MWC Report I: Now Apple has some serious competition: the new Nokia phone and the Samsung Note 10.1

I've just returned to my hotel room from the first day of MWC so that I can get ready for the MobileFocus event in the evening. I couldn't wait with sharing my experiences with you on the spot. Having little free time, however, let's start with the most two important pieces of news: the Nokia PureView 808 (a phone with a freaking good camera) and the Samsung Note 10.1 (a really decent tablet). I had some quality hands-on time with both models. Let's start with the former.

Nokia PureView 808

I've been using a Nokia n95 for more than four years. It has proved to be a very good and, which is even more important, reliable (no reboots, no freezes, no nothing) performer with still stellar battery life – the original battery still runs just great. (For comparison, my both HTC S710's and 310's original, factory batteries, purchased about 4.5 years ago, needed a replacement at least two years ago. Nokia's batteries seem to be a very good performer indeed.) Its camera, back in 2007, was simply the best. (It's a 5 Mpixel one but, back then, the the-current iPhone 1 didn't even have a camera – and even the later 3G/3GS cameras were vastly inferior, and the Windows Mobile phones of the day had pretty lousy cameras too.)

The N8, released more than a year ago, set another benchmark still not surpassed by any other phone, not even the latest iPhone 4S. (If you're interested in direct N8 vs. iPhone 4S comparisons, I heartily recommend for example THIS thread at DPReview. BTW, while you're at it, the forum there already has a thread dedicated to the 808).

The good

- It will retail unlocked for around 450 euros, which is definitely a friendlier price than, say, that of the iPhone 4S (unlocked).

- The video field-of-view in 16:9 mode is about 26 mm, with 4:3 stills, it's about 28. This means:

a. it, as with some (unfortunately, very rare) models  like the Panasonic GH1 / GH2 / ZS3/ TZ7, doesn't crop 4:3 into 16:9 but uses horizontally more pixels in 16:9 mode. This is definitely a great feature!
b. it's WAY wider in video mode than the iPhone 4 or 4S. If you've read my article on making use of (almost) the entire sensor area on either the 4 or the 4S, you know well enough that it simply doesn't work, at least not with the original resolution / frames-per-seconds speed. (On the 4S, you need to use VGA recording; on the 4, you must use my hack subsampling the entire sensor, which, while does wide the FoV, introduces a sizable hit on the framerate.)

- The handset uses a 1/1.2” CMOS sensor, which is HUGE compared to any P&S cameras (except for Canon's brand new G1X) and is only a bit smaller than Nikon's Series 1's (excellent) sensor.

- It uses pixel binning (!!!), which, as has also been explained in my most recent article, always results in much lower noise levels and much less moire / other interference than with the simple “let's take every, say, second or third pixel and forget the other three (eight)” approach used in, for example, most digital cameras when shooting videos, except for high-end ones like the Panasonic GH2.

- Now, it's possible to set the sharpness level, as well as the JPEG quality. If you've come from the N95 (or other, comparable, high-end Nokia cameraphones), you know the worst part of those handsets were the default sharpening and the very strong compression, which made 5 Mpixel images about 800k in size. (This may equal to 70-75% quality level at most.)

- While  41 Mpixels seem to be a bit on an overkill on paper, in reality, it indeed produced very (and I mean VERY) detailed shots. When I finish uploading my interview to YouTube, you'll see the portrait shot in less-than-ideal lighting before my very eyes (it was not a digitally-enhanced, photoshopped shot!) still has well-defined and detailed eyebrows.

- Stereo microphones (which debuted in the N8) capable of recording even very loud concerts with 140 dB(!!) loudness. Unfortunately, few cameras / phones are capable of the latter. (And even high-end models like the iPhone 4S lack stereo mikes.) For example, Canon's latest semi-pro and, apart from the slow focusing speed, excellent Point and Shoot camera, the G1X, is simply unable to record loud audio sources without major distortion. (As has been the case with other Canon P&S cameras too.)

- The camera has both a Xenon flash (with twice the brightness as that of the N8, according to the rep I've interviewed) and a LED light for video. The latter was painfully missing from the N8.

Now, for the bad.

- First and foremost, it's highly improbable Windows Phone models receive this kind of a camera any time (the PureView is a Symbian phone). The Nokia guy I've interviewed stated they don't want to give out any information on this for other parties, as they've been working very hard on making cameras excellent for several years. He stated there will be no comparable WP7 phones. (Indeed, the Lumia 900, which I also had a chance to handle at Nokia's booth, compared to the size of 2008/2009, large booth, has nothing to write home about when compared to the 808.)

- The Nokia folks have told me the video codec is still being worked on and, therefore, I was not allowed to shot video resolution charts (I've brought some of them so that I can quickly assess the quality of newly released cameras) or even send over shots / test videos via Bluetooth to my handsets.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

The Note showing iPhone Life (click for the original version!)

I've handled the original Samsung Note some weeks ago. While I've found the pencil great (compared to the capacitive solutions on any capacitive screens – like that of the iPad / iPhone), I wouldn't have purchased the tab myself for serious work. This involves annotating thousands of PDF pages with handwriting. Currently, with current technology, that's plain impossible if you need the same efficiency (no need for the machine's feedback) as with working with plain printed pages. I've gone through several Tablet PC's, all with (otherwise) decent Wacom radio pens – they were a disaster and have resulted in my work efficiency's dramatically plummeting. The iPad is simply unable to do the trick either with its capacitive screen making it impossible to do ANY precision work with stylus. What I've been waiting for is something like the new Note 10.1 – but not the original Note because:

- the screen estate is just too small and the resolution is too, particularly if you take into account that the 1280x800 resolution of the Note isn't “true”, the screen being PenTile.

- ever tried annotating an A4 page on your Note with your hand? Impossible, at least if you require as good resolution as possible. Common computer screens are still a far cry away from the quality and resolution of the paper when using with a pencil that makes it possible to do some detailed work – for example, Rotring pencils of thickness 0.3 mm (the most common thickness I use for my paper-based book annotation when learning.)

While the new Tab surely won't make me stop using printed paper and moving entirely to electronic PDF annotation (its screen is still of, compared to paper, low resolution), it's still a step in the right direction. For graphicians, however, it's a godsend. Actually, a guy demoed the graphical capabilities of the device, with the new Adobe suite simultaneously released for both iOS and Android, all the time on Samsung's booth.

Note 10.1 accessories

There is a separate keyboard stand for the Note 10.1. The key pitch is smaller than that of standard keyboards as you can see in the following shot I've taken, comparing it directly to my (latest-gen) Apple Wireless Keyboard:

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Unfortunately, the keys are a bit harder to press than those of the Apple keyboard. That is, I surely wouldn't get it myself – I'm just too obsessed with the quality of my Apple external keyboard and wouldn't use a keyboard of less quality.

Final words

Apple, finally, has some serious  competition. While Apple's phones never had as good cameras as those of Nokia's cameraphone flagships, the whole ecosystem and the phone handling were without doubt better, which could have make people longing for decent cameras still choosing the iPhone 4 or 4S over the camera-wise substantitally better N8. (Or, for that matter, the 3G over the N95/N82 and so on.) With the Pureview 808 out, I don't think any camera freak would go for the iPhone any more – the 808 – delivers so much better results, camera-wise. Hope Apple do try using camera modules rivaling those of Nokia.

While I don't think the new Galaxy Note 10.1 poses serious danger to the iPad 3 if and only if the latter indeed is delivered with a Retina screen of at least the same visual quality (high-quality IPS screen) as in the first two models, it still shows where Apple's tablet seriously lacks: pen support, and not plain (and pretty much useless) third-party capacitive ones, but real ones (read: Wacom). I REALLY hope Apple does introduce some kind of decent pen support in the iPad 4.

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Author Details

Author Details

Werner Ruotsalainen

<p>Werner Ruotsalainen is an iOS and Java programming lecturer who is well-versed in programming, hacking, operating systems, and programming languages. Werner tries to generate unique articles on subjects not widely discussed. Some of his articles are highly technical and are intended for other programmers and coders.</p>
<p>Werner also is interested in photography and videography. He is a frequent contributor to not only mobile and computing publications, but also photo and video forums. He loves swimming, skiing, going to the gym, and using his iPads. English is one of several languages he speaks.</p>