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Panasonic Eluga U review: A mediocre flagship phone

21 August, 2014 3:30 AM
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The writer has posted comments on this articleAnupam SaxenaAnupam Saxena,TOI Tech | Aug 21, 2014, 09.00 AM IST

After teasing its high-end Eluga smartphone range in India for a long time, Panasonic recently unveiled the flagship Eluga U in India. Unlike flagships from other companies, Eluga U has hardware similar to Asus Zenfone 5 and Moto G but costs Rs 18,990. Does the top Panasonic model have what it takes to get the better of budget and mid-range phones? We find out in our Panasonic Eluga U review...

From distance, Panasonic Eluga U looks like any other Android smartphone available in the Indian market with its slab like design. It has rounded corners but no other distinguishing feature.

However, when you get your hands on it and turn it around, you realise you've seen this design before. The design of the phone's back is inspired by Google's Nexus 4, complete with a glass back panel that sports a textured pattern. Panasonic claims the glass on the back is shatter proof and in our usage we did not find it being prone to scratches. It won't be wrong to say that the back is a smudge magnet, though. It sports the rear camera and LED flash in addition to some branding.

The front of the phone is dominated by its 5-inch IPS HD display. The three capacitive navigation keys are placed below it while the 2MP front camera sits above it. Unfortunately, the capacitive keys are not backlit and don't offer haptic feedback.

The right edge features the power and volume rocker keys. The placement of the power key is awkward and makes using it cumbersome as it's located at the top right corner. Another quirk is that it's almost the same size as the volume rocker keys.

The left edge houses a flap that hides an ejectable sim-card tray and a microSD card slot. The sim-tray is like the one sported by Gionee Elife E7 mini with slots for both sim cards placed on a single tray.

The 3.5mm headset jack sits at the top while the microUSB port is placed at the bottom edge.

Overall, the phone looks better than Panasonic's previous offering but the Nexus 4 inspired design is now stale.

Panasonic Eluga U sports a 5-inch 720p IPS display. The display is not one of the best we've seen. It's not as bright as the ones on competing phones. This affects outdoor visibility to some extent. Also, despite being an IPS panel, the phone's display doesn't offer good viewing angles. We also noticed minor pixilation while viewing graphics and text. Other than these quirks, it's decent for casual multimedia use.

It's good to see Panasonic shipping the Eluga U with Android 4.4 KitKat, the latest iteration of the OS. Interestingly, the phone also includes a launcher that facilitates single hand operation. Panasonic calls it Fit Home UI. The Fit Home UI features an app launcher that takes up a little more than half of the screen and fits all app shortcuts.

This means that you don't have to go to the top most corner of the screen even if you want to access the first app and can navigate easily with just one hand. Another good thing about this launcher is that it even works in landscape mode. Unlike most Android phones, the phone's home screen also switches to landscape mode when you change the phone's orientation.

If you don't like this arrangement, Panasonic also includes the KitKat launcher (heavily inspired by Google Now launcher) that offers a stock Android-like experience.

Unlike most Android phones, to access the app switcher, one needs to double tap the Home key instead of long pressing it. Long pressing the same key launches Google Now. This is a bit confusing and you'll end-up firing Google Now most of the time.

Panasonic includes a few pre-loaded apps with the phone including its own music player called Music Cafe, a remote app for controlling Panasonic smart TVs, Pop-i-Player to play videos in a floating window (while using other apps), and a Hot n Trendy app that offers notifications related to deals and downloads. The video player also offers 'Smart Play' that pauses video when one looks away from the screen.

Panasonic Eluga U sports a 13MP rear camera and a 2MP front-facing camera.

It offers a slightly modified Camera app that offers users some control with toggles for granular settings. However, the biggest issue with the camera is shutter lag. There is considerable lag between pressing the shutter key and the phone actually capturing a scene. It's highlighted even more with an animation that involves the picture popping into the app's gallery view.

The image quality offered by the phone's rear camera in day light, is decent. However, focusing could be an issue especially while taking close-ups. Photos captured indoors in less light were very grainy. The camera is capable of shooting 1080p videos and did a satisfactory job.

The front camera captured decent quality pictures for selfies. It's also good for video chats. Overall, the camera is clearly not the talking point of this phone.

Panasonic Eluga U is powered by a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core processor and 2GB RAM. We were satisfied with the performance of the phone while navigating across the menu, launching apps, browsing the web and clicking photos.

The phone comes with 16GB internal storage out of which 13.2GB is available to the user. Storing multimedia content is not an issue since the phone supports microSD cards.

In synthetic benchmarks, the phone performs at par with Motorola Moto G barring Nenamark 2 where it lagged. The phone scored 17,635 in Antutu, 8548 in Quadrant and 53 in Nenamark 2 benchmark tests. But we'd not recommend a phone based solely on benchmarks as real world performance is different at times.

In terms of multimedia, the phone comes with FM radio, and also offers recording capability. The phone's built-in speaker offers decent sound output.

The default video player doesn't support all multimedia file formats. We were not able to play full-HD .MOV files but this can be resolved by using third-party apps.

Coming to call quality, we did not encounter any problems while making calls or any other issues while using two sim cards. We were satisfied with the phone's network reception. Voice clarity and loudness levels were also up to the mark.

The phone comes with GPS for navigation and maps and was easily able to lock a signal.

It comes with a 2,500mAh battery that offers decent backup. With moderate to high usage, including about one to two hours of making calls, playing games, clicking some pictures, listening to music and browsing the web, Panasonic Eluga U will easily last you a little more than a full working day, even if you put the screen brightness at the highest level and keep 3G turned on.

Games like Subway Surfers and Angry Birds run smoothly without any lag or stutter. Even graphics-intensive games like Asphalt 8 and Dead Trigger 2 performed decently with occasional frame drops. We did observe that the phone got a little warm after playing these games for more than 10-15 minutes.

At a price of Rs 18,990, the Panasonic Eluga U is an over-priced, mediocre flagship smartphone. Barring the battery life, latest Android version and decent performance, there's nothing that makes it stand out. The Nexus 4-like design language isn't fresh. The 720p display is not very vibrant and the camera suffers from shutter lag. You would be better off with a phone like Asus ZenFone 5 or Moto G (keep in mind that the next-generation Moto G is expected next month). If you have the patience (and luck), you can try grabbing the Xiaomi Mi 3 in the weekly flash sale. It is a much superior phone and costs Rs 5,000 less. If you're in the market for a good looking phone in the same range, you should look at Gionee S5.5.


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