“Amongst the sea of octa-core devices, the P81 successfully stands apart in terms of its design and customised user interface, not to mention the included freebies”
India’s burgeoning smartphone market is attracting the attention of established and new manufacturers alike. Perhaps this is the reason why Panasonic is producing mobile phones specifically for emerging markets like India, even though it has pulled out of the segment from other countries including its home country Japan. The brand made its re-entry in India last year with a couple of smartphones, but they were aimed at the affordable tier. Now the Japanese brand is ready to make a big splash in the market with its flagship device, the P81 targeted at the upper mid-range segment. This is a segment where consumers hope to get more than what they’re paying for and Panasonic surely has tried to make sure that its latest offering does that. So, is Panasonic P81 the smartphone you should check out in this segment or does it lack something when pitted against its competitors? Let’s find out.
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The Panasonic P81 is built around a 5.5-inch display and with such a large display, there’s no denying the fact that it’s big. It has large dimensions and it takes a while to get used to the size if you’re migrating from a smaller-sized handset. However, what the brand has done well is to keep the overall weight of the device on the lower side and therefore, it feels good in the hands.
Apart from the display, the phablet has the usual array of touch-sensitive keys below and earpiece, front snapper, notification LED and ambient light sensor above. However, the functionality of the home key has been tweaked – while the usual Android devices show recent apps with a single tap and Google Now with a double tap, the P81 has exactly the opposite. If you tap the key once, then it’ll open Google Now and recently-opened apps are shown when you tap it twice. The smartphone has a chrome strip running across the rim that also houses all the controls. The power button is available on the right edge, whereas the volume keys can be found on the opposite side. A 3.5mm jack is present at the top and a micro-USB port for charging and data transfers is at the bottom.
Flip the Panasonic P81 over and you’ll see a different texture rear cover. We must applaud Samsung here as even though we hoped that the company will break its ties with plastic construction for its smartphones, it came with a faux-leather back cover for its flagship phablet, the Galaxy Note 3. The P81 sports the same finish, and even though it’s not comparable to a metal body, the leatherette finish does improve the grip of the device and lends a distinct look to it. Another reason we liked the textured panel is that it doesn’t slip even when your palms are sweaty after continuous usage.
Opening the back cover gives access to the SIM card slots as well as microSD card slot. The battery of the phablet is also removable. The plastic construction of the device is easily hidden by the textured back and chrome rim, and thus imparts premium looks to it.
For the protection of the screen and the device, Panasonic is bundling along a screen guard and a flip cover with the P81. The flip cover can be attached to the back of the smartphone. Its back is very glossy and prone to fingerprints though. The leather flap at the front of the cover has a pocket inside to stow business cards or credit cards.
As mentioned before, the Panasonic P81 flaunts a large 5.5-inch display featuring a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels. Although the pixel density seems low at 267 pixel-per-inches, the display is absolutely gorgeous. Needless to say that the enormous display adds to the enjoyment while watching movies or even doing serious work like reading documents or browsing through webpages. Even under sunlight, the screen is easily viewable and automatic brightness takes care of required luminance.
The phablet supports five-point multitouch and the touchscreen is extremely responsive.
The smartphone is supplied with a 13-megapixel shooter at the back, accompanied by an LED flash for capturing details in poor lighting conditions. Panasonic has customised the camera app interface providing options like flash and camera switcher at the bottom right and settings options at the top left. The settings menu offers the ability to modify scene modes, white balance, shooting delay, ISO, saturation, contrast and exposure among others. It also gives you the option to capture burst pictures, select default storage for saving pictures and videos. Swiping from the left provides your option to click images in Standard, Negative, Sepia and more modes. It also offers HDR, Panorama and GIF mode for capturing images.
In terms of the image quality, the 13-meg shooter on the Panasonic P81 results in below average images. The details are missing and colours seem oversaturated. We found HDR mode to be quite ineffective and automatic white balance was also off the mark indoors. Also, like many smartphone snappers, it fails in low-light conditions with pictures turning out to be quite grainy. Here are a few camera samples from the device (click on them to view them in the original size). Check our camera review of the P81 for more image samples.
For video, the device is capable of recording full HD video at 30 frames per second.
At the front, the P81 has a 2MP camera that can be used for video calls or taking selfies.
While the device is based on Android 4.4.2 Jelly Bean, it’s been overlaid with the Japanese brand’s custom interface dubbed Play More. The change is not just in few areas, it starts right from the lockscreen and home screen to even basic apps like dialler and messages.
A custom theme manager allows you to choose either Business or Black Pearl theme, change wallpapers for the lockscreen, home screen and app launcher and even change system fonts (though you have to download them yourself). The manager also provides option to select the colour of default apps from black, blue and green along with choosing the effects while swiping from one home screen to other. You can also choose effects for the app launcher. That’s not it, the theme manager also allows you to select ringtones for calls and messages for both of the SIMs. With the help of the manager, you can also hide apps which you don’t want to be visible to others.
The notification panel is also slightly different from the usual. The quick settings menu is a stream of different toggles along with quick access to some of the P81’s special features.
The dialler app isn’t much different from stock Android except the different interface that also offers the option to call from either of the SIMs. However, one interesting thing in the app is the auto-call recording that can record all your calls. It also gives the option to specify contacts where the recording should be done or whether it should be done for all contacts and calls. You can also select a message from different rejection SMS templates (or let you create one) that can be sent automatically to the calls you’ve rejected.
The messages app also comes with its own suite of differentiations both in terms of interface and functionality. It has two modes called Chat mode and Folder mode. The Chat mode is the same one that we see in modern day smartphones with messages from the same person grouped together in one thread. On the other hand, the Folder mode is reminiscent of good ol’ Symbian days where all the messages are stored in different folders such as Inbox, Outbox, Sent, etcetera. You can also delete or add the folders in this mode. You can also mark the messages as important that can be accessed via ‘important message’ folder or lock them making sure they can’t be deleted. The app also lets you send auto-replies to messages directly. One useful feature is that the app lists all the unread SMS together.
The contacts app is also fully customised with some nifty additions. While searching for contacts, instead of displaying the full keyboard at the bottom or a vertical list of alphabets, it shows a panel on the right side of the screen called L-panel. This makes it easier to type the name of the contact you’re looking for. You can also select to view the contacts alphabetically or according to frequency of your communication.
Although the phablet comes preloaded with the Chrome browser, it also has its own browser that offers a variety of features. Other default apps such as clock, FM Radio, and Notes have also been customised. Instead of gallery, it has a Snap Box app for viewing the images from camera and other places. You can also edit the images by adding effects, enhancements, putting a frame around them and more.
Some of the other preinstalled apps in the device are Torch, VIERA remote2 (controlling Panasonic VIERA TV with the smartphone), Kingsoft Office, Modern Combat 4 demo, Music Café, Sony LIV, etc. Panasonic is also advertising freebies with the P81 in the form of three-month subscription to digital magazines from India Today group, a six-month premium account of Evernote, and downloading magazines and comics worth Rs 5,000 via the readwhere app. You also get unlimited music download from the Hungama app for a period of 30 days.
The most advertised feature of the P81, along with some other recent Panasonic smartphones, is Gesture Play. Basically it’s another mechanism of unlocking your device that works with a variety of gestures instead of swiping or using the pattern / PIN unlock. The good thing is that along with the unlock gesture, the feature lets you add any number of gestures to open an app or game straight from the lockscreen. However, there’s considerable delay in opening the apps. The feature can be found in the security settings under lockscreen, where you can add more gestures apart from the default ones for unlocking, and launching SMS and camera.
Design is not the only area where the P81 draws inspiration from Samsung. The device offers Multi Play feature, which just like Samsung’s Multi Window, allows you to open up to two apps together. It can be enabled by a single click on ‘App Window’ toggle in the quick settings menu in the notification bar. The handle to open the sidebar can be moved anywhere on the left or right side of the screen. Sadly, it offers limited number of apps such as the default browser, messages, popup video player and notes.
The popup video player is also available as an standalone app allowing you to open a video in just a portion of the screen and drag it anywhere. However, this mode only allows you to play or pause the video, and complete playback controls are only available in the fullscreen.
Overall there are several customisations in the UI of the smartphone. However, apart from Gesture Play and Multi Play, none of them are incredibly useful.
Performance is the real area where the Panasonic P81 shines, thanks to the use of MediaTek's octa-core MT6592 chipset, clocked at 1.7GHz. The SoC is a rage amongst most Indian manufacturers who want to provide top-notch performance at a mid-range pricing. MediaTek’s marketing the chip as true octa-core for the simple reason being that any app or game can take advantage of all the eight cores at the full clock speed to deliver blazingly-fast performance. A gigabyte of RAM supplements the processor and the result is a smooth functioning of the smartphone. The device never slowed down even once, no matter what we threw at it. Playing graphics-loaded games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Riptide GP2 also turned out to be very smooth experience without any lags.
However, the P81 is also plagued by the same problem that other MT6592-powered devices face. It gets hot quite easily with just 15 to 20 minutes of gameplay or high-def video playback. As such it doesn’t affect the performance of the device, plus thanks to the leatherette rear panel, you don’t feel uncomfortable while holding it. While gaming is the extreme use-case where we noticed the heating issue, there were several other instances when the device heated up after prolonged use of camera or some other app.
Compared to its peers, the only aspect where it seems lacking is the inclusion of just 1GB of RAM. Many other devices in its price range offer twice the RAM, which comes in really handy while multitasking. Although we won’t consider it as the drawback of the P81 since we didn’t face any issues during our usage, but it might become a sore point for some of the prospective buyers of the device.
In the storage department, the phablet is equipped with 8GB built-in memory. While most of it is utilised by the operating system and various resources, users do get access to approximately 5.28GB storage for saving their personal files and installing apps or games. It can also be further extended up to 32GB by making use of a microSD card. Sadly, the phablet misses out on the USB On-the-Go capabilities.
When it comes to battery life, the removable 2,500mAh battery manages to run the phablet through an entire working day. If your usage is low, then it can even last longer. Otherwise, even with battery-draining features like 3G, GPS, and wireless tethering, the device doesn’t disappoint in terms of battery life. The Panasonic P81 was able to play a 720p video in the loop mode for eight hours, with the volume and brightness set to 50 percent, and all other features turned off apart from cellular connectivity.
Like most of the smartphones these days, the device comes preloaded with a Power saver app for enhancing battery life. When the battery reaches below a certain point, it can turn off features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and also reduce brightness, screen timeout time, etc. Furthermore, it has different modes such as normal, power effective and long standby which can be modified in terms of brightness, screen timeout, Bluetooth and auto-sync of apps. It also offers an app-based saver mode to kill apps or games that seem to be consuming a lot of battery.
Summing it up, Panasonic has taken a step in the right direction with the P81 and priced it well considering its specifications. The device has a sticker price of Rs 18,990 and thanks to the price war between online retail websites, it can be purchased for as low as Rs 17,000.
However, the smartphone is in a highly-competitive arena pitted against devices such as the XOLO Q3000, Gionee Gpad G4, Karbonn Titanium Hexa in terms of the screen size. It also faces competition from octa-core chipset-laden devices as well, like the Intex Aqua Octa, Micromax Canvas Knight (review), Alcatel OneTouch Idol X+ (first impressions). But apart from the Intex Aqua Octa, none of these devices match the combination of large screen with powerful innards. On top of that, Panasonic has been able to differentiate it successfully from other smartphones in terms of its design and customised user interface, plus freebies in the form of useful apps and protective flip cover. If you're looking for a large screen device with powerful specs, then you can't go wrong with the Panasonic P81.
Photos and video by Pratik Vyas
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