friends, followers and so on into your address book simply by adding your Google, Facebook, Twitter and Exchange details in the settings menu.
It's a straightforward affair - you simply enter your usernames and passwords for any platform you wish to be included and, once the Panasonic Eluga has made contact with the appropriate virtual cloud, all of your contacts will be synced in one place.
As per all Android handsets, the phone will also ask if you want to merge contacts from different sources that it suspects are the same people.
Twitter sync can be a bit of a pain at times, although this is in no way an issue specific to the Panasonic Eluga. We've had similar troubles on even the biggest Android punchers, such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the HTC One X.
Contacts are accessed either by tapping the Phone icon (which also gives you a call log and access to contact groups), creating folders on one of the home screens or via a variety of contact-based widgets.
There's nothing too fancy about the way contacts are presented - you're simply presented with a picture (if there is one available from Google or Facebook) along with whatever contact details you have stored for that individual, be it phone numbers, email addresses and so on.
There's no smart dialling feature, the keypad screen is about as simple as it comes. But it's easy enough to locate somebody in your contacts list, even if it is long, using the letter dial down the right-hand side of the screen.
Call quality isn't great. We frequently had recipients state that they couldn't hear us properly, despite us being in locations with strong signals.
Hearing your contact's voice is also a strain. Volume on the Panasonic Eluga is very low across the board (for ringtones, alerts, media playback and so on) and the call volume is no different.
Even with the volume turned right up our contacts' voices were very faint, and there is an issue with the speaker in that if it's not held in exactly in the right place, you'll be greeted with silence. The Panasonic Eluga, therefore, struggles with its most basic of tasks.
Call connection is fine, however - we had no issues with dropped calls or struggles to find signal in areas we know to be signal hot-spots.
Messaging on the Panasonic Eluga is pretty standard fare. There's no clever interlinking between Facebook messages, emails and texting - it's all kept pretty separate.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, though - it keeps things simple, and if you're concerned about data or SMS monthly usage, it makes it easier to keep track of what your fingertips have been up to.
The native Android email app should enable you to access most of the popular email services such as Yahoo or Hotmail, and the Panasonic Eluga also comes with the Gmail app already pre-installed - as is the Android way.
You can then choose how often you want your phone's inbox to sync, how many day's worth of correspondence to keep, what notifications you want and so on.
The handset's 4.3-inch screen means that writing messages is a pleasant experience, with the virtual QWERTY keyboard being a cinch to use, both in portrait or landscape mode - especially with the Swype-like tracing option that enables you to drag over the keys without any need for tapping.
There's also an autocorrect function, as well as a predictive auto-complete text option, which is a keyboard feature that we know some people hate and some people can't do without. All of these options can be switched on or off in the keyboard settings menu.
Of course, as per any Android device, you can always download and install a third-party keyboard offering if you don't like the default selection.
SMS history is presented in the familiar conversation view, albeit a basic one. There are no speech marks here, and no left and right indents - it's a standard pale blue and white banner affair, although it's still plenty clear enough what's going on and what's been said.
The Panasonic Eluga operates on Baseband 850, 900, 1800 and 1900; Band 1 and Band 8; GPRS, EDGE, HSDPA 14.4Mbps, HSUPA 5.76Mbps and HSPA+ 21.1Mbps. Plus there's also Wi-Fi b/g/n connectivity.
Web pages load quickly (depending on signal quality, of course) and browsing on the 4.3-inch screen is great. We especially like the dimming feature, which automatically drops the brightness of the Panasonic Eluga's display when a page is loading. This saves you battery and also makes it clear when a page is fully rendered and good to go.
Both double-tap and pinch-to-zoom are available for getting a closer look at text. And catching up with all the latest news, even on non-mobile sites, is easy, thanks to the text reflow feature that sorts long articles to automatically fit the width of the screen.
This works well on the standard browser, which comes pre-installed, as well as on third-party browsers, of which there are many (we like Dolphin HD), which you can download from the Artist Formerly Known As Android Market - or Google Play.
Being an Android 2.3+ device, the Panasonic Eluga has no worries when it comes to playing web-based Flash content.
It can handle streaming video from the likes of BBC iPlayer and YouTube with ease, although we much prefer the dedicated apps for popular video sites now.
Bookmarks can be added easily by simply tapping the little icon next to the URL bar, and they are simple enough to get to by using the menu button.
History and most visited sites are also stored, and you can have up to eight tabs (or Windows, as they are called here) open at once, although this will slightly slow down your Panasonic Eluga's performance.
Although the 8-megapixel camera on the Panasonic Eluga does the job nicely, there are a couple of notable omissions that we think we should address up front.
Firstly, there's no front-facing camera, so video calling using Skype and the like is a no-no. And, when it comes to taking shots at night-time, the lack of a flash is certainly going to prove troublesome.
But away from the negatives, the camera setup on the Panasonic Eluga really is quite good. Obviously the Japanese company has a lot of history and experience with camera UIs, and the Panasonic Eluga has been treated to a skinned setup rather than the standard Android affair.
It looks much more like what you'd expect on a dedicated compact camera rather than a smartphone, with plenty of options and shooting modes.
In terms of stills, the maximum resolution is 8 megapixels, although there are a number of resolution options available in the settings menu, including widescreen aspect ratios.
There is also a self-timer, effects such as Mono, Chic and Sepia, a wide range of focus options including Auto, Infinity, Manual, Macro and Touch, as well as 11 scene scenarios.
You can also fiddle around with the white balance and exposure, or use fun modes (which drop the resolution quality on some to VGA) such as Beauty, Collage, Frame, Panorama or - our favourite - Pinhole, which gives a nice soft focus around a centred object of desire. The smartphone camera also packs image stabilisation tech, and a digital zoom of up to 6.74x.
Although not likely to worry the HTC camp following the critical acclaim for the camera setup on its new One range, we were quite impressed with the results from the Panasonic Eluga's camera.
In daylight pictures were bright, clear and the contrast was pretty good, with only a touch of the usual blurriness that you get from smartphones when viewed at full size. It was only as the sun began to fall that its shortcomings were exposed.
Like the stills mode, the video recording options on the Panasonic Eluga are abundant. Top shooting is done in 720p HD (1,280 x 720) and there is autofocus technology on board so you don't have to worry about your subjects being shot in blurryvision.
The digital zoom is available for videos, but only before shooting begins, and there are 11 preset recording modes so you should be able to find one for your scenario.
The shooting modes from the stills side of the camera are all onboard for video capture.
As well as the 720p HD option, you can also shoot in qHD, VGA or QVGA. If you want to record a quick video to email to somebody, there is a preset function that caps the length of the video to keep the file size down.
We found the video quality to be pretty good, even when viewed back on a 1080p Full HD big screen TV with minimal blurring. Sound recording isn't too bad either.
There's nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to the playback of your media files, with Panasonic playing it safe with both the stock Android video and music players built in to the Eluga.
For a company that specialises in AV equipment, we would have liked to have seen a more intuitive music and video setup, with freshly designed apps. Maybe too much time was spent redesigning the camera interface.
The stock players don't spoil the experience, however. Android's standard players are perfectly fine, and we found that the Panasonic Eluga was more than capable of handling a wide range of media file types straight out of the box, although you will need to visit Google Play in order to make the Eluga all singing and all dancing.
On the music front, it played MP3 and lossless WAV files without any bother, although it didn't want to know when we tried to play a lossless FLAC file.
For video, MOV and MP4 files (even 1080p ones) are fine from the off. It played WMV films too but the action was choppy, and you'll need to download and install an app such as MX Player if your digital movie collection includes MKV, AVI or OGG files.
As previously mentioned, though, the onboard storage is a paltry 8GB and there are no expansion options, so you probably won't be able to store your entire digital collection - especially if you're an HD or lossless aficionado.
And you'll need to plug your headphones into the 3.5mm jack - as with calling and ringtones, the media playback volume is way too low. In fact, it's not really loud enough for our tastes even using our earbuds.
YouTube playback, even in HQ, is good - whether through the website or the pre-installed app. DLNA streaming is also supported, but there's no HDMI action, unfortunately.
Gaming on the Panasonic Eluga is a hit and miss affair. At times it breezes through demanding titles such as Temple Run with ease, but at other times it's a laggy, frustrating experience.
The power from the dual-core 1GHz CPU should mean that choppy gameplay isn't an issue, but sadly, we have to report that it is.
Battery life and connectivity
The battery built in to the Panasonic Eluga is an integrated 1,150mAh Li-Ion one, which is pretty tiny. It's clear that Panasonic had to make some compromises to make its comeback handset so slim.
Don't expect the Panasonic Eluga to be lasting for a full day's play then - you're probably going to need to take a charger with you to work if you still want to be flinging Angry Birds into space on your commute home.
Under our stress test, which involves streaming HD video from the web on a loop, the Panasonic Eluga only lasted for 213 minutes. The HTC One S, Sony Xperia S and Motorola Razr all lasted at least 100 minutes more than this.
On the internet front, you're looking at 2G and 3G (Baseband 850, 900, 1800 and 1900; Band 1 and Band 8; GPRS, EDGE, HSDPA 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps and HSPA+ 21.1 Mbps) and Wi-Fi b/g/n.
You can also turn the Panasonic Eluga into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot by enabling tethering, although this will depend on your network's permissions.
DLNA streaming is also an option, as is Bluetooth (2.1 + EDR) pairing. The much-hyped NFC also makes an appearance on the Panasonic Eluga, and in the box you'll find a starter card.
This enables you to perform three basic tasks - changing the home screen, firing up an app or opening a specific web page - when you flash your phone over it. It's hardly game-changing, but it is a nice little feature.
When connected to a PC via USB you get the option to mount the Panasonic Eluga as a drive, making drag-and-drop transfers easy. You can also just use the USB connection for charging.
Maps and apps
The Panasonic Eluga features the regular suite of Google apps - Gmail, Google Maps, Google Play, Browser, Google+ and so on - and the usual suspects such as Twitter and Facebook.
On top of these, Panasonic has also included Polaris Office (which also doubles up as your file manager), a nifty Picture Album app that enables you to drag and drop your images to social networks, an installer for a trail of McAfee's security suite, a shortcut to a Panasonic mobile site and an Eco Mode app, which takes the form of a little widget.
With the poor battery life that the Panasonic Eluga offers, the Eco Mode can come in handy - it enables you to tweak the brightness, connectivity and animation settings, depending on the battery level - although it can sometime surprise you by altering settings seemingly at will.
Of course, a massive range of other Android apps for work, play or the space in between are available to download from Google Play.
As we mentioned before, once on the smartphone, your apps are automatically sorted alphabetically in the App Tray.
Hands on gallery
The Panasonic Eluga is a lower to mid-range Android smartphone dressed in upper to mid-range clothing. It tries hard to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the HTC One S and the Sony Xperia S, but essentially comes up short on most, if not all, fronts.
Whether this is due to the slightly dated and slightly unnecessarily tweaked software, the slightly underwhelming processor powering the proceedings, or the slightly odd hardware exclusions (front facing camera, flash, microSD slot) we're not sure.
The Panasonic Eluga has a great design, and the build quality is solid. It looks like a great handset, and its svelteness defies the fantastic 4.3-inch screen that is packed in so tightly that it's an almost edge-to-edge display.
The camera takes great shots, video recording quality is good, and the Panasonic-refreshed camera interface is a pleasure to use.
Battery life is poor, the hardware is often unresponsive and the operating system is in desperate need of an Ice Cream Sandwich infusion.
Also, the lack of a flash or front-facing camera makes the Panasonic Eluga feel almost incomplete.
The Panasonic Eluga marks the Japanese giant's return to the European smartphone market. And while the Panasonic Eluga impresses with its high quality build and graceful good looks, it disappoints on a number of fronts and is not the return to form that we'd hoped for.
Ultimately, the Panasonic Eluga's slick design and impressive display are not enough to distract from its obvious shortcomings.
It's a case of "must try harder" for Panasonic on this occasion. Let's hope that the Panasonic Eluga Power, the next handset set to land from the company, rights some wrongs.