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Panasonic puts a 1-inch sensor and a Leica lens on new CM1 smartphone

Seeking to set a new benchmark for the cameraphone category

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Panasonic has made the biggest news of Photokina so far with the announcement of its new Lumix CM1 Android smartphone. The Japanese company quit making smartphones after the failure of its Eluga handsets two years ago, but now it's returning with an imaging-focused device that's as much camera as it is phone. The CM1 comes with a 1-inch sensor that dwarfs most imaging sensors in smartphones today and is on a par with what you'd find inside Sony's RX100 and Nikon's 1 Series of cameras. It has a 20-megapixel resolution and is paired with an f/2.8 Leica lens, a mechanical shutter, and a manual control ring. Interestingly, the lens extends out of the body, but is not a zoom lens, its adjustments are purely for focusing purposes.

The rest of the CM1's specs are pretty conventional for modern smartphones. It has a 4.7-inch 1080p screen and runs Android 4.4 on a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor. 2GB of RAM and 16GB of built-in storage are provided, with a microSD card slot allowing expansion by up to an extra 128GB — handy since this camera can also shoot 4K video.

Weighing in at 204g and measuring 21mm in thickness, the CM1 is unlikely to be confused for a regular smartphone. Panasonic prefers that it be thought of as a very capable camera that also comes with communication capabilities rather than as a smartphone with great imaging. Still, with the full suite of Android apps and a potent processor inside, there's nothing preventing the CM1 from performing both functions well. The 2,600mAh battery is, however, a little small for this cameraphone's generous dimensions. Panasonic tells me the CM1 will go on sale in France and Germany this November at a price of around 900 euros. Those two nations will serve as the test market to determine customer reaction to the CM1 and whether Panasonic should pursue the idea further.

I spent some time with the CM1 on the Photokina show floor today and it's easily the most exciting thing at the event so far. Granted, the CM1 is twice the thickness of a regular Android smartphone, but the imaging prowess contained within it feels well worth the physical tradeoff. Panasonic loads it up with custom camera and gallery apps, and performance in both is satisfyingly fast. The camera focuses and captures photos quickly, and the shutter release button is firm and responsive. There's a physical toggle to switch you in and out of camera mode, and the general UI is pretty typical Android 4.4 fare. The camera app is full of toggles and granular adjustments, which will be a lot more useful on a camera with a larger sensor like this than they are on your typical phone. I'm not convinced that the CM1 will justify its high price of 900 euros — since I can't help but perceive this as more of a phone with a camera attached rather than the other way around — but it's certainly an exciting and bold new product. It's about time Android cameraphones got a shot of fresh innovation.