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.
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.
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.
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.
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.