Simple phone with a great camera?
October 20, 2015 9:06 PM   Subscribe

My wife's old phone (LG CF360) crapped out. Our old digital camera is too slow to properly photograph the kids. I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone by getting her an iPhone 6... but it's not a good fit for her. She appreciates its wonderful camera, but she wants something simpler, so we're going to return her iPhone and get her a... what, exactly? What is the best camera that can also make calls, send texts, and set alarms?

She does not use the internet on her phone. She would prefer her images not be geotagged or auto-uploaded to the cloud. She is not interested in apps. I showed her Siri and she was creeped out. She wants the phone to be small enough to easily fit in her pocket- so smaller than the iPhone 6 (I'm not even talking about the 6 Plus; the smaller iPhone 6 is too big).

She's hoping for a phone that can take pictures, make calls, send texts, set alarms, and not require shifting mental paradigms or fiddling with configuration. It would be great if the camera were the best possible within these constraints. Best includes both image quality and total latency from pressing the take-a-picture-button to the-CCDs-have-all-their-data-so-here's-your-preview.

One thing she did like about the iPhone (in contrast to either of our older feature phones) was there was essentially no limit to the number of texts that could be stored on the phone, and that she could even archive texts onto her computer. I'm guessing that our existing feature phones are trying to store texts on their puny SIM cards and completely ignoring the gigantic could-literally-hold-English-Wikipedia SD cards that could be used for this purpose. So if there's a simple phone with a great camera and not-stupid-text-storage that would be great, too.

She also appreciated the iPhone's QWERTY text input, in contrast to her old phone's press-this-number-three-times-for-S input, although having QWERTY input isn't *that* important one way or the other.

What is the phone/camera for her?
posted by Jpfed to Technology (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: There are some things I probably didn't make clear enough in my question.

She is coming from having a LG CF360. That is a feature phone from 2009. That's the paradigm she's used to. The iPhone was too much.

I am aware that iPhones have excellent cameras; that's why I got her one. I have already hidden almost all of the apps. She doesn't like it. We are returning it. I am looking for an alternative. It sounds like Android isn't a good option, and that's good to know, but iOS and Android are not the only options.
posted by Jpfed at 9:38 PM on October 20, 2015

Some of the higher end Nokia Windows phones have great cameras too - but I'm not sure if you'll be able to avoid having two devices if your wife doesn't want a smartphone - the Nokias are smart phones too, just running Windows Phone OS. I really don't know if there's a feature phone with a great camera - I'm guessing the margins are too low for the manufacturers to bother with such a device. All I can suggest is letting her try a Windows Phone, and hopefully she'll be OK with that OS (though it does have Cortana, which might be creepy like Siri)
posted by Calloused_Foot at 10:33 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree that a Lumia might be a good choice.

Otherwise, the Lumix DMC-CM1 is probably the strongest example of a camera with a built-in phone, as opposed to a phone with a built-in camera.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:36 PM on October 20, 2015

The DMC-CM1 is an Android phone. It sounds to me like she doesn't want any kind of smart phone - Windows has fewer apps but it doesn't have no Apps.

You can certainly turn off a lot of features (like geotagging & auto-upload) on any of these devices, but you're still dealing with a flexible mobile computing device, rather than a phone with a limited number of extra gewgaws.

I think at this point it's been more than five years since anyone's made any money off of non-smartphones, so you'll be hard pressed to find a new feature phone that has been keeping up in terms of of the quality of camera, the texting experience, storage capacity, and a bunch of other things. IOW she's fighting the tide, and maybe there'll be something this time that does what she wants, but next time her phone wears out it's going to be even harder.
posted by aubilenon at 10:49 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

They still make feature phones in Japan with pretty decent specs. Try hitting up import sites. Can't offer specific recommendations though.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:57 PM on October 20, 2015

I don't think what you want exists. Buy a her a cheap basic Nokia, and spend the rest of the money on a sleek pocket digital camera.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:01 PM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]

The iPhone is the closest you're going to get. If even that doesn't work, then what you want doesn't exist because your requirements are over bounded.

Even if you say no phone just camera, fast moving kids require some willingness to learn how to use the technical features in most cameras. If all you want is a feature phone, just about anything released this year will have a better/faster camera than something from 2009.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:07 PM on October 20, 2015

On Android, if you download an app it gets all the access it wants.

This is no longer true with the latest Android release: App permissions can be individually revoked & you have to permit access to each permission when the app first tries to access it.

Right now you probably have to buy a Google Nexus phone or one of the new Motorola phones to get a phone with Android 6 though.
posted by pharm at 2:10 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

(Some digging reveals that carrier locked Moto X devices probably wont get the update, so it’s Nexus devices or nothing if you want the latest Android release right now.)

I wonder if there’s a replacement launcher for Android that just implements the “I just want a phone dammit!” featureset and nothing else? All the dev work in modern phones seems to be going into smartphones, so your desire for a modernised version of your wife’s smartphone may not be realisable.
posted by pharm at 2:17 AM on October 21, 2015


Phonotto looks pretty comprehensive. I also found an article at Makeuseof that reviews it, amongside some other options.

(Phonotto is ~$8 for the full version that can take photos.)

So taking a smallish Android phone with a decent camera & replacing the launcher with one that does away with all the other smartphone stuff might fit the bill. Worth a look?
posted by pharm at 2:29 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Sony Xperia Compact Z1 fits your bill - it's got a great camera (20.7mp), it's closer to the size of phone she's used to, can be bought for ~200USD on Ebay (~250USD on Amazon), has already received a Lolipop upgrade, plenty of user storage, long battery life and is pretty much water proof (a bonus that can really save your bacon). It comes unlocked, so all you have to do is insert your sim of choice and you're good to go.

And pharm beat me to it - substituting a simple launcher will probably solve most of your wife's use and access issues. Quite a few of them are free in the Play store, so they're easy to try out and get a feel for what would be most comfortable for her long term.
posted by givennamesurname at 6:23 AM on October 21, 2015

Sounds like you should just get her another LG flip phone... AT&T still sells them as pre-paid phones, maybe your carrier does, too. Amazon has tons of LG feature phones. Maybe buy one unlocked and add it to your plan.The camera's only going to be 2 MP no matter what you get, so you'll have to decide if that's enough.

None of the smartphones are going to work for her if she didn't like iOS.
posted by Huck500 at 7:40 AM on October 21, 2015

Best answer: I know plenty of people who just, legit, hated iphones, and then happily settled on android devices - and it wasn't a company preference thing (one preferred macbooks to windows laptops, but loathed the iphone he was given), it was just something about the layout/mindset/design philosophy/fear of breaking it/impression of wastefulness/shape/hand feel.

So yeah, given that experience, don't necessarily rule out an android.
Definitely try and let her hold and play with anything before buying. If a small android phone might be ok, heaps of people have the 4 1/2" Motorola G's (really cheap, and fits in every pocket I've had). It's not much smaller, but the shape has less edges than an iphone 6, and seems easier to hold.

For a 'feature phone' so not android or iphone, from this review of feature phones (Lifehacker), the Nokia 515 might meet your needs?
Feature phone, with a 5mp camera and size is smaller at 114 x 48 x 11mm (4.49 x 1.89 x 0.43") versus the iphone's 138.1 x 67 x 6.9mm (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27").
It does have a very similar shape though, just in case it's something about the shape of the edge that is offputting.

Finally, sometimes the 'rugged phones' might work. They're usually smaller, drop proof/less fragile seeming, and sometimes have really decent cameras.
posted by Elysum at 8:54 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I tried to switch to an Android phone to get a better camera and promptly switched back. I know that it's going to be different on different phones somewhat, but I found the picture taking and viewing to be very frustrating in Android. The iPhone really is the easiest in that regard, you can take photos from the lock screen, etc.
posted by cabingirl at 9:16 AM on October 21, 2015

Android lets you take photos from the lockscreen.
posted by yoHighness at 10:54 AM on October 21, 2015

This is a bit late, but the Motorola 'Zine' ZN5 had one of the best 5MP cameras back in 2008. It's a GSM phone with an SD slot, you can examine its photo quality in this flickr pool. It appears to command something of a premium however, with used ones selling for $50-$80.
posted by unmake at 3:52 PM on November 22, 2015

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