Pantech Element (AT&T) review:

Pantech Element (AT&T)

The Element benefits from all of Google's official Android apps, including Android Market, Maps, Gmail, and Navigation. AT&T also throws in a few of its own, such as Messages, AT&T Navigation, AT&T FamilyMap, and AT&T Code Scanner.

The manufacturer puts a subtle spin on the stock Honeycomb design, replacing the clock font and navigation icons with a theme that reminds me of folded ribbon. For the most part, the pure Honeycomb experience is left unmolested.

Taking a look at overall system performance, you can see where the software and hardware make for a slightly awkward fit. This is the first Honeycomb tablet we've tested that uses a 4:3 aspect ratio similar to the Apple iPad. The Element also has a relatively uncommon 1,024x768-pixel screen resolution, compared with the wider 1,280x800-pixel screens found on the majority of Honeycomb slates.

So what does this squat screen mean in terms of performance? Well, there are small things, such as the onscreen keyboard taking up more room on the screen (in either orientation), and HD video content not filling the screen quite as naturally as on a 16:9 design.

In terms of apps, I found that Google's own apps and many older apps designed for phones scaled naturally to the Element's screen dimensions. Graphically intense game content, such as Riptide GP, looked noticeably better on the Xyboard 8.2's 1,280x800-pixel-resolution screen and gave driving games the advantage of a wider field of vision.

There are some upsides to the Element's smaller, squarer screen. As on the iPad, a 4:3 aspect ratio has a more natural, magazinelike dimension when held in portrait orientation. Most Honeycomb tablets feel awkwardly long and skinny held this way, which is why you'll typically see them held horizontally. Unlike the iPad, though, the Element's 8-inch size is small enough to allow your thumbs to meet over the keyboard in portrait mode, making typing relatively breezy.

Screen quality on the Pantech Element isn't as good as it could be. Pixel density tops out at around 160ppi, compared with the 184ppi of the Xyboard 8.2 or the 215ppi of the Toshiba Thrive 7. The viewing angles are nice, though overall picture quality doesn't seem particularly vibrant.

Tested spec Pantech Element Motorola Xyboard 8.2 Kindle Fire Nook Tablet
Maximum brightness 446 cd/m2 372 cd/m2 424 cd/m2 306 cd/m2
Default brightness 271 cd/m2 181 cd/m2 147 cd/m2 154 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.66 cd/m2 0.38 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2 0.29 cd/m2
Default black level 0.4 cd/m2 0.15 cd/m2 0.15 cd/m2 0.15 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 677 cd/m2 1206 cd/m2 926 cd/m2 1026 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 675 cd/m2 979 cd/m2 939 cd/m2 1055 cd/m2

The only complaint I have about the Element's audio experience is that the little waterproof gasket covering the socket is annoying to pry off every time you want to plug in your headphones. Sonically, though, it's clean and quiet, and I suppose the gasket is a small price to pay for a waterproof tablet.

Pantech rates the Element's internal battery at 12 hours of use, or 25 days of standby time. Assume that the 12-hours-of-use figure is under best-case conditions with wireless turned off. Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours)
Pantech Element 8.8

Final thoughts
The Pantech Element fills a valuable niche in the tablet market. It's the first mobile 4G tablet that truly affords you the freedom to use it outside, without fear that bad weather or a spilled cup of coffee will render your investment useless.

Unfortunately, it's still quite an investment. The $299 subsidized price demands a two-year data commitment, with a minimum rate of $35 per month. That's a total of cost of $1,139 over the life of the tablet, not including taxes and messaging rates. The tablet is available off-contract for $449, but unless you consider 4G connectivity a must-have, that's a sucker's price when there are so many better Android 3.2 options on the market, not to mention the imminent wave of Android 4.0 devices.

Still, if you have the kind of active lifestyle (or chronic clumsiness) to justify the expense, the Pantech Element is a solid choice.

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