Panasonic, the Japanese tech manufacturer, is making a renewed push into South Africa this year. The company began reselling items from its extensive product roster in 2015, a year that saw the company grow by 300%. In 2016, it’s looking to do a lot better, especially in South Africa, a country that the company sees deep promise and opportunity.
As with the likes of Hisense, Panasonic will be putting together 12 television sets in the country in plants in Cape Town, Pretoria north and Johannesburg, which will likely bring some stimulus into the country’s industrial sectors and economy as a whole.
But perhaps most interestingly, the company’s also planning a slew of new smartphones. And when I say a slew, I mean an armada.
At its Senseperience press and vendor event in Johannesburg, it had seven on display, covering almost every corner of the market. From the budget-minded, to the phablet lover, to the practical-first user — Panasonic’s clearly trying to get its products into as many South African hands as possible.
So, on that note, here are four mobile phones from Panasonic’s onslaught that might cause a stir in 2016.
Let’s start with the T45. It’s the company’s middle child, but was launched mid-2015 internationally. It’s age isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. The rear of the phone is dominated by a patchwork of vinyl textured plastics sultry to the touch. The back is also bowed to a degree, which will make table top smartphone users a bit annoyed but ensures that the phone is easy to grasp.
Sticking around at the back end for a bit, there’s a 5MP rear camera with a circa-1900s VGA snapper up front. And joining that selfie cam is a 4.5-inch 854×480 screen, perhaps better suited to general use as opposed to high-quality media consumption.
Hard specs include a MediaTek MT6735M 1.0GHz quad-core CPU mated to 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage alongside dual SIM support and LTE. There is a microSD card slot as well capable of housing 32GB cards. And lastly, a 1800mAh battery completes the package.
As for the price? Panasonic’s looking to push the device to market within the next eight weeks for around R1500.
The Eluga range is the company’s upper tier, and the ARC tries to look the part.
It’s distinctly reminiscent of the iPhone however, but boasts a more aggressively tapered back with smoother exterior. This also gives it a trim and clean side profile.
Up front, the ARC boasts a 4.7-inch 1280×720 screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 CPU running four cores at 1.2GHz, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. There’s also a fingerprint scanner at its rear, as well as an 8MP rear camera with autofocus. There’s a 5MP snapper up front for selfie capturing.
The company hopes to get this device to market at R2500, which will make it one of the cheapest devices with a fingerprint reader in SA. And note, this is one of the company’s brand new devices.
The Eluga Z is such a strange device. On the one hand, it was demoed with Android KitKat, but it also has one of the most gorgeous OLED displays I’ve seen on a smartphone. It’s a 5.0-inch unit, with a 1280×720 resolution, but the colours are lustrous, deep and extremely vivid. The phone itself is also just 6.85 mm thick.
Power-wise, it also boasts a 1.4GHz octa-core CPU, with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage (with room for a 32GB microSD card too if things get crowded).
There’s a 13MP snapper at the back too, which does protrude a little from the body, and is located in the very top left corner of the phone. Weird.
Still, a 5MP sensors pulls front camera duties, while the entire package is boosted by a 2050mAh battery.
Overall, it’s a wholly complete package bar the ridiculously dated OS choice, but luckily that’s something that can be changed by Panasonic. We unfortunately don’t have a price point for this one, but expect it to be much less than R4500.
Finally, the flagship of the range.
The Eluga Mark looks a lot like Huawei’s Mate range, but boasts a 5.5-inch 1280×720 screen and not a 6.0-inch pocket splitter. It’s also the youngest device, launched globally in December 2015. As a result, it gets a newer chipset — the Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core, with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. There’s a microSD card expansion as customary on Panasonic devices, with room for 32GB cards.
There’s room for two SIMS as well — another Panasonic tradition it seems — with LTE capabilities.
The same camera combination as the Eluga Z is employed, which includes a 13MP snapper at the back and a 5MP at the front. Additionally, a fingerprint scanner’s also present, joining the Eluga ARC in that regard, but thanks to its larger body, there’s a larger fixed battery at 2500mAh while the phone runs on Android Lollipop 5.1.
Overall, this is the most exciting of the smartphones on show, but the price is the real deal maker. Panasonic hopes to retail it for R4500, which will throw the cat amongst the mid-range pigeons.
Panasonic executives made it clear that the company has a long way to go yet to penetrate South African consumer’s conscious, and re-earn their respect. We’ll see something of a marketing push from the company in the coming months, and within the next three months, we’ll likely see the first smartphones hit our shores.
While I could criticise the company for not boasting a discerning and recognisable design theme or language running through its product lines, the phones (if they feature at the company’s projected price points) will offer great value for money.
We’ll be sure to bring you reviews of the company’s devices throughout the course of the year.