Despite a 4.3-inch touch-screen, the sleek plastic build is thin and light, with fully sealed ports making it waterproof up to one metre. It’s one of the best-looking Android phones around, and its Android Gingerbread OS has a Panasonic skin jazzing things up with neon icons
Panasonic hasn’t tweaked the OS at all, so navigating the home screens and switching between apps is as easy as on any Android phone. However, though the phone supports NFC, it’s not very clear what it is or how it’s used
A mixed bag of specs here – it’s IP57-certified for dust and water up to one metre, reasonably snappy with a dual-core 1.2GHz chip, and has an eight-megapixel camera without a flash. NFC support makes it future- friendly for contactless payments and other wireless pairing
After a week of using the phone, the interface began to stutter severely, with regular force closes and system shutdowns. Resetting the phone fixed this, but we suspect it’s likely to continue. The camera is decent, though without a flash, low light photography isn’t an option
With internet, GPS, and background data on, the Eluga just managed to last a day - and that's without any music playback. It does charge very, very quickly though
The rectangular touch-screen is a popular form factor. Android phones in particular are mostly doppelgangers of each other in both hardware and software. So it’s with a certain panache that the Panasonic Eluga lands, a streamlined, slinky Android phone that’s also the manufacturer’s first proper feint at smarpthones outside Japan. Surprisingly for the kind of competition it's landing in, it's not a particularly feature-packed phone, with mid-range specs slipped inside a much sexier chassis.
The Eluga is made of plastic, but what a world it is from the Fisher Price build of other Android smartphones – and even the sturdier-but-still-plasticky superphones like the HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S III. Its smooth, hyper-square body calls to mind the designer aesthetic of the Nokia Lumia 800, with a flat glass expanse that manages to incorporate a 4.3-inch touch-screen. Like the Galaxy S III, some magic has been wrought to squeeze the screen into a body just 123 62.0x7.8mm – a mere 0.2mm thicker than the ‘world’s slimmest smartphone’, the Motorola RAZR.
Because it’s IP57-certified – waterproof to one metre for a minute – all its ports are sealed.
If you don’t actually need a water-resistant phone, you’ll find this deeply annoying, as the Micro-SIM and charging ports are both hidden being glossy, grip-free doors that are incredibly hard to prise open. This is particularly annoying for the charger port, since you’ll be using it every day.
Under the hood
The mixed bag of hardware powering this sleek little phone is kind of surprising in this day and age – the eight-megapixel camera doesn’t come with a flash, the phone runs on the previous version of Android, while despite packing a dual-core processor and stylish looks, this phone is actually dust and water resistant.
We suppose it’s actually a rather practical lineup of features – who wouldn’t appreciate a less fragile phone when they begin to cost upwards of £400 – but the exclusion of a front-facing camera is unusual.
We put the Eluga to the test in some standard situations – dropping it in a sink of water, spilling alcohol on it and handling it with wet hands – and it passed all with flying colours. Your reviewer also lives in a dusty warehouse, and is pleased to report that two weeks living in a particulate-strewn environment has not damaged the phone either.
Interfacing – slowly
The Eluga runs on Android Gingerbread with a Panasonic skin that gives the phone even more of a different look and feel to other Android phones.
The lock screen displays two arcs of dots that you’re meant to trace to unlock the phone, while widgets sport a clean, squared look that’s all Panasonic. Unfortunately, this custom interface is also very prone to glitching, with regular force-closes on apps and even general shutdown with the phone claiming that the Micro-SIM was too dirty.
The virtual keyboard is also occasionally problematic – like the Motorola RAZR Maxx, the only keyboard is a Swype-style one where you drag your finger from letter to letter to spell words out, theoretically quickly. Like the Maxx, autocorrect doesn’t kick in if you simply type the letters one by one. We found the keyboard responsive but not always accurate – and these days, with so many great touch-screen keyboards on phones at any price point, it’s not very forgivable.
With most tech manufacturers having tried their hands at mobile, it should be no surprise that a company that's great at making, say, cameras, can't do the same for a mobile camera. Panasonic is no Sony, which used its Cybershot pedigree to good ends – here, the eight-megapixel camera takes decent shots that are helped along by a few preloaded effects, including the vintage-look Pinhole.
By itself, the camera takes daylight shots of good colour, but clarity is not as sharp as you might expect from an eight-megapixel lens. There’s no LED flash, so low light shots generally come out quite blurry.
There’s no secondary camera either – so no video calling, or drunken self portraits.
One interesting inclusion is the NFC chip, which allows the phone to make contactless payments or connect with NFC accessories. The phone comes with one ‘IC tag’ that you can program to trigger a particular app when the phone senses the tag, but the app itself isn’t very well set up to walk a first-timer through how this is done.
We also tried to put the phone back to back with Android Ice Cream Sandwich phones that have Android Beam, the NFC file sharing feature, but though the phones sensed each other, we couldn’t transfer any files. (Check out Android Beam in action in our video here!) Speaking of Ice Cream Sandwich, the Eluga will support an update when it rolls out.
The Panasonic Eluga comes with an interesting lineup of abilities – we particularly like the NFC support, which could push the phone into the upper echelon of smart devices as NFC use becomes more widespread. However, the regular glitching and unimpressive camera are serious deterrents to general use. There are better all-round Androids about, but if you were after a gorgeously designed Android phone with a difference, the Eluga is a modestly specced device with standout design that's almost enough to overlook its stutters... almost.