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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  • Someguyperson - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    I personally really like CF Bench. It gives a comprehensive breakdown of many, many criteria including my favourite tests, efficiency tests. It was also made by an XDA developer, so you know it's good. Reply
  • jonyah - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    I find it hard to believe the tegra2 can come anywhere close to the snapdragon in performance. My 2 tegra2 tablets (transformer and gt 10.1) are dog slow compared to my 3vo. Could that be because of honeycomb? Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    Hello!
    I am from Germany and I really don't get how the US cellphone market works. Here, I can either just buy any phone and get any contract with any carrier for that phone. Or I can buy a phone via carrier (anywhere between 1€ and ~200€ for smartphones) and get a contract to go along with that (sometimes that are locked to that carrier (SIM lock) but the carrier I have doesn't do that and it's easy to get around). However, that same contract is going to cost about 10, 15, 20, 25€ more than without a new phone, so over the course of the 24 month contract it usually comes out to mean that the phone via contract cost a bit more than the phone off contract. Sometimes people get lucky and you get a phone-contract-deal that works out to be cheaper over 24 months than if you had actually bought the phone yourself, they are referred to as "Schubladenvertrag" ~ contract for the drawer, because you just use it to get the phone cheaply).
    Most carriers however carry pretty much all phones that are on the market with the exception of a few carrier specific ones (T-Mobile hat the G1, first Android phone here I think and until last year or so, the iPhone4 was also T-Mobile only). And if they don't carry it I can always buy it on my own and get a contract with them anyway.
    Also, if you buy a data plan here you usually get a flat-rate and it runs high speed up to xxx MB (300, 500, 1GB, 2GB, 5GB are common break points) and then throttles down, but you won't have to pay any more money.

    From the reviews it seems that the US market works differently somehow. I would like to hear more about it from you guys. :-)

    P.S.: Going to read the review now, wanted to comment beforehand!
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    Basically, it works like this: Our government allows the telcos to screw us over.

    http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/2007/pulpit_200...
    Reply
  • manthas - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    The GLBenchmark 2.0 - PRO is missing the Motorola Photon entirely. I suspect it sits right next to the Atrix performance wise, but very odd considering the subject of the article. Reply
  • fic2 - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    I find it interesting that the Photon is basically a world phone. I didn't think that Sprint sold any phones that could be used anywhere. Definitely makes it interesting. Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    Motor XPRT is also a world phone and has been out for months (small Android phone with portrait QWERTY), they've had various Blackberry world phones in the past too. Honestly, i think Sprint has had one of the best phone lineups over the last 12-24 months, if not the best.

    They had the Hero when AT&T still didn't have any Android phones (and before the Droid came out). Around that time they also scored the Pre exclusive (which may ultimately have helped Palm's demise, but nonetheless). When Android competition really heated up last year they came out with two phones that really complement themselves in the Epic & EVO, both had front facing cameras and 4G.

    I dont think any other carrier could claim having both a slab and slider with top shelf specs and features like that. T-Mo had competing devices in ththe Vibrant and G2 but neither had front facing cameras and the Vibrant didn't have HSPA+. Similar scenario for VZW with the Droid X etc. Heck AT&T just had the Captivate for the longest time as it's only worthwhile Android phone.

    VZW probably has the biggest lineup but it's not always the most varied, too many mid-to-high end slabs and not enough sliders and low end models. T-Mobile's G-line with plain Android builds has it's own appeal, but Sprint has had a nice balance and plenty of mid range models to complement it's high end.

    Heck, VZW and AT&T still have only one dual core phone each no? To Sprint & T-Mobile's two apiece...
    Reply
  • MilwaukeeMike - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    As a Sprint user of an Evo '3G' (my Evo won't be 4G until Sprint turns it on in Milwaukee.) I'm done with sprint when my contract is up. We own these phones to be connected, and my 3G speeds are almost always below 200kbps and often under 100. i want to use my phone to browse the web while on the bus to/from work, and I have to click a page, and stare out the window for a minute while it loads. Forget Netflix or youtube.

    I've spent time in Chicago, but haven't been able to hold on to a 4G signal long enough to do a speed test more than once or twice. It always drops.

    it's not just my phone either... my wife has an Evo shift and has the same slow connection and can't hold a 4G signal in Chicago either.

    It was a funny phone call when the sprint rep called me to suggest I subscribe to their 4G hotspot service so I could drop my home internet connection. I had to explain to her that her company doesn't offer 4G where I live... and it sounds like you can't stay connected to it anyway.

    Unless you KNOW Sprint is connected in your city, I'd go with someone else if you have the choice.
    Reply
  • judasmachine - Saturday, August 20, 2011 - link

    Motorola's dock has gotten far more useful than HTCs. This is coming from a guy who likes Sense far more than *Blur. Reply
  • bo3bber - Monday, August 22, 2011 - link

    First off, a BIG thanks for posting some actual photos from the Evo 3D camera. No other reviewer has done this.

    I use the NVidia 3D Vision glasses, with an Acer H5360 projector, which gives absolutely phenomenal results. Anybody dismissing 3D needs to run this setup first.

    As part of that, I typically use 3D about 4 to 5 hours a day. Most people will say that's a recipe for headaches, but the short answer is that you need to set the system up so that you do not get eyestrain.

    In this review, you noted that eyestrain was an issue, and that you couldn't see using it for a long time. Based on looking at your photos with my setup, and extensive experience with all things 3D, I can say that the problem is that the photos are taken with convergence set to high. The photos as taken cause me eyestrain on my PC setup. If I turn down the convergence a bit, it goes back to being comfortable.

    (The convergence is what gives a pop out of the screen effect. If this is turned up high you get a lot of pop at the expense of eyestrain.)

    Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it is adjustable on the Evo 3D.

    One other issue with the photos is that the left and right images are at different brightness or glare. It is also possible that one lens was smudged. This gives a pulling effect as your brain tries to focus upon the best eye. This is the same effect you can get in game, if an object only shows in one eye.

    When done well 3D can be really great. Unfortunately in today's world there are a lot of terrible setups, and this might be one. If they are taking the photos with deliberately high, unadjustable convergence, that would be a huge error- leading people to think 3D itself is flawed.
    Reply

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