As an industry watcher, the world of smartphones has never been more competitive or better value. It's also duller than ditchwater. And, apparently, growth has now stopped and sales are in decline... With IFA 2016 just over in Germany, where yet another batch of almost identical 5" touch slabs were announced, I'm tempted to suggest that now really is the time to look for character in our smartphones. Where are the USPs? Are they now relegated to older, almost retro, devices, while new products fall over themselves to stay anonymous?
Recent Features - Symbian 3
Despite the various pros and cons for 'touch' over the years, we're firmly in a mode in the tech world now where touch makes the most sense, in terms of text input, controls and general interaction. So why haven't we seen screen sizes increase to fill most of the front area of our phones? I examine the history of the form factor, in terms of screen-to-body ratio, and wonder whether we can't have our cake and eat it, in terms of phones that are manageable yet with monster displays...
One of the requests in the comments recently was to test audio capture when shooting videos. And, as it happens, I'd been thinking about doing this for a while anyway. So I headed out with six smartphones and tried to shoot video and audio in as controlled conditions as possible: in a quiet garden, by a windy, noisy road, and in a rock-level music setting. That should be enough to set the best from the rest, I thought...
One of the most popular sub-topics in my features on camera-toting smartphones is low light and night time capabilities. Now, partly this is about arty shots of sunsets, churches and fountains, but more usually in the real world this is about friends and family in living rooms, pubs and events. Which usually means relying on your smartphone camera's flash. With LED flash now coming in 'triple' form and with many differences in processing capabilities under the hood, I thought some tests were in order. Will Xenon, the original winning tech, still come out on top?
Having shot a whole batch of test photos/scenes for AAWP, I couldn't resist including the venerable Nokia 808 PureView in the mix - I thought it would be interesting to see the imaging progress made by other manufacturers in the four years since the 808 was first announced.
Ah yes, the professionally-rated best camera phones of the world. In this case, DxOMark calling the shots. Here's a quiz: what have the still cameras in the Nexus 6P, Xperia Z3+, iPhone 6s, Blackberry Priv and Nexus 6 got in common, as tested by DxOMark? Answer, they're all way ahead of the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 for still photography. Eh? What? I contend that DxOMark's testing is rooted in cloud-cuckoo-land and that a new 'realMark' is needed. (© Steve Litchfield, 2016!)
Almost as soon as cameras started to arrive on smartphones (the Nokia 7650 was the first - I still have mine!), bright minds started to wonder if it would be possible to not only snap a scene, but actively zoom the shot before capture (as you would on a standalone camera). Early approaches were terrible, of course, but then we had a succession of interesting approaches, most of which are grouped in the photo below. And, a decade later, in late 2015, is there a consensus, a winner?
My last camera phone comparison for over a month, I promise(!), the arrival of the much-praised (in terms of its imaging) Xperia Z5 prompted another comparison across a range of test shots against the classic (Symbian) Nokia 808 PureView and the (Windows 10 Mobile) Nokia Lumia 1020 and Lumia 930. Apologies if you're not interested in camera-centric features (in which case move right along), but (with the very latest iPhone 6s here too) the opportunity was too good to pass up - a genuine 5 way shootout between some of the best camera phones in the world from the last few years.
Guest author Massis Sirapian takes mapping fans of a geeky nature through the process of getting Nokia Maps favourites on a Symbian smartphone to Microsoft Maps on a desktop (Windows 8.1 or 10) - and thence to Windows 10 Mobile potentially, of course. Note that I haven't tried any of this, so I'll refer you to Massis on Twitter if you get stuck!!
One of the elements of the Symbian 'experience' that broke recently was the email set-up process, with the shutting down of Nokia's email configuration server. Effectively, if a new user (or an existing Symbian user re-setting up an old device after a reset) tried to set up a new mailbox then only Exchange was offered - if your email host only offered IMAP4 or POP3 then you're now out of luck. It's disappointing that this was turned off before the original '2016' deadline for support, but hey, I've been pointed to a workaround that can be used without relying on external configurators.