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RED Hydrogen One holographic phone doesn’t live up to cost or hype



Baseball fans of the 1970s undoubtedly remember the Big Red Machine, the nickname at the time for the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds. Alas, what I’m calling the Big RED Machine of smartphones, struck out during its first at-bat.I’m speaking of the high-priced and highly ambitious, “holographic” RED Hydrogen One Android handset that Verizon and AT&T start selling on Friday, and that I’ve had a chance to check out ahead of launch. Size-wise, this is one whopper of a smartphone, a hefty aluminum rectangle with a 5.7-inch high-resolution display and ridged sides that make it easier to grip. The phone carries a $1,295 price tag, and that’s the first major hurdle right there. You might justify spending four digits for an iPhone XS Max or Samsung Galaxy Note9, but with RED you’d be surrendering a small fortune for a potential not yet fully realized.More: First look: RED Hydrogen One hopes holographic screen can lure people from Apple, SamsungMore: Does Apple’s iPad still matter?More: OnePlus 6T packs a fingerprint scanner in its screen to take on iPhone XS, Google Pixel 3Indeed, like a blue-chip prospect in baseball, many of us have been anticipating the arrival of the oft-delayed Hydrogen One for months. The hope has been that RED just might deliver a jolt of innovation to an industry that, for all of its beefy annual specs upgrades and camera improvements, has been lacking in that department.Hologram isn’t what you envisionedAnd the mere mention of holograms does get some people jazzed and conjures up images in your mind that this product frankly doesn’t live up to. In fact, you do have to look at the RED phone to fully appreciate what RED has achieved and where it falls short. And because the tech may have piqued your interest, by all means, have a look at it at a Verizon or AT&T store.For his part, RED founder Jim Jannard describes what you’re seeing as something between Princess Leia dancing off the table and the hologram on your credit card. My assessment is that the “4-View” technology, as RED calls it, is closer to looking at a 3-D display of sorts in which the people and characters in videos and pictures do exhibit a sense of depth inside the phone, moreso than stuff popping out at you. And no need to sport those funky 3-D glasses to see the effect, loosely reminiscent of a Nintendo 3DS.As a company, RED appeared to have the pedigree to pull off something special. RED’s cinematic cameras—they cost anywhere between $1,000 and $50,000—are in wide use and beloved by Hollywood creators. And the technology inside the Hydrogen One phones is borrowed from those cameras.The need for content—and then someBut with the phone set to go on sale, the device flaws at this stage are all too evident, notably a lack of third-party content, and limited ways to share the content you create yourself in 4V, leveraging RED’s technology and using dual 8-megapixel front cameras and 12-megapixel rear cameras.In one picture I took with the phone inside a New York City subway station, my teenage daughter appears as if she is almost pressed against the screen, while other passengers in the station and the subway poles are clearly behind her. In another pic, shot during an NFL game in MetLife Stadium, the spectators sitting in the row in front of me and in the row in front of them, are appropriately in the foreground, while the players on the field, are much farther away. Unfortunately, you’d need a RED phone to view such effects because, while I can share or post these images, you will only see them in standard 2D without having your own RED display. Moreover, too many of the 4V pics are blurry or come off as a novelty act that will quickly wear off.Even more troubling is that staring at the screen might make some of you sick. That didn’t happen to me or my 11-year old son—he was actually very positive on Hydrogen One, blown away even—but both my wife and daughter reported feeling dizzy. Shooting 4V pictures is awkward, too, at least right now. Capturing a 4V selfie means holding the phone vertically. But if you’re shooting with the rear cameras, you have to turn it sideways.RED is also promising a modular system for adding accessories later, including a high-end camera that is supposed to transform the phone into one of RED’s studio-quality shooters onto which you could attach RED’s cinematic lenses, at a cost that has not been determined. Such a module is off in the future, but the poor track record of success with expansion mods from the likes of Motorola, Essential and LG doesn’t exactly exude confidence.Meanwhile, the commercial content you might want to watch in 4-View is lacking, with a few movies and games at launch. The first 10,000 of you who choose to buy the phone from AT&T will get access to free downloadable 4V versions of “Fantastic Beasts” and “Ready Player One” in that format. Warner Bros. and Disney are on board with content—Warner is expected to deliver 10 to 15 titles at launch.None of these titles were available to test. Apps and games designed for the screen were also extremely limited.I didn’t do a formal battery test, but one thing the large design of the handset permits is the inclusion of a huge, long lasting battery.I will give RED credit for its so-called A3D spatial audio. I plugged my Bose headphones into the standard headphone jack—yes, there is one—on the Hydrogen One and listened to the trailer for “The Incredibles 2.” And yes, the sound was more incredible on the Hydrogen One than when I listened to the same trailer through the same headphones on a Galaxy Note9.To be fair, Jannard cautioned a recent press gathering that the devices we were handed were still a work in progress. Keeping that in mind, I’ll let RED take the Hydrogen One back to the minors for more seasoning before ever considering spending big league bucks for a phone that just isn’t ready.Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter. Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/baig/2018/10/29/red-hydrogen-one-holographic-phone-doesnt-live-up-cost-hype/1811929002/



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