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    Samsung W880 Handset Preview:World's 1st Optical Zoom Feature Included

    he Samsung W880 ups the ante with a world's first 12 megapixel camera with 3x optical zoom. Featuring a hardware Mode dial and a real zoom lever it does feel like a real camera and you may find yourself struggling to find the mobile phone under the digicam skin. Now while W880 is South Korea bound only, it's enough to give us a taste of what's coming in the shape of the rumored Samsung M8920, which should make it our way sometime next year - but with Wi-Fi and GPS on board.
    Designing a mobile phone (or any other portable gadget for that matter) is a balancing act - the engineers must juggle between cost, size and features, all the while being limited by the current state of technology.
    Say cost doesn't matter - that still leaves only so much that can reasonably be crammed into a mobile device. Progress is made, technology advances, which results in things getting cheaper, smaller and with more features. And quite soon, things that seemed impractical a few years back can now be released as a consumer device.
    This is how the Samsung W880 AMOLED 12M came to be - it contains all the mechanical elements of a point-and-shoot camera, but still has enough room left for the phone parts. It's not the first phone to achieve that but it's the first 12-megapixel one and the added 3x optical zoom and xenon flash pretty much put it on par with a typical point-and-shoot camera.
                                      
    The Samsung W880 has some high-end imaging functions too - tracking touch autofocus, 720p@30 fps video recording, 3.3" big AMOLED capacitive touchscreen with WVGA resolution. That's not something you see every day on a cameras and it's top notch in mobile phone terms. Even the degree of control over how a photo is taken beats out consumer cameras, let alone cameraphones.
    Now, keep in mind that the we're previewing a prototype here and it's a prototype of a phone meant for the South Korean market only and although it has tri-band GSM and support for UMTS, those are meant for roaming only - the AMOLED 12M is for South Korea and South Korea only.
    So, why bother with a preview then? Well, there's a global version coming in the beginning of next year and that might actually land in a store near you. It will look just the same but will drop the T-DMB TV receiver, which has little use outside of South Korea anyway, swapping it for the more practical Wi-Fi and GPS. Supposedly, the global GSM version will be allegedly called Samsung M8920, but that has yet to be confirmed by an official source.
    In this preview we focus mainly on the camera - admit it, it's the most interesting aspect of the Samsung W880 and it's the camera that has us holding our breaths.
    For now, we'll just concentrate on the essentials - we take a look at the hardware, next we have a video walkthrough of the interface and finally, we focus on the camera, with plenty of still photos and video samples.
    A device like Samsung W880 AMOLED 12M certainly makes you reconsider cellphone evolution. Back in the day we witnessed manufacturers started putting small cameras on mobile phones only to see them add mobile phone functionality to cameras today. And it seems that from user's point of view the rich feature set somehow makes up for the increased bulk, which would have been unacceptable only an year or two ago.
    You've all seen mobile phones turn into mini computers thanks to 1GHz chipsets such as the Snapdragon and there are even tablets getting phone functionality such as Nokia N900. We wonder how long will it take before the cellphone hardware makes its way to other personal items as well. GPS navigators and dedicated music players are already succumbing to the pressure - will the mobile phone turn into the ultimate personal gadget in the years to come?

    Specification:
    General 2G Network GSM 900 / 1800 / 1900

    CDMA2000 800 / 1700
    3G Network UMTS 2100
    1xEV-DO 800 / 1700
    Announced 2009, September
    Status Coming soon. Exp. release 2009, October
    Size
     Dimensions 115.8 x 56.9 x 16.3 mm
    Display
    Type AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
    Size 480 x 800 pixels, 3.3 inches
    - TouchWiz v2.0 UI
    - Accelerometer sensor for auto-rotate
    - Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
    Sound Alert types Vibration; Downloadable polyphonic, MP3, WAV ringtones
    Speakerphone Yes
    Memory
    Phonebook Yes, Photo call
    Call records Yes
    Internal 4GB
    Card slot microSD (TransFlash), up to 32GB
    Data
    GPRS Class 12 (4+1/3+2/2+3/1+4 slots), 32 - 48 kbps
    HSCSD Yes
    EDGE Class 12
    3G CDMA2000 1xEV-DO
    WLAN No
    Bluetooth Yes, v2.0 with A2DP
    Infrared port No
    USB Yes, v2.0
    Camera
     Primary 12 MP, 4000 x 3000 pixels, 3x optical zoom, autofocus, xenon flash, LED flash
    Features Mode dial, variable apperture, tracking touch autofocus, face, smile and blink detection, Smart Auto mode, image stabilization, Beauty Shot
    Video Yes, 720p@30fps
    Secondary Videocall camera
    Features
    Messaging SMS, MMS, Email, IM, Push Email
    Browser: WAP 2.0/xHTML, HTML
    Radio: No
    Games ;Yes + downloadable
    Colors :Black
    GPS: No
    Java: Yes, MIDP 2.0
    - T-DMB TV receiver
    - MP3/WMA/AAC/WAV player
    - DivX/XviD/H.263/H.264/MP4/WMV player
    - Organizer
    - Voice memo
    - T9
    Battery Standard battery, Li-Ion 1100 mAh

    Design and construction
    The Samsung W880 AMOLED 12M looks more like a digicam than a mobile phone. We're not really sure how many times we've said that before, but it's here that the words meet its true meaning. The protruding lens, the rubbery hand grip and the rotating mode dial on the edge will hardly allow you to guess that it's a mobile phone we're displaying here.
    The front panel is dominated by the 3.3-inch touchscreen of WVGA resolution. It's a capacitive unit and naturally its sensitivity is among the best in the business. Above the display is the videocall camera, the ambient light sensor and more importantly - one of the two stereo loudspeakers.
    Below the display there are two call receiver keys and the Back key plus the second of the set of stereo speakers. The two receiver keys are the only elements that give off the dual purpose of this digicam look-alike.
    The back of the Samsung W880 is where it gets interesting - the protruding lens is what distinguishes this cameraphone from the most other that you may have seen. Purely, digicam style, once you turn the camera on, the lens protrudes outwards and retracts back again when you're done taking your snapshots - and those are some snapshots, but more on that later. The opening and closing of the zoom lens is extremely fast, causing no delays in the camera start time.

    Next to the zoom lens is a full-featured xenon flash plus a regular LED one for use when capturing videos.

    The optical zoom is among the key selling points of the device, but equally important are the optimized camera controls. We give theme that, having a mode dial on a mobile phone (even a cameraphone) is quite rare.

    The Mode dial allows for quick toggling between Macro, Landscape, Portrait, Program, Manual, the proprietary SmartAuto shooting mode and finally, Video recording.

    Next to the Mode dial there are several other controls such as a dedicated key to start the camera and the large shutter key just next to the Mode dial. In fact the zoom ring and the shutter key are just like on a regular digicam.

    The Samsung W880 is a pretty large and thick (16.3 mm) handset but its ergonomics are quite nice and it feels nice in hand. Still, we're not really sure if it will be equally comfortable to have it all day with you as say, a more compact mobile phone.

    User interface
    We are not going to go into much detail about the user interface of the Samsung W880 AMOLED 12M. All Korean handsets have region specific UI, which won't be available in the global version.
    What you need to know is that the Samsung W880 will be a feature phone, running on whatever version of the Samsung TouchWiz is the latest at the time of its release. Still, you can check out the video below to get an idea of its speed and responsiveness.

    Now let's not waste any more time and get to the device most important feature - its camera. You can find out more about it and loads of samples after the jump.

    Hardware
    12 megapixel  camera
    Undoubtedly the highlight of the Samsung W880 AMOLED 12, is its 12 MP cameara with a maximum image resolution of 4000 x 3000 pixels. Just like on the Pixon12, there is both a xenon and a LED flash on board. That way you can rely on both the extra light burst in the dark and the video light functionality that's only possible with a LED unit.
    The thing that gives the Samsung W880 a definite edge over the Pixon12 however is the 3x optical zoom lens. The zoom capabilities and the versatility that they provide have been one of the mainstay of the dedicated digicams against cameraphones. The other has of course been the image quality and video recording but with recent 12 megapixel cameraphones, and HD video capable Samsung W880 AMOLED 12M in particular, we can see the gap closing really, really fast.
    Here's an example of its 12 MP 3x zoom feature:



    The other hip hardware feature that takes the Samsung AMOLED 12M one step closer to point-and-shoot cameras is the variable aperture functionality. It's only the third handset that we see with that feature and unlike the other two - the Nokia N86 8MP and the Pixon12 it also offers manual control over it.
    For those of you unfamiliar with photography, the variable aperture allows the camera to choose between increased light throughput and better sharpness throughout the photo. Photos at smaller apertures (indicated by a larger F-stop value) should generally be sharper. Going for larger apertures allows more light to get in and thus faster shutter speeds and lower ISO settings, reducing camera-shake-induced blur and excessive noise.
    We are also pretty certain that the Samsung W880 has some kind of hardware image stabilization, despite that the company didn't say a word about it in the press release. The videos captured with the handset are way more stable than usual with the frame to frame jitter almost completely eliminated.
    But certainly one of the best parts about the Samsung W880 hardware is the motion dial mounted at its top right corner (when held horizontally). This type of control has been around for ages but is only now making its cameraphone debut. And we are certainly really glad to see it as it's the easiest way and most natural way of toggling between the available camera modes.

    Camera User interface and features
    If you thought that it all ends with the great hardware you are most certainly wrong. The Samsung W880 is pretty well geared when it comes to software too.
    The camera user interface layout is about the same as on the original Samsung Pixon12. Nicely touch optimized as it was, the menus are now even more convenient, thanks to the different modes of the camera available on the Samsung AMOLED 12M. You now have the most relevant options for each mode only a click away on the two bars at the sides of the phone. And the interface was doing pretty well in terms of speed even on our pre-release unit.
    Another first for the Samsung W880 is the full manual mode, which gives you control over the shutter speed and the aperture priority at the same time. Considering however that there aren't too many photography enthusiasts who use cameraphones we doubt it will be used too often.
    The Smart Auto mode on the other hand seems like the mode that's going to be used the most. When it is turned on the handset picks the best scene preset according to the shooting conditions. Compared to the regular Auto mode the Smart Auto gives the phone control over many more of the phone settings such as contrast, color balance, saturation, etc. thus tweaking the output (hopefully in the right direction) to a far greater extent.
    Finally, the Samsung W880 AMOLED 12 is sporting tracking touch focus, just like the Pixon12. All you need to do is hold your finger over the subject you want to focus on and watch as the crosshairs follows it on the viewfinder. Once you press the shutter key, it will focus on it and proceed to capture the actual shot.
    Here is a short video we took, demonstrating the camera user interface of the Samsung W880 AMOLED 12M.


    Image quality
    The image quality is of course the most crucial part about the 3x optical zoom equipped Samsung W880. The problem is that all zoom-equipped handsets so far have been more or less a failure in the sense that image quality degrades noticeably at the furthest (tele) end of the zoom range.
    The Nokia N93 was so bad that it was almost pointless and while Samsung G800 and G810 were a nice step in the right direction they were still not quite there yet. That's why we were extremely happy to see that the Samsung W880 AMOLED 12M has perfect optics with the image quality remaining the same throughout the zoom range.
    As you will see from the photos posted below, with the Samsung W880 there isn't almost any difference in captured resolution between the two ends of the zoom range.
    The general image quality is also excellent, although we have to admit that the amount of fine detail captured was slightly lower than that of the Pixon12, or at least in our pre-release unit. All the other components were already nicely tuned with the photos having low noise levels, good contrast and pleasant colors. There are no visible image defects like over-sharpening or compression artifacts either.
    But let's cut to the chase and give you some photos taken with the Samsung W880 12MP camera so you can see for yourselves how good it actually is.

    Amazing video recording
    The video recording of the Samsung W880 is equally impressive. The handset manages the incredibly sounding 720p videos @ 30 fps - more than any handset available on the market (including the Omnia HD, as well).
    The W880 video recording is nothing short of impressive and surpasses the Omnia HD output in a great extent. The zoom-equipped handset produces extremely smooth videos with plenty of resolution and nicely saturated colors. Also as we mentioned earlier the frame to frame jitter is gone and considering how irritating it is on hand-held videos this is certainly one of the biggest improvements.
    To put it simply the Samsung W880 AMOLED 12M video recoding is the best the mobile phone industry has ever seen. We bet it would rival the output of most low-to-mid-range dedicated point-and-shoot cameras and camcorders (the ones without optical stabilization at least).
    Here are the sample videos taken with the Samsung W880 camera for you to enjoy.


    Comments
    The Samsung W880 AMOLED 12M didn't need an awful long time to convince us that it's the most complete photography tool among the mobile phones. Combining optical zoom with splendid image and video quality has certainly resulted in something way beyond the powers of its competitors.
    It's almost unquestionable that the handset will become immensely popular and get iconic status once it gets released outside Korea. The touch experience that Samsung are providing recently is pretty good and we don't see any reason for the handset not to become a dream device for every self-respecting geek.
    Combined with the proper pricing it might also cash in on its popularity as it will convince quite a lot of people to leave their point-and-shoot cameras at home next time they're out and about.


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