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RED Hydrogen One: What we know so far

The RED Hydrogen One

We first heard about the Red Hydrogen One back in January. Ever since, news of the ambitious and innovative new smartphone from Red, an American company well known for its professional cinema cameras, had been dripping out slowly — until last week.

CNET and The Verge got to go hands-on at Red Hollywood Studios, giving us a look at the Red Hydrogen One, but not the display. Turns out, it isn’t so much a screen but a holographic display.

“There is no way to describe or show the 4 view (4V) display other than seeing it in person. There’s just no way,” said Red founder and CEO Jim Jannard, speaking to the crowd gathered in Hollywood to see the phone.

Display: “4 View” is at least half the pitch

First of all, Red Hydrogen One isn’t a smartphone in the conventional sense. It’s described as one part of a range of cameras and specially created media that can display via a multi-dimensional display. It’s not a totally new concept in the mobile space. The Amazon Fire Phone offered a 3D display experience criticized for being both bad and without purpose. The LG Optimus 3D and the HTC EVO 3D offered something similar in 2011. They might’ve been too early, with limited viewing angles and depth of field. The Nintendo 3DS also did 3D earlier, though CNET claims the Red Hydrogen One does it better.

The 3D effect worked in real-time via video calling, which surprises

CNET was pretty bullish on the “4 View” display actually, describing it as adding depth to a normal 2D display. That might be expected when watching pre-produced clips from movies, but it apparently even worked when video calling someone, using Skype or Messenger or what have you — the live image also had the 3D effect. Some trolls called it a high-res Nintendo 3DS, which is probably not all that far from the truth, but being able to capture footage or stream it live could be cool — at least if both parties own a Red Hydrogen One to see it.

The screen will be a 5.7-inch LCD display with a 2560 x 1440 resolution. The Verge mentioned a layer beneath the LCD display that can “direct light in multiple directions instead of the standard two that happen with lenticular displays.” That’s where the depth comes from.

Design: Robust is putting it mildly

The Red’s design philosophy is all over this Android smartphone, so think industrial. It’s not a petite thing, described as like an iPhone in an Otterbox, and it has various metal fins over it for grip. The edges have a wavy shape for better grip. Sticking with that industrial style, Red is offering it either aluminum (preorder price: $1,195) or titanium (preorder price: $1,595). We don’t think you’ll need a case for it, at least — it’s a pretty chunky device.

The design is modular in nature, with connector pins on the back to snap in modules. While we’ve seen that more or less fail in the past, the phone will be part of Red’s existing ecosystem, rather than one that doesn’t exist yet, like with Essential. It appears the one module Red will start with is a bolt-on giant image sensor that allows DSLR size-factors and has connectors for Red’s other cameras, along with lens mounts for existing professional lenses from the likes of Canon, Nikon, Leica, and so on. There may be more modules down the line.

Read next: Here’s how LG V30’s camera compares with $50,000 RED Weapon

The phone can apparently be plugged into existing Red cameras such as the Epic-W or Red Weapon as part of the display. Peter Jackson used a Red camera rig to film The Hobbit trilogy, just so you know.

Specs: Not great, but not the focus

We know it will be an Android smartphone powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, which was the top of the line last year. There are also stereo speakers, a USB-C connector, hybrid SIM tray (dual-SIM or SIM and microSD card), a headphone jack, and a hefty 4,500mAh battery.

What we don’t know is a much longer list. RAM, internal storage, Android OS, sensors, battery size, and so on, are a mystery for now. We saw Phil Holland, a Director in LA, release a shot of the front display at least, although of course, not on:

Red Hydrogen One front display

Phil Holland/PHFX.com

We also don’t know much about the camera. We know it can shoot video for the Red Hydrogen One display via a front-facing two-lens setup, as well as normal 2D shots and video as well. Given it’s Red, we expect something decent, though the full power will likely be unlocked by adding professional lenses. Aspects like megapixels and pixel size, along with the quality of the provided dual rear-cameras, and details for things like f-stops, OIS, focusing methods, built-in flash, bokeh mode, and so on, are unknown. The same goes for the front dual camera as well.

What we expect from the Red Hydrogen One

What we don’t expect is a bestseller that will climb to the top of Android charts. It’s too expensive for that, running at $1,195 for an aluminum preorder or $1,595 for titanium. A first device has a long way to go to generate any significant momentum, even as a niche product in the movie-making business.

We’re hoping for a device that might give 3D displays a fresh life, after the disaster that was the Fire Phone. It’s pretty rare that something radically different enters the smartphone market, but the Red Hydrogen One might just be that. Part of the problem is you won’t know if it’s good until you see it yourself.

When we expect the Red Hydrogen One is another good question. The phone slipped from a Q1 2018 release after Red decided to stick tight with U.S. carriers and go for a simultaneous release date. It’s now scheduled for an August 2018 launch.

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