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Last Build Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2017 11:00:03 GMT


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 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!


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 I re-used the URL because the old grid was so out of date, etc.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...


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, the second of which is a 2x telephoto job. Yes, it's a kludge, but a very well done kludge and the software makes a seamless job of zooming from one lens's view to the other's. Add in quad LED flash and some very good image processing algorithms (as you'd expect with ex-PureView, ex-Nokia expert Ari Partinen on the team) and it's hard to fault the iPho[...]

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 camera to beat in the world if you exclude zooming and Xenon flash, which is where this feature comes in, of course! Test shot 2: Sunny churchyard, clock zoom The clock tower remains a favourite subject of mine, here lit in bright sun, so there was plenty of light available. Here's the overall scene: And here are central zoomed crops from, in sequence, the Nokia 808 PureView, [...]

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 compromises beyond that 2.5x limit on (lossless) zoom. (If you want - for personal preference - more of a DSLR grip for the humble 1020 then this accessory exists.) And - gulp - this is all with the cameras not activated. Boot the Camera apps up and the electronics swing into action. The Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 mechanical shutters power up and you can see the lenses, the Hasselblad[...]

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.



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

PureView vs the Pixel: the 808, Lumia 950/1020 vs the Google Pixel

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:37:00 GMT

Having set up expectations that Google's HDR+ computational photography in the new Pixel flagship can be considered 'PureView take II', or thereabouts, I thought it time to put this to the test. So I took three PureView flagships from various eras: Nokia 808, Lumia 1020 and Lumia 950 XL, and pitched them against the new Google Pixel XL. The aim, away from trivial sunny shots (hey, suits me, this is the UK in October!), is to really stretch the pixel combination systems, in reducing noise and finding detail and colour. Of course, the Nokia 808 PureView (running in 8MP 'Creative' oversampling mode) and Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone 8.1 and in its default 5MP oversampling mode) are here only for interest sake and for reference, since they're both obsolete in terms of anyone buying them. The Lumia 950 XL here is in its default 8MP PureView oversampling mode, matching the Google Pixel's 8.3MP HDR+ mode. In each case, all photos were snapped at 16:9 aspect ratio, in case you were wondering about some of those resolutions, though that's not that relevant since I'm mainly going to be looking at central detail. There are also minor differences in terms of how wide angle the optics are in each case, so the 1:1 crops below won't match exactly in terms of framing. Again, in contrast to other camera phone tests around the web, I'm deliberately trying to make things hard for the phone cameras and I am looking in detail and being picky. Let's see how the phone imaging hardware performs... Test 1: Landscape, daylight, heavily overcast My standard suburban landscape scene, with plenty of detail of all kinds. Not a glimmer of sun, thanks to the time of year! Here's the overall scene, as shot by the Nokia 808 (which has the most neutral colours): Now for some central crops from, in turn, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 XL and Google Pixel XL. Click the device names to grab the individual JPGs, in case you wanted to download and compare them yourself: There are few surprises above - the original PureView pair do best in terms of a natural, real life look, and don't knock the 1020 for detail, since it doesn't have a 8MP mode and so it's forced to work at 5MP (I guess I could have applied a little PureView zoom but that's hard to judge on the fly). The Lumia 950 and Google Pixel both show signs of sharpening and processing, but then the effect is 'crisper' to most human eyes so you can see why manufacturers do this. Nokia 808:  9pts; Lumia 1020: 10pts; Lumia 950: 9 pts; Google Pixel: 8pts Test 2: Landscape (lake), daylight, overcast Another landscape scene, somewhat prettier, with plenty of detail of all kinds. Here's the overall scene, as shot by the Nokia 808 (which again has the most neutral colours): Now for some central crops from, in turn, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 XL and Google Pixel XL. Click the device names to grab the individual JPGs, in case you wanted to download and compare them yourself: Again the original PureView pair do best in terms of a natural, real life look, while the Lumia 950 and Google Pixel both show signs of sharpening and heavy processing, to the detriment of the photo in this case - the Pixel shot in particular has ugly detail when you look up close, as here. Nokia 808:  10pts; Lumia 1020: 10pts; Lumia 950: 8pts; Google Pixel: 7pts Test 3: Landscape (lake), overcast, zoomed in The same lake scene as above, but this time using the native zoom functions on each phone. Here's the overall zoomed scene, as shot by the Nokia 808: Now for some central crops from, in turn, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 XL and Google Pixel XL. Note that because the latter two have no exact scale in their UI it was hard to judge how far in I'd zoomed, so the framing doesn't match exactly. You'll get an idea of zoom quality though. Click the device names to grab the individual JPGs, in case y[...]

PureView 'take two' and the Google Pixel

Sun, 16 Oct 2016 16:14:00 GMT

Although it's somewhat galling to read of imaging advancements in the smartphone world that aren't being made by Nokia engineers huddled in a chilly Finland, it's worth putting into context where smartphone imaging seems to be settling and where this fits into the existing spectrum of phone cameras, with specific reference to classic Nokias of the past. You see, powered by ever faster chipsets, 'computational photography' is indeed where imaging has ended up and, on the whole, for the benefit of all.The term 'computational photography' itself really came in with Nokia's 808 PureView, the idea being to take a huge sensor of tiny pixels and then combine their output into 'oversampled' average values for each lower resolution (5MP) 'super-pixel'. Here, the computation itself happened in a dedicated processing chip, since the main smartphone processor was nowhere near powerful enough on its own. The system worked rather wonderfully, with the various downsides being: the large sensor (1/1.2" in the 808's case) required a certain vertical depth for all the optics too, making the 808 'courageously' thick(!) the 2011 sensor was relatively old, i.e. there was no Back Side Illumination and no optical stabilisation, two tech essentials from camera phones that were to follow. the 808 ran Symbian, a fine OS for the 'noughties' but which was showing its age (and that of its ecosystem) by 2012, when the 808 finally went on sale. You couldn't fault the purity and quality of the 808's images, but the three caveats above meant that further progress needed to be made. The Lumia 1020, a year later, solved the three caveats, with: a slightly smaller (1/1.5" sensor), making the camera vertical depth manageable. BSI and OIS both onboard for handheld low light shots par excellence... it ran the fairly new (and Internet age) Windows Phone 8.1. Nothing's perfect though, and the 2012 Lumia 1020 had its own caveat, namely that the oversampling down from the higher resolution sensor had to be done in the main processor, since there was no companion dedicated image processor (the 808's had been 'in development for five years' and could only be used with that particular phone), with the result that it took a full four seconds to oversample and save a JPG photo. And this was in the 'foreground', meaning that the user had to sit around and wait. Plus Windows Phone 8.1 itself was starting to look a little long in the tooth (with large tiles, a design for lower resolution screens, and so on), not to mention a fairly lowly market share which mean that third party applications weren't always plentiful. But the idea of PureView 'computational photography' was good, that of using digital means to make more of physical light received. One approach would be to take the 1020's PureView sensor and system and throw much faster chipsets at it - this was something I'd dearly like to have seen - imagine a 1080p-screened, Snapdragon 820-powered Lumia 1020 successor! However, Nokia (and then Microsoft, taking on the existing in-production designs when it bought Nokia up) went a different way, with the Lumia 930, 1520 and then 950 and 950 XL all going for 'only' 20MP and a much reduced PureView oversampling ratio, down to 8MP for its output. The main benefit was speed, of course, with not only shot to shot times of less than a second but also the possibility of genuine multi-shot HDR (bracketing, something which we'd been seeing on the iPhone 4S first in the phone world), though with the digital processing (combining exposures) pushed into the background while the user got on with something else on the phone. Results were good though, on the whole, up with the Lumia 1020 (and 808 before it) as you'll see from my chart below, looking at different ways of achieving ultimate image quality from a phone-sized camera: The intriguing part of the chart is [...]

Nokia Software Recovery Tool (NSRT) update makes it work again

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 06:54:35 GMT

DigiPassion reports the welcome news that Microsoft has updated the old Nokia Software Recovery Tool (NSRT) , thought abandoned, along with all some of the old Nokia Series 60/Symbian firmware images - and it all now works again, with images now firmly on Microsoft's servers! Guess Microsoft is not quite the 'evil empire' after all? Good news anyway, and this will breathe new life into quite a few older Symbian-based phones.From the DigiPassion piece: Good news for Nokia phone users! Microsoft recently released a new version of Nokia Software Recovery Tool (NSRT) for good old Nokia phones. In this release Microsoft has fixed the Nokia firmware download issue. As you may know Microsoft closed down all Nokia websites (including phone software repository) earlier this year. This rendered all the firmware downloading softwares (like Navifirm, Nokia Suite, NDPM, Nokia Care Suite etc) useless. This NSRT update makes it clear that (fortunately) Microsoft has not deleted the Nokia firmware files altogether. Rather they have just shifted the files to their own download servers. This shift resulted in change of firmware file URLs which can be accessed via new NSRT now. Hopefully other such softwares will also get updates in the future with access to new download URLs.... How to download Nokia phone firmware files using Nokia Software Recovery Tool? Download latest version of NSRT from here and install in your computer (compatible with Windows 7 or later OS) Launch NSRT and connect your Nokia phone (in switch ON condition) with computer using USB data cableWait for a while as NSRT detects the phone – it will show phone details at the left side and latest available phone software at the right-hand side Click “Install” button – read and agree to the terms – NSRT will start downloading firmware files – wait for the download process to complete If you just want to download the firmware files (and not want to flash the phone) then keep an eye over the download process and disconnect the phone just when the download finishes. Otherwise NSRT will start flashing the phone soon after the download process. You may then use these files later on to flash your phone via NSRT (or any other such software like Phoenix Service Software) in offline mode. Thanks to DigiPassion for spotting this welcome news. By the way, the 'here' link above is directly to the .exe file for Windows, so wait until you're on the PC that you're going to use until you hit it. Reports are in that only Symbian^3/Anna/Belle (upwards) devices are supported. So nothing for S60 5th Edition and before. At least, not yet. Not being able to 'recover' a messed up phone was a major pain in the Symbian world over the last year and many times I had to point people towards the Delight custom firmware pages. Delight is only available for a handful of phones and, of course, it's not exactly 'stock', so it's good to see that the official OS images are all back now online. Many people, including me back in 2014, had been downloading and stockpiling certain device firmware images 'just in case', but it seems now that this archiving wasn't necessary and that Microsoft still has every image needed. Of course, none of this helps fix other holes in Symbian's operation in late 2016, with gaps developing for social services, email, web browsing, and so on. There ARE workarounds for some things, feel free to share any of your favourite tips below or in an article submission to AAS. In an ideal world, I'd write them up myself, but I've moved on to Windows 10 Mobile and Android for my primary devices. C'est la vie.[...]

Where's the character? Fall in love, not into utility

Tue, 06 Sep 2016 06:47:00 GMT

As an industry watcher, the world of smartphones has never been more competitive or better value. It's also duller than ditchwater. And, apparently, growth has now stopped and sales are in decline... With IFA 2016 just over in Germany, where yet another batch of almost identical 5" touch slabs were announced, I'm tempted to suggest that now really is the time to look for character in our smartphones. Where are the USPs? Are they now relegated to older, almost retro, devices, while new products fall over themselves to stay anonymous?You'll have seen the tech news over the last year. Here's a typical (made up!) news post: Company ABC today is proud to announce two new phones, the XYZ Prime and the XYZ Prime Plus. With 5" and 5.5" 1080p touchscreens and Snapdragon 617 chipsets, these two new Android 6 smartphones wow with their metallic finish, 13MP HDR-capable cameras, 2GB RAM, and flexible storage, the second nanoSIM slot can double to accept microSD. It comes with a range of covers and comes in 'dark grey, silver and champagne gold'. Sound familiar? These devices will all look near identical too, touch slabs with iPhone-esque antenna lines, iPhone-esque curves and often with iPhone-esque UI nods too (Huawei/Honor even foregoes an app list/drawer). It's all a bit depressing. Not just for me or you, but for the industry as a whole - smartphones are now so similar that it makes very little difference which one you buy (away from the extreme bottom end) and the main differentiator is price, which doesn't bode well for anyone's profit margins. It also makes smartphones very hard to fall in love with. Yes, I know that's a strange statement to come out with, but I'm sure that everyone reading this has a favourite phone of days gone by, a phone which wasn't just a slice of high tech but seemed to have a character, a personality of its own. Something that you felt at one with, which you were happy to hold and cherish, more than a simple communications tool, a phone which fitted your needs better than anything else on the market? The motley selection above was gathered for a quick snap on the bed - I have something like 100 PDAs and smartphones from the last 25 years in my cupboards, but these will do to illustrate my point - there are some classics in the photo above. Let me pick out just a few which illustrate the 'character'/USP argument well: The Nokia N93 (top middle), with its 'TV mode', camcorder modes, flip phone modes, the N93 took lovely photos and video with stereo sound - too bad the actual smartphone experience was horribly crippled by the lack of RAM (a common Nokia trait, sadly). But nevertheless, every moment I picked up the N93 I had a sense of this being ultra-cool, of owning something exclusive, something special.   The Marshall London (just below the N93) retains one of my main SIMs to this day, even though it's patently outgunned by everything else from 2015 and 2016, because of the rubberised case, the stereo speakers with incredible fidelity and, yes, the Marshall logos - on the front, back, and even on the battery. It's just such a cool phone to own and use.  Any number of the Nokia QWERTY-keyboarded smartphones and communicators, but I'll pick out the Nokia E75 here (top right, in red!), the slide-out transformation from T9 candybar to QWERTY input was very well done and the keyboard surprisingly easy to type on - all in a very small physical form. As with most of the other phones here, it was also quite rare, so there was always the 'exclusivity' factor when typing on it in public!  The Nokia N82 (just below the E75, top right) - famously featured in the Stavros parodies (oh, go on, watch them in your lunch hour, you know you want to!) - the pinnacle, in 2007/2008 of phone imaging, thanks to a protected 5MP camera of high quality an[...]

InstaPro (Instagram) for Symbian gets huge updates

Mon, 05 Sep 2016 08:51:47 GMT

Born as 'Instagram' for Symbian (last covered here) and then presumably renamed to avoid legal action(!), InstaPro has had numerous updates in recent months, so here's a shout out to the latest version, v4.1.0, now available in the AppList stpre for Symbian.

I'd highlight that this is commercial software and that you'll need a license key before even starting it. And there's a slight barrier here in that you have to buy this license on the Web first. InstaPro helps with this by launching you into Web, but some have found that they needed to complete the (3 Euros) purchase on another device. Once you have your license key (a very 2006 way to do things!), you're good to go.

From the Store description:

  • All registration functions: Login & Register
  • Great browsing experience
  • Search users & locations and tags
  • Same interface with mobile for easy usage
  • Send & Get Direct Messages & Photos
  • Upload your photos with cool effects like gray or pop-art
  • See what are your following doing?
  • Accept & Deny follow requests
  • Follow your friends or verified users
  • Edit your profile informations including email confirmation.
  • Change or remove your profile photo
  • Connect your Facebook & Twitter account for sharing your photos on social networks.

And here's InstaPro in action, some promo screens:

(image) (image) (image)

Curiously, my own registration information from the original 'Instagram' version didn't seem acceptable, so data points welcome here. You might have to buy the app again?

Still, good to see someone still supporting this platform in 2016.

Hopefully the AppList Store is working out for you all. See here just in case you haven't already got this installed or if this is new to you. Also, if you have custom firmware installed, make sure you tick the option in settings to show 'unsigned' applications, you'll see extra applications!

Xenon pops up in the smartphone world again

Thu, 01 Sep 2016 08:17:48 GMT

Proper (Xenon) flash has been something of a major bullet point for many Symbian and Windows Phone users over the last decade. From Nokia N82 to N8 to 808 to Lumia 1020, Xenon is where it's at if you want super-crisp evening shots of people (think parties, receptions, and so on). And yet Xenon has been very rare in the smartphone world generally, i.e. away from classic Nokias. Yesterday at IFA 2016 in Germany though, Motorola announced a new 'Moto Mod' from camera specialists Hasselblad that includes a Xenon flash and transforms a brand new Moto Z phone into a DSLR of sorts. Yes, it's Android, but this tech development is very definitely a 'link of interest' here, I think. To scale, the Nokia 808 PureView, the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Moto Z Play plus Hasselblad 'True Zoom' Moto Mod... From PhoneScoop's coverage: First, the True Zoom is not an independent camera. You cannot use it without a Z Droid; it has no battery of its own and needs power from the Z Play. That's kind of a bummer. The True Zoom completely covers the phone's camera, where other mods leave the camera exposed. That means when the True Zoom is attached to the Z Play, you're using the True Zoom and not the internal camera to take pictures. Ironically, the True Zoom is about the same size as an independent camera. It snaps onto the back of the Z Play like any other mod. It fits firmly and won't fall off, despite its weight. Yeah, this thing is heavy. I don't have an actual number, but the phone+camera is weighty — and bulky — as hell. In fact, the combo was too big for my jeans. The added physical controls might be worth the bulk. The Hasselblad has its own shutter button, zoom dial, and power button. Pressing the power button turns on the camera and wakes the Z Play. Alternately, you can wake the camera directly from the app or the writ-twisting gesture common to Motorola phones. I love having the zoom dial and two-stage shutter button to focus and snap the shutter. The True Zoom has its own 12-megapixel sensor and xenon flash. The flash is hella bright, and images are automatically stored in the phone, not somewhere in the camera. What are the benefits of this mod? There are several. First, 10x optical zoom. You get the benefit of glass to help in and in so doing retain all the pixels of the image. Second, optical image stabilization. This helps reduce shake. The flash is much brighter than any available on a smartphone. Last,it can capture images in RAW format, which aids in editing after the fact. Which all sounds interesting, with the caveat that the snapped-on Mod is pretty huge - think a Lumia 1020 with the official DSLR Grip clipped on. Plus, as you'll see from Michael Fisher's hands-on below, the True Zoom mod is also incredibly slow at focussing, almost unusably slow - probably a byproduct of having to use the phone's CPU to do most of the contrast-based auto-focus, I suspect, and this through a pogo-pin interface. Let's hope that software updates can improve things. See the last section of Michael's review here: src="" width="853" height="480" frameborder="0"> It's all a tiny bit underwhelming, we wouldn't expect sub-Lumia 1020 focussing performance in 2016 tech. Even though Xenon fans will be waiting to see my own verdict on this when review loan hardware becomes available. PS. Here are the official specs of the Hasselblad True Zoom, is it wrong of me to say that I'd still much rather have a Lumia 1020, with much larger sensor, full OIS when shooting video? Dimensions 152.3 x 72.9 x 9.0 - 15.1 mm Weight 145g Sensor resolution 12MP Video resolution 1080p Full HD at 30fps Mics 2 Sensor type BSI CMOS Sensor size 1/2.3-inch Pixel size 1.55 um Apert[...]

Juha Alakarhu: end of an era in imaging, but I'd argue that has also plateaued

Mon, 01 Aug 2016 17:32:29 GMT

Today marks the first for Juha Alakarhu back at Nokia, though this isn't quite as significant as it sounds, see my thoughts below. Of course, we're very happy that he's back in an imaging-related job and in his beloved Finland!

Juha was crucially instrumental in most of the Nokia imaging breakthroughs over the last decade, taking us from the days of 2MP fixed focus phone cameras right up to tens of Megapixels, advanced OIS and oversampling, through the Symbian era (including N8 and 808) and then Windows Phone (Lumia 920, 1020). Juha was taken on board to Microsoft as part of the Nokia Devices division take-over, but has now headed over to pastures new at... Nokia, though this time it's the Ozo professional 360 degree camera team.

Here's his tweet from earlier:

Congratulations to him on the new job, though contrary to the usual 'gloom and doom' reports around the web, his departure from Microsoft won't have any real impact, since the top end phone camera components available to all manufacturers are now very close to the best of Lumia.

In other words, Juha and his team advanced phone imaging enormously from about 2005 to 2015, but the latter has definitely plateaued in recent months - I still rate the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, in development from 2014 and released late 2015, as the best camera phones in the world, but the margins are now so small that you really have to look down at the pixel level to establish the margin of victory. So a no-name manufacturer in China can look at the possible components from the top camera factories and pluck out (say) a 16MP unit with 1/2.4" sensor, OIS and multi-LED flash, and get results not too far off what Juha's last babies under Microsoft could achieve, all at relatively minimal cost and without any real R&D.

Of course, there's more to imaging than just the hardware, and we've seen software algorithms and image processing make quite a difference - and it's also here where the 950 and 950 XL score. But, thanks mainly to Juha and team, the hardware's 'done', the software's 'done' and there's not really anywhere else to go in terms of consumer smartphone imaging. If the rumoured Microsoft 'Surface phone' (what I've referred to cheekily in the past as a 'Lumia 1060') uses the identical camera units to the 950 and 950 XL then this will already be eminently 'good enough'. And then some.

So hats off to Juha and his team and we genuinely wish them well in their efforts to advance imaging tech on new fronts - just don't get too depressed that your existing Lumia's imaging is suddenly second rate!

Why are we stuck at 75% (screen-to-body ratio)?

Thu, 21 Jul 2016 16:41:00 GMT

Despite the various pros and cons for 'touch' over the years, we're firmly in a mode in the tech world now where touch makes the most sense, in terms of text input, controls and general interaction. So why haven't we seen screen sizes increase to fill most of the front area of our phones? I examine the history of the form factor, in terms of screen-to-body ratio, and wonder whether we can't have our cake and eat it, in terms of phones that are manageable yet with monster displays...I'd like to start, as Jule Andrews once sang, "at the very beginning". In this case around the year 2000, when the first smartphones were starting to appear. I'll gloss over the Nokia Communicator line, since they were clamshell devices and once you introduce a hinge then all bets are off in terms of screen size analysis (the 2016 equivalent might be thinking about folding AMOLED screens, as rumoured in Samsung's line-ups). So, with a deep breath, and with a few notes and caveats: I can only fit a handful of example/classic devices on the chart because otherwise it would get far too busy I assume perfectly right angled device corners, i.e. a rectangular form factor, to simplify the maths (slightly - it still needs some trigonometry!) I also assume perfectly square pixel matrices, but this is pretty much a given as otherwise your images and content would be noticeably squished(!) I assume flat display fronts, something which you can't take for granted with the arrival of the Samsung 'edge' phones, whose display is genuinely wrapped around a little at the edges. So these end up with slightly higher ratios than for traditional flat-display phones, below. An obvious trend upwards, as you'd expect, as technology became ever smaller in terms of chipsets and components, while the cost of larger and higher resolution screens came down. There are some surprises along the way - who'd have thought that the screen-to-body ratio of the first smartphones was so low? 18% for the venerable Nokia 3650 (though its curved front rather messes up my rectangle-based maths, so take this with a pinch of salt)! At least the Sony Ericsson P800 and the Windows Mobile range led the way, with larger screens and relatively smaller bezels - though look at any of those early smartphones side on and you'd be AMAZED how thick they are. In 2016, if a phone is over 1cm thick it's pronounced as a 'brick' - smartphones in the early 2000s were regularly well over 2cm thick! The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 broke the 50% mark for the first time and clearly started something of a trend. Capacitive screens and who cares about the cost, etc... However, the cost came down quickly and the iPhone range got overtaken by first the flagships in the Android world: the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 5, and Nexus 6 all spring to mind in terms of large screens and small bezels for their era. And secondly, every other mobile OS/variant, of which Windows 10 Mobile is probably the most notable, with the Lumia 950 XL having an insanely high ratio, bettered only by the (cheating slightly) Galaxy 'edge' series. But what's curious is how the trend has flattened out at about the 75% mark. Now, given my assumptions above, not least about a device having 90° corners - which would be very uncomfortable (though the Lumia 1520 had a good try at this), plus the compulsory earpiece speaker and top-of-phone sensors, it's evident that getting close to 100%, i.e. all-screen, is never going to be possible. But why can't it get close to 90%? The old excuses were that there had to be space for physical controls down the bottom, and that you had to have somewhere to grip the phone 'down there'. But I don't buy these excuses anymore - the Windows controls [...]

15 Nokia N8s make up a Mobile Muster

Sun, 17 Jul 2016 20:53:00 GMT

Here's something interesting - and it features 15 Nokia N8s, would you believe... Artist Paul Sattress has assembled the discarded Symbian flagships from 2010 into an art installation, video shown below, part of the 'Mobile Muster' trade display, to be shown off on August 10th 2016.

From Paul:

I help those who help me be a public artist, and that is why this piece will appear at a trade show in the Mobile Muster stand. I was interviewed last year for Mobile Muster during National Recycling week.  This interview describes how I display and why. You can read it at This Telstra blog post focused on another phone piece called 'The Waifs', by the way.

The video below is Paul's latest creation, months in the making, with special circuitry installed inside each N8 to allow the display to be driven in this way. Impressive, eh? Even if it's not really anything to do with Symbian....(!)

src="" width="853" height="480" frameborder="0">

Whatsapp to stop working on Symbian at the end of 2016

Mon, 11 Jul 2016 10:46:10 GMT

Thanks to Lawrence W for the heads-up and photo below - it seems that Whatsapp, a faithful stalwart on Symbian for a decade, is to end support for the platform at the end of this year. One by one, modern services are ending support for Symbian - obviously by not coding for it anymore, but also - as in this case - by a physical break in service, probably because servers dedicated to handling Symbian-specific traffic are being reassigned or decommissioned.

Here's the message that Lawrence got:


Will this affect you? Do you still use Symbian for Whatsapp messaging? Comments welcome!

QDL, cuteTube and cuteRadio get updates, make sure you stay current

Tue, 07 Jun 2016 16:39:31 GMT

Big changes are afoot at long time Symbian stalwart developer Marxoft, with a brand new release of his Qt-based DownLoad manager (QDL), plus corresponding new versions of cuteTube and cuteRadio, see all the quotes and links below. Note that these new versions are newer than those in the AppList Store (which seems to have gone quiet).

From Stuart, regarding QDL:

QDL has now been updated to version 2.1.0, with an initial release for the Symbian platform. This is a major update with an entirely new codebase and improved plugin APIs, including support for plugins written in JavaScript aswell as Qt/C++ (I will hopefully document these soon). New features include global and download-specific custom commands (executed when the download is completed), and support for dynamic settings requests (such as an option to choose a video format or provide login credentials) from plugins when making download requests.

But what you really want to see are the new versions of his YouTube client and his Internet Radio app. So....

With regarding cuteTube:

cuteTube2 for Symbian has now been updated to version 0.2.8. This update fixes playback and download of some videos that had previously stopped working. However, due to a lack of support for SSL in the Symbian multimedia backend, videos that require SSL will remain unplayable unless downloaded first.

In addition to the playback/download fix, the update includes a small UI change to use the status bar for page titles, resulting in some extra space for content.

You can update to 0.2.8 by getting the SIS package from here.

And regarding cuteRadio:

cuteRadio for Symbian has now been updated to version 0.4.2. This is a minor update that includes a small UI change to use the status bar for page titles, resulting in some extra space for content.

You can update to 0.4.2 by choosing 'Update' within the application, or by getting the SIS package from here.

Great work from Stuart, they both seem to work perfectly - yes, even in 2016 - on Symbian Belle (Delight) here on my Nokia 808. Comments welcome regarding compatibility below!

I've been trying to establish why these updates don't appear in AppList, to no avail. Anyone know?

Video sound capture tested: 808/1020/950/Marshall

Fri, 13 May 2016 08:29:00 GMT

One of the requests in the comments recently was to test audio capture when shooting videos. And, as it happens, I'd been thinking about doing this for a while anyway. So I headed out with six smartphones and tried to shoot video and audio in as controlled conditions as possible: in a quiet garden, by a windy, noisy road, and in a rock-level music setting. That should be enough to set the best from the rest, I thought... Here are the six smartphones I took with me: Nokia 808 PureView Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone 8.1) Lumia 950 (running Windows 10 Mobile Lumia 950 XL (running Windows 10 Mobile 14xxx, i.e. Redstone) Marshall London (Android 5.1) Lumia 930 (running Windows 10 Mobile 14xxx, i.e. Redstone, but the slow ring) The inclusion of the Marshall London was because it claims stereo MEMS microphones, just like the best Lumias, i.e. is 'gig ready'. We'll see. And the order of the devices above was messed up slightly by me (ahem) forgetting to shoot with it at first. Oh well. Yes, there are a hundred other devices and OS combinations I could have tried, but these are only data points at the end of the day. What I was particularly interested in was how the various generations of Nokia/Lumia fared against each other - and also whether that Marshall phone could come close. My test video/audio settings were: sitting in my summerhouse, looking out on a quiet garden - listening for birdsong and, well, silence - is there too much hiss from the phone's audio capture system? by a breezy, fairly noisy road - here looking at how well the microphones in the phones resist/cancel out wind noise, mainly. in a gig situation (ok, a jam night), testing how well the phone's microphones stand up to rock decibels! And it was loud - very loud, I was sitting right in front of the PA and drum kit and my ears are still ringing 12 hours later! I then compiled the footage from all the smartphones into a montage, with comments below on how the various smartphones did. Bear in mind that the video below is hosted on YouTube, and so some of the service's compression will have been used, though I wouldn't expect that to affect audio much. Note also that the video side of things is deliberately only at 720p - I wasn't testing the picture side of things at all, so I kept things quick and light. src="" width="853" height="480"> Here's my assessment of how each smartphone did on the audio front. Note that this would be the point in a cross-device video capture comparison where I point out that the 'gig' bit is a non-starter for most smartphones because they simply can't cope with the volume - yet every phone here coped well, thanks to Nokia and then Microsoft (and Marshall's) use of MEMS high amplitude microphones. Amazing. Anyway, on with the verdicts: Nokia 808 PureView: decently low noise during video capture (and lowish frequency) - it's why I use it to film my Phones Show to this day; good wind resistance when shooting outdoors; exemplary gig recording at the loudest levels - the audio this produces would pass for a professional live album soundtrack.   Nokia Lumia 1020: slightly louder background noise and higher pitched (and so more noticeable); microphones pick up more wind noise, but not showstoppingly so; excellent gig recording, if not quite up to the 808's level of dynamics and crispness.  Microsoft Lumia 950: horrible left channel clicking artefacts are evident - I've been reporting these to Microsoft for months - it's definitely a software thing. I'm guessing an issue in the firmware; [...]

Xenon or triple LED? Investigating camera phone flash capabilities

Wed, 27 Apr 2016 12:42:00 GMT

One of the most popular sub-topics in my features on camera-toting smartphones is low light and night time capabilities. Now, partly this is about arty shots of sunsets, churches and fountains, but more usually in the real world this is about friends and family in living rooms, pubs and events. Which usually means relying on your smartphone camera's flash. With LED flash now coming in 'triple' form and with many differences in processing capabilities under the hood, I thought some tests were in order. Will Xenon, the original winning tech, still come out on top? Some of the camera phone (flashes) tested! Of course, testing this without exposing real world friends and family is going to be tricky, and I can't rely on a pet since they never do remotely the same thing twice. So I reverted to the original best test of camera flash capabilities: a spinning fan in a dim environment. It's not a perfect simulation of snapping humans in low light but it should give us some interesting data points and insights. Here there are contender smartphones and cameras I used. I may add to this table in the coming weeks, depending on the other hardware arriving for review:   Flash tech Lights Stabilisation? Nokia 808 Xenon 1 none Lumia 1020 Xenon 1 OIS Lumia 950 LED 3 OIS Lumia 930 LED 2 OIS Lumia 640 LED 1 none Google Nexus 5 LED 1 OIS Google Nexus 6 LED 2 OIS Google Nexus 6P LED 2 none Apple iPhone 6 LED 2 none Apple iPhone 4s LED 1 none Xenon flashes should light my subject more fully and much faster, of course, with typical Xenon flash pulses lasting as short as 10 microseconds, which is why I love quoting the example of 'freezing' people dancing at a party or club. But there are other factors at play - larger apertures let in more light on the newer phones, meaning that shutter times for LED-lit shots can be shorter, plus the use of triple LED again adds less need for a long exposure (and thus a blurry subject). And then there's post processing, now very practical with such powerful modern chipsets in smartphones - so known colour balance issues can be corrected, noise reduced, details sharpened, and so on. Usually with good effect. So, my test shot then. A spinning fan, about 1.5 metre away (typical of many people/evening/candid shots), moving from side to side but caught head-on at each point in its cycle, against a white background, with just a 60W overhead ceiling light on and providing ambient lighting. I tried the shot several times, handheld, with each of the test smartphones and discarded any that looked like they were sub-standard - the crops here are the best the phone cameras could do. Here's the overall scene, (as shot by the Nokia 808 PureView and brightened slightly for this overview shot): And here are central crops, scaled appropriately (though not massively) so that the field of view is similar in each case. I'm marking each phone camera here on illumination, motion freezing (i.e. lack of blur in the fan blades and, in extreme cases, the fan body itself), and shutter lag (the shutter icon was tapped as the fan passed the central position in each case, but with flash turned on some of the phones acquired a definite 'lag' before the shot was taken: Nokia 808 PureView: Not bad, though ultimately darker than we're used to in these days of large apertures and OIS ('turning night into day'!) Perfectly frozen though, the 808 went with a shutter speed of 1/50s (aperture is fixed at f/2.4) but with the very bright Xenon flash nearly [...]

FileNotes debuts on Symbian, a slick text and notes editor

Mon, 18 Apr 2016 07:04:54 GMT

Described as a "FileNotes is a lean text editor for Symbian that provides convenient access to the files you need to keep on hand", this is brand new in the Symbian AppStore client today. Of special note is full physical QWERTY support, i.e for the Nokia E6 and E7.

From the AppStore description:

  • Immediate note taking: starts with focus on last opened file.
  • Direct Save/Quit button.
  • Data are saved as standard plain text files (unlike the native 'Notes' application).
  • Volume keys modify font size.
  • Toolbar: wrap, arrows to help positioning the cursor precisely, delete left/right, select word/line/all, copy/cut/paste, keyboard on/off, indent, insert bullet. Long press buttons for additional behavior.
  • Gesture: swipe two fingers over the toolbar to undo/redo.
  • Rotation sensor: tilt the phone to switch backspace between 'left' and 'right' direction. While virtual keyboard is opened this will move the cursor.
  • Home-screen widget to show text excerpt and provide shortcut.
  • Menu > History for quick reopening.
  • Menu > E-mail to send current file or selection.
  • Menu > Options to customize ergonomics, style-sheet and widget display.
  • Virtual keyboard: choose between standard layout and former 'Anna' style.
  • Compatible with E6 physical keyboard and Ctrl shortcuts: C, V, X, A, Z, Y, S (save), O (open), N (new), Q (close), E (e-mail), T (indent with tabulation), W (toggle wrap), H (history), R (reload)

Some screenshots of this in use:

(image) (image)

The full text editing interface, very slick and programmed using the Qt libraries; (right) plenty to fiddle with in the settings

(image) (image)

More settings, this time looking at the supplied homescreen widget, able to show the first part of an opened text file, for quick reference and access...

You can grab FileNotes here in the AppStore.

Hopefully the AppList Store is working out for you all. See here just in case you haven't already got this installed or if this is new to you. Also, if you have custom firmware installed, make sure you tick the option in settings to show 'unsigned' applications, you'll see extra applications!