Two basic features smartphone manufacturers need to take seriously

Smartphones have changed, from the time they were extremely useful (remember Samsung Galaxy S II?), to today when the smartphone manufacturers aren’t really sure what smartphones should be. Should they be watches? Should they be sunglasses? To make their smartphones as different as they can from other identical but competing brands, the manufacturers have gone an extra mile to ensure that they add redundant features like finger print scanners, iris, scanners, heart rate monitors, side screens, among others – features that we honestly do not need in a phone – and in the process ignoring the basics of phones, the voice calls and the text messages.

First feature: budget phones and below should have zero cameras

November last year I was all over town shopping for a budget phone as an Xmas gift for my mom. My son had spoilt her prevoius so in addition to the fact that Xmas was a month and a few days away, I had the obligation to replace her beautiful and once functional phone she so much loved. A Samsung phone. A phone that could stay for 8 to 10 days before the bat went dead. A phone that even if she found herself deep down in the valley where all other phones had zero network reception, she could still make a call. A phone that didn’t have a camera. A phone she acquired for Shs 1,500 only.

I walked along Tom Mboya, Luthuli Avenue, River Road, and the entire back streets of Nairobi shopping for that particular phone – it wasn’t anywhere to be found. Only upgrades to it, upgrades in the sense that Samsung had decided to include a camera to their infamous mulika mwizi. There were cheaper phones though. There were cheaper phones from Tecno, Huwawie and Samsung, but I couldn’t buy any of those for that simple anomaly – the inclusion of a camera – a camera that my mom will never use.

Have you used the cameras on these feature phones? Camera’s whose resolutions cannot be described in mega pixels? The lowest resolution in your typical 8 or 16 MP camera is probably 640 by 480 pixels. If you set your camera to capture an image in that resolution, you will still get a better image than if you captured the same image with the camera that come with those feature phones – images worse than the picture of President Barack Obama shown below.

smartphone manufacturesTell me, if you have a camera phone that the best it can give you is the image above, why would you ever want to take a photo with that camera? If you will never ever take a picture with the camera, why on earth would you even need a camera in that phone?

It’s not just in the feature phones that these useless cameras are found. They also exist in budget smartphones such as the one that will come with Microsoft Lumia 430. Almost all the low budget smartphones that cost less than Shs 11,000 have cameras you don’t want to use. A few of my friends have used them to produce the ugly versions of themselves, and I always get irritated. If the phone camera cannot capture every pixel of your face, blurring your look or exaggerating your not so beautiful self, don’t use that camera – photoshop can only do as much.

You may ask, does it really matter? Is it not better to have some kind of camera than no camera at all? It matters a lot. The useless camera is not just there to cheat your brain, it also takes a significant portion of the phone’s circuitry. To fit the camera chip in the motherboard, the smartphone manufacturer is forced to compromise on key functions such as better charge cycle (that’s why you no longer have a phone that can last for 10 days before recharge), better voice quality, and better network reception. In addition, the camera adds cost to the phone, unnecessary cost that you must pay for.

This is how I would like it. I would like all feature phones and budget phones to come with no camera, none whatsoever. If camera must be fitted in a phone, other than ensure that image processing capability is reasonably good (implying enhanced camera chipset hence higher cost), the camera should not be anything less than 5 MP, even before we talk about the lens aperture and other minimum technical requirements for acceptable photography.

Useless cameras on feature and budget phones is one thing, typing experience, as covered in Page 2, is the other thing that smarphone manufacturers must work on.


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