Panasonic Eluga review: Panasonic Eluga

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good

Average User Rating

4 stars 4 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Waterproof; Big screen on a svelte, stylish body.

The Bad Android Gingerbread OS not Ice Cream Sandwich; Disappointing camera; Poor button placement; No microSD card slot.

The Bottom Line The Panasonic Eluga looks super-sleek and stylish but its beauty is skin deep. Under the waterproof surfaces lurks an underwhelming engine and disappointing camera. It doesn't run the latest Android operating system and has awkward buttons. Unless you're in love with its looks, your cash is better splashed elsewhere

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Panasonic is not a name us Brits instantly associate with phones. Cameras, yes. Microwaves, sure. Air conditioning units, at a push. But the Japanese company has kept its mobile phone flair far from our shores for years.

That wait is over. Meet the Eluga -- a super-stylish Android slab that tempts you to dribble all over its waterproof surfaces before splashing your cash on it.

For now, Panasonic is tight-lipped on pricing. The phone doesn't officially launch in the UK until June. At present, it's being offered on Expansys for £370 SIM-free , which pushes it into the premium end of the Android smart phones -- competing with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus , the Motorola Razr and the Sony Xperia S .

Should I buy the Panasonic Eluga?

Do you live in rain-drenched Manchester? Or do you like to watch iPlayer in the bath? The Eluga won't mind if you splash it or dunk it. It can't survive underwater for more than 30 minutes though -- or at depths of more than a metre -- so it's not a phone for deep sea divers.

Panasonic Eluga
The Eluga is not just any old slab, it's a supremely stylish slab.

Its love of the wet stuff aside, the Eluga's stand-out feature is its stylish, slender form. Sadly though, this very sleek hardware is let down by laggy performance -- and it runs on Gingerbread rather than the latest Ice Cream Sandwich version of the Android operating system. As such, it feels pricey for what it is.

For now, unless you live in a wet room or are truly smitten with its looks, it's not the best phone to splash your cash on. You can pick up a bevy of more powerful Android handsets for around the same SIM-free price.

As mentioned above, the phone hasn't officially launched in the UK so it's possible the price will come down. There's also no info on monthly contract deals yet. Fingers crossed the official price will be a smidgen more affordable.

Waterproof

I tested the Eluga's waterproof claims by dunking the phone in a pint glass of water, turning it round halfway through so both ends got a taste of the wet stuff. I also poured a pint of water all over it. I would like to say I was wearing a purple satin evening gown when I did this, but in truth, my sartorial choices were far more work-a-day.

Panasonic Eluga
The Eluga loves nothing more than cooling off in a pint of water -- just so long as it's only a brief dip.

None of this liquid lunacy phased the Eluga so you shouldn't have to fear for this phone when caught in a rain storm, or when taking a call in the bath.

Design and build

The Eluga feels extremely solid yet it's also thin -- just 7.8mm at its thickest point -- and a very light 103g. It's the epitome of sleek minimalism. Viewed from the front, it's a sharp and shiny object. A very thin plastic bezel at the margins of the 4.3-inch screen tricks the eye into thinking it's all screen.

The look is stylish and premium. It definitely stands out from the rounded rectangle crowd. My review unit was black but there is also a silver option.

The thin bezel around the screen has the advantage of keeping the overall handset size down, so despite it packing a larger screen than Apple's iPhone , its footprint isn't that much bigger. You get the advantage of a big screen in a package that easily fits in smaller hands. Neat.

Panasonic Eluga
Panasonic deserves a medal for finding a way to squeeze a 4.3-inch display into a hand-friendly device.

Turn the phone over and all this sharpness and shininess is replaced with sloping sides, soft contours and matte plastic. The contrast between sleek and soft make the Eluga a tactile pleasure to hold.

There are a few odd touches -- tiny lines in the plastic on the top and bottom edge look utilitarian, and four nicks in the bezel, one at each corner, break its otherwise clean lines. These indents appear as if they might be micro drainage channels -- to encourage water droplets to dribble off the phone.

The micro-USB port and micro-SIM slots are both capped with tight-fitting plastic doors that have rubber seals around the edge to keep water out. The headphone jack isn't sealed off though.

Panasonic Eluga
No, the Eluga doesn't have rabbit ears. These dandy appendages are its water-tight port doors.

Amusingly, there's a big white label stuck on the back of the phone warning about the dangers of broken glass if the display becomes damaged, and instructing you not to remove 'the barcode sticker' on the phone's bottom edge. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to find on a microwave, not a smart phone, so presumably it's an example of Panasonic's home electronics heritage trickling onto its mobiles.

Because the phone doesn't have flat sides, the volume rocker is sited closer to the back of the device than the edge. This is an awkward position since the switch can't be located by eye from the front of the phone. The switch is also positioned on the right-hand side of the handset. This is fine if you hold the phone in your left hand but makes it awkward to reach the key if you're right handed. It's a very poor design decision.

Panasonic Eluga
The power and volume key placement is problematic and they're so small a fairy would have trouble finding them.

The power key has been placed just above the volume rocker, so the same placement problems apply. And this key is extremely small, so it's even more fiddly to lock onto it by touch alone.

Software

The Eluga ships with a lightly skinned version of Android Gingerbread but will apparently get an Ice Cream Sandwich update this summer. It's a shame it doesn't rock ICS out of the box, especially as its premium brother -- the Eluga Power -- does. But at least Panasonic is on record saying it will get an update. If ICS doesn't arrive by August, you'll know where to direct your righteous anger.

Panasonic Eluga
Panasonic's Android skin is nothing to write home about but at least they've kept things reasonably simple.

Panasonic's Gingerbread skin is pretty minimal so Android purists shouldn't be too offended by it. However, it's nowhere near as polished, friendly or fully featured as HTC's Sense 4.0 software. I would argue that Android newbies, or anyone who prefers an easy life, would be better served by the HTC One S or One V.

The Eluga's interface is ok but never amazing. It edges towards being tiresome. For example, rearranging apps on the apps screens is a four-step process involving two different button presses and one menu screen. Elegant? Definitely not.

Another awkward element is the SMS interface. In portrait mode, you can easily view the other missives in a thread but the box where you compose your text is always tiny. If your text is long, you won't be able to see what you've written without scrolling back through it. You can switch the phone to landscape mode to view all the text, but you can't then see any of the other messages in the thread.

There are also limited opportunities to customise the experience to your tastes. Don't expect fancy lock screen widgets or the like -- you'll have to make do with a utilitarian time and date display, plus Panasonic's take on slide-to-unlock (swipe in an arc to unlock).

You get five home screens to add apps and widgets to. There's a pretty limited selection of widgets pre-loaded on the phone. Apps can't be dragged together to create folders -- you have to create the folder first, then add the apps.

On the home screen, the launcher bar has three customisable app slots (folders can't be included on this bar). On the app screens, the app view options can't be customised -- you get a 'preinstalled' view option, 'download' to see only apps you've added to the phone, and 'update' for any apps in need of updating.

On the app screens, you can configure how many apps are displayed on each one -- either a grid of 20, 16 or nine. The nine-app screen view greatly enlarges the size of each icon, so it could be helpful for people with a visual impairment.

Panasonic Eluga
Swiping around the Eluga's interface can be a bit of a laggy drag.

Elsewhere, the gallery view has been pimped slightly with some 3D effects but I found these annoying. There's a lag before they kick in to pointlessly rearrange your thumbnails.

The camera interface is ok but it's a little fiddly to toggle between the camera and video camera modes because the button is so small.

The software keyboard is very typo-prone if you try pecking out individual letters. At least there's an excellent Swype-style interface turned on by default, which is a much faster and easier way to rattle out texts and emails.

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Where to Buy

Panasonic Eluga

Part Number: CNETPanasonic Eluga

Typical Price: £370.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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