With every new generation of camera-phone comes the inevitable question: can it replace a standalone point-and-shoot camera? Finally, yes it can.
With every new generation of camera-phone comes the inevitable question: can it replace a standalone point-and-shoot camera? Finally, with the release of the eight-megapixel LG Renoir, we can answer that question in the affirmative.
The LG Renoir – at the vanguard of the latest eight-megapixel camera-phones and successor to the LG Viewty – offers a bundle of impressive features like Schneider-Kreuznach optics, a Xenon flash, manual and auto focus, smile shot and blink detection, but as we’ve seen in previous handsets, such things don’t always amount to better photos.
To test the Renoir’s camera, we pitted it against a budget eight megapixel point-and-shoot, the Canon IXUS 80IS. For the most part, we found it hard to distinguish between photos taken from either device, especially in natural lighting, and we were blown away by the Renoir’s razor sharp attention to detail and excellent contrast and exposure.
All the usual features you’d expect to find in a camera-phone are on-board, like white balance, scene modes, ISO and exposure metering, but it also throws a few functions in that we’re used to only seeing on standalone cameras. Smile shot, for instance, automatically takes a photo as soon as it detects a person in the frame smiling; in our tests, a closed-mouth grin wasn’t enough – our subject had to bare all of his teeth before it would take the photo. There’s also blink detection, which throws up a warning if it sees someone close their eyes while the photo is taken. Camera-shy subjects will like the beauty shot function, which makes the person’s eyes look brighter, complexion clearer and skin softer.
Perhaps the main complaints that are made against a camera-phone versus a point-and-shoot camera are that they’re slow and cumbersome to use, but we found the Renoir didn’t suffer from either of those shortcomings. The camera application is quick to startup – just open the lens cover and press the camera button – and it’s got a fast auto-focus and shutter speed. Save for the shutter button, all of the controls are accessed via the touchscreen, and they’re all easy to find. We did run into a few bugs though: turning the red eye reduction flash on would consistently crash the phone, and whenever the camera application would switch off, restarting it would launch it in video mode.
On that note, the Renoir’s got a few tricks up its sleeve with regards to video recording. In addition to shooting in 30fps (at a maximum of VGA resolution), it can record videos in slow motion at 120 frames per second, as well as ‘fast’ motion, neither of which include audio. Bizarrely, any recordings in slow motion had terrible lighting, whereas recording the same scene in normal or fast motion would look fine.
We’ve harped on about the Renoir’s camera long enough – you’re probably wondering what the rest of the phone is like? Pretty darn good, actually. It’s not strictly a smartphone per se, but it’s got many of the same trappings as one. On the hardware side, the Renoir looks similar to the iPhone 3G, with a three-inch touchscreen on the face, uniformly curved edges and a chrome frame around the front, but it’s smaller and thicker.
The WQVGA 262k-colour screen is responsive, with haptic feedback whenever you tap on icons or use the keyboard, and an accelerometer automatically switches the orientation to landscape in certain applications when you hold it sideways.
There’s no keypad for typing numbers and letters – all input takes place through the touchscreen using your fingers or the supplied stylus. Nor is there a stylus holder built into the phone – a leather stylus holder dangles off of the lanyard, which looks silly or stylish depending on your tastes. If it’s the former, the good news is that the large icons, buttons and on-screen keyboards make the stylus largely unnecessary. For inputting text, you get a T9 keypad or full QWERTY keyboard, depending on which way you’re holding the phone, and both are large enough to type on using your fingers.
If you’ve struggled with complex smartphone operating systems before, you’ll love the Renoir’s refreshingly simple menu system, with its unusually large text size and big icons that are easily selected with your finger. Like the Samsung Omnia, you can drag and drop widgets onto the home screen, including a calendar, music player, memo pad and weather. Jumping between open applications is also a snap thanks to the dedicated task manager button on the Renoir’s face, which sits between the answer and end call buttons.
Multimedia playback is another strong point, with support for lots of different audio and video codecs (including DivX and XviD), FM Radio and TV Out. The Renoir is the first phone to offer Dolby Mobile, which offers surround sound (over connected headphones), superior bass, and extra technologies like Sound Space Expander, High Frequency Enhancer and Mono-to-Stereo Creator. The Renoir’s built-in speaker could be louder, but we couldn’t fault its excellent sound quality. As with other LG phones, there’s only one port for connecting headphones, the charger and sync cable, but it comes with an adapter for using your own headphones.
For wireless communications, the Renoir is as ably equipped as any smartphone, with tri-band GSM, dual-band 7.2Mbit/s HSDPA, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It’s also got A-GPS for satellite navigation, although you’re limited to Google Maps out of the box. For web browsing, there’s a full HTML web browser on board that supports multiple tabs, file downloads and panning and zooming, but we came into ‘Memory full’ errors when trying to load certain web sites like APCmag.com.
Similarly, the email client offers the full set of features like viewing file attachments (including Office documents), signatures and automatic retrieval, but we encountered a lot of memory errors when trying to open large emails and file attachments. Also, after being spoiled with smartphones that automatically download all of the server details for popular email services, we weren’t too happy about being asked to manually enter all of these details in for our Yahoo and Hotmail accounts. Our Gmail account, on the other hand, was auto-configured.
The Renoir has a replaceable 1,000mAh Lithium Ion battery that’s quoted for 3.6 hours of talk time and 14.5 days (or 350 hours) of standby time. We were able to get over a day’s worth of heavy testing out of it – including shooting a few dozen photos and video clips, web browsing over Wi-Fi and 3G, and playing music and movies – so in practice you should be able to squeeze around two days of standard usage out of it.
We’re used to feature phones over-promising and under-delivering, so in the Renoir’s case, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s just as good as the marketing boffs make it out to be. The eight-megapixel camera really is good enough for you to leave your standalone digital camera at home, and LG has done a great job at packing the Renoir full of smartphone functions while leaving all of the complexity and bloat at the door. The phone’s main shortcoming is the paltry amount of on-board storage – 100MB to share with applications and multimedia. You can supplement this with a microSD card, but that won’t help with the memory errors we encountered while web browsing and downloading email.