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?
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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?
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.
In this specific group test. I look at capturing high decibel music on a variety of new and classic smartphone cameras, four of which also have OIS to help keep the picture steady too. Add in low light conditions and a dozen factors trying to throw auto-focus out and you have the recipe for a decent multi-device group test. In the ring here were the Nokia 808 PureView, Lumia 1020, Lumia 930, Microsoft 640 XL, Google Nexus 6 and LG G4. Four of the six have OIS, at least three have HAAC microphones, and one has hardware oversampling per frame in real time. Game on!
I've had many requests for a camera head-to-head between the Nokia Lumia 830 and 930, not least since they're now about the same price at some outlets. But I thought I'd wait until they both had Lumia Denim and the new camera software. And then, heck, I couldn't resist adding in the Lumia 1020 and Symbian-powered Nokia 808 PureView into the mix. Plus an Android imposter, just to add an extra reference point. Gulp! So much to analyse and comment on below.
Supremacy, as used in the headline above is about absolute superiority over all others. Whether it's a kingdom or sportsman or, in this case, a range of smartphone cameras. The thing is that over the last decade I've been so used, at every stage, to my Nokia flagship smartphones having superior imaging built-in, that it has been something of a shock to realise that, with the new Samsung Galaxy Note 4, the competition has caught up. Or at least, got close enough that for even technophiles there's no real difference in quality of results. Have the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 been dethroned? Not exactly, but the thrones are now looking within reach of a pack of status-seeking courtiers....