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Last Build Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2017 02:30:04 GMT

 



Nokia camera 7 year challenge: Lumia 950 & Nokia 8 take on 2010's Nokia N8

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 08:42:00 GMT

8 versus 8, etc. I've lost count of the number of times readers have asked me to pit the new Nokia 8 against its namesake, the classic Nokia N8, from 2010. However much a monster the latter was, surely 2017 technology can trump it? I'm also including the reigning champion, the Nokia-designed (and Microsoft-made) Lumia 950. This will win out overall, but it's a useful modern age benchmark for the others - I'm genuinely curious to see how a 7 year old phone does! As usual, I've tried to match resolutions as much as possible, though in practice this only meant keeping the Lumia 950 in its oversampled 8MP mode, since the other two phones output naturally at 9MP. I'm not worried about shortchanging the 950 because it will pick up extra capability in this mode when looking at low light shots and when zoomed. It was suggested to me that I try the Nokia 8 with the 'hacked' Google HDR+ camera, sideloaded, but this is beyond the scope of this site. It's not trivial to find and install and that's best for Android die-hards. I often get criticised for using the Lumia's output as the basis for the 'overall scene' shot, so I've shaken things up here and used the Nokia 8's versions for the overviews. All photos were on full automatic, except where stated and all shots apart from the 'party' mock-up were handheld. Because I'm comparing the output of three phone cameras, not two, I can't use the AAWP comparator, so I'll use static crops - but at least your page will load more quickly this way! Test 1: Sunny suburbia Ideal conditions, and plenty of detail. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8: And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection: Under such perfect lighting, there's not much in it here. The differences are mainly down to sharpening settings in the various camera applications. The Nokia N8 famously eschews ANY image processing - what you see in its JPGs are essentially what comes out of the Bayer filter on the sensor (with just JPG compression). Which is why its photos look immensely natural, yet not as 'clear' as with modern phones. It turns out that most people prefer a little colour enhancement, a little sharpening, and so on, to make photos 'pop'. I'm loathe to pick a winner here, though the Nokia 8's version is a notch down from the other two. Certainly the Nokia N8's photo is astonishing - look at the greenery on the right of the crop here, with no sharpening to make mess of detail. While the 950's photo stands out to the eye immediately. Nokia N8: 9 points; Lumia 950: 9 pts; Nokia 8: 8 pts. Test 2: Sunny scene, into the light Ideal conditions again, but trying to make things slightly tricker by shooting half into the sun and with extremes of light and shade. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8: And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection: No real problems for the three camera phones here, though the N8 was struggling with dynamic range in the brighter parts of the scene, plus the contrast was poor. Meanwhile the Nokia 8 does a pretty good job overall and the Lumia 950 tops the comparison again, with pin-sharp detail and good dynamic range. Nokia N8: 6 points; Lumia 950: 9 pts; Nokia 8: 8 pts. Test 3: Zoom test Good lighting, though the sun had now gone behind a cloud. I was aiming for a 2x zoom on the clock, though there's no exact UI gauge in any of these phones to get exactly 2x. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8: And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection: In each case there was blocky digital zoom involved, of course, though slightly less on the Lumia 950, given its underlying 16MP resolution at 16:9. Which is why it manages more genuine detail in the crop above. However, the infamous Lumia yellow cast is in evidence yet again and somew[...]



Windows on phones stymied by moving goalposts... just like Symbian

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 07:23:00 GMT

The problem with the tech world is, from an operating system provider's point of view, that the goalposts keep moving. These perambulating pieces of wood killed Symbian, killed Blackberry, have almost killed Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile, and, one day, may even kill iOS as we know it today. With hindsight, it's all too clear, but at the time OS coders were making sensible choices. I'll use Symbian as an example here, since this is being posted on AAS as well as AAWP. Back in 1998 when Symbian was being designed, and even in the early 2000s, when the first smartphones became available, the concept of getting 'online' was still quite new and connectivity certainly not taken for granted. In many cases, the connection was via GPRS and cost significant money. Which is why the only 'silent' connectivity was via Wifi and any attempt by phone software to start up a GPRS data connection was accompanied by (to paraphrase) an 'Are you sure?' message. This legacy impression of a 'nanny' OS stayed with Symbian for much of its life, right up to the end (in 2012, with the last Symbian device, the classic Nokia 808), though from about 2007 onwards the warnings were dialled right back as connectivity became ubiquitous and relatively inexpensive (or bundled). The goalposts that had constrained the OS had moved and the OS had to adapt - and it did, to a degree.  Another good example from the Symbian days is the Web browser. Much ridiculed today by many, this is unfair since back in 2006 when it appeared it was a superb example of a 'modern' Webkit-based browser, letting relatively tiny phones render full web sites (of the time) in a sensible way. There was nothing to touch it until the iPhone's Safari and far greater horsepower appeared in 2007 to take mobile browsing up a notch. However, the Web is a fast changing beast. Pages which were typically 50kb of HTML and 500k of images in 2006 have become 1MB of HTML and scripting, with 5MB of images, ten years later. At least a ten fold increase in size, plus an extra increase in terms of complexity and interactivity. The web was 95% reference ten years ago, and now it's 95% interactive. Those moving goalposts again. And so to today and this editorial in the context of Windows 10 Mobile being increasingly sidelined by the exact same phenomenon. I'll use two examples.  Firstly, mobile payments. This wasn't a 'thing' even five years ago, but the idea of using NFC for paying for things 'contactless' using a phone is now ubiquitous. In 2017, people expect to be able to pay for things using their watch, for goodness sake. Apple started things off with the iPhone 6 and Apple Pay, but Google was only a year or two behind with (wait for it) Android Pay. And any phone with a NFC antenna and some form of biometric authentication can now join in the fun. When Windows Phone was designed, back in 2008-2010, the very idea of using NFC for payments was unheard of - Nokia and others had been using the tech to pair phones to Bluetooth accessories, look up NFC tags, and 'tap to share' for years. But the goalposts were about to change again - and, despite numerous rumours, trials and public outings, 'Microsoft Pay' isn't ready. And for Windows on phones it's far too late now, of course. Secondly, compatibility with the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices across the world. In the home, at work, in hotels and garages. My eye was drawn by a recent commenter on an editorial here: "...it has no apps. I cannot use my lights, my heating, my speakers, my watch, Chromecast, my door lock...". Now, since when was it the function of a phone to control all these things? Moving goalposts again... Over the last 12 months, I gather, the phone is the control panel for many digital gadgets now - at least if you believe the smart home geeks. And I'll admit that it's true that when you open the box of any serious gadget these days (a good example being my recent drone), the first thing you notice is a QR code or similar to hook you up to the manufacturer's 'compani[...]



The Nokia 8 takes on the Lumia 950

Mon, 13 Nov 2017 07:58:05 GMT

No, not the Nokia N8. This is the Android-powered Nokia 8, made by HMD Global, of course, in 2017. But it's still a phone that I've had lots of emails about, so I arranged a shootout over on AAWP here. Now, at some point I'll get the Nokia 8 in here, in the office, and the natural shootout would be Nokia N8 vs 808 vs Nokia 8 - all the 8s....!!! Watch this space.

In the meantime, here's some text from my conclusion:

This was one of the most requested AAWP phone camera shootouts and thanks to KF Chan for helping make this happen. One of the reasons why I'd not moved heaven and earth to get a Nokia 8 in for review yet (though I have been asking PR) was that I knew it would be something of a disappointment. And so it proved. Despite two cameras, OIS and ZEISS optics, HMD Global doesn't have anywhere near the same imaging expertise that the Nokia guys had back in the day (and at Microsoft until they all left or got made redundant), the Nokia 8 has sensors that are too small, no oversampling and no secret sauce (along Google Pixel lines) to rescue the results.

At some point, no doubt, I will get the '8' in for a full review and at that time I can do more head to heads with, for example, the Nokia N8 and 808 from the Symbian world, since those too have been requested. Can 'Nokia' (actually HMD Global) fix up the camera with updates or is the Nokia 8 destined to underperform? Currently I'd class the imaging as not worthy of the prestigious Nokia brand name - as someone who loved the N82, N8, 808 and 1020 before the 950, I hear 'Nokia' and I think 'amazing camera', and this simply isn't the case for the '8'. Yet.

Which would win of the Nokia 8, 808 and N8? That's actually a tougher call since the latter two predated the modern OIS era. So it all depends whether I allowed tripod use. Or had very, very steady hands for the low light test cases!




The Nokia 808 takes on the Sony Xperia XZ1 and the Galaxy Note 8

Fri, 20 Oct 2017 12:12:20 GMT

Reader Martin Roth runs a YouTube channel, in part dedicated to comparing camera phones - and he's now put up videos on the Nokia 808 PureView versus the Xperia XZ1 and Galaxy Note 8, both running Android. They're in German, but see below for how to get English subtitles!

Firstly the Nokia 808 versus the XZ1. Maximise the window and then dive into the YouTube player settings - set the 'subtitles' to be 'Auto translate' and then 'English' (or whatever):

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VfoIiNmPQmA?rel=0" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0">

And then the Nokia 808 versus the Galaxy Note 8:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MRwTJzCVFGs?rel=0" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0">

Comments? The subtitle system makes the videos something of a hard watch, not least because the videos flickered for me as a result, but hey... Some Nokia 808 content - in 2017!




Inside camera phones, and Nokia through the ages

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 07:48:09 GMT

I'd just like to draw your attention to two specific podcast episodes that you might not have been aware of. Both aired in the last couple of weeks on brand new shows and both are of direct interest.

Firstly, Richard Yates is part of the team at a new podcast, 'The TechBox', based in the UK, and in episode 5 he's flying solo but his subject matter is his history with Nokia, the brand, the hardware and the company. Over the last 25 years. 

It's a good listen, with no real omissions as such, though it's assumed that you know some of the tech background, such as Microsoft buying Nokia's Devices division in 2013. Regular readers here will be able to fill in these contextual gaps though. Richard's been through many of the same devices as you and I, so it's refreshing to hear someone else's experience.

And yes, he cover's some of Nokia's mistakes, including not capitalising on their 'app store'. I'd go back further to Nokia's 'Download!' Store around 2005, but Richard's reference to the 'Ovi Store' (2009) only being for Nokia handsets as a 'mistake' doesn't quite ring true as a mistake since by then there weren't really any other Symbian licensees (just one Samsung handset that had much bigger issues). A bigger mistake, also identified, was general mis-management over the decade.

Richard highlights some of my favourite smartphones, in particular the Nokia N93, N8 and - of course - the 808 PureView.

You can subscribe to The TechBox here.

Secondly, I was a guest on Myriam Joire's new 'Mobile Tech Podcast' a few weeks ago, in episode 16, chatting about all aspects of camera phones. The chat was very much driven by Myriam, who wanted to explain in detail the various parameters that make up a good phone camera, but I think I held my own and managed to get in some chat about Xenon flash(!) and some classic Nokia PureView phones, the 808 and 1020. 

Myriam had been a guest on my own Phones Show Chat (now well into its 400s!) several times, so it was good to be invited back by her in return. See what you think. You can subscribe to her Mobile Tech Podcast via the RSS feed here.




An hour of camera phone tech with Steve and Myriam

Wed, 30 Aug 2017 20:31:02 GMT

Just a podcast of interest - or at least a particular episode. I was the guest of Myriam Joire on the Mobile Tech Podcast this week - and, predictably, we chatted about smartphone imaging. For an hour. And could probably have gone an extra hour if time had allowed. We cover some of the past classics, such as the Nokia N8 and 808, we cover the Lumia 1020 and 950, but all in the context of today's Android-powered imaging flagships. And yes, I do mention Xenon. At some length 8-)

Here's the podcast, anyway, worth an hour of your time if you're really into your camera phones!

src="http://html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/5688968/height/90/width/640/theme/custom/autonext/no/thumbnail/yes/autoplay/no/preload/no/no_addthis/no/direction/backward/render-playlist/no/custom-color/87A93A/" width="640" height="90" scrolling="no">

We get a bit carried away and sorry for talking at top speed - if it's too fast for you then listen at 75% speed! That's what a little passion does for the recording process....

See also the home page for Myriam's podcast.




Review: Nokia 6

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 06:06:00 GMT

What's this? A review of a smartphone that doesn't run Symbian on AAS? And that doesn't run Windows 10 Mobile on AAWP? Actually yes - it's my first look at the new Nokia 6, running Android. And it's here because it's the return of the classic Nokia brand that I've written about so many times on these sites. The personnel behind it are mostly different, the OS certainly is, but is it worth casting a look in the 'new' Nokia's direction? Probably not, though hopefully this mini-review will be of interest. This Nokia is still designed in Finland, it’s still made like a tank, but the actual firm behind it is HMD Global and all the manufacturing is in China. So take the ‘Nokia’ branding with just a pinch of salt. There's little DNA here from the classic Nokia designs of the past, though some visual clues have been taken from phones such as the Nokia N9 (running Meego, so that's the fourth OS mentioned in the last two paragraphs!), Lumia 800 and Lumia 920.  As a smartphone, the ‘6’ is well styled, I was enormously impressed by how solid it is, with slab aluminium sides and polished chamfered edges. It's heavy too, at almost 170g, almost in phablet territory with a 5.5” screen. The fingerprint sensor, down the bottom, is 100% accurate, but the specification here means that it takes a second from placing your thumb to the Nokia 6 being unlocked and the display powered up. Is a second too long? Not for the target market, though anyone exposed to flagships (think iPhone 7, Google Pixel) will notice a difference. Around the perimeter is a welcome 3.5mm headphone jack, all metal volume and power buttons, a speaker aperture (of which more later) and... a microUSB charging and data port. That’s right - microUSB on a £200 smartphone in 2017, rather than the now ubiquitous USB Type C. It feels very out of place and my theory is that the Nokia 6 design was actually finalised at least 18 months ago, back at the tail end of 2015, when USB Type C was still only on flagships (the Lumia 950 and 950 XL famously launched with this, among the first smartphones with 'C'). The delays HMD Global faced getting the Nokia 6 to market have left it with this single anachronistic spec point. Most users won’t mind, of course, microUSB jacks and chargers are everywhere still - and, to be fair, it’s just about the only major disappointment in the Nokia 6. For the price. On the back is the reassuring ‘NOKIA’ logo, just as on the Symbian phones and Lumias of old, plus a very ‘Nokia’ vertical raised camera island. I suspect that the raising is purely cosmetic, since there’s no reason for this pretty average phone camera to need the extra thickness. I’ll come back to the camera later on. The display is IPS LCD and 1080p resolution. With the RGB stripe (i.e. all pixels represented, unlike on AMOLED screens), the screen is extremely crisp and decently bright, though I noted that contrast levels weren’t brilliant in the sun.  The top earpiece is used as a ‘tweeter’ and piped the left channel for any stereo audio. This is - absolutely - a hack of the highest order. The results when watching Netflix or similar are a definitely imbalance in the sound, with 90% of the volume coming from the bottom firing main speaker and 10% from the earpiece. Much of the time this doesn’t really matter, but just occasionally something’s supposed to be happening in the left channel in terms of music or effects and… you can hardly hear it. With proper stereo now on the HP Elite x3 and Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro (etc.) a mainly-right-channel hack just doesn't cut it. Still, for sat-nav, podcast and speakerphone use, the speaker combination is absolutely fine and pretty loud. Also on the audio front is a FM radio aerial built-in, not something you get on every phone nowadays,[...]



Looking back on 15 years of the megapixel race

Mon, 07 Aug 2017 06:57:45 GMT

I'm a sucker for smartphone retrospectives and also one for photography features. Put the two together and you've got a name-checking smartphone rundown from the last 15 years over on GSMArena that looks at how camera resolutions have changed in our phones. The highwater mark, of course, was the Nokia 808 PureView, from 2012, but the whole 'arc' is an interesting rogues champions gallery.From the GSMArena post: We've traced the rise of the cameraphone before, but since we're in a lull in the megapixel race, we wanted to look back and check the milestones reached along the way to the Nokia 808 PureView - the 41MP monster that (five years later) is still the phone with the highest resolution camera (and only matched by Lumia 1020 since). The Audiovox PM8920 may have been the first to cross the 1MP line with its 1.3MP camera in 2004. Niche brands aside, Motorola brought out the 1000 series phones that same year - the touch-focused A1000, the E1000 bar and V1000 flip. The Windows-powered MPx220 also joined in. Motorola A1000 • Motorola E1000 • Motorola V1000 • Motorola MPx220 Then in early 2005 Samsung unveiled the P850, a flip phone with a rotating screen and a 3.15MP camera. Sound familiar? You may be thinking of the Nokia N90 from a few months later and its 2MP camera (with Carl Zeiss optics). Before the year's end, the Nokia N80 matched Samsung at 3.15MP. And then looking ahead further in the article: There was a brief flirtation with 13MP by Motorola and Toshiba, but Nokia put an end to the debate in 2012 with, yes, the Nokia 808 PureView - one of the best cameraphones of all time. Its monstrous sensor was 1/1.2", the biggest we've seen on a mobile device. To put that in perspective, the sensor was 3 times the size of a 1/2.3" sensor like the ones we see in the Xperia XZ Premium, Google Pixel and a few others. The sheer size of the sensor meant that despite its massive 41MP resolution, pixels were still quite large at 1.4µm (the Nokia N8 was at 1.75µm pixels). But the genius of the phone was elsewhere - mature image processing and leveraging on that resolution to enable high-quality digital zoom for 8MP photos. Advanced image processing is at the heart of the best cameras today. Nokia kept things going for a bit longer, in 2013 it came out with the Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone). It kept the 41MP resolution, though it shrunk the sensor to a still huge 1/1.5" (pixel size went down to 1.12µm). However, megapixel counts dropped off quickly after that. The rise of resolution according to tech and then the fall again as other methods of achieving results came into prominence (e.g. what I've dubbed PureView take 2) is fascinating. Also of interest might be my own 'Top 10 phone cameras of all time', in which I put the Nokia 808 at no. 4 and the Nokia Lumia 1020 at no. 5. Interestingly, my no. 1, the Lumia 950, isn't mentioned at all in the source article, probably because it focussed (pun intended) on fine tuning the innovations from the previous few years rather than breaking new ground in terms of resolution or pixel size. [...]



Screens and resolutions through the ages

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 08:57:00 GMT

This is the sort of feature I often create, but GSM Arena has done such a good job that I'll just link to them instead. They look at screen resolutions and sizes over the last decade - the trend is obvious, but it's always surprising just how far we've come.Of course, along side the increases are wholesale additions to what we use smartphones for. 'Smart' in 2007 meant Web browsing, email, music, photo sharing, etc. 'Smart' in 2017 includes paying for things, media streaming, live social activities, HD gaming, and more. Anyway, from the article: “The [2.8”] display truly looks larger than you might guess. The QVGA resolution stays the same and is adequate for providing great picture quality… “. It may seem like this statement is from another century, but it's just under 10 years old - from our very own Nokia N95 8GB review. And you can kinda see where we were coming from - the average screen in 2007 was 2.3" in diagonal and had less than 84,582 pixels at 171ppi density. And it got us curious so we decided to dig through our database and see how screens evolved through the years. We picked the 50 most popular phones for each year to analyze - those account for the vast majority of all sales and that way we avoid exotic devices skewing our stats. We chose 2007 as a starting point, the year Apple revolutionized the smartphone market by releasing its first iPhone. Back then the iPhone's 3.5-inch screen was considered huge and its HVGA resolution was close to the highest available - only devices like Nokia E90 and N800 had more pixels. The touchscreen revolution then quickly took over the mobile world and screens and resolutions started growing rapidly. In 2010 a couple of key launches happened and they sped up the process rapidly - Apple debuted the iPhone 4 with its Retina screen, while Samsung introduced the Galaxy S - a 4" WVGA flagship. The following year Samsung released the first Galaxy Note, which had a huge 5.3-inch screen of over 1 million pixels. At that point the 3.5" iPhone was already below average in size, but the Note got more ridicule for its size than praise. As phablets' popularity grew exponentially average screen size moved from 3.6" in 2011 to 5" in 2014. Even Apple couldn't resist joining the size race as the 4.7" iPhone 6 and 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus came to be. Resolution was growing even faster - by the end of the period Retina screens were only average in terms of pixel density. In 2015 Android flagships moved to QHD and we saw another huge spike in ppi. Sizes kept increasing as well and the average screen stood at 5.2 inches. And then everything changed when the mid-rangers attacked. Okay that might be an overstatement, but in 2016 mid-range handsets finally became good enough and they shot up in popularity, which explains the dip in the average resolution that year. There's more, including charts and tables, in the source article here.  The fashion in 2017 seems to be near bezel-less phones, made possible by virtual controls now being supported by most OS - we're getting ever closer to those Star Trek slabs of glass. Still, it's good to look back and I reckon that I've (mostly) owned or (in one or two cases just) reviewed all the handsets shown above. Heck, some are classics and they remain in my 'museum'! PS. Good to see the Nokia E90 and N800 get a mention, forgotten form factors and interfaces...[...]



SIStore now online - a Symbian software archive

Tue, 11 Jul 2017 09:33:52 GMT

OK, it's not quite a competitor for the AppList Store for Symbian, but SIStore is a valid on-device portal to a full archive of working SIS installation files. See below for the main link and screenshots.

You can find SIStore here, with a direct link to a self-signed installer for an on-device client, giving on-the-go access to obscure apps and games. Here's SIStore in action on my 808:

(image) (image)

The opening screen gives video links (which didn't work on my 808, but then that might be something my end) and new app highlights; (right) the applications tab starts you off with categories.

(image) (image)

Then it's into application listings, each (right) with screenshots, details and a 'Download link'...

(image) (image)

Downloads are served from a web page via HTTP but are routed straight to Symbian's installer. 

There's no checking for what's already on the phone, mind you, this is simply a SIS archive browser. So it's up to you to know what you have and haven't already got installed! And there's also no update mechanism, spotting new versions, of course. So all a little primitive, but at this stage in Symbian's life (i.e. it's been obsolete for almost half a decade) any activity and any archive source is helpful. Especially as there seems some impetus here from active Symbian users to find workarounds for things which have stopped working.

It's not clear how this will behave on phones with production firmware (my 808 has Delight CFW), so comments welcome, let others know how you get on!




Volterman: the trackable, thief-proof, smart wallet that charges your phone?

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 10:17:34 GMT

You know me, I can't resist gadgets, powerbanks, adapters. And I've spotted this 'Smart Wallet' concept over on Indiegogo - it's already funded, so will definitely happen now. Essentially it's a range of wallets with a wireless (and wired) power bank built in, with GPS tracking (should it get lost), and with a camera to snap whoever opens it when it's 'lost'. Is it pricey? Heck, yes, but it's also unique and perfect for that Christmas 2017 present, surely?

From the Indiegogo listing:

Volterman® is the World’s most powerful smart wallet with 5 smart functions: •

  • Built-in Powerbank (from 2,000 to 5,000 mAh) 
  • Distance Alarm 
  • Global GPS Tracking 
  • Worldwide WiFi Hotspot 
  • Thief Detection Camera

With all the tech inside, Volterman® is slim and lightweight made from premium quality materials.

I have some questions, not least about the standby drain of the integral gadgets. It's also claimed that the power bank can wirelessly charge from your phone, but that would assume that your phone also had Qi coils and support for this?

There are several variants, with different sizes and capabilities:

  • Volterman CardHolder
  • Volterman BiFold
  • Volterman Travel

(image) More over at the full Indiegogo introduction page.

Naturally, there's a promo video too, deliberately cheesy and fun(!):

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WrslPHiz2mI" width="853" height="480" frameborder="0">

I'm looking forward to reviewing at least one of these variants in due course.




ZEISS returns to Nokia, abandons Microsoft

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 09:40:29 GMT

Totally off-topic for AAS and AAWP in a sense, because the end products won't be 100% relevant, but the news is very definitely of interest, with Carl Zeiss (later renamed just ZEISS) producing the award winning optics for every Nokia flagship from the early 2000s onwards, and ending with the last Microsoft Windows-running phones, the Lumia 950 range, at the end of 2015. And now ZEISS is back with 'Nokia' - not quite the same Nokia that had its Devices division bought up and then eventually gutted by Microsoft - but the Nokia name, even on Android OS, is notable and the presence of a ZEISS collaboration is a good sign that the company is back on track.  [Update] In addition, announced on Twitter, was that (no surprises, but...) there will be no more Microsoft branded devices with ZEISS optics - the original licensing deal, inherited with the Nokia purchase, has ended. See below for the full tweet.[Update] The smartphone cooperation between ZEISS and @Microsoft mutually ended with the beginning of the cooperation with HMD. — ZEISS Camera Lenses (@ZEISSLenses) July 6, 2017 Given that the Lumia 950 range was announced almost two years ago, this isn't really news, but interesting to have it confirmed. It also puts paid to the idea that a future Surface phone will re-use the camera from the Lumia 950, which is a slight shame... Anyway, from HMD: Espoo, Finland/ Oberkochen, Germany, 6 July 2017 – HMD Global, the home of Nokia phones, and ZEISS today jointly announced the signing of an exclusive partnership that aims to set new imaging standards within the smartphone industry. This long-term agreement builds on the shared history and expertise between ZEISS and Nokia smartphones. With a joint ambition to advance the quality of the total imaging experience on smartphones spanning the entire ecosystem from software, services, through to screen quality, and optic design, the partnership will see ZEISS and HMD Global co-develop standard-defining imaging capabilities and will bring the ZEISS brand back to Nokia smartphones. This pledge to constantly improve consumers’ imaging experience is a reflection of the shared values between both businesses – a single minded commitment to quality, true craftsmanship and a desire to improve real life experience. The relationship between ZEISS and Nokia phones began more than a decade ago, and is founded on a shared passion for innovation and always delivering the best for the consumer. The past collaboration saw ZEISS and Nokia phones driving technology innovations such as the world’s first multi-megapixel mobile phone and many more standard-setting devices, from the Nokia Nseries to those featuring Nokia PureView technologies. This renewed relationship is a long-term commitment to build on that technology innovation over the years to come. Will we ever again see mighty imaging flagships from Nokia that are as ground-breaking as the Nokia N93, N95, N86 (shown below), N8, 808 and Lumia 1020? Somehow I doubt it, the competition is largely 'catching up', but the ZEISS agreement is certainly welcome. PS. I've yet to even touch a Nokia-branded Android smartphone, but the '6' looks good and it's due out in the UK early next month. [...]



10 years of iPhone? Most of its 'innovations' came in with Nokia and others

Wed, 05 Jul 2017 10:08:00 GMT

The tech media has been falling over itself in the last week to talk about the ten year anniversary of the Apple iPhone, that moment when Steve Jobs revealed the shape of smartphones to come. All singing, all dancing? It really wasn't. Revisionist history says that the iPhone introduced all the features we see in today's smartphones, but that's not accurate...I guess I shouldn't get too worked up about people rewriting tech history - but as one of the writers behind All About Symbian (and now AAWP) I just can't help myself put the record straight. Tech journalists (mainly American) have been falling over themselves to praise the iPhone as the point where the modern smartphone was born, but they're only right in one small sense. And even that small sense is highly debatable. Think of the iPhone of 2007 and then today's phones and there's a clear sense of continuity of a full-screen experience with capacitive touch. Yet smartphones had been all-screen for years in the Windows Mobile world, with devices like the O2 XDA launching in 2002, a full five years before the iPhone, and based on the existing Windows Mobile PDAs of the previous few years. Even though the iPhone was absolutely to be credited for bringing capacitive touch to the mainstream phone world, it wasn't the first - the LG Prada had a capacitive touchscreen six months previously. Nokia N95 and the original iPhone, for comparison. Outstanding functions and capabilities versus outstanding ease of use? All other functions were represented in existing smartphones. Over in the Symbian world (the dominant smartphone platform from 2000 to 2009, a full decade), the Nokia smartphones - in particular the Nseries - had pioneered the inclusion of a GPS receiver, had introduced the use of accelerometers, with the N95 being the obvious model to point to, being launched at the tail end of 2006, the year before the iPhone's release. Then there are good cameras, with some of the Sony Ericsson 'feature phones' (culminating in the K850i from summer 2007) containing high megapixel units along with Xenon flash, though again it was Nokia that brought high megapixel imagery to the smartphone world with the N95 and N95 8GB, plus the N82 (again with Xenon flash). In terms of features, remember that all the early Nokia Series 80, Sony Ericsson UIQ and Nokia Series 60 (S60) smartphones from 2002 to 2006 had full operating systems, with vibrant third party application scenes, full file systems, copy and paste(!) and full web browsers (based on the same Webkit code as the iPhone). With hardware media controls, landscape UI, full file and office editing, advanced imaging functions, and an onboard application store - the Nokia N95 pretending it's a laptop (well, almost), and many months before the original, limited iPhone was even available.... Which doesn't leave much for the iPhone to have 'innovated' with. Today's iPhone ranges do include all of the above (great camera, GPS, sensors, applications, even - cough - copy and paste!), but it has taken most of the celebrated decade for the iPhone to have really caught up with the rest of the industry in terms of raw technology. Steve Jobs said at the iPhone's launch that it had 'Software that’s at least five years ahead of what’s on any other phone' - which is accurate in that the iPhone is rightly responsible for smartphone UIs that are intuitive enough not to need to ship a paper manual with each phone (remember those?!), but this quote is often mis-remembered as Apple saying that the iPhone itself was five years ahead. Jobs said 'Software', not hardware. And even then the original iPhone lacked third party applications and basic editing functions, so what Steve Jobs really meant was 'a UI that's [...]



My all-time 'SteveMark' camera phone top-ten list- but interactive!

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 16:39:36 GMT

You may recall that I picked my top 10 all-time best smartphone cameras a while back? Well, the idea's back and this time I've made it interactive (with a little help from Javascript wizard Indrek) - you can now put in your preferences and the top 10 will get sorted and ranked accordingly. Which phone camera (from this list, anyway) really is THE best for YOU?

To get started, head over to stevelitchfield.com/grid.htm and rate how important each of a zillion factors to you in terms of what you'd expect from a great phone-hosted camera. You can apply your own weightings, though, and the page will multiply everything up and work out rankings according to your stated criteria. Cool, eh?

I'd have hosted the grid here, but it's too 'wide' for Rafe's layout!

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Comments welcome, of course. Which, in your opinion, smartphone cameras need adding to this table? I can do various additions and amendments in time!

PS. If you get my old 'smartphone features' grid on that same URL, then refresh the page in your browser. I re-used the URL because the old grid was so out of date, etc.

PPS. I wonder if any of the DxOMark people read my criticisms of their methods and results. I'd be happy to chat to them about all this, of course...

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The 'SteveMark'(!) top 10 phone cameras of all time

Wed, 31 May 2017 07:35:00 GMT

With every rating that the much-quoted DxOMark site puts out for phone cameras, the more I think that it's missing a healthy dose of real world experience and use cases. Not to mention a few key phone models (e.g. Lumia 950). Given that I've tested the majority of recent smartphones for AAS and then AAWP, usually against the best of the competition, I wanted to aggregate my experience into my own 'Top 10' camera-phones of all time. 'SteveMark', if you will.Let's start with DxOMark's ratings though. Here's their all-time, current top (22) phone cameras: 1. HTC U11 2. Google Pixel/XL 3. HTC 10, Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S7/Edge, Sony Xperia X Performance 7. Huawei P10, Moto Z Force Droid, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, Sony Xperia XZ, Sony Xperia Z5 12. Apple iPhone 7, LG G5, Galaxy Note V, Samsung S6 Edge 16. Huawei Mate 9, LG V20 18. Apple iPhone 6s Plus, Google Nexus 6P, Moto Z Droid, Moto G Plus, Moto Droid Turbo 2 Notice any omissions? No Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, not even the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, which was ALL about the camera. In fact, you have to go way down to the 40s and 50s in their list to find any of the models just mentioned - if they're there at all (no 950, e.g.) Which is clearly wrong and misleading. So I thought I'd right this with my own all-time list. There are, as ever, some notes to read first: I'm mainly looking at image quality, though I do make some allowance for the speed of the photo-taking experience. It's a tricky balance. For example, it might take four seconds to take a photo on the Lumia 1020 (i.e. before you can take the next one), but if the resulting photo is ultimately of higher quality than that on (say) an Apple iPhone, which might have dashed off three photos (or more, in a burst) in the same time, then the 1020 gets the higher score in my book. Though what if the 1020 'missed the moment' while the iPhone grabbed it, despite ultimately slightly lower image quality? So I'm not totally disregarding speed in my list below.  I go further than DxOMark by putting in more 'real world' scenarios into my testing. So moving people in low light with flash; arty night landscape shots, handheld; using digital zoom; and so on. All staples in my tests. You can't just test a phone in a studio on a tripod, or just outside in the sunshine, you know.   Unlike DxOMark, I try to test phone cameras regularly well after their launch date, so early software issues have a chance to be resolved.  Unlike DxOMark, I'm not biased against Nokia or Windows Phone (and successors)! DxOMark hasn't even tested my number one pick below, 18 months after it was launched, so long that it's hard to even find it for sale now. Yet it appears nowhere in the DxOMark all time listings.  I haven't included any phone camera that I haven't personally tested. And yes, I'm aware that this introduces ironies ("Steve didn't even include model X!")! And so on to my 'SteveMark' top 10 of all time, with notes and explanation along the way. In order: 1. Lumia 950/XL 18 months on, I'm still staggered by the sheer quality of 8MP and 16MP shots taken with this phone camera. And it's quick too, since all post processing is shoved to the background while you get on with taking the next snap. The triple LED flash does a decent enough job on the whole, the OIS is top notch, and in 8MP mode there's even a little lossless zoom, which is handy. The only real Achilles heel is going beyond 'lossless' into 'lossy' zoom territory, since the old 'Lumia Camera 5' digital zoom algorithms are complete rubbish. 2. Apple iPhone 7 Plus The iPhone 7 Plus gets in here by cheating, of course, using not one but two 12MP cameras,[...]



It lives - 'Symbian World' CFW for the Nokia N86

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 06:34:36 GMT

Proving that nothing really ever dies, a team out of Russia has been working on custom firmware for the venerable Nokia N86 - and has produced a 'Symbian World' themed OS - you know, with the cute Symbian cartoon imagery of recent (well, 2010) times... See below for details and download link.'Bounty Hunter' says: We finally released very stable and quite deep mod of Nokia N86 FW. Non touch Nokia phones have far too few good Custom FirmWares (CFW). So our group Symbian_Zone in Russia is still trying to use this phone to the max. :) This CFW is very clean, all dead Nokia services are deleted, and the CFW has many important fixes like built-in SHA-2 certs for normal web browsing, officially updated library, Nokia Maps, N-Gage and others. Also, an optional ROM Patcher used. So you can use official software and unsigned packages too.  This is the first CFW from our Symbian_Zone: Symbian World series. Also, we finally understand how to calibrate the core in Symbian 9.2 phones, so the next CFW will be done for the Nokia N81-1/N81-3 (Nokia's N-Gage 2.0 flagship) and a few more.   There's a detailed changelog, though here machine translated from the original Russian: Modified firmware "Symbian World" for Nokia N86 8MP (RM-484). It is based on the original firmware v30.009. -------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------- Features of CFW: All interface, input and help languages ​​are removed, except English and Russian; The default language is English; The default date is 01/01/2017; The default standby mode is "Standard" (In which the "idle mode" is empty); The default USB mode is "Drive"; Updated time zones, for Russia there is no more time translation, but Moscow is still "GMT + 4", not "GMT + 3"; The default time delimiter is a colon, the date separator is a dash, for all languages; The "Themes" icon is returned to the menu. The theme "Nokia NSeries" is replaced by "Symbian World Silver Theme"; In the corresponding menu in "Themes" many different waiting modes are added; Reduced the top bar in the menu. There was more space for the icons, and the menu now looks the same as on Symbian OS 9.1 / 9.2; New menu structure. Added folders: "Multimedia", "Data Manager", "Internet", "Location", "Games", "Help"; Replaced application icons "Dictionary", "Reading message", "Home Media", "FM-transmitting", "Phone settings" On the OVi style. Initially, one part of these icons was in the NSeries style, and the other, in the ESeries style: Nokia E66 / E71; The "Real Player" icon is now replaced with themes; The system has the effect of the NSeries themes, but it is not registered in the manifest, which has never worked. Corrected. Now all standard themes have this effect; The OVi standby mode has been replaced with a mode where there are only application shortcuts and 8 notes of the calendar, since in standard horizontal standby mode only 4 calendar notes can be accommodated. But there is a plug-in built-in E-Mail client; In the horizontal standby mode, by default, the mail and Internet exchange lines are disabled; The calendar plug-in on the desktop shows events only for the current day, and not for 7 days in advance; The warning about emergency calls in the standby mode when the autonomous mode is active has been removed; Quality of images for the camera: 100% - for all resolutions, and for video recording, the bit rate is increased from 4 MB / s to 5 MBit / s; The cache for firmware via FOTA is reduced to 0 bytes, as new versions of official firmware will no longer be available; In normal and offline modes, warning signals and key signa[...]



MusiKloud updates for Symbian (and Maemo)

Sun, 15 Jan 2017 16:12:36 GMT

One of the last great active Symbian developers, Marxoft is keeping on going, with streaming media applications that keep pace with API changes in Internet services. Today saw updated versions of the developer's SoundCloud client, along with associated modules and Internet Radio.

From the Marxoft web site:

MusiKloud2 for Maemo5 has now been updated to version 0.2.0, whilst the Internet Radio and Mixcloud plugins have both been updated due to a change in the MusiKloud2 plugin API, which now also supports Qt/C++ and JavaScript plugins.

Additional features in version 0.2.0 include:

  • Support for playing remote URLs.
  • Recursive searching for music tracks when playing local folders.
  • Option to save/restore playback queue.
  • Sleep timer.
The updated packages can be obtained from the Maemo5 extras-devel repository.

In addition to the Maemo5 update, MusiKloud2 is now available for the Symbian platform. Below are links to the SIS packages:

Comments welcome if you're using any of this as to how well it works. So many other Internet services are no longer fully compatible with Symbian apps, and with certificate issues rearing their ugly heads, it has proved unworkable for me as a primary phone, but I'm sure there are some people persevering!




Xenon and zoom: the Hasselblad takes on the Nokia 808/Lumia 1020 (etc.)

Fri, 30 Dec 2016 11:35:00 GMT

Yesterday I looked at the arrival, in for review, of a rather rare thing - a Xenon-flash-equipped, zoom-equipped camera phone, competing (obviously) with such (also rare) Nokia classics like the 808 PureView and Lumia 1020. But never mind the bulk (in this case, removeable, but still...), never mind the form factor, how do these ultra-camera-phones perform against each other in a variety of challenging tests? Let's find out...As hinted in the original piece, I'm going to throw in a known data point, the current world champion of camera phones (in my opinion), the Lumia 950 XL. Not because it's good at zoom (it isn't), not because it has Xenon flash (it hasn't), but because behind all of the thoughts here about super-specialist camera phones is the reality that a traditional LED-equipped, solid state flagship smartphone is good enough for most people. I.e. what's interesting here is how far (or otherwise) the 950 XL is behind the specialists here, given the specific tests included. The 950 XL stands in here for the iPhone 7*, the Galaxy S7 and other top end consumer phones. * and yes, the iPhone 7 Plus now has a 2x zoom lens, though this isn't OIS-enabled and there's still just LED flash. I know, I know. See here for my iPhone 7 Plus imaging comparison feature. Things are complicated, in terms of comparisons, by the different capture resolutions here, so there will be a degree of mismatch in all the crops below: The Nokia 808 has an 8MP oversampled 'Creative' mode, with zoom to 1:1 on the sensor where needed. The Lumia 1020 is best in its 5MP oversampled mode, though as with the 808, for zooming purposes, the full resolution of the sensor is, of course, used. The Lumia 950 has its native 8MP oversampled mode, and again the fuller 16MP (in 16:9) resolution is used when zooming. The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom shoots in 16MP in 16:9, natively, and there are no useful oversampled lower resolutions, so we're stuck with this in terms of comparisons. Zooming is optical, so there's no change in resolution or sensor use here. The Moto Z Hasselblad shoots in 9MP in 16:9 mode, with the same note about optical zoom as above. In addition, the 2.5x (or so) lossless zoom in the Lumia 1020 (slightly less in the 808 in its 8MP mode and less still in the 950, with its lower resolution sensor) is no match for the true, optically stabilised 10x zoom in the Galaxy K Zoom and Moto Z Hasselblad mod, so these ultra-zoom cases are sometimes included separately - see the notes below, as appropriate to each test shot or use case. Note that I'm deliberately trying to push the boundaries in every shot below, as noted in each case, I wanted the phones to struggle - many of the photos wouldn't have worked at all on more conventional phone hardware. Test shot 1: Sunny churchyard The easiest shot here, I still presented a challenge by shooting into the sun and noting huge differences in light and shade across the frame, so this was a test of dynamic range. No zooming needed - yet! Here's the overall scene: And here are central crops from, in sequence, the Nokia 808 PureView, the Nokia Lumia 1020, the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL, the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom and the Moto Z with Hasselblad mod - in each case click the phone name to grab the original JPG for your own analysis. As expected, with such a relatively easy shot, there's not much to choose between the photos here, though the Lumia 950 clearly has the edge in terms of dynamic range, contrast and detail (especially because it has the full resolution 16MP mode up its sleeve too). This is fitting, the 950/XL remains the phone ca[...]



Xenon and zoom re-enter the smartphone world, courtesy of Hasselblad

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 09:12:59 GMT

I've periodically returned to the classic Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020, highlighting the lossless 2.5x zoom and 'proper' Xenon flash, though there's been precious little to compare these with that's camera centric from the wider smartphone world in the last five years. Yet along comes something new, the Hasselblad camera mod on the Moto Z, a late 2016 Android smartphone. Along with the 808, 1020 and also ageing Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, I couldn't resist a quick photo comparison. No, not of results (that comes soon!), this time of the hardware itself...Why am I making a fuss over both zoom and Xenon flash? Because they dramatically enhance the range of subjects and scenarios for taking photos. After all, every standalone camera, every DSLR, all have both zoom and Xenon too - so it's puzzling that phone manufacturers have steered quite so far clear away from these technologies. I realise that there's a slight increase in bulk and power requirements, but I'd have still expected that there be a few more camera-centric smartphone offerings. Than four. Over five years. (I don't count units like the Panasonic CM-1 or the Kodak Ektra because they had neither zoom nor Xenon.) Why zoom? As in 'lossless' zoom, implemented on the Nokia 808 PureView (running Symbian) and Nokia Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone 8.1), and optical zoom, implemented here on the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom and Motorola Moto Z 'Hasselblad' (snap-on) mod. Because you can get optically closer to your subject, providing more detail and more intimate framing.   Why Xenon? Because shots of pets and human beings in low light can come out perfectly sharp, 'frozen' in motion. I realise that this isn't always to everyone's taste, since the flood or pure white light can also affect the atmosphere (e.g. at a party), but sometimes when you're grabbing a moment at an evening event then only Xenon will do. Step one then - comparing the physical propositions. (Step two will be to take these camera phones out into the world and see how they perform relative to each other, and this will take a day or two.) The Hasselblad solution is by far the bulkiest, but this is natural because there's not only the bulk of a telescopic 10x zoom mechanism, there's also the added bulk from having separate phone and camera portions (the 'mod' pulls off and you can swap it for extra battery or a large stereo speaker etc.)  Plan form factors aren't that different, apart from the oldest, the Nokia 808, with its relatively tiny 4" screen (by today's standards!), though all phones are presented here camera-side first: Aside from the 'DSLR-like' 'grip' on the Moto Z plus Hasselblad, the phone form factors don't seem too dissimilar at first glance. However, start to introduce a plan perspective and the difference in thicknesses is immediately apparent: And you thought the Nokia 808 was chunky back in 2012... In fairness, the detachable nature of the Hasselblad Moto Z Mod means that you're not holding the full form factor all the time. You'd typically carry the Mod in your pocket (it comes with a case) and clip it on when the time came to take some adventurous photos. Of course, if you're going to carry something in a pocket then why not a small standalone camera in the first place? You do get the immediate sharing via the Moto Z smartphone this way round, but the solution does seem a little overkill.  The all-in-one Galaxy K Zoom seems svelte and elegant by comparison, while the Lumia 1020 is positively the looker in this group, offering a vastly slimmer profile with almost no comp[...]



AAWP Insight #201: Steve Litchfield - Origins part 2

Tue, 13 Dec 2016 07:48:00 GMT

In AAWP Insight #201, hosted by Steve and Rafe, we continue the Steve Litchfield 'origins' story (following Rafe's own Origins tale on the 361 Degrees podcast). This time we (mainly) cover the post-millennium years. This includes the All About era, Steve's database efforts (from Trivopaedia to a UK Pocket Directory), early device reviews and content, and the switch from Symbian to Windows Phone.

This podcast was recorded on December 12th 2016 with Steve Litchfield and Rafe Blandford.

Links:

Mentions:

You can see more of our podcasts in the Media section of the site.