Samsung is the latest phone manufacturer to enter the 8-megapixel camera phone market. So will this replace your camera? We get snapping to find out.
Officially named the Pixon (or the M8800), the new snapper-come-phone from the Samsung is 13.8mm thick, sports a 3.2-inch touchscreen in a casing that looks more like a camera than a mobile phone.
While the screen dominates the front (there are just three buttons below the screen for picking up, hanging up and reverting to the homepage) the camera's lens dominates the back.
Coming complete with flash, the lens sports its own lens cover, which is opened when you turn the camera on. Turning the camera on can be done via the dedicated shutter button on the side or by simply accessing the camera application via the menu system.
A microSD card (hot swappable) means you've got plenty of room for expansion for all those images you are going to be taking, and at around 3MB a pop at the highest settings, you are going to need it. The Pixon only comes with 200MB of memory built-in however Samsung has bundled a 1GB microSD card in the box.
Before we come on to the camera elements of the handset, after all that is the main focus of the Pixon, it's worth mentioning what else you get. Internet surfers and email fans will be pleased to see HSDPA 7.2Mbps connectivity alongside quad-band support and you'll also get Bluetooth 2.0 so you can transfer files off the phone to your computer quickly.
Elsewhere you get Samsung's media player and a half decent speaker to listen to them on although, music purists won't like the fact that the Pixon fails to offer a dedicated 3.5mm headphone jack.
The menu interface, the same as the Tocco, is easy to use. The touchscreen is responsive and you'll get those handy widgets on the home screen that allow you to do everything from check the weather to see whose birthday it is from your contacts book. However, you will find that the screen suffers from being a jack of all trades – a balance has to be struck between daylight visibility and crispness when showing off images so the screen does look a little milky at times.
Not being a fully fledged smartphone, the interface and options are basic, but then they don't need to be fully functional. Text input is via an onscreen keyboard (not QWERTY) or handwriting and although considerably slower, the handwriting tool was easy, to use recognising most of our attempts first time.
So to that camera. Turn it on and you get an onscreen display giving you access to the shooting mode, scene selection, settings, flash control, AF control, exposure and playback.
Scene modes vary from automatic to Portrait, Sunset, Autumn Colours and so on. Most of these just change a few settings to get the most from the camera and work to an extent. We did have issues with the Sports setting, designed to capture fast action - by the time the camera had responded to our button press, our fast moving car was exiting in a blur screen right. This highlighted both the lag you get on the camera and the lack of ability to really speed up the "shutter".
AF allows you to set face detection, while the shooting modes gives you options like Single shot to Continuous to Smile whereby it will only take a picture if the subject is smiling. Face detection and the smile shot seem to work pretty well, although smile shot failed to detect a joyous child’s face, but managed to detect a rather staid adult smile.
You get an autofocus lens although there isn't an optical zoom like Samsung's G600 model. Instead you get a 16x digital zoom. As with compact cameras it is best to avoid against the digital zoom as the results are rather noisy.
So what's the camera's picture quality like? It is possible to capture a passable image on the Pixon and given ideal conditions you’ll get some nice shots. We found colours to be fairly well represented with a fair amount of detail, but obviously it suffers against a real 8-megapixel camera, and even lesser models with better lenses.
The most obvious problem seems to be dealing with contrasty pictures, with lots of purple fringing on hard edges set against a light sky, or whites against bright coloured backgrounds. Image detail isn’t too bad at closer ranges, but put some distance in and you’ll find increased noise in darker areas which limited how far you can go with these images. There will be no problem sharing or even printing, but go too large and the image flaws become apparent.
The flash can be a little overpowering, so in close shots will blow out the pixels, but used over distance will return some results. The camera will try and avoid the flash at times so will often take softer images indoors in moderate lighting. Where a real camera with gather enough light to make this work, the Pixon suffers, so getting a sharp image becomes a problem.
The other problem you'll find having both that large touchscreen and a flash on the back, is that the battery life is fairly poor. We raced through the battery without using it too much. The flash of course is a real battery eater, so if you are away for the night, don't forget your charger.
Whilst you are supplied with a flash, the Pixon seems to prefer being outdoors, with plenty of light and not using that flash. In this state it falls against other compact cameras especially where you are likely to use this type of camera – in the pub, or at a kids’ party.
In a brave move we ditched our compact and DSLR for the day and tried to see if we could get away with using the Pixon to cover the events we were going to. The results were something of a letdown, so you certainly can’t do away with your compact camera just yet.
Whilst the rest of the phone works well, minor display grumbles aside, this isn’t a camera replacement. It is, however, a competent camera phone and will compete with those other higher megapixel models on the market.