The Samsung Pixon 12 M8910 packs in the megapixels like no camera phone before it. This phone doesn't just ratchet the resolution up to 11 megapixels -- it goes to 12, baby. But it's common knowledge that there's more to capturing a good photo than a horde of megapixels, and, when we jam a camera phone into our pocket, we want to be able to whip it out when we need it. That's where the Pixon 12 falls down.
The Pixon 12 is available from free on a £35-per-month contract, or for around £530 SIM-free.
Flash the back of the Pixon 12 at your peeps, and they'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd picked up a new, super-compact camera. There's a large, raised housing for the lens, and even a leather-textured, raised grip along the bottom that feels similar to what you'd find on a digital SLR. Flip it over, though, and you'll find a typical touchscreen phone, with call and cancel buttons, and a home button in the middle.
We were ready to be blown away by the Pixon 12's 12-megapixel resolution, xenon flash and large lens. We used the Pixon 12's 'smart' auto setting, which promises to deliver the best shots with the least effort. In our tests, however, photos were a mixed bag. Colour reproduction was excellent, and noise was low for a camera phone. The flash gave spectacular results in low light, even when the subject and the camera were both moving. In bright light, however, we found the Pixon 12 tended to overexpose light areas, and didn't compensate well for backlighting. Close-up macro shots were good, with a sharp focus on nearby objects.
The xenon flash can't be used for video, so Samsung's also included an LED light. The picture quality of our test videos was good, but the low frame rate made for jerky shots and, again, we found light areas tended to be overexposed.
The power of the xenon flash to capture shots down the dingy pub is also the camera's great downfall, since it requires time and energy to recharge between snaps. We found that, occasionally, the Pixon 12 wasn't ready to take a photo right away. We forgave it for that when it showed us a helpful message asking for our patience while the flash was getting ready.
But many times we found that the camera went through all the motions of taking a photo, and then displayed a cryptic message that told us the capture had failed. Then we had to tough it out for a couple of seconds until the phone became responsive again, only to find that our photos hadn't been taken. Samsung told us that the error occurs because the xenon flash isn't ready, but it's a major annoyance, and the company couldn't tell us if this problem would be fixed in a firmware update.
We can forgive the occasional failure, but we had our photos fail again and again, so we wouldn't depend on the Pixon 12 to get a shot. We appreciate that Samsung is pushing the envelope with a 12-megapixel camera phone, and we love the power of the xenon flash, but the Pixon 12 isn't quite ready to hit the streets.
Keep your options
The Pixon 12's camera impressed us with its good range of options, including the usual suspects, such as face detection, which waits for a toothy grin before snapping the shutter, and the ability to control the ISO and white balance. You can also geotag your photos with the built-in GPS, so that you can view them by location in applications like Flickr.
Object-tracking capability lets you specify what you want to focus on -- your subject's face, for example -- with the tap of a finger. It did a good job of staying locked onto the subject even when we moved the camera around, as long as we kept our motion smooth and slow.
Typical touchscreen phone
Other than the camera-like looks of its rear, the Pixon 12 reminds us of the Samsung Jet. Instead of the Jet's jewel-like home button, the Pixon 12 has a staid black button, but it keeps the Jet's resistive touchscreen, and we're not fans. Resistive touchscreens require some pressure to make them respond, and they feel rather squishy, so they seem less responsive than capacitive touchscreens, like that of the iPhone. You often need to press the screen with a fingernail, rather than a fingertip, to get the phone to respond.
We wouldn't call the Pixon 12 unresponsive, but it isn't as quick and smooth as we'd like. For example, switching between the three home screens via a swipe of the finger takes too long, and it also takes a few moments for widgets to appear. The home screen can be filled with Samsung's selection of widgets, and some are fun and useful, like the widget that controls the music player. But most of them aren't worth bothering with. For example, the Facebook widget is just a link to the Web page, and doesn't help you update your status or display live updates. Unfortunately, there's no way to lock the widgets in place, and we often accidentally moved them when we were trying to slide around the home screens.
The Pixon 12's average responsiveness isn't helped by its occasionally awkward user interface. For instance, it's great to have a choice of a Qwerty keyboard in landscape mode and an alphanumeric one in portrait mode, and both keyboards worked accurately for us, but why give the button that switches languages equal real estate on the screen to the other keys, which are likely to be used much more often? If you frequently switch between languages, you might love this feature, but, for the average user, it's a bad UI decision.
The Pixon 12 features plenty of Samsung's UI innovations that we've seen on earlier phones, like the option to unlock the phone by tracing a letter on the screen, launching an application at the same time. There's also an address book that uses photos instead of text -- you tag faces and link them to numbers. But these features tended to fall flat when we actually used them, taking more time and trouble to set up than they saved.
On the other hand, we like the Pixon 12's bright and beautiful AMOLED screen, and photos look sharp and gorgeous on the display. It also packs Wi-Fi, HSDPA and HSUPA for fast data over 3G, which is great for uploading those huge, 12-megapixel photos. Our model came with a 2GB microSD card on-board, and the Pixon 12 supports cards of up to 16GB.
The camera-like appearance of Samsung's Pixon 12 M8910 flagship camera phone could tempt you to chuck out your compact snapper. But its xenon flash, which helps to produce excellent photos in low light, is also its downfall, since the phone often fails to capture a picture when the flash isn't ready. It's frustrating, and, since a camera phone's strength should be its readiness to snap that spontaneous gurn, celebrity or Loch Ness Monster shot, it's a major flaw. Besides its camera, the Pixon 12 is an average touchscreen phone.
Edited by Charles Kloet