Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Raising the Ante - the Pharos GPS Phone 600 Reviewed
Posted by Doug Raeburn in "HARDWARE" @ 08:00 AM
The 600 as a Camera
As a photographer, I'd probably be classified as an advanced amateur or "prosumer". I own a couple of pretty decent cameras (one being an SLR) and I understand such terms as depth of field and white balance and how to use them. As such, I've been unimpressed with the quality of the output of the cameras built in to some cell phones and Pocket PCs. Since the 600's camera has some of the better specifications for this type of device, I was hopeful that the output quality had improved. Let's take a look.
Figure 43: An indoor shot with the 600. It's not bad for a PDA camera...
Figure 44: ...but a shot with a digital camera has much better quality.
The two photos above are the same flash photo, one taken with the 600 and one taken with my Canon SD800 IS compact camera. Note the significantly better contrast and color fidelity of the Canon photo vs. the Pharos photo.
Figure 45: An outdoor shot with the 600. Again, not too bad...
Figure 46: ...but the digital camera is still the way to go if you want a high quality photo.
This is a similar comparison with an outside scene and no flash. The Canon photo has much better focus and the color is far more accurate (based on my knowledge of the lighting of the scene… you'll have to take my word on the color part). Since both cameras were set for automatic white balance, it's possible that I could have gotten more accurate color with the 600 if I had chosen a fixed setting, such as sunshine. However, I feel that such a camera is targeted mostly at amateurs, many of whom wouldn't know the first thing about white balance. So I feel that this comparison accurately represents the results that an amateur photographer is likely to achieve with the two cameras. Clearly, the Canon's automatic white balance does a better job than the 600's, which is an important advantage for use by such a photographer.
My conclusion is that nothing much has changed. The 600 is probably the best camera among cell phone/PDA cameras that I've reviewed. Based on my opinion overall of such cameras, one might be accurate in saying that I'm damning the 600's camera with faint praise. I'd say that choosing the 600's camera as the best among cell phone/PDA cameras is roughly the equivalent of choosing one of the American Pie movies as the most profound of the series. At any rate, consider the 600's camera to be useful if you absolutely must have a camera and no "real" camera is available. On the other hand, if you have even the most basic expectations of photo quality in your pictures, a moderately priced digital camera is an excellent investment.
The 600 as an FM Radio
Figure 47: "No static at a-aaaallllllll..."; well, maybe just a little...
The 600 comes with a built-in FM tuner along with an FM Tuner applet. Since I live in a suburb of a large metropolitan area, radio signals are strong out here and the 600's reception was very good. It's comparable to the reception that I get with the FM tuner built in to my Sansa mp3 player. Both use the headphones as an antenna and both encounter occasional minor static when they're not in the optimal orientation for the signal, but the 600's performance here is very competitive with other portable FM receivers.
The FM Tuner app is fun and useful. You can enter a station's frequency directly on a keypad, or you can use the VCR-style keys to search for the next station. As befits a device like the 600 that's ready for action just about anywhere in the world, it supports multiple FM bands, such as for the US and Europe. It also picks up station information embedded in the signal and displays the station's call letters and any messages that the station deems appropriate to include. Finally, you can enter station presets (called Favorites here). All in all, the FM tuner part of the 600 is well designed and very functional.
I have been asked if the FM tuner can be used by software designed to pick up traffic info embedded in FM signals. Unfortunately, I don't have any software with that capability, so I can't test it.
The Pharos GPS Phone 600 packs a lot of power in a small package. The combination of a fully featured Pocket PC, a capable and flexible phone and built-in GPS makes it a great unit for home, office and as a companion on a trip. My only real issue with the 600 as packaged is I find that the bundled Ostia navigation software falls a bit short in features and design when compared to the best of its competitors. Ostia will probably satisfy most people, however, so overall I recommend the 600 for its powerful hardware and great design. It takes the concept of the convergence device to the next level.
Doug Raeburn is a data architect specializing in data warehouse design. He lives in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, USA.