You don't see many tablets outdoors. There are a few ways to explain this, but one of the easiest is the fact that these thin, expensive, glass-covered computers are fragile.
Unlike smartphones, which spend most of their lives protected in your pocket, tablets need a sleeve or bag to shelter them from nature's fury. Without one, an unexpected rain shower or a spilled glass of water could quickly put an end to your forward-thinking, tablet-embracing lifestyle.
The Pantech Element is a tablet that dares to go outside. Not only is this $299 (on contract) Android 3.2 tablet able to survive full submersion in up to 1 meter of water, but it's also blessed with AT&T's 4G LTE mobile data network.
Does the Pantech Element's added durability mean we'd recommend it over similar tablets? Let's take a look.
Design and features
At first glance, the Pantech Element doesn't seem much different from any other Android tablet we've come across. It's a little on the small side, with an 8-inch screen as opposed to the 10.1-inch screens found on most of its Android 3.2 (aka Honeycomb) siblings.
|Pantech Element||Motorola Xyboard 8.2||Kindle Fire||Nook Tablet|
|Weight in pounds||1||0.86||0.9||0.88|
|Width in inches (landscape)||8.1||8.5||7.5||8.1|
|Height in inches||5.9||5.5||4.7||5.1|
|Depth in inches||0.44||0.35||0.5||0.37|
|Side bezel width in inches (landscape)||0.81||0.75||0.44||0.12|
You'll notice something's different when you take a look at the sides of the tablet. All of its ports--the headphone jack, Micro-USB, HDMI, SIM slot, and microSD slot--are covered by plastic doors. This is one of Pantech's measures to waterproof the tablet, and these doors better be all closed up if you plan on putting its waterproofing to the test.
Not all of the Element's design choices are quite as thoughtful--at least, aesthetically. The position of the logos on the front and back would indicate that the tablet is intended to be used in a landscape orientation, but the location of the front-facing speaker and camera on the left of the screen makes you wonder if it should be held in portrait like a giant smartphone. You can use it either way, of course, but there's an odd visual tension looking at it.
Another small gripe is the use of a high-gloss finish on the back of the tablet, similar to the one used on the HP TouchPad. The slightest bit of finger grease gives it the texture of a rented bowling ball. But hey, since it's waterproof, you can just hose the thing down whenever it feels grimy.
In terms of hardware features, the Pantech Element offers many of the expected conveniences of its peers. You get a full gigabyte of system RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, Bluetooth 2.1, 802.11n Wi-Fi, GPS, accelerometer, compass, and cameras on both the front (2 megapixel) and back (5 megapixel), with the back camera being capable of capturing 720p video.
A couple of hardware features stand out. There's the 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor, which really does an impressive job of standing up to the 1.2GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 CPU found on the Motorola Droid Xyboard 8.2. There's also the integrated 4G LTE wireless data connectivity, which is a great pairing for a tablet designed to survive outdoor use.
With that said, the Pantech Element isn't the rough-and-tumble Indiana Jones tablet you might be hoping for. It survived a dive or two into the CNET fountain, and a prolonged submersion in the bathroom sink, but its plastic design still isn't the kind of thing we would kick down the stairs or expect to survive a dog mauling. To be fair, neither AT&T nor Pantech is marketing the Element as indestructible. Really, it's a fairly average Honeycomb tablet that you can keep poolside without worry. It's not meant to accompany you to Mt. Everest.
Let's also be clear that the Pantech Element can't be operated underwater. If you were looking for a scuba-worthy tablet, this won't do. In fact, capacitive touch screens in general don't play well with water, since they rely on the body's natural electrical capacitance and can be fooled by even just a few drops of water.
The Pantech Element ships with Android 3.2. It's completely conceivable that this tablet will receive an over-the-air update to Android 4.0, but no plans have been formally announced.