Camera Phones Come of Age

Latest models dial up picture quality.

Camera-Phones-Come-of-Age

Camera-Phones-Come-of-Age

Do you have framed photos on your wall that were taken with a camera phone?

We didn't think so. Most of those now on the market can barely capture a decent image to email or view on a tiny LCD screen. But that could change with the latest phones packing 2 Megapixels or more.

In fact, amateur photographers shopping for 3 to 5MP digital cameras might take a phone alternative, especially if they plan to make just 4x6- to 8x10-inch prints.

And some serious shooters might opt for a phone that takes decent pictures for the times when they've left their real camera behind (we won't tell).

What makes a respectable camera phone? We would start with a 2MP or higher sensor, a good-fixed focus or autofocus lens with low distortion, and decent color accuracy.

As with compact digital cameras, there are many other variables to consider. As a rule, camera phones still don't do well in low light, with noisy shadows and low powered LED "flashes" that are good to only about 3-5 feet.

But image quality and flashes are improving (with one model offering a real xenon flash). And in bright light it's hard to see the difference between some top camera phones and a compact digicam.

large swiveling LCD monitors are also a plus. Currently, most camera phones have 1.3MP or VGA sensors- too low for our consideration as real cameras.

But several 2MP models are available in the U.S., with more on the way. The first 3MP models could arrive by the time you read this, including one with a 3X optical zoom and improved video features.

Samsung SPH-A800
S349 MSRP, or $199 with two-year Sprint PCS contract
- 2MP (effective) sensor. 1632x1224-pixel stills in JPEG format.
- AF f/2.8 lens (36mm equivalent) with protective lens cover.
- LED "Flash" light.
- Up to 30-sec video clips with mono sound QCIF (176x144-pixel) resolution. Voice recorder.
- 32MB TransFlash card included, 32MB internal for photos and ring tones.
- 2 inch TFT LCD with 262,000 colors, and QVGA (320x240-pixel) resolution. 3D graphics for gaming
- Sprint TV live or on demand compatiblility, Picture and Video Mail, Business card scanning utility
- Infrared and USB 2.0 full speed (mass storage device). PictBridge enabled
- Built-in MP3 player, dual stereo speaker phone, GPS emergency locator for 911.
- Battery: Rechargeable Li-ion 900mAh
- Phone: CDMA2000 1xRTT data (for Sprint PCS vision). CMDA 800/1900 MHz voice
- Size/weight: 3.9x1.9x0.9 in., 4.3 oz.
- Info: www.samsung.com/products/mobilephones

Samsung SCH-A970
$299 MSRP, or $199 with two-year Verizon Wireless contract
- 2MP (effective) sensor captures up to 1632x1224-pixel stills in JPEG format.
- 2X optical zoom AF f/3.3-4.9 lens (36-72mm equivalent) with protective lens cover.
- LED "flash" light. nMPEG4 video with mono sound, QCIF (176x144-pixel) resolution. Speech recognition capability.
- Optional TransFlash card. Compatible with MiniSD.
- 1.9-inch LCD with 262,000 colors, and 39,000-pixel resolution.
- V CAST video download compatible at 3G speed. Internet browser.
- Bluetooth 2.0 wireless, infrared, and USB 2.0 Full Speed (mass storage device).
- Built-in MP3 player, stereo RDS FM radio. nBattery: Rechargeable Li-ion 1000 mAh. nPhone: 3G EV-DO data. CDMA 800/1900 MHz voice.
- Size/weight: 3.7x1.8x1 in., 5.1 oz.
- Info: www.samsung.com/products/mobilephones.

Sony Ericsson W810i
$399 estimated price, before carrier rebate
- 2MP (effective) sensor captures still images, video. nAutofocus f/2.8 lens (35mm equivalent).
- LED "flash" light, optional Phone Flash MXE-60.
- Up to 1632x1224-pixel stills in JPEG format.
- 3GP video with mono sound QCIF (176x144-pixel) resolution.
- 512MB Memory Stick PRO Duo included, 20MB internal memory for photos and data.
- 1.9-inch LCD with 262,000 colors, 166x220-pixel resolution. nInternet browser.
- Bluetooth 2.0 wireless, infrared, and USB 2.0 Full Speed (mass storage device).
- Built-in MP3 player, stereo RDS FM radio, panoramic and creative frame modes.
- Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Polymer 900mAh.
- Phone: 2.75G EDGE data and 850/900/1800/1900 MHz voice.
- Size/weight: 3.9x1.8x0.8 in., 3.5 oz.
- Info: www.sonyericsson.com/us.

Nokia N80
$500-$700 estimated price, before carrier rebate
- 3MP (effective) sensor. nDual focus zone f/3.5 (35mm equivalent) lens with close-up and normal focus.
- Integrated LED "flash" with redeye reduction.
- Up to 2048x1536-pixel still frame JPEG format.
- MPEG4 video with mono sound, 352x288 pixels per frame, 30 fps. nManual ±2 EV exposure correction, 10 scene settings, including Night Portrait.
- Included 128MB MiniSD card (adapter optional), and up to 40MB internal memory for photos and data.
- 2.3-inch LCD with 262,000 colors, automatic brightness control, and 146,000-pixel resolution.
- S60 3rd Edition Symbian OS.
- Wi-Fi (802.11g), Bluetooth 2.0 wireless, infrared, and USB 2.0 Full Speed connection (mass storage device).
- Built-in MP3 player and stereo FM radio with Visual Radio support. PictBridge compatible.
- Battery: Rechargeable Li-ion 820 mAh.
- Phone: Quadband EDGE, GSM 900/1800/1900 MHz voice + UTMS 1900 MHz.
- Size/weight: 3.76x1.97x1.02 in., 4.73 oz.
- Info: www.nokiausa.com/phones/N80

Nokia N93
$600-$700 estimated price, before carrier rebate
- 3.2MP (effective) sensor.
- 3X optical zoom, Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar f/3.3-4.5 AF lens (34-94mm equivalent) with macro and lens cap.
- Integrated LED "flash" light.
- Up to 2048x1536-pixel stills in JPEG/EXIF format.
- MPEG4 video with stereo sound, VGA (640x480 pixels) resolution, 30 fps with digital stabilization. Max 60 min per clip.
- 1/3-sec to 1/2400-sec mechanical shutter. nManual ± 1 EV exposure correction in half-step increments, six scene settings, including Night Portrait.
- Included 128MB MiniSD card (adapter optional), and up to 50MB internal memory for photos and data.
- 2.4-inch LCD with 160-degree viewing angle, 262,000 colors, and QVGA (320x240-pixel) resolution.
- S60 3rd Edition Symbian OS. nWi-Fi (802.11g), Bluetooth 2.0 wireless, TV-out (PAL/NTSC), and USB - 2.0 Full Speed connection (mass storage device). PictBridge compatible.
- Built-in MP3 player and audio MP3 converter, stereo FM radio with Visual Radio support.
- Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Polymer 1100 mAh.
- Phone: Dual mode EDGE/GSM 900/1800/1900 MHz voice + WCDMA 2100 MHz.
- Size/weight: 4.65x2.19x1.11 in., 6.35 oz.
- Info: www.nokiausa.com/phones/N93

Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot K790a
$599 estimated price, before carrier rebate
- 3.2MP (effective) sensor.
- Autofocus f/2.8 AF lens (36mm equivalent) with sliding lens cover and macro focusing at 10cm.
- Electronic still and video image stabilization.
- True xenon flash with redeye reduction.
- Up to 2048x1536-pixel stills in JPEG.
- 10 fps video with mono sound QCIF (176x144 pixels) resolution.
- Manual exposure correction.
- Five picture modes, including Panorama.
- BestPic mode captures nine full-frame images-four before shutter is pressed, one during, and four after-letting you save the best choice.
- 64MB Memory Stick Micro (M2) card included, and up to 64MB internal memory for photos and data.
- 2-inch LCD with 262K colors, and QVGA (320x240-pixel) resolution.
- HTML full browser with RSS readers.
- Bluetooth 2.0 wireless, infrared, and USB 2.0 Full Speed (mass storage device). PictBridge compatible.
- Built-in MP3 player, stereo RDS FM radio.
- Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Polymer.
- Phone: Tri Band EDGE, GSM 850/1800/1900 MHz voice.
- Size/weight: 4.1x1.8x0.9-in., 4.1 oz.
- Info: www.sonyericsson.com/us.

There's a reason Nokia, the world's largest cell phone maker, calls its 2- and 3.2MP N-series models "multimedia computers" instead of camera phones. Like top models from other manufacturers, the N-series units do more than just take pictures and make phone calls.

They also boast powerful CPUs that can run software on the Symbian Operating System (including image-editing programs), let you surf the web via high-speed EDGE networks (in the U.S.), and even conduct phone-to-phone video conferencing (in Europe).

Some N-series units-as well as models from Samsung and Sony Ericsson-have built-in GPS technology, decent MP3 players, and audio and video recording. They may even let you connect to your office or home computer networks through WiFi, and play captured or downloaded videos on your TV.

On the picture-taking side, most feature minimal exposure, white balance, and other image-quality controls-plus PictBridge support for desktop printing. And all of the camera phones we've listed come with rechargeable batteries, software bundles, connection cables, and earbuds.

Expect to pay a bit more for the phone and for a monthly data plan that lets you tap into the high-speed networks offered by most carriers. With a data plan, you can upload and download images to web sites without risking having your photos highly compressed or resized by your camera phone.

Some phones can even connect via USB to a laptop and act as a high-speed wireless modem.

In the U.S., most camera phones are configured at the factory for their individual networks, and it's typically difficult and expensive to reconfigure them.

However, Cingular and T-Mobile (and other carriers using GSM technology) will accept phones purchased elsewhere-even overseas-as long as they have a removable SIM card that stores your account information, contact lists, and even calendars.

Currently, the EV-DO networks developed by Sprint/Nextel and Verizon Wireless, and HSDPA networks developed by Cingular/AT&T, offer the fastest data connection speeds (often exceeding 500 Kbps in covered areas and meeting true 3G requirements).

The EDGE networks currently offered by Cingular and T-Mobile move data at about half that rate (also known as 2.75G), but may serve wider areas.

Better models ship with removable memory cards that make it easy and fast to transfer images to computers-in most cases, either MiniSD or TransFlash cards.

Both are interchangeable and can be read by a card reader using an inexpensive (or free) adapter. Sony Ericsson camera phones support Memory Stick Duo (MSDuo) cards.

With capacities up to 2-gigabytes, MiniSD and MSDuo cards give you lots of room for photos, videos, contact lists, and MP3s.

CDMA: Code Division Multiple Access. Voice carrier technology used by Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS/Nextel.

CDMA2000 1xEV-DO: Evolution-Data Optimized. 3G High Speed data technology (Sprint/Nextel and Verizon Wireless).

EDGE: Enhanced Datarate for Global Evolution. 2.75G technology that provides up to 237 Kbps data downloads and 184 Kbps uploads, offered by Cingular and T-Mobile.

GPRS: General Packet Radio Service. 2.5G technology that provides up to 40 Kbps data (Cingular and T-Mobile).

GSM: Global System for Mobile Communications. Voice carrier technology used by Cingular, T-Mobile, and most European providers.

HSDPA: High-Speed Downlink Packet Access. 3G technology allows 400 to 700 Kbps data rates, offered by Cingular.

1xRTT: 1x Radio Transmission Technology. 2.5G technology that provides up to 60 Kbps data speeds (Verizon Wireless), and up to 144 Kbps (Sprint PCS Vision).

SIM: Subscriber Identity Module. Card used in most GSM-compatible phones to store subscriber account information, plus contacts and other data.

3G: Third Generation. Provides up to 2 Mbps downloads in a stationary position.

UMTS: Universal Mobile Telecommunications System. 3G data network with up to 384 Kbps data rates (stationary).

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