New Smartphone and 'Holographic Media Machine' Officially Launches Friday, November 2
Critics are giving Red high marks for innovation with the new Hydrogen One smartphone, which finally ships at the end of this week from carriers including AT&T and Verizon. But they’re mixed on the quality of the Hydrogen’s on-board camera, with some comparing it unfavorably to Google’s Pixel 3 imager, and skeptical about the game-changing potential of Red’s proprietary “holographic 4-view” display, which delivers glasses-free 3D.
(For a refresher on the phone, and Red’s plans to create an ecosystem for creating, distributing and consuming 4-view content, see our coverage from earlier this year.)
Cnet calls the Hydrogen One “a 3D camera that doubles as a phone,” stressing its unique position as a handheld device for creating 3D content. Reviewer Patrick Holland gave it extra points for build quality: “If I drop the phone, I’m not worried about it being damaged.” He says the 3D display makes the Hydrogen One “crazy unique,” but admits that friends and colleagues were divided on whether the 3D screen is a game-changer or just a gimmick. As far as the 2D imaging goes, Holland lauds the “natural and … realistic” feel of its photos, while complaining of “noise and softness” in low-light images. Snapshots posted online seem to indicate the Hydrogen One nails color accuracy, while the Pixel 3 automatically manipulates saturation and contrast to reach a more superficially pleasing result. (However, it seems possible Red could address any issue with the phone’s image processing via software updates.)
Next up, Gizmodo describes the Hydrogen One as “a phone that teleported from a different dimension.” That sounds pretty exciting, and writer Sam Rutherford admires the phone’s uncompromising, tank-like build, USB-C data and charging port, and easily accessible microSD tray. But he describes the 3D display as a letdown. “The Hydrogen One’s display is really just a slightly better version of what you’d get on a new Nintendo 3DS,” he writes, “not the sort of revolutionary display I was expecting to see after over a year of hype.” Rutherford doesn’t like the camera’s standard image quality much, either, posting a series of snapshots that seem to indicate a tendency to overexpose highlights and underexpose shadow details compared to the Google Pixel 3. And Rutherford slams Red for using the year-old Snapdragon 835 rather than the now-standard 845 processor, running an older version of the Android OS, and including an LCD rather than OLED display: “Its specs are outdated from day one.”
The Verge was decidedly unimpressed. Under a headline declaring the phone “all hype,” reviewer Jacob Kastrenakes claims to be unmoved by its “blurry” holographic display: “It looks like the entire display has been smudged up when holographic mode kicks in.” And, he says, photos of people have a “goofy” quality in 3D, as though they are paper cut-outs. He did note that he found his own 3D video recordings more compelling than stills or pre-loaded videos. While Kastrenakes lauds the camera’s 2D performance in well-lit photographs, he agrees with other critics that under low-light circumstances it comes up short compared to the competition. “No matter what terms you review this phone on, it misses the mark,” he says.
At TechCrunch, Brian Heater shares many of the same misgivings about the phone as his counterparts, but he’s impressed that Red made this play for the consumer market in the first place. “It’s easily one of the most ambitious, bold and fascinating smartphones I’ve ever seen,” he writes. “If the device does, indeed, flop, it will have done so with the sort of audacity rarely seen in a space full of me-too devices.”
Given Red’s reputation in cinema cameras, reviewers seem genuinely intrigued by the promised expansion module that will allow full-size camera lenses to be mounted to the phone, though they expressed some concern about how long it might take for that module to be produced, and how much it will cost. Red says only that expansion modules are coming in 2019.
Back at Cnet, Holland suggests some viewers have already made up their mind about 3D and “put on their 3D critic’s hat” when they look at Red’s achievement. “If Apple held a press conference and told every iPhone user their screens support 3D starting today, people would flip out,” he writes. “There would be 3D videos, 3D FaceTime, 3D games and 3D Memoji everywhere.”
And remember — some critics didn’t see the point of the original iPod, either.
If you just want to see the 4-view display for yourself — and you know you do — you may have a chance as Red hits the road this week with its War Wagon, a black van with a listening room for highlighting the phone’s A3D sound and a blackout tent for running 4-view demos. Events are currently scheduled November 3-4 at ComplexCon in Long Beach, CA, November 8 at Verizon #connect in Philadelphia, PA, and December 7 at Battle at the Berrics in Los Angeles. More dates and info will be posted at h4v.com.