Monday, June 23, 2008

SE k850i - great cam, shame about the other stuff

After much hype and anticipation, the iPhone 3G has landed, and despite addressing the main failings of the original iPhone, the new model is still lacking a decent camera.

I don't know why this should be a problem for a gadgeteer like myself. Why not just carry around my regular digital camera and be done with it. Well, as I've found out as the owner of a Samsung X820, having a camera always with you is very appealing for those moments when you didn't bring along the camera. But the Sammy, bless it, sported a 2 megapixel camera and no flash whatsoever. Just like the iPhone 3G. And having a decent camera in a phone was becoming more important to me.

So, a couple of months ago, I upgraded to a Sony Ericsson K850i. It's a bit rubbish. I'll tell you why.

After the svelte form of the X820s 6.9mm lovelyness, carrying the K850i is rather like trying to shove a Portakabin in your pocket. It's a bit of a porker. Next up is the awful navigation pad. It fails for several reasons. It's painful to use - ok not painful, just uncomfortable. Sometimes you inadvertently hit one of the two numeric keys it surrounds, and, unless you have the fingers of an elf, sometimes you touch the middle touch soft-key, sending operation of the phone off at a tangent.

Ah, the touch keys. What wonder. Did you know some other phones are operated by touch? Yes indeedy. And Sony thought it was about time they too put a toe in the water with regards a touch interface. Well, that toe, I'm afraid, has just been nibbled off by the piranhas, for it seems that implementing a decent touch interface is harder than it looks. Eh Sony? Let's face it, the touch screen element on the K850i is abysmal. And for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. Pun intended.

You see, it's not that the touch interface doesn't work, it's just that it's so bleedin' inconsistent. Most of the time all that is required is the lightest gossamer like stroke and the interface snaps to attention. At other times, I'm pressing the screen so hard I fear the phone will implode in my hands. Could it be that I caught the phone napping? That it wasn't quite ready for my prodding digits? Sometimes it takes seconds to respond, my thumb going white under the pressure and my face going red in silent rage. This is not a good human/phone experience.

Naturally, instinct tells you to try prodding the touch button again because, you know, maybe the phone didn't 'feel' me the first time. Of course, now the phone instantly responds by registering two presses, and if the first press was the 'back' button, the second almost without fail activates Vodafone bleeding Live because it shares the same soft key position as the 'back' button. Cue much cursing. And every time this happens, I have to remind myself why I bother to put up with such miserable design failings. I'll tell you. 5 megapixels. Autofocus. Xenon flash.

Yes, the K850i happens to be a very good camera. A camera I can carry wherever I go. I forgive the school bus proportions. I forgive the laughable attempt at 'touch'. I forgive the awful design decisions that led to that navpad. Did I mention the stupidly small keys, too? I forgive it all, because this is a decent camera phone. And that's just as well, because I have another 16 months of contract to go before an upgrade comes along. And by then, perhaps the iPhone will have caught up in the imaging department.

Normally I'd sign off here, on a high note. But for those seeking decent video capture from the K850i will be disppointed. I know I was, as 18 months beyond the Samsung X820, I find that the K850i markedly poorer in it's ability to capture video. Where the X820 did QVGA at 15fps, the K850i does the same at 30fps. But 30fps is wasted if the compression is too extreme, which it is on this phone. Shoot anything with trees, or grass, or gravel, or, well , detail of any sort and the result is a horrible mess of compression artefacts. The Samsung had a lower framrate but the video was at least watchable. Poor show, Sony.