Sharp GX30

6 May 2004

Product: Camera phone
Price: €299 (With network contract)

The GX30 is Sharp’s third generation of camera phone. As Europe’s first megapixel camera phone, it is being touted as an important milestone in consumer technology.

But a 1MP camera is not all the GX30 has on board. It also contains an MP3 player, a large colour LCD screen, supports multimedia messaging (allowing you to send and receive images with graphics, photos, audio and video attachments) and has a bluetooth interface that means it can communicate wirelessly with devices such as bluetooth-enabled headsets. Needless to say, this phone is polyphonic and comes with a melody-editing function that allows you to impress (or alienate) your friends by creating your own original ringtones.

In addition, the handset comes with software on a CD that allows you to use the GX30 as a GSM/GPRS modem to access the internet from your PC. You connect the handset to your PC via the phone’s infrared connection or USB cable (not supplied). This also allows you to share pictures, sound, video clips and contact lists entries between the two devices.

Most of these new features are hidden away under the bonnet. In outward appearance, the GX30 closely resembles its predecessor, the GX20, retaining features such as the clamshell design, metallic silver finish, large colour display and stubby aerial protruding from the top end. There are some new design tweaks such as a short-cut button on the handset that bypasses the menu and takes you straight to camera mode.

The phone is light but it is not neat – in fact it is positively bulky compared to some of the compact phones on the market these days. Then again, those phones do not contain the payload of the GX30 so there’s an inevitable trade-off between size and feature-set.

The arrival of the GX30 means that picture phones can no longer be written off as a passing (and rather irritating) fad but begin to resemble ‘real’ digital cameras in terms of the quality of their output. Vodafone, which holds exclusive rights to the handset in Europe, maintains that the camera produces images that are good enough to print out so that the user need not carry a digital camera in addition to their phone.

It is a bold claim – but it is valid? Yes and no. Yes, because the camera acts very much like a conventional digital camera. It comes with a removable 8Mb SD storage card that slots into the side of the device. Once the card is full with images, you take it to your local lab or print them out yourself. And no, because in the digital camera market one megapixel (1MP) machines are at the very bottom of the league and tend to be bought by those who intend to use the images mainly for email and the internet. Those intending to print out images in any serious way would be looking for at least a 2MP or 3MP machine.

At the current rate of technological progress, there’s no doubt that in a couple of years’ time, 2MP or 3MP camera phones will exist. This is clearly the objective that Sharp is working towards. The GX30 is a well designed and engineered piece of technology but, more than that, it is also an unmistakable sign of things to come.

By Brian Skelly