Now, I've been eulogising about 'proper' flashes in smartphone cameras since the Nokia N82, back in 2007. And by 'proper', I mean a Xenon flash, just as you'd find in a standalone camera. The Sony Ericsson Satio and Nokia N8 and then 808, all running Symbian, kept the rant alive, but elsewhere Xenon flash has been almost non-existent. Yet now we have rumours of new Nokia Lumias, running Windows Phone 8 and (allegedly) having Xenon bulbs, along with (also rumoured) Sony's upcoming 'Honami' handset and Samsung's Galaxy S4 'Zoom'. In short, 2013 is (probably) about to become the year that Xenon flash finally makes the journey from Symbian into Windows Phone 8 and mainstream Android.
Recent Features - S60 3rd Edition
In the second of an occasional tutorial series (here's the first part, looking at a murky scene-made-good taken on the Nokia Lumia 920), I take a recent photo of mine, also shot on a smartphone, in this case the Nokia 808 PureView, and show the quick-fire thought processes that went into creating it. Again, the tutorial is applicable to all phone camera users and again my aim is to get you thinking more when you next want to snap something photogenic. Comments welcome if I've helped and/or succeeded!
So 2013 saw the first 6"-screened 'phone' (the Huawei Ascend Mate). Greeted with a degree of shock by most, would you be surprised to know that my 'smart' device of choice back in 1997, a whopping sixteen years ago, also had a touchscreen with a 6" diagonal? Now that your jaw has hit the floor, let me suggest you glance at the chart below, proposing that large screened devices have, for tech fans preferring to live on the cutting edge, always been available and that impressions of a gradual size creep are more for the wider market.
Throughout the history of PDAs and smartphones (so we're talking 20 years), one particular design battle has been raging, seemingly without a victor. From which you have to conclude that the battle is quite evenly matched. Yet I disagree, arguing that, from the user's point of view, there's a very definite winner, while manufacturers have a different preference and slant on this particular aspect of design.
With the arrival of the HTC One for Phones Show review, and with its imaging pretensions ("ultrapixels"!), what better opportunity than to put it up against the best camera-toting smartphones on both Symbian and Windows Phone? In the shape of the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 920. Oh yes, and, by popular request, I introduce an imposter from 2007 to the competition, the Nokia N95 classic, the world's first smartphone with a decent camera (and sensor size and megapixel quotient that's still comparable). How will that fare against the class of 2012 and 2013?
Picture the scene.... The snow falls gently, settling around the cars and houses.... The fire is lit and the living room is nicely warm. Your nearest and dearest are gathered round, talking and giving presents and enjoying the day. Kids are playing, excitedly. When all of a sudden... FLASH! A sheet of white light, illuminating the whole room. Not, as it turns out, accompanied by angels singing, for this isn't a divine event but a clued up geek using his smartphone with Xenon flash. Yes, it's that time of the year again, a true Christmas tradition. It's time for Steve's Xenon rant. And with more impetus than ever this year, now that standalone cameras have been all but eliminated from homes across the world.
Whichever smartphone you're currently rocking or aspiring to, the chances are that there will be a certain amount of extra hardware that you'll find helps you get through the day, enhancing what the phone does and helping it do it for longer. Here, in a somewhat personal, though fairly cross-platform selection, I pick my top dozen smartphone accessories. Don't sneer at the back, I bet you get grabbed by a few of these too....
I've commented before at length (and quoted below) on the pros and cons of having sealed batteries in our smartphones, i.e. batteries which can only be removed or changed at your manufacturer's designated service centre. My stated bullet points are all very well, but I've now had direct experience in the last month that strongly leads me to declare having a sealed battery as a showstopper, for me personally, at least. Below is my tale of woe and a handy table of which smartphones are vulnerable to potential disaster in this way.
Now, there's an element of guesswork in what follows, but I did want to address the issue of camera phone design, specifically the use of PureView 'phase 2' for the new Nokia Lumia 920, using Optical Image Stabilisation, large F2.0 lens and faster, brighter LED flash instead of simply using a proper 'Xenon' flash. Using back of envelope-style calculations, I try to draw some conclusions, though one thought keeps popping up in my head: if I was heading to a party or down the pub, I think I'd get better snaps from my 2007 Nokia N82 than the (late) 2012 Nokia Lumia 920. Controversial, me?
The 'my phone (or smartphone platform) is better than yours' debates across the tech world rage on, somewhat amusingly. Yes, I know that megabucks are involved, that sales of successful products now reach into the many tens of millions, that each launch is bigger and better funded than the last. But I also can't help notice that we've only been seeing gradual improvements for the last five years and that, in truth, I could happily use almost any top-end device from that entire period to accomplish all the things I need a smartphone to do.