It comes as no surprise that Panasonic chose to talk about its new Android smartphone at the company's 2012 European Convention. The new Eluga phone heralds a return to the mobile communications market in Europe, although Panasonic never stopped producing mobile handsets in Japan.
You may be wondering why Panasonic would choose to jump back into such a cutthroat market, but there are a few very good reasons. First up, mobile phones represent one of the biggest markets in the consumer electronics arena, so it makes sense that Panasonic would want a piece of that pie. Second, and arguably more important, is the fact that Panasonic doesn't really want you to be buying an Apple, Samsung or HTC phone in order to use its Viera mobile app to control your TV.
However sound the reasons may be though, breaking into the smartphone market isn't easy, with the established players commanding daunting install bases. It's therefore good that Panasonic's Eluga made a big splash today - literally.
When the Eluga was first introduced on stage, during this afternoon's presentation, it appeared inside a goldfish bowl; a goldfish bowl full of water! The fact that the Eluga is waterproof has got to be its headline feature, but whereas other waterproof phones I've reviewed have been chunky, rugged, brick-like things, the Eluga is something of a svelte supermodel.
At 7.8mm thick and weighing in at only 103g, the Eluga certainly doesn't look or feel like a waterproof phone. Oh, and it's allegedly dust proof too, but I didn't have a sand pit handy to test that aspect. I did, however, have a bowl of water, and I can guarantee that the phone most definitely does function under water. Panasonic rates the Eluga as waterproof to one metre, so you can happily use it in the bath without having to worry about accidents.
The micro-USB connector and the SIM card slot have waterproof flaps to protect them. Panasonic was keen to point out that the phone will only be waterproof when these flaps are firmly closed. Interestingly though, the 3.5mm headphone socket has no protective flap, but that didn't seem to cause any issues when the handset was submerged.
Being waterproof isn't the only thing that the Eluga has going for it though. The screen is a 4.3in affair, putting it on a par with the Samsung Galaxy S II, but whereas the Samsung sports a WVGA 800 x 480 screen resolution, the Eluga screen employs a qHD 960 x 540 resolution.
There's a 1GHz, dual-core CPU driving the Eluga, but Panasonic wouldn't confirm the manufacturer of the chip. It's probably safe to assume that the integrated 8-magapixel camera sports a Panasonic sensor though. That said, it's worth mentioning that there's no flash to accompany the camera.
Also conspicuous by its absence is a memory card slot, so there's no way to augment the internal storage. Panasonic said that it would have been impossible to achieve the phone's slim dimensions with a memory card reader inside, which I'm happy to accept. However, the lack of microSD support does make the Eluga's 8GB of internal storage seem a little meagre.
The Eluga feels very comfortable in the hand - its tapered edges make it easy to get a good grip, and allow for one-handed operation. On the right edge you'll find the power button and volume controls, and that's your lot as far as hardware buttons go. The familiar Home, Back and Menu touch-buttons live below the screen.
Those three buttons below the screen give away the fact that the Eluga isn't running the latest version of Android - Ice Cream Sandwich, giving the option of virtual buttons instead. The Eluga handset that I got my paws on was running Android version 2.3.5, but Panasonic indicated that the Eluga will be updated to version 4.0 in the summer. As always though, whether you get an Android update will be as much to do with your network operator as the phone itself.
The Eluga feels very snappy, with no discernible lag when swiping pages or even launching apps. Internet browsing was particularly impressive, albeit over Wi-Fi - there was no SIM installed, so I couldn't check mobile data speeds. Of course the handset I was using had very little installed, so there wasn't too much going on to slow down that dual-core CPU.
The keyboard is another highlight on the Eluga. The keyboard has the comma on the default screen, while the £ symbol lives on the first numeric screen - by contrast my Galaxy S II hides the comma on the numeric screen, and the £ symbol a level deeper still. You can also change the keyboard language by simply taping and holding the spacebar - the current keyboard language is also displayed on the spacebar.
In use, the keyboard proved to be extremely accurate and responsive - I encountered very few mistakes when inputting text. The auto-correct also seemed to function in a very sensible manner, once more putting the Galaxy S II to shame.
Panasonic takes green technology seriously and the Eluga comes with an "eco mode" app preinstalled. In essence, eco mode is simply a power management app, but it does sit well with Panasonic's "eco ideas" ethos. The eco mode app allows you to configure the phone to be as green (or not) as you wish. You can keep the phone in eco mode, or you can configure it to apply eco mode when the battery discharges past a certain percentage. Whether you've got a green conscience of not, anything that helps you eek a bit more battery life out of your smartphone is a good thing in my book.
The Eluga comes equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, so it has some future proofing baked into it. Conversely, it doesn't support LTE, so you won't be able to take advantage of next generation data speeds. That said, mass network rollout of LTE is still a way off in the UK, so a lack of LTE isn't really a good enough reason to cross a handset off your list.
It's hard to come to any kind of definitive conclusion about the Eluga without testing its call quality and mobile data performance, not to mention its media credentials. But from the time I spent with it today it certainly seems like a worthy addition to the Android stable.
Rest assured that I'll be badgering Panasonic about a production-ready review sample as soon as I'm back in the UK, so check back for the full review.