What to Look for in a Camphone

For better or worse, the camphones being sold in the United States are several generations behind those used by many millions in Japan and Europe. We're still dealing with somewhat primitive, low-resolution camphones, relatively slow communications, and limited wireless digital imaging services and can only dream, hope, and wait until we catch up with our Asian and European counterparts. But improvements will be coming to our shores faster than any other technology

When you shop for your camphone, key issues you should consider are:

■ Resolution

■ Viewscreen

■ Ergonomics

RESOLUTION

A camera phone is a cell phone first with a camera added on almost as an afterthought—to make it sexier, more fun, and, oh yes, it can sometimes enhance communications by providing visual information. You'll take pictures differently with your phone than you will with your digital camera. Certainly more often and more casually, but also with less discrimination and not so much to preserve memories as to create them. In other words, most camphone pictures will never be printed or even saved. Therefore, your resolution requirements will probably be much less than those for pictures you'll take with a digital camera.

Most present camphones offer what is called VGA (640 x 480 pixels) resolution. That's more than enough data to transmit a decent photo to another camphone, and quite adequate for emailing small photos. If you want to print it, you'll have enough data to produce a 3.5"x5" color print. But if you try to make it larger, the picture will look like mush.

The top-resolution camphones currently available have 1.3 megapixels (MP), which will produce 4"x 6" prints. 2MP camphones are expected to reach our shores by the end of 2004, with 3MP devices not far behind.

Get as high a resolution camphone as you can afford if you plan to print your photos. But don't bother with the extra cost if all you want to do is send snaps to your friends and family.

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