Despite its religious overtones, Christmas for many is and always has been a pagan business, devoted more to keeping the depths of winter at bay through life-endangering consumption than contemplation of higher things. If you live in London, you'll already be enjoying the party season: the extra exercise in stepping over comatose businessmen on Soho pavements, the ear-cleansing properties of a bulging bar replete with raucous Hoorays and Concorde-level ragga music, and that special scent the Underground puts on to celebrate: all combine to lift the heart and send the feet racing for the nearest airport.
Phone manufacturers are celebrating the Saturnalian season too. Camera phones are made for such times: not only do you always have your camera at hand if you find your boss doing something extraordinary with a fire extinguisher and 13 copies of Loaded, but you can waft the image to safety in seconds over the phone network. Combine the life-enhancing possibilities of such ace technology with the need to find acceptable presents, and you can see why the combination of Stella and Santa is the phone industry's very own stocking filler.
There is but one turtledove turd in the tinsel -- the darn things don't work. Purely in the spirit of scientific endeavour, I and a select team of ZDNet UK experts have been suffering Stolly-soaked party after gin-sodden bash, armed with the latest mobile phones. Our task -- to relay to each other the status of each party, so we know which ones to schmooze, and to collect sufficient pictures of a compromising nature to ensure that no PR or marketing manager dare disturb our afternoon naps again. We failed. You wouldn't know it from the adverts for the gizmos, which show beautifully clear images shuttled effortlessly between phones, but the idea that you take a recognisable picture you can then send your friends is wrong on both points.
Let's start with picture quality. Most of these gizmos will capture images at up to 640x480 pixels, which doesn't sound a lot these days but is perfectly OK for a snapshot -- your TV image isn't much better than that. But with the tiny fixed-focus lenses, cheap CMOS image sensors and rampaging compression used to get the image size down to sendable levels, the image is mostly mud. Add the peculiar aversion the phone makers have to adding a flash to their cameras, and the chance of getting anything worth looking at in any indoor situation rapidly approaches the number of sober people on the Northern Line at midnight on a Friday.