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For a while now, I’ve been wanting to upgrade the camera and change my photo-taking experience. My Canon Powershot S2 IS is an excellent camera and the photo quality is very good, but the camera’s full-size dimensions and use of AA batteries convinced me that a smaller camera would be much better suited to my every-day needs.

 

A couple other possibilities have come up with cameras recently. For one, cell phone cameras have finally eclipsed the 1.3 mp and 2.0 mp range. We now have the Nokia N95 and Sony Ericsson 850i, both with 5 megapixel sensors, and the SE model even comes with a Xenon flash and, from what I’ve read, holds a distinct lead in picture quality in a wider range of lighting than the Nokia. Unfortunately, the SE model doesn’t have WiFi and I don’t believe it uses a Symbian OS.

 

The Nokia N95 has a weaker reputation for picture quality, though there is word of some improvement with the recent firmware update. Recent news suggests that the phone starts quicker and enters camera mode quicker, which is usually a good idea. What the Nokia does have is WiFi and a Symbian OS, and with my plans to get out of cell phone contracts but good, I’ll need a communicator with WiFi. Also, the machine has the ability to play N-Gage games, and there’s an RPG game I’ve been meaning to get for it.

 

That leads to a dilemma. The N95 is a whopper of a phone, costing around $700 and up. That’s a lot of money for so many features in a compact place, and for the same money you can buy an original Eee PC and have plenty left over for a phone, or standalone camera.

 

So now that idea involves a sub-notebook, a standalone phone, and a standalone camera for another ~$300. The good thing is that with this setup is that the camera can be dedicated, resulting in higher quality, higher resolution images. And the phone can be a svelte one – the Samsung U100, at under 6mm thick, is the thinnest cell phone you can get in Canada. Yes, that’s 6mm. My friend has the next thickest one, at 7mm. No joke. It also means a laptop computer with a lot more power, a large screen, and standard web apps that don’t need to shrink content to fit.

 

This system is workable, but pretty complicated. Then there’s also video. Boris will tell you that the video that you get from cameras like Canon Powershots is very good. That’s true, but considering that at 5 megapixels, even camera phones should be able to capture HD-resolution video, getting 640x480 from a full-size, dedicated image capture device doesn’t cut the mustard.

 

Enter the Canon TX1. A hybrid camera able to capture 720p HD video and 7.1 megapixel images, in a very small form factor. At such a great price, it really is a stand-out product; it’s also incredibly small, about the thickness of a Powershot body, and cheaper to boot. It also has 10x optical zoom. For a tiny camera (see the Cnet review video, just mute it: http://reviews.cnet.com/digital-cameras/canon-powershot-tx1/4505-6501_7-32314643.html?tag=prod.txt.1 ), it sure does pack a lot of features in. The one downside is battery life, which is rated for just 160 images.

 

There’s one obvious product that hasn’t yet been mentioned – the iPhone. Both the TX1 and the iPhone are at about a year, each, since their introductions, and there’s a lot of talk about updates for both. An updated iPhone would be welcome, but would Apple ever abandon the Marilyn’s Mole of a camera? Methinks Jobs is rocking the soap bar look a bit too hard these days to jive with the contours required of a decent camera lens the size of those on the SE K850i and Nokia N95, or better.

 

An update to the TX1 would be good, too. For one thing, the square box shape doesn’t work well with human hands. I really do anticipate the next iteration of this device. If Canon can manage both better still-frame and video quality along with an increase to 1080i resolution, better design, and longer battery life, they will likely find a new sweet spot for hybrid digital recorders. I, for one, would shell out in no time.

 

So overall, I think the setup that I like best is the Canon TX1 for high quality photos and video, the SE K850i for quickie shots and low-res video of decent quality, and a subnote PC to go wherever the phone goes to provide Wifi & Web.

 

Nice features to look for in the future:

 

-         full HD 1080i video

-         much longer battery life for the camcorder

-         an N95 with improved picture quality, and a larger screen for a lower price

 

 

We still have a long way for even substantial convergence on the mobile front…

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