Cellphones get in the picture

It’s always the way …. you see a great photo opportunity but you never have a camera to hand. The latest innovation from two of Japan and South Korea’s main cellular handset makers is about to change all of that however — the companies are building digital camera functions into mobile phones.

First to do it was Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., which announced a picture-taking model in June.

Equipped with a 1.5-inch color TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display), the telephone incorporates a digital camera with 350,000 pixel resolution. That’s good enough for VGA (640 x 480 pixel) resolution images, but is not a match for today’s latest digital still cameras that boast 3 million or even 4 million pixels. Samsung hopes the resolution is enough to amuse young people — the prime audience for the cell phone.

Samsung said the phone can store 20 standard resolution pictures, or 26 if a higher compression level is used, and has a macro text mode which allows for clear images of written text to be taken. Images can be transferred to a personal computer via a supplied cable. The phone, which has been available in South Korea since June, has a battery life of 200 hours for the camera — 30 minutes longer than the maximum talk time.

In Japan, where cell phones are every bit as popular as in South Korea, and where getting the latest model is almost a national pastime among teenagers, local vendors have yet to integrate a camera into a cell phone. However, Kyocera Corp. has done the next best thing and announced miniature cameras that can plug right into handsets.

The company recently announced a new add-on for users of its cellular telephones. To go on sale from November 8, the Treva is a low-quality digital still camera add-on that can be plugged into telephones offered by DDI Corp.’s PHS (personal handyphone system) service.

Images from the camera offer resolution of just 96 x 72 pixels, which is the same low resolution as the PHS telephone screen — but the unit is also light. It weighs just 10 grams and measures 30 x 32 x 16 millimeters, so users will hardly notice it in their pockets or attached to their cell phones.

For users of DDI Corp.’s conventional cellular service, Kyocera is also offering a digital still camera that can be plugged into the company’s handsets. Named “PashaPa,” the unit incorporates a digital still camera that is capable of taking higher quality images of 352 x 288 pixels. The camera unit measures 88 x 40 x 16 millimeters.

Details about when the products would be available outside of Asia wasn’t immediately available, but the camera-equipped phones give an idea of the kinds of capabilities that users around the world may expect to enjoy in the not too distant future.