EVO vs. iPhone: camera usability

My post of photo and video samples from the EVO 4G and iPhone 4 has received comments from just about every angle imaginable, including claims of my bias for or against both devices, proclamations of victory for each phone in both the photo and video categories, and detailed setting and spec discussions.

As telling as those samples may or may not be, they really don’t say much about the experience of using the phones’ cameras, other than that it’s very difficult to shoot video with two phones simultaneously. (Who would have guessed?) So I thought it might be useful to post some screenshots of the interfaces and give an account of what my time shooting with these two devices has been like.

Fo those of you looking for the bottom line, here it is: iPhone is much easier to use for quick shots – though not without faults in this department – and EVO 4G is far better for tweakers of the gadget variety, though it is not without fault either.

ivovThe biggest hassle I had with the EVO 4G was attempting to avoid inadvertently hitting a touch sensitive button on the face panel or a virtual button on the display itself. Almost the entire front face of the phone is touch sensitive, and brushing against it while shooting video may take you back to the home screen, open a menu, what have you. So, the natural solution is to grasp the phone around the edges of its frame. Fine, if you’re confident holding the thin device by your finger tips in high winds at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Most people, however, will probably want a firmer grip on the phone and will secure the corners of the device in between their thumbs and index fingers. At least that’s what felt right to me. The trouble with that grip is that you’re very likely to cover the microphone. It still happens to me often, and I find it to be more than a minor point of frustration, often asking out loud why HTC didn’t put another mic somewhere else.

ivovThe iPhone presents the same problem, but to a lesser extent. That grip strip of unused space on either side of the home button is a lifesaver while shooting video and photos, though I still have to remind myself not to rest a fingertip or other patch of flesh on the mic. But again, it’s less of a problem than with the EVO.

Neither phone has a dedicated camera button, so good luck taking shots of yourself and the significant other in cool locations for sending off to the folks or friends. Those are some of my favorite shots to take and they present a risky situation for iPhone and EVO owners. If you think you’re going to take a video that way – without covering the mic or dropping your phone – you had better think again and insure that device. Now both phones present a somewhat acceptable solution for this problem, but the front-facing secondary cameras are far from ideal if you’re looking for framable snaps or high quality video.

The front-facing VGA camera is easily accessible from the iPhones camera’s capture UI. All you have to do is hit that little button with a camera and some arrows on it, as seen in the first image below. The second image below depicts the EVO’s camera UI, which has the primary/secondary camera toggle tucked away in the settings panel. That’s two extra taps over the iPhone. Not a big deal, though I would like a button right on the main photo screen. Besides this, the interfaces are surprizingly similar. The iPhone’s main capture screen features the camera selection button, flash control, a photo/video switch, the rec/snap button, and a gallery shortcut. Tapping the screen intitiates focusing and brings up the zoom controls. The EVO features the same elements but adds a button for zooming. Tapping the screen just focuses the shot. (cont.)

Capture UI





Both the EVO and the iPhone have excellent gallery apps and sharing photos is quick and easy. However, EVO has more built-in options for sharing, including Peep (EVO’s stock Twitter client) and Picasa. (cont.)

Galleries

EVO:


iPhone:


Sharing

EVO:
\

iPhone:


As similar as the capture and gallery UIs are in terms of options and functionality, the settings for each phone’s cameras couldn’t be more different. And this is where the distinction between casual snapper and prosumer tweaker makes a big difference. Android gives you access to a broad assortment of options that will change the way your camera behaves as well as the quality of the end result. The iPhone, on the other hand, gives you the settings we’ve already discussed. Yep, that’s it – just the buttons on the main camera screen. There is no “settings” section for the camera, though you will find a very limited set of options for the way your photos display in the Photos app. (cont.)

Settings

EVO’s tabbed, in-app settings panel:










While the iPhone’s approach to device control is painfully simple and lacking in comparison to the EVO, there is one no-brainer feature available for iPhone owners (for an additional $4.99) that will make the phone far more useful as a video camera: iMovie. While Android doesn’t yet have an answer to this killer mobile editing app (screenshots below), I agree with Fortune Tech’s assessment that YouTube’s online editor will be the official solution for Android…eventually. (cont.)

iMovie







Considering future implications of Google’s everything-in-the-cloud plan, it makes sense that the YouTube online editor will be the editing solution for Android rather than an app and that Picasa will see some major updates. While I currently prefer iTunes over its Android counterparts – doubleTwist and The Missing Sync – and iPhoto over Picasa, Google has made great strides in addressing each and every one of those hash marks that Apple fans have been holding over the heads Android fans for almost two years.

With a possible launch of Google’s new music streaming service for Android in October with Gingerbread, I think there’s that we will see a repackaging of existing services with new, presented as a complete cloud solution for consumers’ media needs. I certainly hope to see something like that by the end of the year. But, as has been the case with their general approach for the UI (which is also undergoing serious changes) Google will need to integrate the separate systems seamlessly with simple control in order to really capture the imagination of the mainstream.

Media purchase will be the subject of another post, but my experience with the EVO 4G’s phone and Apple’s latest iPhone has been emblematic of my previous experiences regarding both companies, and I do tend to see each of these tests as a representation of something larger – even when I look strictly at the app/device/service/UI at hand. I think it’s unavoidable to recognize the fundamental differences in philosophy, design, and goals.

The iPhone’s camera is simple and elegant, with the settings tightly controlled by Apple. This last bit ensures a polished experience as well as some frustrated folks who want to adjust their own contrast, white balance, etc. The EVO 4G’s cam opens nearly everything up to the user, which amounts to great possibilities for those who know what they’re doing and potential confusion for those that don’t. Apple provides an ecosystem with boundaries set in stone. This results in a clear path for consumer solutions; there is no guessing about which app to use for photo syncing or video editing. There aren’t many options, but the ones that exist are of the highest quality.

The EVO 4G can leave the user wondering whether they should be using Picasa, The Missing Sync, or something else. There are options available but none of them stack up to Apple’s iPhoto. At least not yet. This can make the Android ecosystem feel loose and incomplete, which I think it is at the time of this writing. But I also know that Google has big plans for the next six months, and we just might see them leapfrog Apple in the cloud media game. It’s all about usability. And this post isn’t about Android vs. iOS now or in the future; it’s about EVO’s camera vs. the iPhone’s. And when it comes to ease of use in the field as well as when interfacing at home, the iPhone wins by a small margin for me – in part because there is a place for me to rest my thumb and stabilize the camera when shooting with the EVO.

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