Open Letter to Satya Nadella – Surface Phone

Mr. Nadella,

As a ‘creative’, I have long known the false beliefs perpetuated by some that “Apple is for creatives” and “Windows is for accountants” is just so much falderal. The two platforms do, essentially, the same things, just in different ways.

That said, the release of the first Windows-based Nokia smartphones a few years ago incorporating the PureView sensor technology was intriguing. So much so that when the 1020 was announced, I made plans to get one. The idea of the large sensor, and ‘lossless zoom’, combined with the ability to capture in RAW mode was very appealing to this photographer. I am not a ‘photography snob’ and as such recognise that very compelling imagery can be made with any type of camera.

There were many positives about the 1020 but also some negatives. I discussed both extensively in my initial review of the phone and in my follow up discussion of the RAW capture capabilities.

Microsoft has made some very interesting product announcements in recent weeks. The new Surface 4 tablet and Surface Pro laptop have specs that are very appealing to a working photographer. In addition, the Surface Studio is quite an interesting device and will be very appealing to many in the creative community, particularly as the Surface Dial is further developed.

The one piece of kit missing from the product lineup is a high quality smartphone with a top end camera. The products that have been released since your purchase of the Nokia phone unit have been, largely, underwhelming.

Rumours have continued to swirl, since the announcement of the other new Surface products, about the possibility of a new Surface phone. One that will have much of the capability of the tablet, or laptop, in a pocketable size. If rumours are to be believed, the phone will be targeted toward the business community, similar to the HP Elite X3.

Given how good the new Surface products seem to be for creatives, I strongly urge you not to forget that cohort of customer if/when a Surface phone comes to market.

Forget the phones that have come out since the purchase of the Nokia phone unit. Go back to the 1020 and use that as the building block for the camera of the new Surface phone.

The 41MP sensor of the 1020 had great promise, but much of that promise went unrealised because of the number of pixels on the sensor. While the sensor was much larger than in other phones, the pixel pitch was the same as the competition because of the density. A 2/3″ sensor with, say, 16-20MP could be a game-changer. Pixel size would be markedly larger than in other high end phones which should produce much better image quality.

Fix the JPEG rendering issues in the 1020, keep RAW capture using the DNG spec, put a better quality display (IPS) on it so there are no unpleasant colour casts and put it in a package with a 5.5″ to 5.7″ screen. Options for more than the 32GB of storage available in the 1020, either via different models, or preferably, a micro-SD card slot would add to the feature set of a Surface phone. The accessory grip with additional battery capacity is something worth considering making available as well. The screen doesn’t need to be 4K, but 4K video capture at a variety of frame rates would be. Allowing users to adjust image capture parameters on in camera JPEGs and video (e.g., saturation, contrast, sharpening) would be very good to include. The ability to adjust contrast, saturation and colour temperature of the screen – even via a few presets for colour temp, although a slider would be better – will only serve to enhance the overall package.

On the app side of things, a very good gallery app, addressing the problems noted in my above-linked write-up on the 1020 is a must. A simple, effective way to transfer photos, with sufficient storage capacity, from the phone to a Surface 4, Pro, or Studio for further editing is also necessary. OneDrive makes perfect sense for this, although a direct wi-fi transfer between devices would also be quite effective. Of course, apps for the various social media platforms – I note that the Instagram app on my 1020 is still listed in Beta – would be a given.

And put it all in a very durable enclosure like the 1020 had.

A robust, feature-rich phone and camera like I have described, building on the foundation of the 1020, and bringing to market a 2017 class-leading device, would very nicely round out the Surface hardware product lineup.

Robert Fisher