Review: PhoneTorch N8


As you may know, I'm a fan of Xenon flash on a camera phone, turning social evening shots into proper photos rather than blurry messes. However, Xenon illumination lasts only a few microseconds and the unit takes five seconds to recharge, making it totally unsuitable for constant lighting. With LED torch mode rightly becoming a useful feature of many smartphones these days, can anything be done on the Xenon-equipped Nokia N8? Can it help you find your way to the car door or dustbins late at night? PhoneTorch N8 attempts to help...

Author: Harald Meyer

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The absence of a LED flash unit on the Nokia N8 has so far meant that using your phone as an emergency torch was restricted to the unsatisfactory QTorch utility - this lights up the OLED screen with full white, but it turns off with the usual screen auto-dim and also tends to blind your night vision when it starts up, since you'll be facing the screen at the time.

PhoneTorch N8, rather innovatively, latches onto the N8's red auto-focus assist LED, producing an effect similar to that used by a cinema usher with subdued red torch (the idea being that red has least effect on your night vision). Here's PhoneTorch N8 in action, you'll get the idea:

PhoneTorch N8


Before going any further, a few caveats need to be noted. Firstly, the red LED beam isn't continuous - it flashes off and then back on again on about a one second cycle. Secondly, it's not that bright - it'll let you find your way to something in the pitch dark (as in the photo above - making my way to the fuse box after a power failure), but it's not going to light the way for anyone else and probably isn't enough to stop you falling a ditch on the way home down the lane from the country pub (especially after a few beers).

Having said that, PhoneTorch N8 does work and is terrifically customisable, as you'll see from the screenshots. Rather impressively, it even manages to (optionally) bypass the usual Symbian keylock, so you can set a Camera key press as the shortcut key and lock your N8 as usual. When needed, just press the Camera shutter key quickly and the red LED is instantly on. No unlocking, no finding the application shortcut, all very convenient.


PhoneTorch N8 PhoneTorch N8 


Unfortunately, the lack of other trigger hardware keys on the N8 mean that setting PhoneTorch N8 up in this manner also stops Symbian's own Camera startup key shortcut from working, so you have to start the N8's camera using the on-screen icon instead (though camera operation is then as normal and works fine - PhoneTorch doesn't seem to interfere).

In case you're wondering, 'Af LED Mode 2' offers a different flashing pattern and I found it less reliable, while 'VideoLED' mode is so dim as to not be worth activating'. 'Screen' mode mimics previous 'torch' utilities by lighting up the screen in white, though it then has the same disadvantages as QTorch, mentioned above. 

Curiously, despite PhoneTorch N8 being written for a Symbian^3 device, the dialog uses the old S60 5th Edition 'double-tap' method of selection and action, which I found a touch annoying (no pun intended).

Looking through the reviews for PhoneTorch N8 on the Ovi Store, it seems that most buyers are disappointed. Maybe they were expecting a magical transformation of the red LED to white? Maybe they were expecting a little alchemic transmutation of the Xenon flash to a LED version? I think the reviewers are being unfair. Harald Meyer, the developer, has been wringing everything he can out of our Symbian phones' flash units for years now and PhoneTorch N8 does at least bring another function to the table for the popular camera-centric smartphone.

In short, you can head out for the night with your N8, with PhoneTorch running and your keylock on. Kick off the camera when needed using a homescreen shortcut and snap your friends and the occasion, then lock the phone again. Heading out into the dark afterwards to find your car and its door lock, press the Camera button on your keylocked N8 and you've got a gentle (albeit blinking) red flashlight with almost zero night vision loss since the main screen doesn't light up at all.

PhoneTorch N8 certainly isn't perfect and the N8 certainly isn't 'built' for this sort of functionality. But it adds another string to this smartphone's bow and for the sake of £1.50 is a handy addition for emergency winter use.

Steve Litchfield, AAS, 2 Mar 2011

PS. Note that there are in fact two entries for PhoneTorch N8 in the Ovi Store. These are the exact same app and the duplicate entry (one with 'Special' added to the name) is a historical quirk. Don't worry about it!

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