Looks and user-friendliness are next on our list of evaluating the camera interfaces of our contenders. Without a proper study involving focus groups and such, it will always remain a highly questionable matter. So, again, it's how we feel about it based on our experience with cameraphones and digital cameras.
In this shootout however we have a couple of touch devices and another couple of sliders. So we think it's only fair that these two couples should run the looks and handling race in separate lanes.
Interface looks and usability
Putting the Samsung INNOV8 and the Sony Ericsson C905 head to head, the first obvious thing is that both have similar setups involving a settings toolbar and pop-ups (or pop-downs in the case of the INNOV8) for all options.
We find the Sony Ericsson C905 to be slightly better in terms of interface looks. It offers a more colorful layout along with subtle tooltips and visual examples of how every feature works.
The LG Renoir and the Samsung Pixon have very pleasant interfaces too where most options are displayed as semi-transparent screen overlays. Those are easy to pick and touch, so again handling the camera menu is easy.
The only issue with that kind of interface is that the settings in the camera viewfinder are depicted as graphical icons only and you can't guess what they do before you give them a test run. That hurts usability to an extent.
When we compare the implementations of Samsung Pixon and the LG Renoir, we can't really point a definite winner in terms of looks. Both have rather similar interfaces so we'll just go ahead and give them equal points in the beauty section.
Menu structure and organization
Having a huge amount of settings on those settings toolbars/viewfinder bars is not that user-friendly too. So every cameraphone has an extended settings menu that takes care of the least used options.
That's ok with us, however picking the right ones to put on the main toolbar/viewfinder bar is of crucial importance to user-friendliness. All of our contenders fare great in this respect with a single exception - LG Renoir. Let us explain.
For some reason, LG have forced the viewfinder to fullscreen mode. But as the camera sensor has a different aspect ratio than the widescreen viewfinder, some of the image gets cropped. It still gets recorded, but you don't really see it in the viewfinder.
Additionally, the overlay camera controls are only a few and they fade away off screen after a preset period of time so that they don't get in your way.
Samsung on the other hand have opted to use the original aspect ratio of the camera on their Pixon widescreen viewfinder, which leaves space for two permanent columns of controls that don't need to be hidden when not used.
That gives you quick access to much more camera features, which otherwise are hidden deep in the extended camera options of the LG Renoir.
So in essence - the controls of the LG Renoir are (1) not always at hand (due to the fullscreen viewfinder) and (2) even when you tap on the screen to display them you get only a few, with still quite a lot of important setting buried in the extended settings menu.
Camera shortcuts - starting off
Having the right shortcuts at your disposal is key to operating the camera settings quickly and efficiently.
Let's start by examining the lens covers and the shortcuts used to start the camera itself. All of the handsets in this shootout have some sort of lens covers, which is a welcome approach.
In Samsung INNOV8 and Samsung Pixon lens covers are have the sole purpose of providing protection. They reveal the lens automatically once you start the camera. LG Renoir and SE C905 have mechanical lens covers that you need to open manually in order to shoot. The good thing is they are active lens covers, so they start the camera too.
Let's look at our slider duo of Samsung INNOV8 and Sony Ericsson C905. The lens cover in the Samsung cameraphone opens automatically when you start the camera. However, starting the camera takes quite a long press of the camera key - and the handset keyboard needs to be unlocked for that to work.
If you slide back the device in order to shoot more comfortably, the keyboard locks again and you need to unlock it using the key combo in order to shoot. Those may seem minor things, but when you compare it to the Sony Ericsson device they do make a difference.
All it takes to shoot with the C905 is slide the active lens cover open - no matter whether the phone is closed or opened, locked or unlocked, the camera will be ready to shoot.
The Sony Ericsson C905 solution has its flaws too. The lens cover seems to be way too close to the lens, so sliding it down often leaves a finger smudge on the lens.
The LG Renoir active lens cover requires to be operated manually too. Its slider is located on the ring around the lens. The problem with this slider is that it offers little grip and sometimes takes a try or two to slide it open. And the device again needs to be active (not in standby) for the slider to activate the camera.
There are some positive things about the LG implementation too. For example, on exit the camera always warns you if the lens cover is not closed. If it weren't for that warning, we would have left the lens unprotected on quite a few occasions.
And finally, the Samsung Pixon has the same automatic lens cover as the Samsung INNOV8. The Pixon screen needs to be unlocked for the shutter key to start the camera, and the actual starting takes quite some pressing.
Camera shortcuts - taking the shot
On regular digicams there are several keys to use, but on mobile phones fitting dedicated camera keys is not an easy task. Yet, all of the 8 megapixel cameraphones allow some sort of shortcutting your way through the most important settings, so you don't miss that precious shot.
Sony Ericsson C905 packs some nice backlit icons on the D-pad so you have quick access to Focus mode, Exposure compensation, Self-timer and Flash control. You can also use the two other keys above the display for quick selection of Scene and Shoot mode. Or, if you are not using the camera you can use those same keys to open up the Image gallery. There's also a side-mounted key that allows you to toggle between video and still cam, plus a separate key for starting the gallery.
The Samsung INNOV8 D-pad has the same features as the C905, and you can access several other features with the alphanumeric keypad. As those are not marked in any way you can use the camera help menu to see who's doing what.
The Samsung INNOV8 also has a sliding knob placed on its side that allows you to toggle the still camera, video camera and image gallery as easily as on your digicam.
As we already pointed out in the menu structure chapter, Samsung Pixon offers access to a lot more settings than the LG Renoir straight in the camera viewfinder. With the LG Renoir you'd have to use the extended camera setup to pick up a scene or toggle the macro mode. Doesn't really sound user-friendly, does it?
Still, even with the LG Renoir there is some shortcut action when it comes to the camera. First of all, a shorter press on the camera key starts the still camera, while a longer press starts the video camera.
Then, there's also the dedicated image stabilization key. The practicality of these shortcuts is dubious as we prefer using the active lens cover for starting the camera and we almost never used digital image stabilization - let alone its shortcut button!
And even when we used the shutter key to power the camera on, more than often we got ourselves into the camcorder by accident (too long a press).
So, to sum up this chapter of our shootout, when it comes to 8 megapixel sliders, the Sony Ericsson C905 is definitely the one that's always ready to capture the moment without compromising lens protection plus it's got the upper hand with better organized shortcuts. It also snatched our appreciation for its superior looking interface among the sliders.
In the touchscreen couple the Samsung Pixon leads with its handy viewfinder controls, automatic lens cover and user-friendly interface.
SE C905: 7/10 • Samsung INNOV8: 5/10 • Samsung Pixon: 4/10 • LG Renoir: 2/10