Samsung has long been at the forefront of the camera phone market with it boasting the UK’s first 8-megapixel model, the i8510 (Innov8), among its accolades. Sadly that milestone didn’t mark the end of the megapixel race, though, so today I’m looking at a 12-megapixel model, the Samsung M8910 Pixon 12. Thankfully, there is more to this phone than just a pixel bump so let’s take a look.
First and foremost, this is possibly the most camera-like camera phone we’ve ever seen in terms of ergonomics. This is mostly due to the proper textured hand grip that makes this by far the easiest phone to hold and use as a camera – assuming you’re right handed that is. The lens is also much larger than those found on most phones and its housing protrudes a fair distance from the body of the phone as well. The lack of a keypad or keyboard (due to this being a touchscreen phone) also enhances the camera feel. Finally, there’s a dedicated camera power button as well as the shutter button. This brings the phone out of standby and straight into the camera application without the need to unlock the phone first, so you’ve more chance of capturing that fleeting Kodak moment.
Further physical camera based features include a proper Xenon flash above the lens, and off to the side is an additional LED for shooting video in the dark – a very welcome addition.
Unsurprisingly, due to all this extra hardware, the Pixon 12 isn’t the most attractive of phones. That said, with dimensions of 108mm x 53mm x 17mm, it’s actually quite a sensibly sized phone that fits comfortably in the hand and is easy to handle. We also like how all the buttons are positioned in such a way that you don’t ever need to shift your grip to reach them (again, this is a slightly right hand-biased point) – something large phones like the iPhone classically fall down on.
Looking round those buttons, we find call answer, menu, and call end ones on the front while the right side is home to the aforementioned shutter button and camera button with the volume rocker/zoom control above these. A lanyard loop also nestles in the bottom right corner (top right when in camera/landscape mode). On the left is the lock button and, above this, a microSD slot. The phone only comes with 150MB of onboard memory but does come with a 2GB card to get you started and will accept 16GB microSDHC cards.
Up top, meanwhile, is the micro-USB data and charging socket that’s hidden behind a little flap. This also doubles as the headset socket and there’s a micro-USB to 3.5mm headset adapter in the box. Initially we thought sound quality from it was appalling. Samsung appeared to have cranked up the bass level in the EQ so that with its own earphones (that normally lack any semblance of bass) it sounds passable. However, if you plug a half decent set of headphones in it gives your music that same unique and disappointing timbre that you get when standing outside the venue of a gig on a cold November night, slowly getting soaked to the bone by the UK’s famed drizzle as you desperately try to woo the bouncers into letting you in, and all you can hear is a muffled rumble accompanied by the occasional snatch of guitar or vocals floating on the fetid steamy air that drifts from the high windows.
Hmmm, got a bit carried aware there. As it turned out, though, this was the effect of turning on the ‘5.1 channel’ mode, which automatically comes on when you insert headphones. It took us noticing this setting on another Samsung phone (where the button was actually visible without having to tap the album art first) before we worked out that this same setting must’ve been in use on this phone. Long story, short; don’t use the ‘5.1 channel’ mode for music.
Next to the micro-USB socket is the release button for the backplate. Pressing this pops off the tough black anodised aluminium back to reveal the battery and SIM card slot. The battery is only a 1,000mAh (3.7V) unit but we found this to be enough for taking several dozen photos and a few short video clips, listening to an hour of mp3 playback, and doing a couple of hours web browsing and general faffing over the course of three days. Samsung quotes a minimum three hrs of talk time, which is quite low, but standby time is a minimum of 250 hrs. With heavy use we think you’d have to charge this phone every other day.
The M8910’s 3.1in screen uses resistive touch sensing technology so has a soft flexible surface that will be very prone to scratching. To counter this, Samsung includes a fitted case that protects the screen and most of the body of the phone, leaving just the lens and camera controls exposed. This means you could theoretically take shots without removing the case but you’ll have to guess the framing of your shots and you won’t be able to use the flash or LED as theses are all covered.
Responsiveness of the screen is acceptable, so typing using the onscreen keyboards is reasonably easy and the various flicking and tapping gestures required for navigating other features work well. However, it’s not a patch on devices that use hard, capacitive touchscreens. Largely making up for this (though the two features don’t have to be mutually exclusive) is the quality of the display. It uses AMOLED technology so delivers a really bright, vivid picture that really brings pictures and, in particular, videos to life. The 480 x 800 pixels also provide plenty of sharp detail and viewing angles are exceptional so framing scenes with the phone held above your head is quite possible.
In use the camera feels as intuitive and quick as many a dedicated compact camera. Pressing the camera power button gets you ready to take a photo in about two seconds while shot to shot time is about three seconds, though with flash this drops to around six seconds as the flash takes a while to recharge. Incidentally, lowering the picture quality doesn’t seem to speed things up a great deal.
There is a continuous mode but this is a special high speed version that takes up to nine photos at 6fps and results in pictures that are only 640 x 480 pixels. There’s also a panorama mode that provides a guide for taking each shot then stitches them all together automatically. Again, the end result is woefully small at only 1,280 x 960 pixels.
The Pixon 12’s camera also has object tracking. This is activated by touching an object on the screen which sets the focus and exposure for that object and then dynamically maintains them as it moves around. It works well if the object is moving quite slowly but we can’t imagine it being all that effective in truly fast-paced situations.
The latest favourite, Smile Shot, is also present and works a treat. This detects faces then waits for everyone to break out a lovely smile before taking the shot. The last two modes are Beauty, which is essentially conventional face detection that adjusts exposure and white balance to make skin look as beautiful as possible, and Natural, which applies a vignetting effect to make pictures look like an antique photo.
Overall results are pretty impressive with a level of detail (in good lighting) that noticeably surpasses my own compact camera. Exposure is generally accurate, the flash is well-metered, and colours look natural. We still maintain that 12-megapixels is excessive for a simple point-and-shoot camera, though. While detail may be better than my 7-megapixel compact, the quality is still not good enough that you’d actually use it for anything more than casual snaps, in which case you could easily get away with half the resolution.
As for video, the quality is again quite impressive and the single LED has enough power to sufficiently light up close objects (i.e. enough to show up your mates’ awful dancing in a dingy night club).
The overall interface has had a bit of an overhaul since the last Samsung handset I looked at, though it retains much of the same style and functionality. The main changes are in how it handles touch input, with proper finger scrolling now implemented; both portrait and landscape keyboards are supported; and menus now have a more intuitive layout. It’s all subtle stuff but they combine to make a big difference to the phone’s usability. If only the touchscreen itself were a little more sensitive it would be quite impressive.
One thing that lets the party down is Samsung’s insistence on using widgets. These are little apps that you can fill the main screen with to give you instant access to notes, emails, favourite contacts, etc. In theory they sound quite useful but we generally find that bar a few basics like music playback controls and a Wi-Fi switch, it would be preferable to just go into the full app rather than faff around in a miniature version. This is where we think Android phones trump all others in finding this right balance of simplicity and functionality.
The web browser works well, correctly displaying complicated full size web pages. It is, however, a little slow and doesn’t support flash.
While this is far from a smartphone there is email support and Microsoft Exchange syncing is possible. There’s also a document viewer while other features include an FM Radio, several Java games, timer, stopwatch, world clock, calculator, converter (currency, weight, etc.), video editor, and voice recorder.
The Samsung M8910 Pixon 12 is undoubtedly the best camera phone we’ve used. It produces great pictures, is easy to use and has all the modern features you’d expect. However it’s scratch-prone touchscreen, and a few other niggles mean it’s not a phone we’d outright recommend.
”’(centre)Overall colour reproduction and detail levels are impressive in good lighting.(/centre)”’
”’(centre)The Panorama mode stiches together up to four photos to create single super wide or super tall images.(/centre)”’
”’Comparison sample shots from Canon 850 IS”’
Score in detail
|Screen Size (inches) (Inch)||3.1in|
|Internal Storage (Gigabyte)||0.15GB|
|Camera (Megapixel)||12 Megapixel|
|Front Facing Camera (Megapixel)||Yes Megapixel|
|3.5mm Headphone Jack||No|
Processor and Internal Specs