The Pantech Element isn't the best Android tablet on the market and it doesn't promise to be. But the Element is the only tablet I know of that can be dropped into a sink full of water or held under a faucet for a few minutes and come out unaffected -- two things I've done myself.
For that reason, the Element is a tablet that appeals to my gadget-loving heart, though it didn't entirely win me over.
While it may not be the most common of problems, nearly all of us know someone who has lost a cellphone, MP3 player or other gadget to water damage -- a pool, a toilet or a washing machine is often the culprit. Losing a device you use day in and day out is no fun at all. And while there are plenty of unexpected hazards out in the world, all too often, warranties for our devices don't protect against water damage.
If you're looking for a tablet you can use in the kitchen, around small children or in other potentially spill-prone environments, the Element is worth your consideration. Impressively, Pantech says the Element can go as deep as 3 feet into water for as long as 30 minutes.
But how is this tablet as an actual tablet? Not bad, but certainly not among my top choices for an Android slate to live with.
The Element is solid hardware, with a sturdy, hard plastic body and a balanced weight of 16.57 ounces. The back is slick but not slippery and the rounded edges are comfortable to hold in the hand. The Element's simple look reminds me a bit of the understated style of the deceased HP Touch Pad.
I like that the Element is largely logo-free on the back, with a nice carbon-fiber-looking design on the rear and a subtle, small dark gray AT&T 4G logo letting you know this device can run on the carrier's fastest network available.
I don't like the Pantech and AT&T logos on the front, sitting above the 8-inch screen (with a 1024 x 768 pixel resolution), but such logo placement is sadly a standard design choice with far too many Android devices.
The Element's touch screen always felt slightly slow to respond, and loading apps, websites and photos and videos on the 5-megapixel/720p camera on the back wasn't the fastest either, but speeds were consistent. The display offered visuals that looked good, but by no means high definition, despite a technically HD resolution screen.
Speaker placement on the Element is a bit odd, with a single speaker sitting on the front of the tablet, beside the display. I found myself, on multiple occasions, watching a video in landscape orientation with my hand covering the speaker -- not at all ideal. There's also a 2-megapixel front-facing camera right beside the speaker, which can be used for videos and photos as well.
Given that the Element is waterproof, its ports are thankfully covered with plastic doors -- including mini-USB and mini-HDMI ports, a microSD card slot, sim card slot and headphone jack. The doors feel somewhat sturdier than what I've seen on many phones and tablets, but they still feel as if they would eventually break off, which would likely compromise the waterproof feature that the Element touts so proudly.
Built-in storage comes in at 16 gigabytes (though the Element will accommodate a microSD card of up to 32 gigabytes) and the device has 1 gigabyte of RAM. The Element is powered by a 1.5-gigahertz dual-core processor and ships running Google's Android Honeycomb operating system.
The price, for this mid-range tablet, is reasonable as long as you're willing to sign a two-year data plan with AT&T. Off contract, the Element is overpriced compared with the (not waterproof) competition.
On contract, AT&T sells the Element for $299.99. For $249.99, the Element can be had with a free Android smartphone, the Pantech Burst (this offer is good only for those who sign a two-year data plan for both devices).
With no data plan, the Element runs $449.99.
Considering that superior-performing devices such as the iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Motorola Xyboard 10.1 start at just $50 more, and the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus and Xyboard 8.2 sell for $400, I can't see many consumers choosing the Element over what else is out there unless they absolutely need a waterproof tablet.
Hopefully, the Element and Xyboard (which is water-resistant but not waterproof), are the start of a trend of such features becoming standard rather than exceptional.