The efforts of phone manufacturers to cram more and more pixels into the lenses of the built-in cameras is nothing short of relentless. Samsung has hit 10-megapixels with its SCH-B600 phone, but that is of course no more than a technology statement and is only available in Korea anyway. Here in the UK, the best we can get right now is 3.2 million courtesy of Sony Ericsson’s K800i, the first SE phone to carry the Cyber-shot branding.
It is not just about pixels, though, and Sony Ericsson has added in some non pixel-count features which augment the K800i’s potential as a cameraphone.
None of what follows is intended to suggest that you can use the K800i as a replacement for a dedicated digital camera for serious photography, but I do think that this handset does wonders for the idea of a mobile phone as a ‘snap and share’ and ‘snap and keep’ and even ‘snap and print’ device.
In hardware terms the K800i isn’t much to look at. Small (105 x 47 x 22 mm), light (115g) and unprepossessing in terms of design with shades of slate grey and silver and white highlights, it doesn’t give the appearance of being a top end handset.
The front facing controls are dominated by a small joystick which is one of the better ones I’ve used. It is responsive and has plenty of travel. You can programme its four directions for specific functions.
There are two absolutely tiny buttons to the far left and right of the joystick that need to be approached with a fingernail if you are to hit them accurately.
One launches the web browser, the other is the Activity Menu key which contains four tabbed sections: these are more shortcuts to applications, web bookmarks, notifications about missed calls and new messages, and, helpfully the chance to close any running applications that might be slowing the handset down.
The front facing camera for video calling is absolutely tiny and located in the speaker grille where it is not obviously visible. But when making test 3G calls the camera delivered fine quality images to the K800i and the receiving handset.
You get the software for the primary, rear mounted camera started by sliding a substantial cover off its lens or pressing a dedicated button on the bottom right edge of the casing that is then also used to take snaps.
When I rested the K800i in landscape mode to frame shots my left thumb invariably rested on a key on the opposite edge that provides a pause and stop function for music playback. Sony Ericsson has recessed that key so there is no danger of accidentally hitting it while using the camera, a neat design touch. However, there is a danger of the shutter opening in your pocket, activating the camera and running the battery down, so watch out for that.
Camera extras include an auto focus that lets you get quite close to a subject and still produce a crisp shot, and BestPic, which shoots no less than nine images when you depress the shutter button. You flick through them to chose what you want to keep. Shutter lag is minimal and even when doing some pretty speedy panning I got no blurring in my test shots.
Then there is the picture blogging. You take a picture, then from the camera’s More menu you choose ‘Blog this’. The picture is resized, and you give it a name and a description then send it to your photo blog.
The first time you do this the blog is automatically created and you are sent a text with login details. Share this with others and they can access your creations. Now I have to say my review handset had some trouble creating the blog, but it had been with other reviewers before I got it and maybe it didn’t like the idea of starting over.
The 16x digital zoom is best steered clear of, but the xenon flash seemed to deliver better quality indoor images than I am used to seeing from a phone and if you have a PictBridge capable printer you can print direct from the handset. Panorama shooting and frames are among the various extras available to liven up your images.
The hardware controls are very well thought through. Both softkey buttons and the joystick help you access features and settings quickly, and two further small buttons above the screen give access to more. One of these calls up thumbnail images regardless of what else you are doing with the handset at the time. If you have ever fumbled on a handset for a particular shot to show to a friend you will know how valuable this is.
There is only 64MB of built in memory, which doesn’t seem a great deal for a handset designed with snapping in mind, and certainly won’t cater for much music. Expansion is achieved via Sony Memory Stick Micro cards. These are as tiny as microSD and as fiddly to use. The slot is on the left edge of the casing and it is protected by a cover.
The K800i has a generally strong range of non-camera related features on offer. There is calendar and contact software that will share information with your PC using the provided PC Suite software and cable. There is music playback (of course – this is a Sony Ericsson handset), and its quality is good enough for listening to while travelling.
The range of additional software is so strong that there isn’t room to do much more than just list the highlights. As well as being able to make your own ringtones you can play three games, one of which, a Tennis game, shows off the handset’s 3D rendering nicely. Web browsing on the 240 x 320 pixel, 262,000 colour, 2in display is made easier by the fact that you can flip between portrait and landscape screen modes.
An RSS reader works independently of the browser and is an absolute treat for getting information really quickly. An FM radio augments the music playback. There are image and video editors, and the usual other stuff like alarms, notes management, sound recorder, and stopwatch.
During testing I ran an MP3 looping test and got eleven and a quarter hours of music. On standby the handset lasted at least week between charges. I’d probably want to charge it every other day in the real world, but it should happily survive a long weekend away from mains power.
The only disappointments are that the phone uses Sony’s proprietary flash memory formats and its own, proprietary headphone connector preventing use of regular 3.5mm headsets.
Sony Ericsson seems to have thought quite carefully about what people want from a cameraphone and done its best to oblige both in terms of hardware controls and software extras. It is the imaging extras as much as the raw megapixels that should justify the purchase of this handset. Even without those this is a neat, tidy and very impressive 3G handset.
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