The digital camera is dead - long live the digital camera. Why would we say this? Because we’ve been playing with the new Sharp 903SH with its 3.2 megapixel digital camera, exclusive to Vodafone.
The Sharp 903SH is the first 3.2 megapixel camera phone in the UK and if this is the start of things to come, Canon, Kodak, Nikon et al should start getting worried or basically dump the low end of their ranges.
Okay so the DSLR’s are still going to rule the roost when it comes to professional photography, but if you’re looking for a good snapper for parties that will happily allow you to create 6x4in prints, this handset will serve you admirably.
Bold words we know, but it’s not just the CCD sensor that gets us excited about this phone, it’s the digital camera features that go with it such as the 2x optical zoom and its 5 high-performance aspheric glass lenses. Frame Interline Transfer process, the same type used in professional-quality broadcast video cameras, to prevent the “smear” phenomenon and of course those picture sizes of up to QXGA sizes (1,536 x 2,048 pixel) and exposure control are just to name a few.
Take the picture and the included Bluetooth means you can send it to other Bluetooth-enabled devices like your laptop, or even better a printer, with minimal of fuss.
In our tests we sent it to both computer and printer (see images) and our print outs fooled everyone who saw them. We’re not kidding when we say that people were left in shock that the print we had in our hand had been taken by a mobile phone rather than a digital camera.
With such a powerful strength, Sharp as you can imagine, has been keen to promote this in the phone’s design. Like Sony Ericsson models, when it comes to using the camera you turn the phone sideways, and the zoom and capture buttons are on the top just like a digital camera. Keeping along the same design ethos as the 902H the clam shelled unit features a large swivel LCD display that deserves a whole paragraph to itself.
The said screen among other things uses something Sharp are calling “Mobile ASV”, which is based on ASV (Advanced Super View) liquid crystal display technology found in its AQUOS line of LCD TVs.
Sharp has always been good at screens, opting to put 262k displays in its phones long before the competition did. The 903SH is no exception. It’s bright, clear and has a fantastic response when using it with the camera. Couple this with a viewing angle of 160 degrees from all angles without any colour distortion and you’ve got a great handset for sharing video or the images you’ve taken.
When not in use, the screen hides within the camera, and when used as a camera the large 2.4in display allows you to clearly see what is going on - think Sony’s T series of digital cameras but on a phone.
The case itself is a sleek black and highly polished affair. The camera side of the mobile has been given a slightly rougher texture, but with no external LCD the phone is very stylised and black - did we mention black.
Open the clamshell and you’ve got yet more black with the number keys glowing a bright red rather like something that’s stepped out of a workshop where KITT from Knight Rider is stored. The dark colours work their way into the menu system and if it’s not highlighted, you guessed it, it’s greyed out in the ghostly red. Think GQ or Arena man rather than Nuts or Zoo and you get the idea.
While the phone’s killer feature is the built-in camera, Sharp, seeing the competition from the Sony Ericsson Walkman phone range, has kept the other features equally good.
For music and video junkies there are the 3D Surround stereo side speakers on the left and right of the handset display panel. The bundled headphones that make up the handsfree kit serve the phone well if its personal you are looking for.
Transferring files to the phone is either done via dragging and dropping MP3 or MP4’s onto the included 64Mb miniSD card or by paying the rather steep £1.50 for music and music videos to download them from Vodafone Live!
Either way with miniSD prices coming down this can easily double up as an Media player regardless of whether that’s what people want (see news story).
With 3G and Vodafone you get the usual access to Vodafone Live! where you can download all the usual gubbins. With 3G it’s considerably faster than GPRS. Download times depend on your connection, however we didn’t seem to have any problems in our tests.
So what’s the catch? Nothing’s perfect, understandably - mainly that to walk out of a shop tomorrow with one you'll need to part with £300 to £350 of your hard-earned cash for this overly large handset. Not as large as the new Toshiba TS912 mind you, but still large enough to notice it’s in your pocket.
That said, in our testing we spoke to a number of people to get more than just our perspective. Most who we showed seemed to think that this wasn’t an issue, partly because of the large screen used by the camera, but also because it meant they could actually use the buttons without having to jab at overtly small keys found on most phones.
Another, and this is purely a cosmetic quirk, is that we’ve found ourselves on more than one occasion answering the phone upside down. It sounds strange, but the way the phone is designed means that you place the top face when closed downwards so you avoid damaging the camera on the back (it maybe because the camera lens doesn’t have a cover). When it then rings you end up picking it up the wrong way and then find yourself juggling trying to make the call.
To say we were impressed with this phone would be an understatement. We recently looked at Sony Ericsson's K750i and we were very impressed with the picture quality and that was only 2 megapixels. Here you've got 3.2 and an optical zoom making this a photographer's dream. Before you ask, yes the extra megapixel is worth it.
With 3G added into the mix and tri-band connectivity it's hard to see where you can go wrong with this one. As in the Minidisc market, Sharp have responded to a would be pioneer and leader with an equally competent package, which excels over its rival in some areas. Sony Ericsson would do well to hit back with its response before the end of the year.
We want one for keeps and so should you.