Thursday, July 25, 2024

Kodak and Polaroid square off again, this time with smartphones


Kodak and Polaroid are both still fighting for relevance in a world that’s mostly left them behind, and this year they’ve got a new kind of weapon in their arsenals: the smartphone. Both of these companies have basically lent the power of their brands — the history, the force of nostalgia — to third-party players who make devices on their behalf. It’s a little too early to make a call on which company’s definitively doing it better, but we took a look to see how they stack up at this point.

The first up was Kodak, which telegraphed its intentions far in advance. The end result? A nondescript little thing called the IM5 that caters less to Instagrammers than it does to older folks who had an emotional connection to the Kodak brand. Need more proof? Just take a peek at its home screen: It’s festooned with giant icons that lead you into frequently used apps like the phone dialer, Gmail and, erm, the magnifier. Meanwhile, just about the only bit of visual flair you’ll find is a tiny Kodak logo smack in the middle of the IM5’s back. Fashion statement this thing ain’t.

If we’re being honest, what’s inside the phone isn’t that much more exciting — there’s an octa-core MediaTek processor running the show, along with 2GB of RAM to help keep things snappy. I didn’t notice much in the way of performance gaffes but, you know, it’s not like the intended market is on the lookout for visual stutters or slowdown. The real kicker is the 13-megapixel camera ’round the back, and the photos they produced weren’t all that impressive (though the relatively low-res 5-inch, 720p display didn’t help matters). One of the perks of attending the world’s largest conflagration of tech nerds is everyone, everyone is clamoring to play with the same things, but during our limited time together, the Kodak IM5 felt like little more than a money grab, another desperate attempt by Kodak to hang on in our lives.

Polaroid, surprisingly, fared quite a bit better. The company (or rather, the Brooklyn-based distributor that basically tweaks existing white-label Chinese devices) brought a trio of low-cost smartphones into the gaping maw that is Central Hall.

I found myself gravitating toward two in particular. The slim, slab-like Flip packs an unknown quad-core chip and 1GB of RAM, and seemed plenty responsive while I tried to suss out what its deal was. It, like the IM5, is pretty low-key in terms of design, but a pair of speaker grilles machined into the top and bottom of the phone’s plastic shell added just a touch of life to the mix. The other — called the Selfie, ugh — tickled my fancy because it uses the exact same swiveling-camera gimmick we loved when Oppo tried it. Being the more premium gadget, the Selfie has an octa-core chip and 2GB of RAM thrumming away inside, and the 5.5-inch, 720p display seemed brighter and more pleasant that the Kodak’s panel.

Polaroid logos and wallpapers aside, both devices also come preloaded with a Polaroid photo app — it’s a ridiculous and somehow charming thing that tries to replicate the act of peering through a retro Polaroid’s viewfinder. Once you snap your shot, you’ve even got the option to shake or blow on the “photo” to coax it into developing. Sure, it’s basically paying lip service to Polaroid’s retro roots, but there’s something to be said for even small amounts of effort and ingenuity.

The signs strewn around the booth claimed that the devices ran stock versions of Android 5.0 Lollipop, and they were wrong on both counts. The phones, in fact, ran lightly skinned builds of Android 4.4.2, but at least the spokesperson was quick with assurances that the final units would come laden with Google’s latest and greatest software. Not a single one of these phones will elevate the company that made them into anything more than a mobile also-ran. With all that said though, round 1 goes to Polaroid — its phones still aren’t out-and-out great, but the companies involved haven’t completely failed capturing a once-great camera company’s legacy.

Filed under: Mobile


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