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Review of Sharp Docomo SH-12C Aquos Phone
I am always ready to put up with the Japanese perversions, antics, their views on the rest "retarded" world and their unconventional thinking in general that produces true Made in Japan stuff that bewilders and provides childish amusement. Today I want to share my review of the new Sharp smartphone Ц Docomo SH-12C Aquos Phone designed for the Japanese carrier NTT Docomo. The phone runs Android 2.3 OS and featгres a 1.4GHz single core Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255T processor, 2GB of storage, 512MB of system memory, 4.2" Aquos display (540x960) that supports 3D (without special glasses) and a 3D camera that is capable of making 3D pictures and shooting 3D HD video (1024x720). This phone is one of the first "smart" products designed by the Japanese and for the Japanese but luckily it has a GSM module so it will work with any SIM. The big news earlier this year was the announcement by NTT Docomo about unlocking all of their phones starting from April 2011 Ц so now any citizen of the world can rejoice and try out the mysterious world of true Japanese phones. You won't need a hypersim anymore to unlock a phone from a carrier. Android smartphones will be fully unlocked i.e. all features will be available except for proprietary services 1Seg TV and Felica (near field payments). I used both the black and the white Docomo SH-12C together with a Beeline SIM. I think the white variant looks better even in a man's hand.
The first thing you notice is the surprisingly thin and relatively light body. I was expecting Docomo SH-12C to have a considerable weight like Motorola Defy I use every day. The body is made of glossy plastic with chrome edging on the front side. I expect this shiny part to wear off in time but only practice can prove that. I must add that together with the phone a great number of cases will be available.
Now, let's get to the "tastiest" part. The main feature of Docomo SH-12C is the "glassless" 3D screen and the 3D camera. The Japanese manufacturers massively adopt this technology. Along with Sharp, NEC Casio and Fujitsu also use similar screens in their new phones. Sharp and NEC collaborated to produce the Docomo CA-01C Exilim flip phone while Fujitsu presented a T-form slider Docomo F-09C. Both these phones feature 16MPix cameras capable of making 3D pictures by means of a horizontal shift. I almost forgot to mention that just a week prior to the SH-12C release Sharp released a water resistant flip Docomo SH-10C of the Aquos Phone series. This phone has features similar to the competitors': an Aquos 3D 3.4" (480x854) screen and a 16MPix 3D camera. I will review this phone later in a separate article.
Docomo SH-10C (Sharp)
Docomo CA-01C Exilim (NEC Casio)
Docomo F-09C (Fujitsu)
My attention was snatched by the "glassless" 3D. I hurried to get content to check it out Ц this phone has a regular photo and video gallery and another one for 3D content that has a few samples out of box. The biggest impression on me had the forest video with butterflies. Then I tried the interactive fish tank. The 3 D effect was most noticeable on the butterflies video Ц it seemed as if they were flying out the screen. The fish tank demo allows you to navigate through a 3D tank by flicking and pinching the image. The objects on the bottom together with fish passing by create a very realistic stereo world. I must add that I find this 3D to look much more natural than the 3D with glasses you get in cinemas. As far as eye fatigue and nausea the Japanese complain a lot Ц I did not feel any discomfort at all. I suppose if you watch such videos for a few hours some adverse effects might appear but the demos made only positive impressions on me.
The phone has an 8MPix CMOS stereo camera with two eyes. Unlike its single eye brothers it can make 3D photos and videos that you can view on your TV via the micro HDMI slot but you will need 3D glasses to view 3D contents unless you have a TV featuring same "glassless" technology. More on the camera capabilities in the respective chapter of this article.
Following the world fashion for smartphones the Japanese yielded and started replacing their products with "smart" devices and since there aren't any worthy design concepts out there they went for the classic candy bar design with straight lines, glossy surfaces, no metal, a bit of chrome and, unfortunately, a plastic display cover. The phone's dimensions are 127х64х11.9 mm / 5x2.52x0.47 in and it weighs in 138 g / 4.87 oz.
The back panel reveals the battery, the SIM and the SD card slots when removed as well as the relatively loud mono speaker. There is an issue when it comes to removing the back panel Ц there are absolutely no slots or bumpers you could use to open it so you will have to open the USB slot to be able to remove the back panel. I consulted the manual later and learned that this is actually the only way to remove it.
The front side is rather plain Ц a solid plastic surface covering a 4.2" display, three standard buttons (Menu, Home, Back) at the bottom, the call loudspeaker, the front camera, light sensor and a light indicator. The NTT Docomo logo is right above the screen. The buttons work fine, however, I think the white backlight is rather dim and some people won't find it sufficiently bright. On the other hand, it does not distract you from the screen. When video playback is on it turns off automatically. The call loudspeaker is loud, too loud as if set to a maximum Ц the volume rocker at the side helps you adjust the volume.
The right side features the volume rocker, the camera shutter button and the Search button which is usually placed in the front panel together with the main controls.
The left side only features the Power/Lock button.
At the top side you'll find the micro HDMI slot protected with a lid and the audio jack. Unlike regular Japanese Flip phones that feature proprietary jacks this one uses a regular 3.5mm jack.
And at the bottom there are the microUSB slot for syncing and charging, the mic and the strap hole.
Docomo SH-12C as well as other latest Sharp phones uses the proprietary Aquos matrix. I was surprised to find out that the screen can only display 262144 colors Ц today only outer screens on some flip phones still offer that few. I like the Samsung Galaxy S II screen but I find it too contrast. Below you will find sample screenshots comparing the Galaxy S II and the Aquos screens and I think that the Sharp screens looks more natural (this is just my personal opinion). I must add that screen comparisons are irrelevant for consumers Ц you will only prefer one over another when you them up against each other. Even if you buy a phone with the best screen in the world you will forget this fact in two days. SH-12C has a 4.2" screen with the resolution of 540x960 Ц regular for this kind of screens. The screen is capacitive and it supports multitouch. If the light sensor is on the screen remains legible under sunlight but I'd recommend adjusting the brightness manually for best results.
I would like to add some criticism. Having used this screen in daily life the owner of the phone may get disillusioned when switching between 2D and 3D. In the latter the screen changes its characteristics to the worse. The picture gets blurred a little, which is especially visible in texts and small graphic elements. It is influenced by the way the 3D image is displayed on such screens. To cut a long story short the phone creates two separate images with one eye getting its own. You can carry out a simple test by closing left or right eye in turn. In every case you will see a beautiful and clear picture. Use both eyes and you will see the two images combined due to different angles of both eyes and the complicated mechanics of the 3D image formation.
When I saw a 3D image without the dedicated glasses I remembered similar 3D calendars for children. The result is approximately the same, but Sharp adds dynamics.
Another drawback of the 3D mode is the necessity to have a 90 degrees viewing angle. Change it by 10-15 degrees and the picture will split into two halves. It should be noted that the effect disappears if you turn the phone at 90 degrees. The volume is retained only if the handset is located in the appropriate plane.
The bottom line is that all these disadvantages are easily outweighed by a sensation you get from the 3D image on Docomo SH-12C.
In Docomo SH-12C we see a 1240 mAh Li-Ion battery. The manufacturer claims 300 hours on standby and 310 minutes of talktime. In real life these parameters are less distinguished: if you do not touch the phone it will go strong for two days with no more than three hours of conversation. The active use of major features will limit the operation time to 24 hours. Bear in mind that Docomo SH-12C comes equipped with the 1.4 GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 processor, which also influences operation time. The charging takes 2 hours.
The handset has all standard communication capabilities without any limitations. 802.11 b/g/n protocol is supported. Its settings and features have nothing unusual. USB 2 helps to charge the phone and Bluetooth 3.0 deals with all modern protocols including files transfer, which is not typical of Japanese clam-shell models.
An 8 MP CMOS camera offers standard features. Its only difference from the multitude of similar offerings is in the presence of two lenses for 3D shooting. By default we have a 2D mode when only one lens is active. Switching to 3D shooting requires pressing a dedicated button on the screen, which activates the second lens. The image moves deeper into the background and becomes livelier. If you experiment with the camera ideal scenes and viewing angles can be found. For example, a shot with a glass of water and the straw inside looks especially impressive. If you make this picture when the lens is near the straw's end in the direction of the glass the latter will move into the perspective, while the former will become clearer near its end. The 3D effect is immaculate. If you shoot the street or roses in the garden there will be no comparable presence effect. I think that 3D photography opens up new horizons for photographers and fans alike. It is still an uncharted territory.
Unlike in Docomo SH-10C with one lens, where the stereo image is achieved with the help of moving the viewfinder horizontally after making a shot with SH-12C you do not need special tricks. Take shots and make video just by pressing appropriate buttons. The autofocus is available for both modes (2D/3D). The only issue is that when you move closer objects the picture will be not synchronized. Pictures from the left and right lenses do not make a single image, but move sideways. You can twist your eyes, which is not comfortable. To avoid the problem I advise making sure that you do not break a minimum distance limit between the phone and the objects. Other settings are standard without much difference from the rest of models in the class.
When you view shots in the gallery the ones made in 3D mode have special symbol. In fact the phone can convert 2D images into 3D. It takes some time (from 2 to 5 seconds depending on the size of a photo). You end up with the pseudo stereo picture. The same works well for video as soon as the recording was made with the phone. Technically you can download converted 2D video for the phone to play it live in 3D. The same depth of the background as if you are recording with your own phone is impossible, but you can still watch it. There is a dedicated video player for video playback, because three party apps do not display the format properly.
Samples of pictures from Docomo SH-12C (left) and Samsung Galaxy S II (right):
Some more photo samples from Docomo SH-12C:
HD video samples from Docomo SH-12C:
The Japanese localization of OS Android 2.3 (2.3.3) hidden inside of Docomo SH-12C does not differ from similar incarnations apart from its interface. Japanese is used by default, but English is also available. The system can be rooted and another language can be added. Docomo SH-12C as any phone of the type can operate with a Cyrillic keypad. The only point here is that the kerning (gap between symbols) will be slightly different for Cyrillic alphabet, but it is not critical.
In Docomo SH-12C there is a proprietary TapFlow Ui interface. It feels very fast. While browsing screens you cannot feel the smoothness of iPhone, but it does not irritate. Processor and memory are enough for "heavy" games and Mkv. I was surprised by lagging in the Gallery. The app starts slowly and previews of stored photos and videos take too long to appear. The viewing and processing of content inside the Gallery is hassle free though. Everything works fast and smooth.
Photo zoom is similar to that of Apple products. The start screen can work both in 2D and 3D. To switch between modes use an icon in the bottom left hand corner. If you turn the phone 90 degrees the screen will automatically go into 3D mode. Animated wallpapers in the shape of differently sized and semi-transparent squares flying up to the horizon, icons of photo and video cameras, gallery and games racing away when pressed create unique 3D background. Not all screens can be displayed in 3D. Settings, browser and standard games cannot be given a stereo tinge. 3D mode does not influence the energy consumption.
As any other Japanese phone SH-12C can handle Cyrillic messages well. Appropriate contacts in the phonebook are displayed correctly. In the apps list you can find many specialized programs, which are tailored for Japanese services and offer no use to other countries. Android market comes preinstalled and all apps work well. I think screenshots will tell you more about the visualization.
The debut of Docomo SH-12C from Sharp on May 20 heralded the beginning of the new era of household 3D. In due time this format may well become the standard for all mobile devices. "Flat" cameras will be replaced by the presence effect. This beginning is a good one. New technologies always attract attention of the interested audiences. Docomo SH-12C is not the fastest or advanced solution, but it has its own unique selling point. Advantages are balanced by disadvantages. It can be a useful "working" model if you favour Android smartphones above anything else. At the price of $900 it will be slow to win new fans, but the price will go down when rival models appear on the horizon. So far we can only mention HTC EVO 3D among its competitors.s
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Published 08 August 2011
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