Entering the Indian smartphone market is not an easy proposition. The market is flooded with a number of local vendors who are blooming thanks to the market for low-cost Android smartphones, and the high-end is dominated by Samsung and Apple, while Nokia and BlackBerry make do with the left overs. Panasonic at one time used to compete in the feature phone market in the mid-2000s, but it was not able to compete against the might of Nokia. Fast forward eight years, the Japanese giant is back and this time around it has outsourced production of its phones so that a more localized product is created for the price sensitive Indian market. The Panasonic P51 is synthesis of this dream. If this works out well in India, then Panasonic will replicate this strategy in other emerging markets. Read on to find out if the Panasonic P51 has what it takes to succeed in the Indian market.
These days with full touch screen smartphones there isn’t a lot of room for innovation in terms of design. The Panasonic P51 is no stranger to that. It offers more of the same. A full glass front and plastic back seems like a standard affair these days and the P51 delivers exactly that. That being said, one must commend the company for upping the ante in terms of build quality. The P51 feels like a high-end smartphone with good quality plastic unlike Samsung’s Galaxy range of smartphones.
The Panasonic P51 has a unibody design which means users cannot replace the battery and the entire assembly is an integrated unit. On the back, Panasonic uses a matte plastic finish that feels very nice to hold and is quite similar to the HTC Butterfly. It’s slightly rubberized, but a nice thing to have rather than the slimy gloss of cheap plastic. The biggest disadvantage of this finish is that it gets smudged very easily.
The back also houses the 8-megapixel camera, the LED flash and the speaker grill. The camera module protrudes beyond the frame of the smartphone like a periscope of sorts, which also results in the phone struggling to lay flat on a surface while resting on its back.
The P51 is incredibly slender at 8.5mm and weighs just 135 grams, so it is also quite light to hold. Due to its large footprint it feels a little too thin at times, but should not be a deal breaker for anyone. On the right hand side one will find the microSD card slot and slightly above it on the top right hand corner, one will find the volume rocker keys.
The top right corner from above the display houses the power button. We did not like the placement of the button as it is almost impossible to reach with a single stretch and involves repositioning the device in one’s hand. We dropped the phone twice while attempting to do so. The top is also home to the 3.5mm jack.
On the left, Panasonic has added the twin micro-SIM slots. Interestingly, it’s the first dual-SIM phone on the market to feature a micro-SIM slot instead of a mini-SIM slot. Both the SIM slots are covered with a plastic door. We found the door to be finicky and we think it could fall off pretty quickly, after some extended use. The left is also home to the micro-USB slot.
The front is home to a glorious 5-inch 720p IPS display. Above the display one will find the front facing camera, the ear piece and the standard array of sensors. There are no capacitive buttons as Panasonic utilizes on screen controls. This was indeed a nice touch and we hope more OEMs will follow suit.
Generally, we found the Panasonic P51 to be an extremely well built smartphone. We liked the way it looked, some would even call it handsome, but its flaws were mainly ergonomic, as the button placement was not ideal and could have been better.
As a first attempt, the Panasonic P51 really impressed with its industrial design, but it disappoints us with its hardware. Long story short, a phone that costs Rs 26,900 should not be powered by a processor that is used in sub-Rs 15,000 phones. We are talking about the quad-core MediaTek MT6589 chips that is clocked at 1.2GHz. Obviously, the user experience is what matters, but because of the underpowered chipset the performance suffers. We will further elaborate on this in the performance section.
Additionally, there is 1GB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, which is also little stingy for a phone that costs so much. Thankfully, there is a microSD card slot, so one can expand their storage by up to 32GB. That said, this still is unacceptable because the P51 in price segment competes with stalwarts like the Galaxy S III which packs in more memory and a processor that’s probably twice as fast.
As we mentioned before it has an 8-megapixel camera and a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera, which on paper is par for the course. Unlike the memory, Panasonic is not short changing the consumer in terms of battery as the device comes with a mammoth 2,500-mAh battery.
But the star of the show is the 5-inch IPS display that is reinforced with Asahi Dragon Trail glass. It is just magnificent. It delivers stunning viewing angles, deep blacks and natural colors that are vivid yet don’t pop out with oversaturation something we associate with Super AMOLED displays like on the Galaxy S III. We found the color palette of the P51 to be on the cooler side and it had a minute blue hue to it when we opened screens that were dead white.
Even legibility in direct sunlight was decent and the display was brilliant for both watching videos, viewing images or reading text. We believe it to be one of the best 5-inch 720p displays in the market which is a class above the likes of the Micromax Canvas HD. Actually, we’d say it’s even better than the Super AMOLED display on the Galaxy S III which does have a green hue too it because of its Pentile pixel arrangement and the colors feel a little unnatural.
Additionally, Panasonic also throws in a free stylus and a flip magnetic flip cover with the product. Our review unit did not have the stylus though had the flip cover.
One of the best things about the Panasonic P51 is that it runs on the latest version of Android. It runs on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, so users get access to things like lockscreen widgets and toggle switches various settings via the pull down menu.
It is also running on a rather stock version of Android and feels quite unadulterated. Unfortunately, Panasonic felt the need to customize the icons and animations. Our biggest quibble is with the animations as Panasonic has replaced the default Android animations with something that gives the illusion of lag. The transition is a little abrupt, and it’s just not smooth. It’s actually quite similar to what Samsung implements on TouchWiz app drawer.
Panasonic has also preloaded a number of applications on the device. Some would call these apps bloatware, but a lot of these apps are quite useful, though the average user can also download them for free via the Google Play store. The device comes preloaded with CamCard, the Economic Times, Evernote, CamScanner, Kingsoft Office, and WeChat, to name a few.
The problem is that because Panasonic has been so stingy with the onboard memory, all these preloaded apps just leave the user with around 1.6GB of available memory. This is almost sacrilege in this day and age.
Unlike some modern smartphones like the Galaxy S4, the Panasonic P51 also comes with a built-in FM Radio something which Indian consumers like.
At first brush the Panasonic P51 seems to be a perfectly fine smartphone. The performance is smooth, and while the animations in the device give the illusion of a discernable lag, the real world performance of the device is very good for day-to-day use.
But because the phone runs on the MediaTek MT66589 chip which is basically a quad-core ARM Cortex A7 based CPU with cores clocked at 1.2GHz, there are limitations and for a phone that costs in excess of Rs 25,000 this is unacceptable. It also has 1GB of RAM, but that does not help offsetting the limitations of SoC.
In terms of synthetic benchmarks, The Panasonic P51 performs slightly better than the Micromax Canvas HD, but it pales in comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S III that is powered by the powerful Exynos 4412 chipset.
Graphically too the performance is behind the curve when compared to devices running more sophisticated quad-core ARM Cortex A9 based devices. Yes, if one is interested in playing games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja then one will be hard pressed to find a gulf in performance, but the moment we talk about graphically intensive games like Real Racing 3 things turn sour. Firstly, installing the game itself was a painful process because we were first asked to free up some memory, but then when we managed to do that there was a solid gulf in graphical chops.
The camera performance was a mixed bag of sorts. While it locked focus very quickly, we found out that phones like the Galaxy S III had a wider lens. Images captured in well-lit conditions came out well, but in low-light like most smartphone cameras, the images were riddled with graining issues. Performance while shooting videos was solid. We’d say that it was a notch above the Micromax Canvas HD but again was not comparable to the Galaxy S III or the HTC One X.
Panasonic packs in a 2,500-mAh battery in P51 and the phone easily lasted beyond a day on a single charge while we ran the phone on 3G networks. We’d benchmark the battery life to be between 27-29 hours in a week of testing the device. Our testing involved about 2 hours of calls on a daily basis, an hour of web browsing, constant updating of social networks, a bit of photography, streaming music while Google Play music for about 45 mins and a bit of photography (5-7 pictures per day).
Call quality seemed alright, while it was not the best in areas like a basement, it was par for the course. If we had to compare, we could say it was as good as the LG Optimus G.
For a phone that costs Rs 26,900, the Panasonic P51 offers a great screen, a slim and sexy chassis, great build quality, solid battery life and runs on the latest version of Android. It falls short in terms of pure performance and offers stingy amount of internal memory, which means it’s hard to recommend over luminaries like the Galaxy S III, which offers more or less of the above with a much more powerful chipset, and a better camera, for about the same price.
We have heard reports that Panasonic now sells the P51 for Rs 22,390 after it faced a negative reaction from the press regarding the launch of the phone. However, this still does not absolve the device of its performance limitations as the Micromax Canvas HD basically offers the exact feature set for Rs 14,990. That said, we do believe that the Panasonic P51 has a much better display and build than the Canvas HD.
It is difficult to recommend the P51 considering one can get a better pedigree device like the Galaxy S III for slightly more and get much better camera, processor and internal storage. On the flip side, one can get the Micromax Canvas HD for far cheaper and get similar hardware. Having said that, the Panasonic P51 could make a compelling case if it is priced south of Rs 20,000.
Photographs: Sawani Kumar and Namrata Juneja