Panasonic's new Eluga series will appeal to those who want their smart phones compact yet capable
Please bear me while I narrate an old story: I assure you it is relevant to the job on hand. Some years ago when Nokia was still the biggest names for phones in India, I happened to meet a sociologist hired by that company to figure out what the mass of mobile phone users wanted. Among the blinding insights that he took back to Finland was the fact that Indian males by and large, did not carry their phones in their trouser pockets or in a belt pouch as so much of Europe did at the time. Instead, they carried them in their shirt pockets. His report, of which he gave me a sneak peek, stated that the reason Indians did not carry phones in their pants was that so many of them did not wear pants, but a pocket-less dhoti or mundu. The only pocket came with their shirts. So Nokia slimmed down some of their Indian flagships so that they could be accommodated in a shirt pocket. That technology flowed back to the rest of the world, which soon embraced sleek and light phones-- for some time.
The trend died a few years ago, when people began using phones to watch movies and video whenever there was nothing else to do.... so the screens become bigger, the phones heavier, till phone morphed into phablet. Indeed the fastest moving phone size these days seems to be 5.5 to 6 inch—and one test they fail: You can't carry them in a shirt pocket, without looking very odd.
I belong to the unrepentent shirt pocket generation but of late I can hardly find a phone that fits—and also offers reasonably good specs. Which is why I am thrilled and delighted to report to fellow shirt pocket premis, that at least one company has found marketing logic in rolling out a smaller phone that does not compromise too much on performance.
Panasonic has announced plans to launch as many as 10 handsets before the Dussehra-Diwali season. And the first two have come to market: The Elga Ray A3 and A3 Pro.
Both have 5.2 inch 720p HD displays, which is a whisker short of full HD but at this screen size the difference will not be discernible. The cameras as a 13 MP rear with auto focus and an 8 MP front/selfie ... adequate for most casual photography. The system memory is 3 GB and the battery—4000 mAh—worked for me very well over a full day. Panasonic has eschewed bigger chip names and gone for the good value of a MediaTek processor and the A3 and A3 Pro use processor that have only a tiny difference in clock speed 1.25 and 1.3 GHZ which makes hardly any difference. The two models differ only in the storage— 16 GB for the A3 and 32GB for the A3Plus. Unless you are cash strapped, I would unhesitatingly go for the better storage of the A3Plus, because we seem to attract so much junk these days and the storage can seem inadequate very soon.
These are dual SIM 4G phones running on Android 7 and though there is no mention of an upgrade, that should be possible once Android 8 becomes available sometime after 2-3 months. On this phone I doubt it will make a great difference.
Panasonic brings to the Eluga series, a feature that mostly high end handsets offer—its proprietary smart assistant ARBO. This AI tool is a fast learner: It remembers your actions and starts to second guess very soon. You always use the Ola cab app rather than the Uber for your morning ride to office? ARBO will pull up Ola at your usual time. You regularly shop on BigBasket for groceries? ARBO will display any bargains on their site without your going there.. Small things maybe, but if you have the patience you can train ARBO in many useful ways.
In keeping with its pocketable size the phone is also light—161 grams—and thin--9.1 mm—while encased all in metal. A robust little fellow!
Panasonic suggests FlipKart, Amazon and eBay to buy the phones. All of them currently sell below the retail price and I could find the A3 for below Rs 11,00 and the A3Plus for just a hundred rupees or so above Rs 12,000.