The Camera

On the upward curve of evolution, new ideas pop up all the time. As a result, reviewing two similarly priced smartphones rarely results in an overly boring comparison. These two contenders couldn't be any more different when it comes to their use of integrated cameras.

Both phones sport a front facing camera. You get a 1.3MP camera with the EVO 3D and a 0.3MP sensor in the Photon 4G.

The rear cameras in these two phones differ by more than just megapixel count. While the Photon sports a fairly standard 8MP sensor, the EVO 3D uses a pair of 5MP sensors to enable 3D capture. Supplementing the twin camera sensors is a S-LCD panel behind a parallax barrier, allowing for a glasses-free 3D effect.

A parallax barrier is a fixed element placed between the user and the LCD panel. The barrier forces your eyes to see different pixels. When the image displayed is a standard 2D image, everything looks normal. Each eye only gets to see half the display resolution but together you get the full picture.

If you use the half of the pixels shown to the user's left eye to display one image, and the other half to display another you can create the illusion of depth. This works along the same principle of 3D glasses where each eye is shown a different image, but instead of relying on headgear to show your eyes different images you rely on the parallax barrier.

Unlike 3D glasses however, a parallax barrier doesn't move with your head - it moves with the device. In other words, the 3D effect will only be visible at a very specific distance between the screen and your eyes. For 3D images, the total resolution is half the screen resolution since each eye only sees part of the picture.

While I'm not a fan of 3D displays in general, there's a compelling argument you can make for having 3D in a phone. Being able to both capture and display 3D content on a single device that you can easily show others is a lot easier of a sell than forcing people to wear glasses or run out and buy a special display. I often share photos with others on my phone and if the 3D effect was compelling enough, I could absolutely see myself doing the same with a 3D phone.

How does the EVO 3D fare? Surprisingly well once you nail down the right viewing distance. If you hold the phone too close to your face you get an effect that resembles a cheese holographic sticker. I started by keeping the phone as far away from me as possible and brought it closer until the image clicked.

The parallax barrier still relies on tricking your eyes into seeing depth, and as a result there is eye strain. When viewing still images it's not too big a deal since you don't have to stare at a single image for all that long. Watching videos is more painful. In either case I noticed the eye strain and it didn't feel good.

Just like 2D images, capturing 3D stills works best when you've got a steady hand and a lot of light. Given the right conditions, the effect is impressive (you'll need a 3D display and/or glasses to view these).

When you take a 3D photo you actually store the data for three images: a full resolution image, the data for the left eye and the data for the right eye. Images shot in 3D are stored as .MPO files. When you share a 3D image you have the choice of sending/uploading a .MPO file or a 2D JPEG. You can't zoom into a 3D image, doing so immediately triggers a switch to the 2D version.

Does the 3D camera give the EVO an edge over the Photon? I don't believe so, but I won't complain that the feature is there.

How do the two cameras stack up in 2D mode? It's pretty simple really. The Photon produces sharper images, while the EVO delivers more saturated/vibrant images. The Photon is probably closer to reality while the EVO's output is likely more appealing to the general consumer.


Motorola Photon 4G, Rear Camera Sample

At full resolution you notice the sharpness advantage of the Photon. Outdoors the Photon tends to mute bright days, while the EVO 3D blows out most highlights. Indoors the Photon does well, but its auto white balance seems off. The perfect camera would be somewhere in between the two in my opinion.


HTC EVO 3D, Rear Camera Sample

As far as camera apps go, I prefer HTC's. You get more options such as configurable review duration as well as a self timer. Both apps take a similar amount of time to launch, although HTC's is much quicker to switch between still and video modes. The EVO 3D's app also supports tap to focus whereas you have to drag the focus box around on the Photon.

Overall the Photon produces better images while the EVO 3D has a better camera app and produces more punchy (although oversaturated) images. If you just share photos on Facebook or keep them on your phone, the EVO 3D probably has the better camera. If you do anything beyond that the Photon takes the win. The EVO's 3D camera system is neat, but not enough to make up for its shortcomings in the sharpness department.

It makes sense when you think about it. Both phones have to sell for the same price, yet the EVO 3D's bill of materials calls for two rear camera sensors. You get two lower quality sensors as a result.

The Photon's advantage translates into videos as well, although in motion it's not as pronounced:

The Display WiMAX Performance
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  • anactoraaron - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    With all of the new dual core phones hitting the shelves, there are a few 'budget' phones using 'yesterday's' high end tech. I would love to see a few reviews- or maybe just a 'android budget phone roundup' or something. I recently purchased a Samsung Exhibit 4G and love it! There's plenty of single core snapdragons and a hummingbird in the wild on the cheap and it would be great to put them against each other. Obviously you are limited to what you have (or are sent to review) but jus sayin. Reply
  • Reikon - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    I don't really get the point of getting a budget smartphone on a postpaid carrier. You might as well go prepaid, which has much cheaper monthly plans with phones comparable to budget postpaid phones. Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    Yeah, saving $100 or even $200 on a phone over the course of two years when you're paying $80+ a month for service just seems silly... Unless you pay for your phone but not service (families, companies, etc.), then I could see it. Or if you switch carriers a often, but I don't see how anyone manages that with the current ETFs. Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    Darn Anand, had I known you kept delaying the EVO 3D review to compare it directly with the Photon I would've stopped badgering you about the review... And possibly waited before buying the EVO 3D! Reading now... Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    I wasn't being sarcastic btw, I'm glad you combined the articles. Although, after all is said and done, I'm not sure I would've had an easier time deciding had i read your article before buying.

    Just looking at the battery results I can see why you would have trouble picking between the two... 3G browsing time is most important to me as we're unlikely to see 4G here in Puerto Rico anytime soon (they're testing but only in very limited areas), and I don't talk a lot on the phone... Still, the Photon has a large lead in the Wifi battery test.

    It surprises me that there can be such drastic differences back and forth between the two, and even between the EVO and Sensation. Can the software stack play such a large role or is it network issues? The Photon's drop from Wifi to 3G is more than 2x but the GSM Sensation does so much better on 3G than the EVO, could that be a matter of HSPA+ speeds allowing it to finish loading and sleep sooner?

    Personally I haven't been able to get more than 3.5-4.5 hours of screen-on time out of my EVO 3D, while doing nothing but web browsing, be it 3G or Wifi... Even when sitting one rom over from a router and an Airave. I'd love to be able to squeeze 6+ as your test suggests. Maybe it's a screen brightness issue, at home I read a lot in dimly lit rooms...
    Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    I've noticed you're wearing glasses in some of your pictures btw, myopia? I have like -3.5 and I often take off my glasses to read on my phone when I'm sitting down (or to read in general)... Anyway, it seems that even tho I don't need glasses to read at a certain distance (i shouldn't, I'm not near sighted at all) I do need them to be able to appreciate the 3D screen at all.

    Was just wondering if you noticed that and/or may have an explanation... The 3D effect is barely noticeable without my glasses, soon as I put them on things just pop out, but I'm looking at the screen at a distance where I normally don't need glasses to read, seemed weird to me.

    Also did you notice any jumpyness with the text input cursor? That and the build of Swype included on the phone both seem very buggy to me, but the text cursor thing happens even with the stock keyboard. I'll probably root it soon and try the latest Swype beta. It's kinda ridiculous that Swype can't update built-in installs themselves and have to squeeze their updates into full manufacturer OTAs.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    Err, the part about not being nearsighted there should've said farsighted. Reply
  • ilkhan - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    Page 1
    "Both are awkwardly large thanks to their 4.2" screen size"
    Both are speced at 4.3" :)
    Nor would I call my 4.3" EVO 4G awkwardly large.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    Fixed :)

    For sure it's a personal preference thing. I do believe on Android the sweet spot is somewhere in the 4 - 4.3" range, but for someone coming from a Nexus One for example both of these could feel awkwardly large by comparison :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Mumrik - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    "they just haven't been all that interesting.

    Until now of course.

    "

    Anand, did you pull a Jeremy Clarkson on purpose?
    :-D
    Reply

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