Samsung adds a touchscreen 8-megapixel sharp shooter to its lineup with new, more refined tap control features
GPS receiver built in
Drag and drop 'widgets' plus 'online widgets'
Responsive to touch
Good quality music player
Decent earphones supplied
Good Qwerty keypad
Stacks of useful camera features
Excellent camera interface
Lack of Wi-Fi
No smartphone operating system customisation
Camera flash limited
Touch operation not as slick as iPhone
No 3.5mm headphone socket on body of phone
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Not content with launching the UK's first 8-megapixel cameraphone with its i8510 smartphone, within no time Samsung has added another 8 million-pixel mobile to its line-up with a super slim touchscreen model, the Samsung Pixon M8800.
Billed as the 'world'slimmest full-touch 8-megapixel cameraphone', the 13.8mm-thin Pixon is fractionally skinnier than its most obvious rival, the touch-operated LG Renoir.
Unlike Samsung's Symbian S60-powered i8510 and Samsung's Omnia Windows Mobile touchscreen phone, the Pixon isn't a smartphone, instead building on the touch control technology and user interface from devices like the Tocco. It does though bring an attractive set of features to your fingertips.
It has a satisfyingly large 3.2-inch touchscreen display, and supports HSDPA high-speed 3G data connectivity for high-speed downloading and browsing (at up to 7.2Mbps).
A GPS satellite receiver is built in too for position-finding and location-based services, plus it has the usual array of multimedia features including music and video players, FM radio and full web browser.
Samsung has also included an upgraded version of the widgets home screen mini-apps seen on the Tocco, adding several online-based widgets, and allowing more to be downloaded over the air to customise the phone.
Wi-Fi connectivity is absent, however, which is a shame on a device like this, particularly as the Renoir, i8510 and Sony Ericsson C905 (the other current 8-megapixel shooter-phone) all support it, boosting upload as well as download speeds.
Imaging is central to the Samsung Pixon's appeal. Besides the headline-grabbing pixel-count, Samsung has stacked up an impressive amount of camera features and shooting gadgetry.
To complement autofocus and macro shooting, there's stuff like a Smile Shot setting (where it will only snap if it detects a smile), Blink detection (it won't shoot if someone's blinking), Face detection (looking to identify faces from previously stored and tagged images), location geo-tagging (exact positioning info, using GPS), plus an assortment of settings adjustment and editing options.
Video capture performance has also been boosted, with higher quality capture than on the Tocco, plus a slow-motion recording and playback option.
Samsung hasn't strayed too far from the post-iPhone touchscreen phone norm with the Pixon's design.
Its all-black exterior, with a plastic and metal casing, is minimalist, with just three small buttons on the bottom of the fascia beneath the display, and an inconspicuous low-res video call camera above the screen.
Its overall dimensions are 107.9(h) x 54.6(w) x 13.8(d) mm - longer and a tad thinner than the Tocco, and smaller than the iPhone. It's a smidgeon thinner and narrower than the Renoir, but at 122g weighs more.
The large WQVGA (240x400 pixels) 262K-colour display provides a decent amount of space to view images, video and other content, plus there's an accelerometer inside to auto rotate the screen between widescreen and portrait phone mode with certain functions. Importantly, it also provides satisfactory room for touchscreen control finger action.
The Pixon's control system is similar to that used on the Tocco, with a few evolutionary refinements. Samsung's user interface has developed into a functional and comfortable to operate system.
On the home screen, Samsung has four main control buttons at the bottom (Keypad, Phonebook, Messages, Menu) which, when tapped, take you into their respective key functions or menus. A button on the side pulls up a panel of half a dozen shortcut options.
The menus are clear and straightforward, a stroke or tap of the finger enabling you to scroll through or select options. It's laid out in a familiar mobile phone way that's intuitive and easy to get to grips with.
Samsung provides a small stylus that can be attached to the phone by a loop, but it's not really needed for most applications.
In addition, there's a hidden vertical toolbar containing a set of widgets – mini applications and functions - that can be dragged onto the home screen to provide fast access to the particular functions you like having to hand and want to use regularly.
It's easy to use. Finger scroll smoothly up or down through the widgets tool bar to find what you're after, and simply drag and drop onto the main part of the display. The widget stays there until you want to remove it, with easy tap control for its particular functionality.
There's a good choice to hand too. Widgets are available for the music player, FM radio, image viewer, games, calendar, memos, favourite contacts, birthday reminders, calculator, Bluetooth, message inbox, message composer, profiles selector, a mirror function (using the video call camera), and various clock functions.
As well as the regular onboard functions, Samsung has added online widgets – web-based apps including Google Search, Accuweather weather reports, access to Samsung Fun Club content downloads site and a More Widgets download service for finding extra widgets.
Another welcome addition to this touchscreen phone is a virtual Qwerty keyboard. This appears automatically when you tilt the phone sideways while writing text messages, emails, memos, and so on.
It's nice and precise too, allowing you to tap accurately at a reasonable speed. There's the normal phone numberpad-style option when holding the Pixon in portrait mode, plus handwriting recognition as another alternative.
The touch operation system works efficiently and effectively. It's not as immediately smooth and slick as the iPhone's Multi-Touch system, but it's not at all bad compared to other rivals.
The camera action is clearly the focal point for the Pixon though, and its 8-megapixel shooter certainly does the business.
Protected on the back by an automatic-cover, it can be fired up by a press of the side camera button when the screen flips into landscape mode. It has a great user interface – loads of large touch buttons, clearly labelled, make tap control of its extensive options easy and undaunting.
The autofocus system works very crisply, and you can achieve some exceptionally sharp and detailed shots for a mobile phone. Macro close ups can be very impressive too.
The automatic metering system is responsive to changing lighting conditions, though if necessary there's a huge helping of camera settings controls to tweak images to just how you want them. Indoor and low light shooting is good, aided by the twin-LED flash onboard which works pretty well within a couple of metres.
Typical mobile phone colour effects can be added too and there are some multi-shot functions including Samsung's clever motion-sensor aided panorama shooting mode seen on the i8510.
High quality photos
The variety of extra imaging features gives you plenty to work with. As well as the Smile shot and Blink detection modes – which mostly work fine – there's Anti-shake, Wide Dynamic Range option for tricky lighting conditions, ISO, white balance and exposure adjustments, plus a variety of Scenes for different shooting situations.
The high quality results from the camera can be viewed in a flick-through gallery. An additional motion sensor option makes images flow through automatically when you tilt the phone to either side – a novel feature that can turn frustrating as images flow past before you can stop them.
Both still images and video clips can be uploaded to a variety of websites and blogs via the integrated Shozu application. Video shooting quality on the Pixon is good for a mobile, capturing images at VGA (640x480 pixels) or WVGA (720x480) resolution at 30 frames per second for smooth, decent quality footage.
Additionally, it has a slow motion shooting mode, capturing QVGA resolution clips at 120fps for smooth slo-mo playback. Handy video editing software is included too.
Impressive music player
The Pixon has good quality media player functionality too. Its 200MB of internal storage is boosted by a 1GB MicroSD card supplied in-box, though cards up to 8GB can be slotted into the side of the phone.
The music player has a familiar set of track sorting categories, and onscreen playback touch controls are conventional enough for intuitive fingertip operation.
Sound quality is very good through the above average supplied bud in-ear earphone, with good depth of sound and solid amounts of bass. Although these earphones connect to the phone via a typical Samsung USB/headphone/charger multi-connector on top rather than a standard 3.5mm headphone socket, there is a 3.5mm adapter on the two-piece headphones, so you can upgrade your own ear-wear (even if you can't charge the phone while listening). Stereo Bluetooth 'phones are supported too, and there's a loud loudspeaker option.
The video player is a decent bit of software too, with full screen view looking good on the large display. It supports DivX and XVid as well MPEG4 and WMV video.
With GPS inside, images can be geo-tagged with exact positioning data, so you can view exactly where pictures were taken on maps on suitably enabled online services or software packages. Also, the Pixon has a Google Maps app included, which can be used in conjunction with the internal GPS receiver.
This neat application looks good on the large screen, providing over-the-air search options for locations, points of interest, addresses and services, as well as instant mapping for your exact position. It's not, though, a voice guided turn-by-turn Sat Nav package, so doesn't offer the full functionality that you can get from smartphone-style satellite navigation software.
The NetFront web browser on the Pixon, powered by HSDPA, provides a reasonably quick and effective way of checking out full web pages, with onscreen (or volume button) controlled zooming, and finger touch panning. Again, not as delightful as the iPhone's browser, but it does the job reasonably well. RSS feeds are also supported.
Samsung has naturally included a good spread of tools and organiser functionality. Email attachments or files copied to the phone can be read by the document viewer, while there's a voice recorder and the usual rundown of calendar, memo, tasks, world clock, timer, stopwatch, alarms, calculator and convertor.
A selection of trial games and a motion-controlled set of dice are chucked in too.
Decent battery life
As well as the fancy stuff, the Pixon does voice calls really well too. The virtual pop-up keypad onscreen works effectively, and scrolling through contacts is quick and simple (aided by an alphabetical tab you can drag down the side of the screen). Call quality is top-class.
Battery life is estimated to be better than the Tocco's, with Samsung figures of up to 4 hours talktime on 3G or 430 minutes on GSM networks. Standby is reckoned to be 280 hours in 3G coverage or 310 hours on GSM.
While battery life will depend on exactly how it's used (particularly power hungry features like GPS), its performance is acceptable for a touchscreen device. With average usage, we usually got 2 days between charges.
Good quality imaging may not be all about pixel count, but the Pixon 8-megapixel cameraphone delivers with an excellent shooting performance and a well thought out, well featured, and easy to use imaging touch control system.
Samsung's touchscreen user interface has been improved on this model, too, making it a comfortable finger-driven device. It doesn't have everything though, the lack of Wi-Fi and smartphone functionality, and limited in-box storage compared to higher end heavyweight mobiles, lessening its non-photo appeal for some users. In that respect, it's more an upgraded Tocco than a touch-i8510.
Still, the Samsung Pixon M8800 has plenty of picture taking appeal for the image conscious phone users looking for a sharp-shooting touchscreen handset.
Network availability: O2, Orange
Ease of use: 4/5
Call quality: 4/5
Value for money: 3.5/5
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