Panasonic have stayed out of the western phone market for a while now with their last foray being the MX7 in 2005 with a 320x240 display and a dashing clamshell form factor. With the Eluga however comes a reprise of the manufacturer's combination tech prowess coupled with todays Android based mobile advancements and all in a dustproof, waterproof body. Also packing a 7.8mm thin, light chassis and a dual-core processor as well as an 8-megapixel camera and a qHD AMOLED display, the Eluga looks pretty well specced to compete with the likes of the HTC One S and the Sony Xperia S, two handsets we regard pretty highly, so lets see how all thin skinny black waterproofed goodness stacks up.
Panasonic Eluga: Design
Thin profile, black plastic, flat, flush fascia, curvaceous backing, angular corners, bold design, the Panasonic Eluga speaks a language more akin to TV design than their mobile portfolio seen abroad. Jutting, sharp corners and black bezelling complement the AMOLED display's flat darks and showcase its exploding colours.
Elements are kept very simple: Three capacitive buttons subtly placed under the screen, a 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB port and micro SIM card slot at the top and a power button and volume rocker around the back to the right hand side.
The Panasonic Eluga avoids feeling cheap in spite of its light weighting and plastic construction and yet it doesn't quite hit the plastic zenith of the Nokia Lumia 800.
Panasonic Eluga: Screen
At 4.3-inches, size wise the Eluga is a great fit and comfortable to swipe across. It also delivers pitch blacks and saturated colours that suck you into an immersive, vibrant screen experience. Viewing angles are good in terms of detail though colour distorts to blue as is seen with most AMOLED panels.
AMOLED qHD displays have been a point of contention here, here and even here. Sadly, the Eluga doesn't evade the qHD AMOLED curse. Why? Because the pentile polka dotting prevents the eye popping AMOLED pixels reaching perfection. That said, it's not too far off, so if you don't have 20/20 vision or aren't bothered by ever so slight grain to your screen, you should be ok.
It's therefore becoming clear that pentile displays have to hit a pixel density akin to the Samsung Galaxy Note in order to avoid looking grainy and detracting from the game-changing screen tech. In turn, the Eluga's screen is definitely good, it just isn't great.
Panasonic Eluga: User Interface
Panasonic have skinned Gingerbread on the Eluga with a simple UI that lacks the frills and flourishes of HTC Sense but still adds some useful elements. The dock allows for up to three customisable shortcuts with the apps drawer being fixed.
Speaking of the Apps drawer, this is an area that Panasonic have done a great job of customising the user experience. While on first glance it all looks very similar to what we've seen in Gingerbread before, pressing the menu button will give you options to change the number of icons displayed. This also changes the size of the app icons, a great usability tweak for anyone who like bigger icons.
There are some pre-installed applications and to our delight, a couple we found to be of real worth. One of these is the Picture Album. This doesn't replace the standard Android Gallery app though we feel it could, however it does add some great social networking integration. Simply hold your finger over the image or video of your choice and the four sides of your screen turn into options you can drag your image to. The uppermost is Twitter, moving clockwise you can delete a picture, share it to Facebook and finally favourite it.
In addition, a data security app resides on the Panasonic Eluga that allows NFC unlocking as well as means of securing your email and documents by an elaborate, rotary combination lock style input.
There's also native DLNA support, an NFC app and a handy note taker. For your more comprehensive documents, Panasonic have pre-installed the fantastic Polaris Office. All additional non-standard icons in the apps drawer are however links through to mobile web-pages. Another element we didn't love was the dialler, with no smart-dial and a convoluted phonebook rotary dialler.
With a bit of stuttering, the Eluga user interface didn't wow us off the bat, however it's clear after a bit of time with the phone that Panasonic have added some considered touches, smart apps and useful accessibility options to Android without being too heavy or over-bearing. Once again, good, though not great.
Panasonic Eluga: Camera
An 8-megapixel stills camera and a 720p video camera reside on the Panasonic Eluga. The user interface clearly takes its inspiration from a stills camera and not a mobile UI as found on the HTC Sense camera UI. On the one hand, this gives you a very familiar way of navigating through menus though it could be more touch optimised. Also worth noting, the default shooting resolution is 2-megapixels with no touch to focus. Once you change these, unfortunately only the pixel count is saved, so touch to focus will have to be re-set every new session.
As far as image quality goes, the Eluga impresses. It offers pretty good detail levels though loses out to players like the HTC One S, One X and Sony Xperia S. It also curtails noise level with its on-board processing and f/2.8 lens. Colours are pretty vibrant, shots don't tend to look washed out and focus is great despite having to be set on every use (which will hopefully get fixed in an update sharpish).
As mentioned, low light shots aren't terrible by default however the Eluga doesn't pack a flash, so when you kill the lights, you'll have to do the same to your camera phone.
Video is taken at 720p at 30fps. While it could technically shoot full HD with its dual-core processor, we're not going to hold it against the Eluga with its 720p performance delivering a smooth, detailed picture with pretty great continuous focus. There's no tap to focus mid-shoot and not ICS style mid-video shooting, but for a Gingerbread phone, it does a commendable job.
Panasonic Eluga: Connectivity and Storage
The Eluga is about the best connected 7.8mm thick device out there. Not only does it have the standard 3G, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but it's also packing NFC for all your contactless needs.
As well connected as it is, Panasonic totally under-nourished the Eluga in terms of on-board storage. It's was horrific opening the storage menu in our settings only to find that on our brand new 2012 smartphone with no expandable memory has just 4.28GB of space. Seriously? Seriously! This is a beautiful phone. It has a headphone jack and a screen aspect ratio perfectly suited to movies. What gives?
Panasonic Eluga: Performance
As alluded to in earlier when talking about the Panasonic Eluga's user interface, there's slight stuttering when panning home screens, despite the dual-core 1GHz processor. With the phone looking great and costing the relatively big bucks, we shouldn't have to put up with staggering worse than that found on HTC's 1GHz single-core One Series device, the HTC One V.
Battery capacity concerned us before we got the Panasonic Eluga into our pockets given the fact it's a 4.3-inch screened device with a 1500 mAh battery, however, oddly this isn't an area it lets us down comfortably lasting a day.
Panasonic Eluga: Conclusion
Dated by the fact it ships with Gingerbread as opposed to ICS, a few other faux pas like a solid camera with no flash and an interface that stutters as much as it glides set the Panasonic Eluga off to a shaky start. Perhaps the least forgivable shortcoming however is the minuscule amount of non-expandable user-available storage on-board (4.28GB). That said, it does offer some charming, considered UI quirks and is the best looking life-proof handset we've seen. For any Android aficionado out there who will be filling up their phone with movies and music, it would be worth stumping up an extra £40 in favour of an HTC One S with Android 4.0 and double the storage. For the rest of you, the Panasonic Eluga might hit the fine line between lithe and life-proof.