"At first glance, the Panasonic P81 comes across as a VFM phablet with worthy specs and useful software features"
Panasonic unleashed its latest flagship, the P81 in India today, and we were on hand to witness the launch. Positioned in the mid-range, the Panasonic P81 is a large-screened Android devices supporting dual SIMs, and the manufacturer has tried to load it up with every trick in the book in an attempt to project it as an all-rounder. And at first glance, it seems Panasonic has succeeded to a large extent. The mid-range smartphone category is a hotly-contested space, even when focussing on just the large-screened ones, and any device that comes up in this segment is bound to face stiff competition from local and multinational brands alike. Panasonic still has a strong brand name to back it up though, but that alone won't guarantee success. While it's tough to pinpoint the exact formula, it does seem that the dual-SIM P81 has enough to attract the potential buyer, including its sticker price of Rs 18,990.
We got a chance to unbox and play with a demo unit of the P81 at the launch event, and this is how it played out.
The large retail box looks quite attractive, and we barely noted that before we tore off the shrink wrap and removed the lid to reveal the device resting inside. The box is divided into compartments, with the smartphone resting on a cardboard tray on one side. On the other side, a two-pin wall charger, a USB to micro-USB cable and a wired in-ear headset have been placed.
After pulling out the tray with the smartphone, we came across the included flip cover and the screen protector. The flip cover is very similar to what Gionee includes with its Elife E7, sporting a leather-finished front and a glossy-finished back done up in black plastic.
The removable 2,500mAh battery pack was packed separately in the box. The usual warranty leaflets make up the rest of the box contents.
When it came to the device itself, the first thing we noticed is the black rear fashioned out of faux leather – very similar to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Note 3 Neo. The P81 is only available in black, and felt quite sturdy despite its slimness. A 13-megapixel primary shooter is on offer.
The port placement is typical – with the power key on the right, micro-USB port at the bottom, headset socket on top, and volume keys on the left. A chrome-finished band running across the sides adds a touch of flair.
The back panel on the Panasonic P81 feels similarly thin when we pried it open, revealing the battery compartment, the pair of SIM slots (that accept regular-sized SIMs) and the microSD card slot. Note that 3G is only supported on the first SIM slot.
The P81 was ready for action after we inserted the battery and held the power key. The 5.5-inch 720p display came to life, and took us through the initial setup process. That screen dominates things in the front of course, and you'll also find three capacitive backlit keys below it.
Panasonic has put a lot of thought to the UI and the software features, and though the P81 runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, the interface is totally custom. The first feature is evident on the lockscreen itself. Dubbed Gesture Play, it lets you utilise gestures to perform various actions. For example, you can draw the letter 'U' to unlock, or a rectangle to launch the camera straight from the lockscreen. These gestures are customisable, so you can add your own to launch commonly-used apps – 'e' to launch Evernote, for example (or 'a' for Angry Birds... we won't judge you, we promise).
Another highlighted software feature is called Multi Play, and this includes something tagged Dual Play – a take on Samsung's multi-window feature that lets you use two apps simultaneously. Enabled via a shortcut on the notification bar, it presents a sidebar with various apps that can be used in the Dual Play mode. You should be able to add your own apps to this list too, and the sidebar can be docked to either side of the screen.
Pop-i Player, a video player that lets you view videos in small floating windows so that you can work on something else alongside is also preloaded, as is a Device Cleaner to kill background tasks and free up the RAM. Panasonic has also provided quite a few options to customise the look and feel of the interface by adding support for themes and letting you change colours and fonts.
Powered by MediaTek's octa-core processor ticking at 1.7GHz and helped along by 1GB of RAM, the P81 seems zippy enough. It didn't show any signs of lag in the brief time we played with it, while the screen looks quite sharp and vibrant too. The 8GB of internal storage (about 5.5GB out of which is user accessible), seems a tad low, but thankfully, you do get that microSD card slot to add more.
We'll have more on the Panasonic P81 shortly, when we get the chance to put it through our extensive review process and see what it's really made of, figuratively speaking. As usual, watch this space!
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