Tag Archive | "camera comparison"

HTC Surround & Windows Phone 7 Review

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IMG_4938Microsoft wants to get in on the modern mobile OS action, and after the inevitable fall of their previous version of Windows Mobile, Microsoft has sought to restart their mobile offering, thus Windows Phone 7 was born. The HTC Surround pairs WP7 with well-built hardware and an interesting approach to phone audio, but will Windows Phone 7 be able to catch on, or is it too little too late from Microsoft?

Hardware

Here’s a quick rundown of the HTC Surround’s specs, follow by a hardware tour of the phone:

  • Windows Phone 7 OS (as reviewed, version 7.0.7004.0)
  • Qualcomm QSD 8250 CPU @ 1GHz
  • 576MB of RAM
  • 8GB of built-in memory (no expansion)
  • 3.8 inch capacitive touchscreen @ 800×480
  • WiFi b/g/n & BT 2.1
  • 5MP camera with single-LED flash (records up to 720p video)
  • Slide out speaker with Dolby Mobile and SRS audio technology
  • 165 grams (5.82 ounces)

Hardware Tour

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Design

IMG_4927Let me start by saying that the HTC Surround feels great in the hand. It’s been too long since I tested a phone that had some real heft to it (in a good way). Recent phones (cough*Samsung*cough) have left me with a feeling of cheapness. The Surround however feels like a premium device right out of the box.

IMG_4929Metallic accents are found all around the phone . The front is a combination of brushed and polished metal and has a wide ear-piece that fits the look of the phone well. The back is rubberized much like the Droid X [review], and it has just a hint of metallic sparkles in it that you’ll see if you hold it in just the right light. The back is also home to a polished HTC logo, and above that is the 5MP camera and single-LED flash, both of which are encased in a metal accent piece with small radial ridges that emanate from the lens.

IMG_4956But this is all before sliding the device open which reveals a speaker bar that comes about 1/3 of the way out of the side of the phone. I’ll talk more about the speaker bar below, but on the design side of things I wanted to mention that the sliding mechanism could be better. I’ve definitely seen/felt worse, but the Surround’s sliding mechanism could use a bit of work to make it slide more evenly and have less wiggle.

Despite the premium feel of the phone (considering the materials used and the weight of it), the buttons didn’t seem to receive too much attention. All physical buttons on the phone, except for the camera button, don’t provide very good feedback. It’s hard to tell when you’ve pressed the power/lock button. The volume rocker is a bit better with slightly more feedback, but the camera button is the only one that has enough “click inch for my taste.

IMG_4954The bottom of the phone has a pry-slot to pull the back cover off, but it generally feels like you’re on the brink of ripping the phone into it’s two sliding halves. I haven’t found a good way to get the back cover off without stressing the sliding mechanism in a way that it wasn’t design to move. If you are a road warrior who relies on swapping batteries during road trips, be weary of this fact on the Surround as repeated removals could lead to breakage.

On general aesthetics of the device: I think it’s a good looking phone. When you make the investment to purchase a phone that will be with you for, perhaps several years, people should expect more than a piece of plastic. The Surround would feel even more solid if they rid it of the sliding segment, but despite this extra hardware, the Surround isn’t much thicker than many of it’s contemporaries.

iPhone 4 Auto-HRD Comparison and Tips for Use

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final shotMy apologies for not getting to this post sooner. Apple released a very cool HDR mode for the iPhone 4 with the iOS 4.1 update. As tempting as it was, HDR wasn’t enough to get me to jump on the upgrade right away and I instead decided to wait for 4.1 to be jailbroken. But now that iOS 4.1 has been freed of Apple’s restrictions and I’ve had some time to play with the iPhone 4’s HDR mode, I’d like to share with you some comparison photos and tips on get the most out of the feature.

First up, let’s talk about what HDR does and how it works on the iPhone.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. HDR photos fuse together shots of multiple exposures to get the most exposure detail out of a given scene. The idea is that in one shot, a static exposure could lead to a particular area of the photo being under-exposed (too dark), or over-exposed (too bright). By capturing multiple exposures and selectively combining them into a final photo, you can achieve a photo that is more realistic to what is being seen by the human eye as each part of the photo is exposed properly.

How does it work on the iPhone? I don’t have access to it’s inner workings, but from my testing, I have happily concluded that this is actual HDR, not simulated. I say “actual inch in the sense that the iPhone 4 is fusing multiple photographs into one, rather than taking a baseline shot and doing some post-effects to simulate HDR. The selection of the various exposures of each photo and the fusing/alignment of the photos together is all handled automatically; the algorithms that power this process are very good. Unless you are trying to capture moving subjects, you’ll probably never find a poorly fused or aligned photo.

Snapping a photo with the HDR mode takes barely longer than taking a regular photo which is very impressive. The aligning/fusing process takes just a few seconds after the shots are captured. There is a very high rate of return when it comes to quality shots because of how quickly each of the individual photos are captured. With a slower capture process, the HDR mode would be subject to any slight movements during the duration of the capture process. If Apple wasn’t able to make HDR photo capture this quick and have such a high return of properly aligned/fused photos, they wouldn’t have implemented the feature.

So what does it actually accomplish? Let’s take a look:

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It’s important for me to note that most of the above examples are some of the more drastic ones that I’ve seen. You should be able to see how the improperly exposed areas are removed and replaced with properly exposed regions from other shots. The overall effect tends to be more natural looking photos with more accurate lighting and more detail revealed compared to under/over-exposed photos.

Apple isn’t usually one for options, but you can actually toggle to keep the original photo and the HDR shot in your photo roll if you’d like (you’ll find this options in the Settings app). This is handy because you can compare the two afterword and decided which you like best. I tend to leave HDR mode on all the time. The process is that quick and simple that it’s worth it to keep it turned on for every shot.

Knowing how to utilize HDR on the iPhone 4 can help you capture the most properly exposed photos. Here’s how I do it:

With HDR mode enabled, I use tap-to-focus (which focuses and adjusts exposure) to select the darkest park of the scene. This blows out anything that’s lighter than the darkest part, but the HDR mode seems to compensate better by decreasing exposure on the blown out portions of the scene (as opposed to increasing exposure on the darker/under-exposed parts). I used this technique on the first photo, which combined very dark and very light areas, in order to dramatically demonstrate HDR capabilities.

By recognizing this and using it to our advantage, it’s possible to take shots that capture photos that are exposed properly across all parts of the scene, and recreate a scene with much more detail and depth than is possible with a single photo. I hope to see similar implementations on upcoming competitor devices, but I’d be surprised if they were this good.

Four Galaxy S Phones and Four Cameras

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galaxy s phonesTnkgrl mobile couldn’t have better timing. While I just finished up my Samsung Fascinate review, here comes tnkgrl with a great comparison of the four big carrier Galaxy S phones.

Tnkgrl puts the Fascinate [tracking page], Epic [tracking page], Captivate, and Vibrant side by side with photo and video comparisons and offers her usual experienced commentary on their performance. Head on over to her site to check it out the full range of photos and videos.

Never Judge a Camera By Its Megapixels

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As nearly every smartphone is expected to have a camera these days, there is an important lesson that people must heed. Cameras are more complex than a simple megapixel rating. It’s a common belief that when it comes to megapixels, bigger is better. But I’m here to tell you that you need to look deeper if you are basing your smartphone decision on which has the best camera. Megapixels have their use. A pixel dense picture is great if you want to crop it down and still retain good quality, but beyond that there is more to be considered.

Case-in-point, the Droid 2 [portal page] and the iPhone 4 [portal page]. Both phones have 5MP sensors. This means that they capture 5 million pixels in a given image. Both phones might capture the same number of pixels, but the quality and size of the sensor dictates how accurately each pixel is sampled and how much light it can capture. Another important factor is focus. Without a good focus algorithm (and no ability to manually focus), you’ll end up with a blurry shot no matter how many megapixels your camera can capture.

To demonstrate this, have a quick look at the two photos below. One is taken with the iPhone 4 and the other with the Droid 2. Both were taken under the same lighting conditions and were focused as accurately as possible (click for full size):

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You may have to click for the full-sized images to see, but the image taken with the Droid 2 is blurry and has inaccurate colors.

This is a result of the Droid 2’s camera not being able to capture as much light as the iPhone 4, as well as the inability to focus as accurately. This is all despite the fact that both phones have the same megapixel rating.

But what can you do if you don’t have the phones to try before you buy? A bit of research may go a long way if a camera is important to you. I’d recommend checking Flickr’s camera page. Find your desired smartphone and then browse the photos to get an idea of the photos that the phone is capable of taking. And of course we’ll always do our best to give you camera comparisons and tips right here at Carrypad.

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