A Review Of The Sony Ericsson K800i As A Creative Tool
This blog web site has been created mostly in a new kind of camera phone, and then uploaded directly from the phone to the internet. Other phones can also do this, but the Sony Ericsson K800i stands head and shoulders above it's predecessors and has reached a point where it can almost be described as the perfect image making tool for the artist.
The secondary camera for this site, the Ricoh Caplio GX, is itself a remarkable camera and on the surface would appear to be a vastly superior camera. It has more megapixels, it has a superb zoom lens, fabulous night time abilities, and many more features. Yet despite its sophistication I would consider the Sony Ericsson camera phone a better tool for myself as a creative person. Why do I say that? The answers are many and varied, perhaps I should start at the beginning by describing both the camera and the phone, as well as my needs.
Click images to enlarge.
At first glance the K800i looks very similar to it's predecessor, the K750i, but appearances can be deceptive. It is a little longer than the K750i and a little more square. The style is elegant. It is a double sided device. Most camera phones always look like a phone and the camera lens is a small affair on the back. In this case, however there is no back because both sides are the front for on the one hand a true Cyber-shot camera, and on the other a phone. Even there it looks less like a phone - the screen is larger and sharper with rich saturated colors. It is the camera side, however that is most distinctive. The camera lens has a sliding cover that reveals a beautiful lens that immediately reveals the quality of this camera. The entire device exudes quality. It feels and operates like a well built champion.
Cyber-Shot 3.2 Mega Pixels
It has been said that Sony would not allow the use of the Cyber-shot name on any device that did not meet the highest standards as a camera. So the name Cyber-shot proudly emblazoned onto the name plate of this camera is a badge of honor. It is the first camera phone to be branded with the name of a respected line of cameras.
Another badge of honor is the '3.2' in violet characters on the lens cover. While pure megapixels are not the only ingredient in marking out a good camera, it has been recognized for some time now that specifications in this range or more produce photographs of high enough resolution for most user needs. It should never be forgotten too that larger mega pixel numbers mean larger file sizes and therefore less photos per GB. When it comes to the web 3.2 mega pixels is too much for uploading easily and the pictures are normally resized before uploading anyway. The images shot at 3.2 mega pixels stored on your memory stick will make beautiful enlargements
Downloading / Uploading Photos
Photographs can be downloaded to a computer easily. With a Macintosh it is an automatic process that starts as soon as the USB cable is attached. With a PC it is almost as simple, but requires the installation of drivers on a CD which comes with the camera first.
Images can also be sent directly from the phone in PXT messages, or as attachments in emails. Email makes it easy to post photographs directly to blogs. Most larger blog hosting services support this activity. It is called 'moblogging'. In the case of TypePad (who host this blog) photographs and text e-mailed to the blog are automatically turned into posts that are instantly viewable by blog visitors. This means a photograph taken in the street or at an event can be uploaded and live on the web within a minute or two of being taken.
The camera has a full range of functions including manual over-rides for greater exposure control and various 'scene' modes as found on fully featured stand alone cameras. Red eye reduction, compensation for camera shake, a built in Xenon flash, and a gorgeous and surprisingly easy to use panorama mode give this camera capabilities beyond many, if not most stand alone digital cameras in this megapixel range.
The camera has a burst mode which shoots 9 frames during the process of depressing the shoot button and immediately after. It is then easy to select the best image (or more) from the 9 taken. This function is called 'BestPic'. It ensures getting the best shot for action scenes and other situations where shutter lag would mean the actual photo is taken after the optimal moment. It works very well.
Focusing and exposure can be automatic or set to spot metering, whole of image metering, auto focus, macro or infinity. There are low light modes such as twilight portrait or twilight landscape, and flash can be off, auto or red eye reduction. White balance can be adjusted, and the joystick manually adjusts exposure levels. All functions are available while picture taking and a special hot-key enables quick toggling between important functions. There are several other shortcuts available via the phone key pad as well such as turning flash on and off, zooming, macro mode and so on. If it is hard to remember the shortcuts pressing the '0' key brings up a see at a glance diagram for the shortcuts.
Other functions such as BestPic were heavily promoted by Sony Ericsson and the Panorama function must less so, so it came as a very pleasant surprise to discover this feature. I have to admit that at first I assumed it would just be a letter box type effect that would merely simulate a panoramic photograph. I soon discovered just how wrong I could be. In this mode you take 3 photographs, one each to each side, and one in the middle and then the camera automatically stiches them together to create a single contigous image that is a full frame high and 3 frames wide. I works amazingly well and the camera guides you through the process. I imagine most people would love this for beach scenes and the like, but I am finding it perfect for street scenes.
There are 8 scene modes to chose from including document mode that was developed for photographing text but works just as well for photographing drawings. It helps with getting the white of the paper and the contrast with the lines optimized in the photo.
The artist's narcicist side is not forgotten with this camera. As with it's predecessor, it has a small mirror beside the lens for taking self portraits. However so long as you have a ledge or other place to place the camera, it does include a self timer that enables you to get into a photo with your friends.
Effects such as shooting in black and white or sepia, solarizing images or shooting negative instead of positive are all done in camera as you shoot. After the image is taken it can be further edited using the PhotoDJ function which is a basic image editor. While not as powerful as PhotoShop it is still surprizingly capable and can put a smile on the artist's face as he or she prepares to upload photos to a blog. If you like manipulating images, you will love this camera phone. Don't forget we are talking about a camera phone here, yet it is doing things that most stand alone consumer cameras cannot do at all. Further effects can be applied using the built in FaceWarp software which while intended for making fun distortions of faces can be used for a wide variety of distortion effects in various photos.
Lens And Zoom
The lens is sharp but lacks an optical zoom. However getting a closer up view of an object normally means simply walking towards it so it is not such a big deal. The camera does have a 16 times digital zoom. Normally I would avoid using didgital zooms on the principal that I can do the same thing later in Photoshop if necessary. In this case, however, the loss of resolution caused by digitally zooming does not matter if posting to the web and it is useful for framing blog shots so I am grateful that it is such a powerful digital zoom.
It should be noted that resolution in an image is as much to do with the quality of the lens as the raw mega pixel count. A camera with more mega pixels than this camera, but with a poorer lens will give less sharp enlargements than this camera despite the greater number of mega pixels.
It is also important that the K800i has a sliding lens cover. The protection of the lens means less possibility of scratching the lens and helps keep dust off it. Dirt and scratches on a lens seriously degrade the performance of a camera, even when the mega pixel count is high. The lens cover on this camera should keep this lens pristine and retain the full resolution capabilities of the camera. These things become more important as the camera capabilities improve, but it is amazing how little attention most manufacturers pay to this vital feature.
This camera specializes in quality and creative still image taking and the video function included is basic by comparison. If video is your prefered art form then I would suggest looking at the latest Nokia's. Nokia has put the same attention into video that Sony Ericsson put into the Cyber-Shot camera and each brand has its advantages. The Sony Ericsson video function does enable long continuous video shooting, can shoot both with and without sound, and has optimization for night shooting. It does suffer here though because in choosing to include a full xenon flash, Sony Ericsson replaced the Led light that most camera phones use for night shots. Let me be very clear here, a proper xenon flash is infinitely superior to a Led light for lighting still photographs and Sony Ericsson's choice is great. But, those Led lights do have one advantage; they make serviceable night lights for video. The Sony Ericsson K800i doesn't have one and so the video function suffers accordingly.
Of course few things are all bad, and the video function of this camera phone is adequate for video blogging, and for capturing that news story that just so happened to unfold right in front of you. Another good thing is that a video editing function is built into the phone. Called VideoDJ it can shorten clips, add text to the video, make transitions between clips, add a sound track, insert pictures, and so on. While most reviewers have concentrated on the shortcomings of the video function, in fact the VideoDJ means videos can be turned into a finished production for uploading to a video blog right there in the street, complete with titles and music. I guess the artist in me responds to the manipulation of images in any form and I like being able to add text to video and make a soundtrack.
The Forgotten Creative Feature: Sound
Everyone knows about the MP3 players built into modern mobile phones. Sony Ericsson benefits in this regard with their heritage due to the Walkman heritage and Sony Ericsson market certain phones using the Walkman brand in which the phone specializes in Music. The K800i is not quite that refined, but it has a very respectable MP3 player and FM radio. Artist's tend to be particularly responsive to music as a natural part of life and creativity and will appreciate the way the phone makes music a natural part of daily life. It has the indirect benefit of requiring the use of headphones and so phone calls are also made and received using the head set and so avoiding the worries involved with radiation from using phones against the head.
Music, however is only part of the story. The phone includes a sound recorder. I find this is useful for recording spoken notes for things I need to do, for recording lines for poetry or prose passages as soon as they are in my mind. All too often great ideas come into the mind and go again just as quickly. I have found the ability to record my thoughts is creatively productive. I would not have thought it important before owning this phone. Other phones have had this ability, but the K800i has become totally integrated into my creative thinking patterns and the sound recording function has been a large part of that. Another activity artist's are likely to be involved in is doing interviews. The sound recorder can record spontaneous interviews easily. Phone interviews are also possible as the sound recorder can also record phone calls.
A basic music composing program called MusicDJ is built into the phone. It is no GarageBand but it does offer fun possibities for creating your own music for videos and slide shows, or even for original ringtones.
In Phone Art Gallery
The phone has a file manager that allows for the creation of new folders and moving files from folder to folder. This is very valuable for an artist. It is possible to create a folder to put photos of your own artwork in. This folder keeps these particular photos separate from the camera photos that will be downloaded to your PC whenever the USB cable is connected. The photos in your special folder can stay there permanently and they can be selected individually for viewing, or you can set up the inbuilt slide show viewer to show them as a slide show presentation. Even better is to install the special slideshow application that Sony Ericsson sells from it's site (AUS $6.60). It shows the slides with smooth transitions that make the presentation look very professional. Thus you can promote your artwork at any time and any place so long as you have your phone on you. Buyers and gallery directors alike will be impressed by the look of the artwork on the extra sharp K800i screen.
Turning the phone on reveals the larger screen, but what stands out the most are the rich saturated colors and the sharpness. It is like going from an old TV set to a LCD or plasma flatscreen television. There is a soft violet glow from the keys, more apparent at night of course, and a design that is claen and elegant. Navigation is relatively easy and for the most part logically set out. There is a small camera lens facing the user because the K800i can be used for video calls if you know people who are also fortunate enough to have such a sophisticated phone.
This is a 3G phone and all internet functions as well as video calls are supported. The K800i has a beautiful email interface built into the messaging center. Entering text is very easy as the phone uses T9 technology for entering characters. Put simply, instead of tapping individual keys multiple times to select a particular letter, each key is pressed only once as the word is spelled out and the T9 function predicts what the word must be from its internal dictionary. T9 works so well, and makes entering text so fast, that once having gotten used to it it would not be possible to voluntarily go back to multi-tap text entering. With T9 SMS and email are a pleasure to use.
There was a time not so long ago when only so called 'smart phones' were able to support the functionality of this phone. There is no qwerty keyboard, and no operating system but even so the K800i behaves in many ways like a small computer. T9 text input largely overcomes the lack of a keyboard and the phone has a full suite of useful functions like calendar, calculator, contacts and address book, notes, tasks, and so on. It even has a nifty file for storing important codes like account numbers and passwords. Timekeeping includes multiple alarms so that alarms can be set in advance for several different events in a day. They can also be set for events that recur on a regular basis so that you need not worry about forgetting to set an alarm each time. A Stop watch as well as a timer are there to use.
The phone can create folders and with file manager can move files around to keep you well organized. The phone is able to run a wide range of third party applications. I have Opera Mini installed as my web browser. It has a Wikipedia search bar on its front page and that is like having a full encyclopedia on the phone. is of course reliant on the availability of the internet. I have installed a Websters dictionary so I have definitions for 275,000 words with me at all times. I also have a neat star chart application that helps me identify the stars above, maps, a metric / imperial converter, and my favorite which is a program that, when I enter a keyword, will download a slideshow of random photos direct from Flickr on that subject. It is called FunPhotos and it is from spahk.com.
The phone works well, and battery life is not too bad. I have heavy usage with battery draining functions and find I have to recharge most days. Those who use a more conventional portion of mostly just phone calls can expect between two and four days between charges. The battery is small enough that it is feasible to take a charged spare in the pocket.
A wide range of true 3D games are abvailable for the phone. Some are capable of being played in landscape mode. I tend to enjoy mobile based games compared to PlayStation games. They often have a high fun factor desined in and the graphics on the 3D games is pretty incredible these days. They are perfect for train journeys to go shopping.
For those about to travel overseas there are language tutorials available for several languages and with the phone in the pocket and headphones on it is convenient to learn a language while doing other things.
News is easy to keep up with on the move. The phone supports RSS feeds via the internet, various news services including your favorite newspapers in the web browser, and mobile television. I have subscribed to about two dozen channels including several news channels including Sky news and BBC World. It is like Dick Tracy looking at a screen on his wrist, and it means I can check the news while waiting for the traffic lights or at a cafe.
Phone memory is only a little over 60MB. That would not hold very much in the way of photos and music. I recommend investing in a 2GB memory stick. Sony Ericsson only makes them up to 1GB and they don't tell you that SanDisk makes a larger one. 2GB is necessary for serious picture taking, with a GB or a little more for music, and then games and applications. 500 to 750 MB is sufficient for substantial photo sessions or a weekend in the country.
Nothing is perfect, and the K800i is not going to overturn that fact. It does have some distinct limitations and frustrating aspects, although to be fair the failings are far outweighed by the successes of this camera phone. These are the five main problems I have discovered:
(1)The Camera Shutter
The shutter is far too hard to use when in poor light. At such times exposures are longer and photos are easily blurred despite the image stabilization feature. The insensitivity of the shutter makes it very difficult to hold the breath and gently close the shutter as in most cameras, even when bracing the camera against a solid object. I have yet to try the accessory IPK-100 which includes a tripod socket. It may well be helpful on the occassions when I take a (relatively cumbersome) tripod with me planning to take some night shots but is of no help for the far more common times when i see something at night and spontaneously decide to take a photo. Then it is a matter of leaning against whatever is handy and hoping for the best. Then there arte the many times when there is no choice but to hand hold the camera, hold the breath and squeeze. The K800i makes this a difficult thing to achieve.
Sony Ericsson has a knack of upsetting people unnecessarily with it's obssesion with new memory stick shapes and sizes. A person upgrading from a K750i to the K800i should have the reasonable expectation that the memory sticks used in the older phone should be tranferable to the newer model. It is not, but there is even worse news. 2GB was too small for a 3.2 mega pixel camera plus music for the MP3 player on the K750i but the new M2 memory stick that Sony Ericsson makes for the K800i is a maximum 1GB. Sony Ericsson representatives refuse to tell customers of any alternatives. Fortunately SanDisk have introduced a 2GB M2 memory stick. If you want to put music on your phone, have an album of family photos, plus photos of your artwork, and then spend an afternoon shooting photos you have to get at least 2GB in your camera phone. Here is something else Sony Ericsson will not tell you - a 2GB SanDisk M2 memory stick costs 30% less than a Sony Ericsson 1 GB.
The lens cover on the K800i is far too prone to being accidentally opened with normal handling of the camera phone. Just putting it in a case, or taking it out, is capable of exposing the lens and turning the camera on.
(4)No support for reading/writing documents
The phone sends and receives e-mail brilliantly. The most common attachment anyone receives in an e-mail (besides photos) is a Word document. The K800i cannot open Word documents. That is plain silly and needs to be remedied.
(5) No LED light
The fact that almost all camera phones have a LED light instead of a proper flash has been a mark of the poor quality of the cameras in camera phones (if they offer any illumination for night shots at all). By upgrading to a real xenon flash Sony Ericsson was demonstrating that they were serious about the camera. Sometimes you can't win though. The LED on the K750i was useful for video at night, and made a really handy torch for when you drop your keys in the dark. The video capabilities of the K800i means it really does need the LED light as well as the xenon flash. It would be good to have the torch back again too.
From the late 1980's I have searched for the ideal camera, one that is flexible enough to work well in a wide range of light from daylight to dark.The resulting images needed to be applied to many different uses. Night time photography using light from street lamps and other artificial sources particularly interested me. Film cameras were generally limited and the smaller the camera the more limited it became. Digital cameras improved the possibilities but the K800i is the first camera I have ever owned which has come close to the ideals I imagined all those years ago. I bought it primarily to use for posting to blogs, but I have discovered it is so much more than that for me. It is my sketchbook and notebook all rolled into one. The music completes the trifecta. Sound recording is icing on the cake.
The Sony Ericsson K800i is a very useful creative tool for the artist. The phone is remarkable, and most importantly can increase productivity for the artist. You can never overestimate the importance of having a quality camera on you at all times. If you can also show people examples of your artwork that is doubly useful. Because it is small, and the phone so useful, you always have your camera with you, and it is of a quality to be considered a serious tool. Connectivity with the internet and the ability to post directly to blogs open up new creative possibilities for the artist. Those who might be less interested in the web but would like a camera that is useful as well as small enough to be with you at all times while having the luxury of music and phone will also benefit from the many qualities of the K800i. It is a camera phone that is easy to love.
The Sony Ericsson K790
This phone comes was released in the USA. The biggest difference with the K800i is that it is designed for the to be used on the Edge networks. This means that it is slower than the K800i and is unable to use video calling, consequently there is no video call camera facing the user at the top of the phone. Apart from that (admittedly large) difference the camera phone works much like the fully 3G enabled K800i and the above review applies equally to the K790.
The New Sony Ericsson K810i
Since writing this review the K810i has gone on sale. it is very similar to the K800i and so most of the comments regarding the K800i also apply to the K810i. The biggest difference is that Sony Ericsson listened to the many complaints about the lens cover and have changed it to a much improved design. The K810i is a superb camera phone as is the K800i, however, while there was a large improvement from the K750i to the K800i and it was easy to justify upgrading to the newer phone, there is little reason to upgrade from the K800i to the K810i, apart from the lens cover, they are too similar. Also if both the K800i and the K810i are being offered but the K800i was cheaper I would choose that one. If they were the same price I would choose the K810i. In both cases I would have a superior phone that allows greater productivity for the artist. Oh, and they both make phone calls too.