Mobile phones as reporting tools

On Tuesday this week (6th September) I was on the panel at SMC_MCR (formerly known as Manchester Social Media Cafe) for a discussion about Social Media and the Riots. I’m not going to go into the discussion here, you can catch the whole thing in the video below, courtesy of Littlestar.

The debate, and something which I saw subsequently, made me think. Paul Gallagher, of the Manchester Evening News, a fellow panel member, mentioned that the newspaper had equipped its journalists with Nokia N8 phones, because they have good cameras. Later, after I got home, I picked up from Twitter, Christian Payne‘s audio piece about the his use of the iPhone as a work tool.  I found the juxtaposition particularly interesting, because I own one of each of these devices, and I would say, as useful tools, there is just no comparison.

Paul said that the MEN had given Nokia N8’s to staff as a blogging tool “because of their good cameras”. I acquired an N8 some time ago for a similar reason. I was attracted by the combination of a 12 Megapixel camera and a wifi connection. I was hoping that, as well as being able to upload high quality content from the phone straight to the internet, I would be able to stream HD quality video over wifi connections.  Unfortunately, most of my ambitions for the N8 have been frustrated. One of the reasons may have been that wifi connections that could sustain an HD video stream are few and far between, and my attempts to stream with it at high quality just resulted in excessive buffering. But, an even more irritating problem with the phone has been the sound quality on the video recordings. I have to agree with Paul, it’s a phone with a great camera, and it takes pretty good 12MP still photographs, along with good quality 720p HD video. BUT, I have found the sound quality on the video recordings always to be poor, in comparison with any other device I have. And, not only that, but, over time, the sound quality has deteriorated, to the point when it has become unusable.  Below is an example of a video I took with the N8 at a time when I had not had it for very long.

It’s a pretty good representation of what I mean by poor quality sound, but, as I said earlier, it got worse than that over time. I am fully prepared to accept it may be something I did to the phone, and it also became apparent that it didn’t take kindly to being carried constantly in my trouser pocket, as it increasingly froze up and crashed when I tried to use it. But, the sound started fairly poor, and just got worse. And surely, mobile phones are supposed to be able to stand up to being carried in a pocket, aren’t they?  As far as the N8 is concerned, a lot of care and attention to detail has obviously gone into the camera lens, but the microphones really let it down. And, I understand there are actually 3 microphones on the device, two on the lens side, for stereo sound, and one on the other side, for “narration”. Whatever the intentions of this arrangement, they don’t work, as far as I’m concerned. I wonder if there is some sort of cross feed between the different mics that causes a problem?  Just for comparison purposes, here is a video taken in the same room with an iPhone 4, which I think offers much better sound quality.

But, quality of the camera aside, what of Paul Gallagher’s assertion that MEN journalists are using the N8s as blogging tools? Well, good luck to them, I say. I have almost exclusively used the N8 as a camera, because, even as someone fairly tech-savvy, I find the menus and programme access on the N8 to be seriously challenging and frustrating. Owning an iPhone 4 alongside my N8, I have to say that there is no comparison at all. I agree with Christian Payne that the iPhone is a versatile, multi-talented tool, while the N8 is, at best, a pretty good compact stills camera with a useful ability to upload material straight to the web.

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2 thoughts on “Mobile phones as reporting tools

  1. Interesting stuff, are you just talking about video here, or stills too?

    I’ve been grokking photography recently, especially street photography and reporting photography. It was surprising to see a lot of pro’s are using their iPhone or mobile as their “take anywhere” camera, rather than some hi-end compact. Makes sense that reporters might adopt them.

    I also noticed that the iPhone 4 is the most popular camera in the Flickr community – wow. http://www.flickr.com/cameras/ . I’m couldn’t find Flickr posting similar stats, but would be cool to see.

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