When I decided to dump my Symbian-powered smartphones and pick up the Nexus One, I knew there would be some sacrifices involved. One of the biggest things that I knew I would be giving up is a solid phontography experience. If you don’t know, ‘phontography‘ is photography using phones. I’m a huge fan of phontography, and really don’t see the need for a stand-alone camera, specifically with the great selection of solid cameraphones and the connectivity they offer. However, I didn’t realize just how big of a sacrifice this would be until I started using my Nexus One. There are two parts to the phontography experience – hardware and software (much like any other phone use-case-scenario these days).
This one’s tough to complain about with the Nexus One, for a few reasons. For starters, I knew ahead of time that the phone lacked a dedicated camera button and decent flash. I also knew that it only has a 5 megapixel camera, and that reviewers had discovered it took rather poor photos. Unfortunately, there are precious few manufacturers building GSM Android-powered smartphones with support for AT&T’s 3G network, much less ones with decent cameras. This is a major reason that I want Nokia to build a few Android-powered smartphones– they dominate in the camera arena, and that’s a niche in the Android ecosystem that’s currently not being addressed at all.
Of course, there are Android-powered smartphones that bring the megapixel count to the table – that’s easy. What the other manufacturers are missing is the various other hardware improvements that Nokia has been focusing on with newer devices like the Nokia N86 8MP and the upcoming Nokia N8. Nokia’s lead camera guy, Damian Dinning, recently posted an exhaustive FAQ on the Nokia Conversations blog, detailing the behind-the-scenes hardware (and software) improvements that the company has focused on with the Nokia N8. Most of Nokia’s cameraphones feature Carl Zeiss optics, and they’re experimenting with larger sensors and different types of lenses to really produce a solid camera experience. As far as I know, no other manufacturer is taking such pains to produce a fantastic phontography experience.
Software, however, is something that could be easily addressed, but isn’t. While I don’t expect a cameraphone to replace a DSLR (though some probably could), I have gotten used to my phones having a certain level of options while snapping photos. Things like burst mode (great for stop-motion vids), scene settings, and more are options that I’m used to having on my Symbian-powered phones but are missing in even the latest version of Android (v2.2 ‘FroYo’). While the latest version of Android has updated the camera app from what I used on my HTC Eris with Android v2.1, it still doesn’t hold a candle to my Symbian-powered handsets.
As for sharing, I’d say that it’s a wash. Using Pixelpipe and Share Online on my Symbian-powered smartphones from Nokia, I had no trouble uploading to Facebook, Twitter, and pretty much anywhere else I’d want to share my photos. Luckily, Pixelpipe is also available on Android, so I didn’t have to sacrifice any capabilities there. One complaint that I actually have about Android is that tons of apps support media uploads. While this is obviously a good thing, it can really junk up the ‘Share’ button found in the gallery – in fact, in landscape mode, I can’t see my Pixelpipe option for all the other junk in this list. I’d love to have the ability to choose what does and doesn’t show up in my Share list on my Nexus One.
Now, it’s important to be fair – there are newer Android-powered devices that do have a dedicated camera button and a custom camera applications to make the experience better. Unfortunately, these are custom jobs – they’re specific to a handset or manufacturer, and not part of the default Android experience. I really hope that future Android devices pay more attention to the phontography experience by default.
Is the Nexus One a horrid phontography device? Not entirely. While I have to make do with no hardware button to launch the camera, I am able to use the trackball to actually snap photos – which isn’t much different than what I was used to on my Symbian-powered smartphones. The quality of photos obviously lacks on the Nexus One, but there are software improvements that can help that, and newer Android devices such as those from Motorola do have some better features, including a dual-LED flash and dedicated camera button. When taking pictures and video, though, I still miss my Nokia’s – it’s one reason the upcoming Nokia N8 still tempts me to switch back. Nokia, despite their struggles, continues to produce what I consider to be the absolute best content-creation devices on the market.