What could have been - anyone for a Xenon-capable Nokia Lumia 720X?

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Regular readers of AAS and AAWP will be used to periodic 'Xenon rants', in which I lambast the industry for producing phones that, over and over again, have cameras which frustrate normal end-users when trying to snap people indoors or after sunset. These devices test fine with static subjects, in the hands of reviewers, but then in the real world, results of LED-flash-shot photos are almost always disappointing. And now we have the announcement of the Nokia Lumia 720, with the specific angle of being a camera-centric smartphone pitched for 'young and design-savvy crowd with busy social lives'. If ever a handset deserved a Xenon flash....

I content that this then is what should have been announced yesterday. The Nokia Lumia 720X - note the Xenon flash bulb on the back instead of the usual LED unit:

The hypothetical Nokia Lumia 720X!

Perfect for the target audience. They're eating out most nights, partying several times a week, shooting casual shots in often badly lit clubs and apartments, and most of the photos will be of other people. Living, breathing, moving people. Which means that trying to freeze movement with an LED flash is doomed to disappointment. Trust me, I've taken hundreds of such test photos.

The only way forward for this scenario is to put in a proper (Xenon) camera flash. Up to ten times brighter and up to a hundred times faster in terms of illumination time. It would have been the perfect accompaniment to the other camera attributes in a new smartphone for this market. All of a sudden word would spread, as shot after shot of friends and colleagues enjoying themselves would come out crystal clear and frozen in time. "Wow, did you really take that on your Lumia phone?", and so on. 

Comparison crops

Crops from the same pub scene, taken from a Xenon-flash Nokia 808 PureView and a LED-flash Nokia Lumia 920. I wonder which one your average  'young and design-savvy crowd with busy social lives' would prefer? 

The Lumia 720 has other positive attributes to be sure, and it's great value for money, but the thoughts here make it a missed opportunity in my book. If nothing else, there are over ten million Nokia N82/N8/808 owners hanging on to their Symbian phones with the presence of a Xenon flash being the biggest 'can't let go' factor. The Lumia 720 is priced well enough and the form factor's just 'right' to capture this market - if Xenon had been included, as mocked up in the photo above.

The usual reasons for not including Xenon really don't wash and I'm losing patience with every phone manufacturer here.

  1. The needed capacitor is too thick - yes, it's a 5mm diameter cylinder, typically, around 30mm long. That is indeed largish as phone components go, but it's still 4mm thinner than the phone itself and I refuse to believe that, especially with a central location, a space couldn't have been found. In the Lumia 720 or any other 'modern' phone.
  2. The flash swallows up too much battery power - the difference is marginal. And because more of the Xenon-lit shots will come out perfectly first time, there's less need to take repeat shots hoping everyone's going to stay still....
  3. You can't use Xenon as a flashlight - true. Though the solution is to put in a Xenon flash for photos and a LED for video and flashilight work. Nokia has done this once already, in the 808 PureView, so it can be done.

Just to make the point, I'll happily turn up at any evening event in London with my five year old, ancient Nokia N82, now about £50 second hand and completely bashed and battered. And I'll snap away alongside those with Lumia 920s and 720s, iPhone 5s, HTC Ones and Xperia Zs - and I'll lay odds that my photos of the people attending will be better by amost every metric than the LED-lit shots from 2013 devices.

So, Nokia, how about it? What about a Lumia 720X? Or a super-spec followup to the 808? Or a high end camera phone on Windows Phone? Anything - as long as it has a real flash in it and not some slow burning LED affair.