The camera UI itself is rather unwieldy. Panasonic offers up a selection of point-and-shoot features, including a beauty mode (which detects faces and adds some smoothing and extra color), a collage mode that will split a single frame into three different shots and a panorama mode. Unfortunately, the camera app would forget your settings -- including the pretty important focus mode you've chosen, typically defaulting to a face detection setting. Fortunately, there is a touch-focus feature, and the camera is quick to adjust to lighting differences. The Eluga can capture up to 720p video that, while capable of auto-focus, lacks any manual control once you're rolling. The outcome was relatively crisp video and focus is generally quick to adjust, while the colors generally matched their real world subjects.
Performance and battery life
The Eluga runs on a pretty dated 1GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4430 processor -- a Motorola staple -- alongside 1GB of RAM. While it's enough to power through most smartphone tasks, it's certainly not the most capable and doesn't hold a candle to Qualcomm's latest delights or NVIDIA's quad-core Tegra 3 -- something clearly demonstrated in both our benchmarks and real-life testing.
Swiping between home screens feels twitchy, as the wallpaper stutters along behind widgets and apps. The web browser also underwhelms -- it's frustratingly slow and has a curious knack for switching off the screen when jumping to the browser from other apps. Despite a factory reset, we couldn't get the phone to avoid doing it --and this is a device that's already been on sale for several months. The phone would often seize up during use, with the touchscreen becoming completely unresponsive -- not a good sign on an OS as mature as Gingerbread.
Panasonic's decision to make such a slight phone comes at a cost -- and that's battery life. The 1,150mAh capacity certainly doesn't sound like much and in our tests we didn't get much. Running constant video playback with WiFi on and the brightness fixed at 50 percent, the Eluga could only muster up a paltry four and a half hours of playback. Panasonic attempted to ameliorate this with a relatively swift charging function -- you can expect the phone to re-juice from empty to full in less than three hours. With more regular use we found ourselves nervously reaching for the charger halfway through the day. We could just about manage a day on a single charge, but we certainly didn't feel confident spending a whole day out of the office without a standby charging option.
The Eluga messes up several things here. Besides the performance issues outlined above, Panasonic added some heavy-handed touches to the standard Android Gingerbread experience. The app drawer is a mess, organizing your programs into pre-installed, downloaded and updated divisions. There's no automatic option to reorganize them alphabetically or in any sensible order -- it's an entirely manual affair. Personalizing the taskbar on the homescreen is similarly confusing and laborious. There's also a dearth of widgets, including any stock email options, while some of them, like the digital clock, are just plain ugly, with oddly spaced characters and a severe lack of imagination.
It's also worth noting these revisions come atop an older Android release. While we're promised an update to Android 4.0 this summer, we have an increasingly short fuse due to manufacturers continuing to sell new devices with old Android versions. The phone does add a few extra software features to strengthen its offering, though, including a lightweight NFC application, which allows you to use the pre-packaged card to launch an app or adjust the phone's homescreen when they come into contact. There's also an eco mode, which attempts to automate those settings adjustments made to desperately eke out a longer battery life. You can set the level at which the phone switches to the power-saving mode, and even adjust what that mode involves, from dimming the display to switching off unnecessary wireless connections. Expect to set the automated adjustment to 40 percent -- we reckon you're going to need it.
We were hoping for just a little more. The Eluga doesn't embarrass itself, with a subtle, appealing design and a capable screen. But while it can shrug off watery dangers, it can't do the same to serious software hiccups and missing elements -- like decent media storage, a camera flash and (at this price) a more competent processor. We wanted to welcome a new contender to a very hectic Android smartphone battle royale, but, at the moment, we have an also-ran. Panasonic has more than one chance to get it right -- hopefully it's learned a few lessons here.