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HTC 10.. Is it the savior for HTC?

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HTC 10

So HTC has put out their new phone.  The HTC 10.  The question is, is this phone going to be the savior for HTC?  Or is HTC going to continue to keep sliding.

To be honest I don’t know. The new look is super nice.  Much better than the M9.  I also like the fact that they have toned down their overlay known as Sense.  But what remains to be seen is if the new camera, which is being dubbed “Ultrpixel 2”, will be a shining star or a complete failure.  Unfortunately for HTC , there can’t be a middle ground.  People are either going to love or hate the camera.  No one will say “Meh, it was okay.” You can see some initial thoughts on the camera here.

Also new for this phone, is the loss of the front facing speakers.  While this is at first glance a slide in the wrong direction, there seems to be a big “*” that goes on the end of that.  There is a speaker on the bottom of the phone, and a front facing speaker at the top.  It is split into two types of speakers.  The top is handling the tweets and the mids and the bottom is handling the bass.  Now, why is this important?  We will get to that shortly.  But from what some people are saying, the speaker set up works pretty good.  You can see that video here.

Of all the new things that HTC has put into the phone and done to the phone, these two things, will be what separates them from the heard. So let’s dive down into the two things.

The camera

So right off the bat, let’s talk about the specs.  Because everyone wants to know that.  But I’m only going to show the important ones.  You can go here for the full spec list of the camera and the phone.

12MP (HTC UltraPixel 2 with 1.55μm pixel)
BSI sensor
Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS)
ƒ/1.8 aperture and 26mm focal length (80deg; wide angle)

So we are going to go over each of these 4 things and explain what they are and why they are important.

BSI sensor

First is the BSI sensor.  BSI stands for Back Side-Illuminated. How this works is something that you think camera sensor makers would have started utilizing years ago.  While they had the idea and concept, the cost is what kept this type of sensor from hitting main stream  It wasn’t until about 2009 or so that it became cost effective enough to mass produce.  You will see just about every digital camera out there has this type of sensor.  Which is a good thing.  It means that the sensor captures more light, and it captures it more efficiently.  So better efficiency and more light, mean less noise and crisper and sharper pictures.

Sensor

As you can see from the picture above, what they have done is to take the Substrate and the Metal wiring and flipped them over.  So the back side or bottom of the substrate is now getting the light directly from the lenses, instead if the light having to go through all the Metal wiring.  So this is a direct shot of light and not a dulled one.  Which again makes for better pictures with a heck of a lot less noise.

Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)

OIS or Optical Image Stabilization is a MECHANICAL means of keeping the sensor or the lenses pointed at the target.   To give you a good example of how OIS works, look at the GIF of a chicken and it will make some sense.

Gyro chicken

See how the chicken’s head remains stable and on target as the entire body is moved around.  That is exactly how OIS works.  this helps keep the target in focus and also helps to keep the “shutter” or “shaky” effect reduced to a minimum.  This means more stable pictures.  As well as, more stable videos.  So those selfies and videos of you doing stupid stuff are much better!  Here is a more in-depth article and video on OIS.

Aperture and Focal length

Aperture and focal length are important in so far as how the image is coming into the lenses and then hitting the sensor. But first, let’s get the definitions for both out of the way.

Aperture: In optics, an aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels. More specifically, the aperture and focal length of an optical system determine the cone angle of a bundle of rays that come to a focus in the image plane. The aperture determines how collimated the admitted rays are, which is of great importance for the appearance at the image plane. If an aperture is narrow, then highly collimated rays are admitted, resulting in a sharp focus at the image plane. If an aperture is wide, then uncollimated rays are admitted, resulting in a sharp focus only for rays with a certain focal length. This means that a wide aperture results in an image that is sharp for things at the correct distance. The aperture also determines how many of the incoming rays are actually admitted and thus how much light reaches the image plane (the narrower the aperture, the darker the image for a given exposure time). In the human eye, the pupil is the aperture.      Source: Wikipedia

Focal Length: The focal length of the lens is the distance between the lens and the image sensor when the subject is in focus, usually stated in millimeters (e.g., 28 mm, 50 mm, or 100 mm). In the case of zoom lenses, both the minimum and maximum focal lengths are stated, for example 18–55 mm.     Source: Nikon

So now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about both in a more easier to understand way.  The aperture is just an opening that let’s the light in.  Nothing more than that.  So in camera speak, the bigger the hole the smaller the number that represents it.

462px-Aperture_diagram

As you can see, the larger the ƒ figure the smaller the hole.  Now I’ll admit, that is pretty freaking stupid.  To have the smaller number represent a larger hole.  But that number is based on a mathematical formula.

N = \frac{f}{D} \

Where f is the focal length, and D is the diameter of the entrance pupil (effective aperture). It is customary to write f-numbers preceded by f/, which forms a mathematical expression of the entrance pupil diameter in terms of f and N. For example, if a lens’s focal length is 10 mm and its entrance pupil diameter is 5 mm, the f-number is 2, expressed by writing “f/2”, and the aperture diameter is equal to f/2, where f is the focal length.

So in the case of the HTC 10 the aperture is at ƒ/1.8.  The typical camera on a phone is usually around ƒ/2 or ƒ/2.2.  Which means the camera can let in more light than those other cameras and thus give you sharper and cleaner pictures.  If you want a more in-depth article to read then go here. But be prepared to have to think through that read… just saying.

Now on to focal length.  Where as it isn’t important to understand the math on how focal length is figured, for smart phone cameras,or any cameras for that matter,  the number is inversely proportional to the viewing angle.  So the smaller the focal length the wider the viewing angle.  And thus the longer the focal length the narrower the viewing angle. A good example of this would be a focal length of 100mm would be watching an old tube tv.  And a focal length of 26mm would be looking at a 16:9 screen.

This is why on the HTC 10 you see an “(80° wide angle)” So if HTC had used a longer focal length, then the angle of view (80°) would have been smaller.  And this is important.  Because with the advent of wide angle selfie cams, the focal length becomes even more important.  This is why on a wide angle front facing selfie camera, you can be relatively close to the phone and yet still get great shots of people in the background.  In this case the fact that HTC utilized a smaller focal length means the user can get more in the shot and also with the greater aperture, means that the user can get a shaper shot as well. If you don’t believe me, then look at the specs for the front facing camera.  You will see it has a focal length of 23mm and a viewing angle of 86°. So smaller focal length, wider angle of view.

All that is well and good.  But if you have a crappy sensor, then none of that really matters.  So let’s get on to the last item, the actual sensor and what those numbers before the µ (micron) symbol.

Pixels and micrometers…..the same (sort of)

Okay, this is going to hurt your head a little bit. I’m not going to lie.  This one part is probably the most important part of the camera.  Yes all the other stuff does matter, but it is where the “rubber meets the road” that makes the difference.  And we start with an explanation of what  a pixel is and also how it is sized up.

A pixel, is one very tiny element that represents one part of the whole picture.  So for example, when we see a blown up view of the screen on our phones, we can see the actual pixel that is making that image.

Closeup_of_pixels

Each pixel has the three primary colors Red, Green and Blue.  Sometimes referred to as RGB lighting. It is the combination of these three colors that make up our entire color gambit.  Now that is an example of a pixel that produces a part of the picture.  But pixels also take in a part of the picture and then display that part internally.  That is how photography sensors work.  To give you a different example. Let’s look at film.  You have the light behind the film and it projects the picture on the wall.  You put the light in front of the film and it captures that image.

So in digital camera we are using the pixels to capture the image versus viewing the image.  So to help your brain get even more flustered, on digital cameras that image that is being captured by the pixels in the sensor is also being displayed on the electronic view finder.  So the sensor is doing double duty.  Yay!  But that is also why there is a lag between what you see and what is actually captured.  The EVF is letting you see what HAS happened and not what IS happening.  Because the light is coming in the sensor isn’t going out at the same speed.  Thus a very small lag.  Cameras have gotten better with this, but it isn’t quite the same as a camera that has an optical view finder.

Now if you look up at the picture of the BSI picture, that is actually representing a single pixel.  That is the side view.  But if you think about looking at it from the top and seeing the lenses, then you will have an idea of what a pixel physically is. I’m going to be honest, size does matter here.  The bigger the pixel the better the image quality is.

So let’s talk about the size of the pixels.  This is a big thing to think about.  The size of the pixels has a direct correlation of how good a picture is. The bigger the pixel that more light that it can gather, the sharper the image.  Are you starting to see a pattern here?  it’s all about the amount of light that is hitting the sensor.  The pixel size is actually measured in micrometer(µm).  This measurement is the width of the pixel.  So a 1.2µm pixel is going to be smaller that a 1.55µm pixel. See picture below.

112-micron-vs-115-micron-pixel-size-comparison

So the size of the pixels that HTC is using is bigger, but why is it that the HTC M7 and M8 only had 4MP sensors and this one is 12MP.  Well that has to do with the actual physical size of the sensor.  It is a much bigger sensor.  So here’s the math on how to find out how big the sensor is on the HTC 10 versus the M7 & M8

First we are assuming that the aspect ratio for the sensor is 4:3.  We can get that figure by dividing the length of the sensor by the height of the sensor.  So 6.17/4.55 = 1.35. which roughly equates to a 4:3 aspect ratio.  I got those numbers by looking up the average size of a 1/2.3″ sensor.  Now bear in mind, unless HTC gives us the exact dimensions of the sensor all this is just speculation.

Now that we know the aspect ratio we can then calculate the pixel count of the sensor.  So get ready.

  1. Take the MP number and multiply it by 1,000,000.  So 12 * 1,000,000 = 12,000,000
  2. Next get a horizontal to vertical and vertical to horizontal ratio.  So 4/3 = 1.3 & 3/4 = .75
  3. Next multiply the pixel count by the ratios.  So 12,000,000 * 1.3 = 15,600,000 & 12,000,000 * .75 = 9,000,000
  4. Next take the square root of each one of those. So √15, 600,000 = 3949.68 rounded up to 3950 & √9,000,000 = 3000

So our pixel dimensions for our sensor is 3950 x 3000.  Multiply those together and you get 11,850,000.  Or 12MP.

So now let’s look at the sensor size as if it was the old 4MP using the same steps above.  Ready???

  1. 4 * 1,000,000 = 4,000,000
  2. Using the same aspect ratio of 4:3 So 4/3 = 1.3 & 3/4 = .75
  3. 4,000,000 * 1.3 = 5,200,000 & 4,000,000 * .75 = 3,000,000
  4. √5,200,00 = 2280.35 rounded to 2280 & √3,000,000 = 1732.05 rounded to 1732

So our pixel dimensions for our older M7 & M8 are around 2280 X 1732.  So a much smaller sensor size over all.  Smaller sensor means the smaller amount of pixels that are able to fit on a given sensor.  Which means you can do much less with them.  But here, and only here is where the actual MP number matters.  Because it is only giving us the amount of pixels on the sensor.  That has nothing to do with the size of the pixels.

So now that we have that out of the way.  Let’s talk about pixel size. This is what matters more than the MP count.  So let’s look at our new 12MP sensor that is in the HTC 10.  It has a pixel dimension of 3950 X 3000.  Now I’m going to do a very simple calculation to determine the total sensor length in µm.  This is totally bogus but helps drive a point across.  I’m going to take width and multiply that by the pixel size of 1.55.  That will give us the total length in µm.  Then I’m going to do the same calculation using the 1.12µn size sensor.

  1. 3950 * 1.55 = 6122.50
  2. 3950 * 1.12 = 4424

So even though we have the same number of sensors, you have a lot less actual sensor width.  Which is pretty simple to figure out.  But, what does this mean for us?  It means that we have less amount of actual space to utilize.  Since the 1.12µm is physically smaller you will get less light into the pixel.  In order for the 1.12µm sized sensor to equal approximately what the 1.55µm sensor is accomplishing you will need a sensor about 5467 x 4152.  That is a 22.7 or 23 MP sensor.  That is the difference a larger pixel can make. And a much larger sensor would be needed for that.  Which means you would get a huge camera bump on the back of the phone.  Aka..Nokia Lumia.

By increasing the size of the pixel on the sensor, HTC has allowed a smaller sensor to do more efficient work and produce better pictures and videos.  The larger pixels reduce noise, increase the amount of light that is introduced into the sensor, increases the sharpness of the pictures and allows the CPU behind the scenes to do less work.  Thus making the camera and the phone more efficient.  And this saves battery!

I hope you got all that.  So in conclusion, a better sensor, optical stabilization, a wider aperture and smaller focal length, combined with much larger pixels, on paper makes for a great camera.  But only when we are able to see examples of pictures will we be able to tell if they got the camera right this time. You can see some sample video and photos here.  As we all should know, there is a difference between theory and practicality.

The speakers

So let’s talk about Boom Sound baby!  Just you and me… And all the good things and bad ones as well.

In the M7 HTC introduced front facing speakers and something called “Boom Sound”.  This was one of the best things that came from them.  I love the way my M8 sounds.  It’s perfect for sitting up on the desk and using it to stream music or movies on. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t super quality like a pair of high end headphones or ear phones. But they are good enough to where you don’t have to hold the phone up to your ear to hear what the hell is being said.

But this year on the HTC 10, they have done something a bit different.  They have changed how the speakers are oriented and also what their function is.  So let’s dive down into what changes they have made.

So far, from what I have heard and read, is that the top speaker is doing the job of producing the highs and mids.  So it’s a tweeter and a mid range speaker.  And the bottom speaker, which is on the bottom of the phone, is producing the low end, or the bass side of the sound.  It is put in the same place as most of the other phone speakers are.  Here are a few pictures for you to view so that you can get a reference for what is about to come.

So the first thing we have to do is understand how sound itself works. The sound we hear is made up of airwaves that are traveling at a certain frequency.  Now I know what your saying, but how can air be sound. Well let’s look at that real fast.  So a simple rule is that there is no sound in a vacuum.  The reason for this, is that there is nothing for the sound to travel on/in.  So without air, which is what a vacuum is, you can’t have sound.  So thus, sound is the air around you, and thus sound is made up of airwaves traveling at certain frequencies. Now, to further expand on this, air is the medium that the sound is traveling in.  So it is this medium that is moving that allows us to hear sound. But a medium can be anything, water, copper pipes, even a wall.

Now sound is represented by sinusoidal (sine)  waves.  There are two parts to a sine wave for sound.  First is the time and the second is the pressure. See the two pictures below.
The_Elements_of_Sound_jpg

 

1920px-Sine_waves_different_frequencies.svg

 

In the first picture, you can see how Pressure is expressed by the height of the wave, while Time is expressed by the space between each peak of the wave.  So the higher the pressure, the taller the wave. This is also known as the amplitude. So the higher the amplitude, the more pressure you have.  And thus louder sound.

The faster the time, the closer the peaks get to each other.  If you look at the second picture, you can see that the wave on top, aka bass, has a very long time between each peak of the wave.  Where as the one on the bottom has a much smaller space between the peaks of the wave.  Now this time is measured in Hertz.  This is the number associated with how many “waves” are in a given second.  So 60Hz, means that you will see 60 peaks in a second.  This is also known as the frequency.  So the higher the frequency the closer the peaks are together.

This length of waves also has an effect on how sound travels through whatever medium it is in at the time.  The lower the frequency the more penetrating the sound is.  The higher the frequency the harder it is for the sound to move through dense mediums.  A good example of this is, if you are driving a long and a car has a lot of bass playing.  You can hear that just fine, but you can’t hear what the rest of the music is playing.  That is because the lower bass frequencies are able to penetrate better than the higher frequencies.  One other example is, if you are in a pool and someone screams, you can barely hear it.  But if someone put a bass speaker in there, you can hear that sucker all the way across the pool.

If you want to really get into sound and all the fun stuff.  You can go here and read it till your brain implodes.

Now that we have a brief understanding of how sound works, let’s talk a little about speakers.  So speakers are really very simple machines that convert an electrical signal to a mechanical one.  That converted signal is called sound.  So below is a great simple diagram of a speaker.

Speaker design

So you have the (1) cone, then you have a (2) electromagnet and a (3) permanent magnet.   So what happens is the signal for the frequency comes through the wiring and go around the electromagnet.  This as an effect of ether being attracted to or repelled by the permanent magnet.  It is this back and forth movement at the frequency of the sine wave that allows the cone to push air out of it at the frequency of the sound.  So it’s a direct 1:1 copy of the signal coming in.  The higher the frequency, the faster that cone vibrates to make the sound.  The lower the frequency the slower the cone moves.

Now I know what your thinking, what the hell does all this have to do with the speakers on the HTC 10?  Well I’m getting to that.  So the reports that I have heard is that each speaker has it’s own dedicated amplifier.  This is a very important thing.  Remember how I spoke of pressure a bit earlier? Well the amplifier takes the signal that is coming into it, and makes it greater.  It amplifies or increases that signal so that it is stronger going into the speaker.  This gives you a greater pressure and thus greater power to drive that electromagnet.  By doing this, you can utilize less initial power and create a speaker that has greater output without sacrificing sound quality.

So one of the biggest issues with cell phone speakers is that when you have just one, or sometimes two they are having to handle all the frequencies that you are throwing at them.  So they are having to generate the highs, mids and lows.  This is very hard for a speaker to do.  Because music and hell, human speech is so complex, it really is a tough thing to get right.  This is the reason why high end speaker companies separate the highs, from the mids and the lows.  So each one get’s it’s own dedicated speaker.  When you do that, the sound that comes from that speaker is much cleaner and clearer.  And now we turn it full circle to HTC 10.

What they have done is give the highs and mids their own dedicated speaker and amplifier.  And given the bass it’s own speaker and amplifier.  This in theory will give you better sound quality and also better depth of  sound.  Now what I mean by better depth of sound, is that you should be able to hear more differences in frequencies and this is the nuances to music and sound.

So all that to get to this conclusion.  By splitting up the speakers, and allowing them to work on just a certain aspect of the sound, HTC has, in theory, given us a better speaker system. It should produce cleaner, crisper sounds.  Sounds with less distortion and also sound that has more power and comes out stronger that it would normally.  So you can turn up the volume and even though you have increased the amplitude, you haven’t decreased the sound quality.   IN THEORY.

In Conclusion

I honestly won’t know more until I get my hands on a HTC 10.  HTC has given us a better camera.  They have given us, hopefully, better speakers, and better just about everything on this phone.  That doesn’t mean that it is going to be better.  All these things have to work in conjunction with each other.  They all must play their small part for the greater good of the phone experience.

I can tell you this, if the HTC 10 performs as good as it looks on paper, then HTC might be out of trouble.  But if it fails, then the HTC that we know today, just might be gone in a couple of years.

Published in Mobile Phones