You've heard of singin' in the rain (and have likely seen the movie). You may have even attempted it once or twice, but tableting in the midst of a downpour? That doesn't exactly conjure the same whimsy and spontaneous dance numbers. Yet, Pantech's making such joyous, on-the-go content consumption possible with the aptly named Element. It's yet another addition to the growing stable of LTE devices propping up AT&T's newly expanded 4G fort. Rather than run the risk of this being seen as another garden-variety Honeycomb tablet, though, Pantech's imbued this guy with waterproofing.

Of course, that's not all this skinned Android slate's bringing to the party. With a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8060 CPU complemented by 1GB RAM, a 1024 x 768 TFT XGA display and a healthy 6,400mAh battery, this impermeable tab stands on equal spec footing with its post-PC peers. At $299 on two-year contract, it's certainly priced to sell, but should you dish out the dollars for a middle-ground tablet from the likes of a lesser-known manufacturer? Does a limited and possibly frivolous imperviousness to water warrant your attention? Should you stash that plastic until Pantech confirms an ETA for that Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade? Find all this out and more after the break, as we force this 8-incher to brave the elements.

Pantech Element review

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Hardware



Pantech previously tested the waters of unconventional design when it launched the low-end, oddly shaped Pocket late last year. Though that flair for non-conformity isn't really on display here with the Element, there's still a certain je ne sais quoi about its build. Lift it out the box and you'll immediately be struck by how elegant this middle-of-the-road tablet appears. True, the company opted for lightweight plastic throughout, eschewing the heavier (albeit premium) materials weighing down HTC's Jetstream. But it hardly matters: this slate simply feels great in hand. It's not an altogether perfect fit, ergonomically speaking -- the plastic bordering the perimeter sticks out ever-so slightly to interrupt the smoothly curved edges. It's a minor imperfection that would be really irritating were it not for this guy's 16.6-ounce weight, which makes it neither too heavy to hold for long periods of time, nor so light that it feels flimsy.

Whereas the Xyboard 8.2 is tall, thin and trim, the Element is possessed of a huskier build; it's short, squat and rife with asymmetry. At 8.36 x 6.12 x 0.42 inches (212.34 x 155 x 10.67mm), this is clearly an acquired taste compared to more refined offerings. Still, that idiosyncratic design comes with benefits. Like that microSD card slot tucked away at the base, giving users the option to expand the slate's 16GB of internal storage with a 32GB card. That slot, along with HDMI-out, micro-USB and an easily accessible SIM, are hidden under grooved plastic flaps designed to keep water at bay for up to 30 minutes at a depth of one foot. That same motif comes into play again where other hardware keys are concerned, although the structural implementation is drastically different, with a mostly smooth cover shielding the headphone jack on the left and a rectangular rubber cushion surrounding and rising above the power button up top. The volume rocker is the only external detail to not benefit from any of this waterproofing.


Changing things up a bit is the placement of the Element's speaker and 2-megapixel front-facing camera, both of which reside on the tablet's left bezel, when held in landscape. Normally relegated to the upper most corner of a tablet, this new location communicates a subtle message: that the device should be held in portrait. Indeed, that orientation is the most comfortable option for handling the device. Check out the other side, and you won't be greeted with much aside from that glossy, subtly patterned plastic back, a prominent 4G LTE logo and the 5-megapixel camera located in the upper right. Beneath the non-removable casing are the aforementioned Qualcomm APQ8060 chip (the same as in the LG Nitro HD and HTC Vivid) and that 6,400mAh battery.

Display and sound


While it pales in comparison to sharper 1280 x 800 panels used on other 7- and 8-inch tablets, the Element's TFT XGA screen offers up a reasonably sharp image given its 1024 x 768 resolution. Truly, this device appears suited for heavy media consumption, as we noticed little loss in visibility and contrast when handling the tablet from a variety of positions. Take it outside, however, and you'll be hard-pressed to discern anything on screen, even with the brightness bumped up to the maximum. It's a minor ding that hampers the Element's overall ruggedness, so if you plan to call this tab your own, make sure to head for the shade.


Unlike the powerful, dual-speaker setup found on the HTC Jetstream, the sole, front-mounted one used on the Element is serviceable at best, though thankfully the audio doesn't suffer from tinniness. That said, it's easy for the sounds to be overpowered by environmental noise and, we can say that with confidence after having repeatedly cranked the volume to its highest setting. Suffice to say, we recommend keeping a pair of headphones close by.

Cameras



When we first took the Element's 5-megapixel camera out for a spin, we suspected something might be amiss, that the module itself was busted or that, despite its sealed enclosure, water had seeped into its interior during a twenty-minute walk in the rain. Our fears arose from our initial crop of photos, taken just before a light dusting of snow fell, leaving us with a handful of blurry, washed-out stills that seemed to mock our attempts to manually tap-to-focus. And forget about using the zoom function; we had zero luck attaining a clear, usable image.

Surprisingly, shots taken in macro fared much better, but, again, performance was largely hit-or-miss. Later on in the day, after the temperature had risen slightly, we found our growing catalog of pictures taking on a much more distinct (albeit muted) quality. Weather conditions aside, this rear shooter delivered consistent results when shots were framed within a shallow depth of field. Move outside of that narrow range and expect the level of detail to drop drastically.

Pantech Element sample photos

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Amateur photogs looking to mess about with a host of scene modes and exposure settings won't be disappointed by the array available in the Element's camera app. You'll find the usual selection (Portrait, Landscape, Indoor, etc.) but on the whole, the menu is structured so haphazardly that finding your desired filter will entail a few missteps.


When it comes to 720p video, the Element once again under delivers. With little to no movement of the device itself, the scene captured will evince only a slight reduction in frame rate and clarity. Move gently from side to side, though, and that's when you notice how severe of an effect this dearth of image stabilization has on the product, proving this HD capture feature is most ideal for capturing fleeting, YouTube-able clips. Audio playback was slightly muffled, but that was partly due to the high winds whipping at the time, given we were still able to hear traces of the surrounding intersection.

Network speeds



There are two immediate truths about AT&T's LTE network in New York City: when it's available, it's mind-bogglingly fast, maxing out at 60Mbps down. And when it's MIA, you won't really notice. Why? Well, with HSPA+ as a default network option, you'll still be treated to fairly high speeds that hover in the mid-teens. Indeed, this type of downlink performance is a clear demotion from the typical 30Mbps and up we achieved in real-world LTE testing, but unless you're monitoring a speedtesting app, you probably won't notice. Those fallback 4G frequencies are strong enough to shoulder the demands of streaming music and video, texts and emails, all while delivering various email and other push notifications. Understandably, if you're paying for use of that 700MHz spectrum, you should want abundant, unfettered access to it. Unfortunately, the operator's still in the baby steps build-out phase, so coverage around New York City, at least, is spotty, with our connection frequently dropping down to HSPA only to latch onto LTE a block later. Overall, those high-end 4G speeds stayed within the 30Mbps to 50Mbps range for downlink and 9Mbps to 11Mbps up.

Performance and battery life



Bolstered by that dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm APQ8060 CPU and 1GB of RAM, the Element zips along without nary a hiccup. Tellingly, in all of our time testing the tablet, we didn't once encounter the lag and hesitant transitions so often associated with skinned Android devices. The touchscreen is responsive, shifting between the five preset home screens with ease, and that same fluidity is on display when you tap the app drawer and loading applications. Browsing on the tablet is much of the same, with quick page renders when connected to LTE, and without any of that tiling that besots other Honeycomb slates.

Pantech Element Motorola Xyboard 8.2 Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 T-Mobile Springboard (Huawei MediaPad)
Quadrant 3,063 1,663 2,341 1,871
Linpack single-thread (MFLOPS) 54.0 45.25 26.85 28.38
Linpack multi-thread (MFLOPS) 86.9 69.79 N/A 55.36
NenaMark 1 (fps) 56.1 28.87 38.1 57
NenaMark 2 (fps) 39.3 19.27 18.1 24.5
Vellamo 1,266 1,018.5 N/A 1,057
SunSpider 9.1 (ms, lower scores are better) 2,087.1 1,926.9 2,295 N/A

As far as benchmarks go, Pantech's tab consistently outclassed the lower-clocked Xyboard 8.2 and T-Mobile Springboard in our usual suite of testing, save for SunSpider and NenaMark 1, respectively. Those particular losses were marginal at best and don't speak to the remarkable daily performance.

So is there a big, fat battery to keep this tab humming along and indulge its LTE capability? Why, yes, there is and a tremendous 6,400mAh at that. The Element is, without doubt, going to get you through a long flight or Netflix marathon with enough juice left over to surf the web and shoot off some Twitter updates. With light usage, we found the Element lasted the span of a couple of days, and that's with LTE enabled -- all told, in line with the company's claims. Factor in the demands of a power user and, according to Pantech's PR, this slate should survive up to 12 hours on a charge -- and it does exactly that, if you happen to be in an HSPA+ only area of coverage. Put through the paces of our formal battery rundown while connected to LTE, however, and that half-day stamina shrinks to a workable nine hours.

Tablet
Battery Life
Pantech Element 9:00
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 12:01
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 9:55
Apple iPad 9:33
Motorola Xoom 2 8:57
HP TouchPad 8:33
Lenovo IdeaPad K1 8:20
Motorola Xoom 8:20
T-Mobile G-Slate 8:18
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus 8:09
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 8:00
Archos 101 7:20
Archos 80 G9 7:06
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01
Acer Iconia Tab A500 6:55
T-Mobile Springboard (Huawei MediaPad) 6:34
Toshiba Thrive 6:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 6:09
Motorola Xyboard 8.2 5:25
Velocity Micro Cruz T408 5:10
Acer Iconia Tab A100 4:54

Software



We know most of you are hankering for a cold taste of Ice Cream Sandwich -- that's if you haven't already bought into Google's most recent Nexus flagship -- but you won't find your appetite for Mountain View's latest sated here. All we know is, it's coming at some unspecified point this year. For now, you've got Android 3.2 Honeycomb and a skinned version, at that, with the typical assortment of home screen shortcuts and widgets at your disposal. Don't fret, as the customizations are seriously minor and won't impede your ability to navigate the OS. What might give you pause is the collection of 20-plus apps that come pre-installed. It's not that we don't expect to see crapware like Enzo's Pinball, Bug Village and AT&T's bevy of apps (Code Scanner, Navigator, etc.) shoveled onto Android devices at this stage in the game, but we'd like to see the practice executed with a measure of restraint. Most frustrating of all, you can't uninstall any of that bloat from the settings menu and return your tab to the virgin state you'd expect to find it in.

Pricing and data plans

Pantech, as a brand, doesn't have the cachet of other, more boutique device manufacturers, so it can't rely on name recognition alone to sell its LTE duo: the Element and Burst. Which is why a limited time bundle offered by AT&T makes sense for subs looking to take the plunge (almost quite literally) with this tab and its accompanying smartphone sibling. Both devices are currently available for $250 on a two-year contract, along with the requisite minimum service plans: $35/mo for the Element, in addition to $40/mo for voice and $20/mo of data for the Burst.

If you choose to go solo with your tablet purchase, but still want to take part in that subsidized pricing, you'll be able to snag the Element for $300 on contract with one of two set options: 3GB/mo plus access to AT&T's WIFi hotspots for $35 or a $50 option that nets you 5GB of data. Unlike T-Mobile and Verizon, however, you will have to pay $10 for every 1GB of data over your allotted monthly limit.

Those looking to steer clear of carrier chains can fork up $450 to buy this tablet outright -- pricing that puts it on par with T-Mobile's Springboard and undercuts the $600 Xyboard 8.2 -- to take advantage of a tad more plan flexibility. If you only intend to make extremely light use of your tablet, there is a $15/mo choice that gets you 250MB and the same access to the operator's hotspots. Be mindful, though, that every 250MB over your allotment will result in an additional $15 fee.

Wrap-up



Admit it: an 8-inch waterproof, LTE-enabled tablet makes for a pretty compelling purchase on paper. Couple those sweet-spot features with solid, everyday performance, a smooth Honeycomb-based user experience and a 6,400mAh charge that'll last through nearly half a day of heavy use and you've got yourself several strong reasons to think long and hard about this guy. But when you factor in the sad state of the Element's dual camera setup and its poor outdoor visibility, you might start to feel precognitive pangs of buyer's remorse kicking in.

So, what's the verdict? Should you clasp this slate to your breast and dance about in a torrential downpour, belting out showtunes and banging out tweets in full gale force, or do we order Pantech's tab to walk the plank, and sink below its one-foot threshold? Well, we'll let price be the deciding factor here and at $300 on two-year contract, it's perfectly positioned to lure consumers away from Motorola's comparatively overpriced ($430 on contract) and underperforming Xyboard 8.2 -- all you're missing out on is that familiar Droid branding. Take AT&T up on its tempting limited time bundle that pairs this unit up with Pantech's other LTE spawn the Burst and you'll really be stretching the limits of your purchasing power. As a standalone product, however, and without the backing of a major marketing push, the Element's likely to disappear, undeservedly, into the unending stream of me-too Android tablets; a middle-ground oddity coming out of nowhere and attracting little-to-no attention.
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Pantech

Pantech Element

Pros

  • Smooth user experience
  • Waterproof enclosure
  • Blazing LTE speeds
  • Hearty battery life

Cons

  • Poor screen visibility outdoors
  • Feels a bit pricey for what it is
Conclusion

For a lesser-known brand, Pantech's 8-inch Element surprises with dependable performance and a durable, sleek design. At $300 on contract, it's slightly overpriced, although still a solid purchase for consumers bent on LTE.

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