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Eight megapixels new arm race

As soon as two megapixel matrixes came along, cameras in mobile phones were no longer considered useless junk since they those units could snap more or less passable images. 3.2 and 5 Mpix cameras that followed, improved upon their predecessor a little in terms of image quality, but a real breakthrough still wasnt there. The next round of the arm race begins with the arrival of 8 Mpix CMOS matrixes, where Samsung ends up on top of the heap. It may sound astonishing, but in fact they benefit from every phone sold, since they are the main manufacturer of such camera modules. This way, the Sony Ericsson C905 employs a Samsung-branded matrix, although its a pared-down version, however Samsung themselves will be running with more expensive modules for their own solutions. Having played around with both handsets for some time, Im very confident that the early prototypes of the C905 arent worse that the Samsung i8510 INNOV8 in terms of image quality. Right when I was about to finish this particular article, I got my hands on a pre-production unit of the C905 carrying the final version of its 8 Mpix camera module and drivers. Unfortunately, I cant give you a competent lowdown on whether its pictures have gotten better or not, since I dont have any other prototype of the phone around at the moment. But I can say that overall images have become brighter, but given up some details for that. Then again, I have no way to compare two different units of the C905 directly, so my assumptions may well be affected by shooting conditions and other factors as well. I suppose we will make a separate write-up on the C905s image quality some time down the road. So, in this write-up, we will be focusing on the looks of todays imaging-centric flagship phones, their build quality and approaches employed by different phone makers. For instance, Im particularly amused by some bold statements that the C905 is in fact much sturdier than the i8510 INNOV8; although for the most parts people spreading these opinions never had anything more than a couple of official images of these phones to judge, let alone real hands-on experience.

As camera modules keep getting bigger, imaging-savvy phones keep gaining extra girth. For example, one of the stars of this article, the INNOV8, has a protruding lens bezel, but overall the casings thickness tops out at 16.9 mm (the handset measures 106.5x53.9x16.9 ands weighs 124 grams, although the maker claims its only 95 grams). Actually, Samsung has been practicing a very unusual approach with the specifications of its latest and greatest phones recently they throw some errors into spec sheets, so as to prevent the competition from figuring out the real feature packs of their handsets, but then these inaccuracies slip into official press-releases and become taken for granted, although obviously they dont feel right at all.

In its turn, the C905 measures up at 104x49x19 mm, but the part where the camera is housed reaches up to 19.5 mm; the handset tips our scales at 136 grams. Now that Ive been playing with both phones for some time already, its safe to say that neither phone is particularly compact, but the interesting thing is that the C905s slider mechanism is somewhat worse than that of the INNOV8 and basically the materials it utilizes are not as durable either the INNOV8s metallic accents feel much cooler than the C905s velvety K800i-esque plastic. And while both handsets are pretty robust, the INNOV8s chilling touch and solid feel in the hand lent by its metallic accents make it a clear winner.

Im not trying to say that the C905s build quality is poor by no means, its a generic Sony Ericsson branded handset in this sense; but the spring loaded mechanism is on the stiff side, which is what makes its slider action inferior to the INNOV8, where the halves slide back and worth effortlessly. The C905s problem is not the mechanism itself, but the phones design as a whole the top portion is relatively thin compared to the other half, which makes it more difficult to open.

In truth, this disproportion in the C905s design lets down its ergonomics big time, since typing SMS messages becomes a bit of a pain. On the other hand, the underside of the C905 trumps that of the INNOV8 hands down matte finish of the lens cover, no-nonsense design, all in all, Sony Style from top to toe. Speaking of the lens cover, some prototypes of the C905 dont fire up the camera application when you flick it open.

Personally, I find the i8510s rear design a bit too simplistic, with its lens framing and cover looking as if they have been carried over from the Sony Ericsson S700. However, apart from their megapixel count, these two things have another thing in common shooting mode switch, although in the C905 its not really a switch, but two separate buttons. Video quality has always been an issue in Sony Ericsson branded handsets the C905 doesnt seem to break away from this stereotype with its 30 FPS QVGA clips. In its turn, the i8510 offers VGA videos at 30 FPS and QVGA at up to 120 frames per second. This wealth of video recording options is entirely due to the INNOV8s 3D accelerator that lends the phones camera some of its power, whereas in the C905 both stills and videos are processed by a less capable generic CPU, hence different image processing algorithms that are less power hungry (in fact they have done a lot of work on the C905s CPU efficiency).

As far as shooting goes, neither handset holds the upper hand in terms of ergonomics. Going for the i8510 is its S60 3rd edition OS coupled with several custom add-ons developed by Samsung. Well get back to them in our review that will be available on Mobile-Review.com very soon.

In terms of technical specifications, the INNOV8 is way ahead of the C905 and the reasons for that go far beyond its Symbian origins. It packs in a more expensive camera module, offers comparable image quality (lets take the side of the C905 this one time, although this statement isnt quite true), boasts a 2.8 inch display (against the C905s 2.4 inches), and allows the user to install third-party navigation software (whereas with the C905 your choice is pretty much limited to what the phone come boxed with).

As for memory cards, these two phones arent much different on this front the C905 will accept the M2 type, and the INNOV8 microSD cards, and there is no shortage of these today. Its quite another matter, though, that the i8510 will come in two sizes 8 Gb and 16 Gb, plus with the latter version the user will also get a carrying case and a desktop stand on top of those extra eight gigabytes of storage (sort of a premium package, similar to that available for the Samsung OMNIA 16 Gb).

The C905s sound quality is nothing out of this world and barely improves upon its predecessors. On the other hand, Samsung has tried to design a true powerhouse thats competent in both imaging and music. This way, it sports a pair of loud stereo-speakers and Samsungs trademark DNSe technology (Digital Natural Sound engine), based on a dedicated sound processor, which makes it a better performer on this front, compared to other Samsung-branded handsets out there.

Wrapping it all up, I have to note that the i8510s 3D accelerator also handles video rendering (DivX, H.264) in the phone, therefore most movies are played back by the INNOV8 without requiring any prior conversion. Needless to say, the C905 cant do the same trick you will have to convert all files first.

The Samsung i8510 INNOV8 is due for release in early September, and will be priced at 700 Euro for the 8Gb version and 810 Euro for the 16 Gb edition. The C905 will arrive some time in October and will retail for 120-130 Euro less, which will make for a very well-justified gap, given the INNOV8s prowess in just about every department. At last, Samsung have come up with a top-notch imaging-centric solution that will be released much earlier than any of its rivals. Nokia is also working on its 8 Mpix monster, which is a pretty good phone at that, but it seems that it will start shipping only in November-December, 2008.

As far as Sony Ericsson is concerned, once again they have fallen pray to their own stereotypes. Back in the day they delayed the release of the K850i, as they failed to see a threat in a steeper Nokia N95. And these days, when Sony Ericsson are banking on the C905s more affordable price tag, they cant just realize that the difference of 140-150 is not that crucial at all as far as the 600 Euro and above price bracket is concerned. So it seems that the Sony Ericsson C905s price curve will prove to be pretty steep over the next year, meaning that well get an affordable 8 Mpix cameraphone soon enough, if only Nokia wont decide to torpedo it, just like what they did with the Sony Ericsson K850i. All in all, the phone wars are getting more and more exciting, and luckily we, consumers have ring side seats.

 

Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
Translated by Oleg Kononosov (oleg.kononosov@mobile-review.com)

Published — 1 august 2008

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com

 

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