Professional camera maker RED announced the world’s first holographic phone — the Hydrogen — on Thursday to the surprise of phone geeks everywhere.
The Hydrogen is already generating plenty of excitement among RED’s rabid fanbase, and yet we don’t even know much about the hardware.
RED still hasn’t revealed any details about the phone’s processor, battery life, storage capacity, or even its fancy camera. Still, many of the company’s biggest fans are ready to plunk down the $1,600 it costs to buy one of the high-end versions of the phone.
I’m all for ambitious ideas and trying new things, but give me a break.
The Hydrogen might sell well to a niche fanbase of camera-obsessed geeks that have money to burn, but it’s hard to imagine the Hydrogen being as good as something like an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. And it’s unlikely to revolutionize phones as we know it.
For those who aren’t familiar with the RED brand, all you have to know is that they make digital cinema cameras that costs tens of thousands of dollars (that’s not even including all of the modular add-ons like a monitor, grip, input connectors, etc.).
Michael Bay uses RED cameras to shoot Transformers and Disney has used them in blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Captain America: Civil War.
These are not cameras for your average consumer. So they’re not for me and probably not you. YouTubers like Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) are the rare exception. He shoots his YouTube videos with a RED Weapon camera, capturing footage for his phone reviews in 8K resolution. It’s overkill and he’s even admitted it before — but he keeps doing it because he can.
Which brings us back to the Hydrogen. It looks like pure overkill for a phone.
RED’s promising the moon, yet it hasn’t shown off any of the “holographic” content that is central the phone’s reason for existing.
The company’s official announcement makes wild claims that the phone uses “nanotechnology that seamlessly switches between traditional 2D content, holographic …content, 3D content, and interactive games.”
But the company falls short of explaining how the holographic display works or even showing us how it works. Is it a real hologram? Or is it just some kinda stereoscopic 3D parallax tech like on the glasses-free Nintendo 3DS or weird perspective trick on the ill-fated Amazon Fire Phone? Anything short of Princess Leia being projected in mid-air would be a letdown.
Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe RED has some mind-blowing holographic technology worthy of Star Wars, but there’s a strong chance it doesn’t. Holograms are hard, and without a headset, usually requires transparent panel or prism to project the image onto.
And if the $1,200 price for the lower-end aluminum version and $1,600 price for the higher-end titanium version wasn’t enough, the company is also planning to sell additional components, such as “future attachments for shooting higher quality motion and still images as well as Hydrogen format holographic images” that connect through a special port on the phone.
Great! Can’t wait to empty my bank account for this phone and all of the proprietary attachments that go with it.
Knowing RED, the components will probably cost a small fortune. You’d better start getting on that Top Ramen diet if you’re a budding director or cinematographer even thinking of buying the Hydrogen.
Anything short of Princess Leia projected in mid-air will be a complete letdown.
Call me a jaded tech journalist who thinks phones have become boring because they basically all look the same and have the same features. While that may be true to some degree, I still believe there will be innovations on phones that will explode heads.
The Essential Phone’s strange edge-to-edge display wraps around the center-positioned selfie camera and its magnetic accessories also sound exciting.
I can’t wait to see how Apple integrates the Touch ID fingerprint sensor into the display, or removes it entirely. Or for foldable smartphones. Or for phones with 5x optical zoom. Or phones with real long-distance over-the-air charging.
I’m not convinced pseudo-holograms and 3D will make the Hydrogen a must-have. People want simplicity in a phone. That’s why Google made the Pixel phones — they’re just great Android phones that are simple to use. All of these complex features packed into the Hydrogen phone? Only rich camera nerds will geek out over them.
There’s nothing wrong with selling an expensive phone to a niche market, but they’ll never change the world in meaningful ways like the iPhone or Galaxy.