It’s been almost 6 months since I picked up the Samsung T929 (Memoir), the first subsidized 8 megapixel cameraphone in the US, and I’m overdue for a review :)
Over the years, I have tested a plethora of 5 megapixel devices – the i-mobile 902, the Nokia N95/N95-3/N95-4, the Sony Ericsson K850i, the Nokia N82, the Motorola ZN5 (ZINE), the Nokia N96, the Nokia N85, the Nokia N79, and more recently the Nokia N97…
There are now several 8 megapixel cameraphones available from Samsung (Pixon, Memoir, INNOV8, Omnia HD), LG (Renoir, Viewty Smart), Sony Ericsson (C905, W995), and Nokia (N86 8MP) – not to mention upcoming 12 megapixel units.
For over 4 months I used it as my primary imaging device, and 1000+ pictures later, I have to say that the Memoir features the best camera I have ever enjoyed on any phone – and by a wide margin!
Take a look at the pictures (slide show), and judge for yourself (click to enlarge):
The Memoir is essentially the US version of the European Samsung M8800 (Pixon), but with a better flash and a different industrial design. Despite almost identical camera specs, I think it performs slightly better than the Samsung i8910 (Omnia HD) über phone.
The camera features a large (for a phone) 8 megapixel sensor, fast (LED-assisted) auto-focus with macro, a xenon flash (vs. LED on the Pixon, INNOV8, and Omnia HD), and an electrically activated lens cover. There’s also geo-tagging, panorama-stitching, wide dynamic range, anti-shake, smile/blink detection, manual settings (including ISO from 100 to 1600), and video recording (up to 720×480 at 30 fps) – what a handful :)
Startup time is fast, the 2-stage shutter button & other controls provide excellent tactile feedback, and the touch-based interface is responsive, intuitive, and well designed – the resulting user experience is top-notch, and the phone looks and feels like a dedicated point-and-shoot camera.
Picture quality is absolutely phenomenal for this class of device. Low-light performance is particularly impressive – noise only becomes a problem in extremely dark shots. Color balance and exposure appear to be generally well handled, and the level of detail is truly remarkable in the right conditions.
But it’s not all perfect. The lens appears to limit picture quality somewhat (this is where the Carl Zeiss optics on Nokia devices pay off). Despite the built-in accelerometer, there’s (strangely) no auto-rotation when taking pictures. The resistive touch screen washes out in direct sunlight. There’s also no way to send the original pictures via MMS or email (the default messaging client downsizes them), and the only upload service available is the T-Mobile gallery…
The Memoir supports USB 2.0 mass-storage, but while working properly on PCs, the micro-SD card fails to mount on Macs via the USB data cable. The solution is to use a dedicated card reader, but each time the memory card is removed, the camera resets to storing pictures on the phone until instructed otherwise.
Before I leave the camera behind and focus (haha, pun!) on the phone some more, here is a sample video (download original):
The Memoir is not a smartphone, but a T-Mobile branded/locked cameraphone running TouchWiz, a reasonably decent touch-based interface. It’s extremely attractive with a somewhat retro vibe, thanks to tasteful (real) stainless steel and (faux) leather accents. Build quality is superb – it looks and feels like a premium device.
- Premium look & feel
- Nice, bright screen indoors
- Decent touch-based interface
- Awesome 8 megapixel camera with auto-focus, macro, xenon flash, and lens cover
- 3G (T-Mobile compatible) and GPS
- Decent virtual keyboard
- Accelerometer and haptic feedback
- Good battery life
- Bluetooth ObEx (file transfer/sync), and A2DP (stereo audio)
- USB 2.0 mass storage support (somewhat buggy)
- Easily accessible micro-SD slot
- USB data cable and 1 GB micro-SD card supplied with device
- Operable without SIM inserted
- Easily unlocked
- Resistive touch screen (no multitouch)
- Screen washes out in direct sunlight
- No WiFi
- No auto-rotation when taking pictures
- No multitasking other than music (and camera pauses music player)
- Poor music player (plays tracks in the wrong order)
- No gapless music playback
- Poor HTML web browser (always proxied when using T-Mobile SIM, regardless of APN/WAP settings)
- Crippled default messaging client (uses MMS for emails and SMS for IMs)
- No configurable POP3/IMAP/IM client
- Crippled Java support (impossible to install unsigned applications without hacking)
- No iSync support (but vCard support)
- No Bluetooth DUN (tethering)
- Proprietary audio/USB/power connector
- Hidden APN/WAP settings
When it comes to messaging and Java, T-Mobile crippled the Memoir just like it crippled the ZINE. Unlike the ZINE, there’s no unbranded version of the Memoir on the market, so an unbranded firmware flashing solution is unlikely to emerge.
At least, there’s a solution to access the hidden APN/WAP settings, and to install unsigned Java applications. I’m running twibble (Twitter client), mujMail (email client that sends full-size original pictures to Flickr using data), Google Maps, Gmail, and Opera Mini. My device is unlocked :)
I like the Memoir – I’m definitely impressed with the camera, and I’ve managed to work around most of the limitations imposed by T-Mobile. But ultimately, it’s difficult to recommend this phone, considering the limitations out of the box, and the price point ($199 with a 2-year contract).