Panasonic returns to the European smartphone market with the Eluga

Panasonic ElugaPanasonic’s mobile phone division took its leave of the rest of the world back in 2006, preferring to concentrate its efforts on Japan instead, where it has since seen considerable success and now controls around 20-percent of the market.

However, re-entering the international phone arena has never been too far from Panasonic’s mind, and at the end of last year the company announced plans to start selling smartphones in Europe again this year.

It has serious aspirations too, with sales projections of 1.5 million handsets between now and March next year, and ultimately commanding a market share in the “double digits.” With Nokia and Samsung running away with nearly 50-percent of the European market combined, Panasonic could have Sony Ericsson in its sights, as it trails with 13-percent market share.

Finding traction isn’t going to be easy though, with Europe considered a “saturated and very competitive market” by research analysts Gartner, who’re also surprised by Panasonic’s decision to return, saying “why they would pick this market to try to find renewed growth is a mystery.”

A return to North America would be similarly challenging, with an incredible 60-percent of market share split between Samsung, LG and Motorola. On a global scale, if a company as successful as Apple hasn’t reached a double digit market share yet, Panasonic needs to have something very special planned for its big return.

Eluga

Panasonic Eluga ScreenPanasonic took the wrappings off the phone with which it’s planning to return yesterday, and it’s the same device it previewed back in December last year. Named the Eluga, which according to The Telegraph stands for “elegant user gateway,” it’s a super-slim Android phone with a big touchscreen.

Nothing new so far then, so we’ll move on to the spec sheet. The Eluga’s screen measures 4.3-inches and has a qHD 960 x 540 pixel resolution, while a 1Ghz dual-core Texas Instruments processor and 1GB of RAM beats away at its heart.

Google Android 2.3 Gingerbread is the operating system of choice, but Panasonic promises an update to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich will be coming over the summer months.

The slim chassis measures just 7.8mm and weighs 103 grams, making it slimmer and lighter than the already lithe Samsung Galaxy S II, plus the phone is waterproof and dust-proof to IP57 standards. This means it should survive a dip in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes, and be happy in a desert storm for eight hours.

Other features include NFC connectivity, GPS, Wi-Fi, an 8-megapixel camera with auto-focus, DLNA and 8GB of internal memory with a microSD card slot to give this a boost.

Will it be a success?

Only time will tell, but Panasonic hasn’t made life very easy by not launching with Android Ice Cream Sandwich already installed. Mobile World Congress is almost certain to see many Android 4.0 devices unveiled, and yet another Android 2.3 phone will easily get lost in the crowd.

Likewise with the processor, as a dual-core 1Ghz chip was exciting in the summer of 2011, but less so nearly a year later.

On the positive side, NFC is a welcome addition and could help future-proof the phone to a degree, while an Eco Mode could extend the life of the battery between charges, and the device will play well with other Panasonic products. This includes the ability to use DLNA to send video to your Panasonic TV, plus a dedicated app to control Panasonic Blu-ray players and even digital cameras.

It looks good too, with a striking design that for once, doesn’t resemble the iPhone.

The Eluga is set to go on sale in April for around £400/$635 SIM-free, but there’s no word as yet whether Panasonic will be bringing the phone to the USA or other international markets.

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