Before a new phone arrives, there are only a few ways we have of getting an early look at the hardware. Sometimes, someone with access to a test model, or an early prototype, manages to snap a pic and leak it. Occasionally, we’ll see a very high-quality shot emerge, but this is usually the sort of thing that warrants making a blurrycam warning. Then there are the component shots, which are the type we see a lot of with new Apple hardware. Here, there can be less to see than with a full-phone pic, but when we’re just wondering about a dock connector or screen size, one component can be all we need to answer some questions.
Finally, there’s the press render. An official depiction of the phone’s hardware, straight from the manufacturer, renders can be the definitive way to check out unreleased hardware. When we don’t get a nice, clean digital image, even a scan from some promotional materials which themselves contain the render is a decent compromise. The problem with renders, though, can be just how many fakes are out there. As long as you approach them with the right mindset, and don’t get too invested in any one potential design, even fake renders can meaningfully contribute to the ongoing discussion of all things smartphone.
I saw quite a few good leaks arrive last week, including some fantastic shots of what are apparently the front panels to a couple new Nokia WP8 models and possibly the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. There were also a fair share of renders that later turned out to be fake. For me, at least, that doesn’t necessarily detract from the value of what we ended up seeing.
Let’s look at the first faker of the week, a render purporting to be the Galaxy Note 2. From the get-go, you readers started tearing the thing apart in the comments, speculating as to how it was created and why it looked so fake. If you can get past the mindset of playing spot-the-fake as a game (though it can be a fun one), there are some good discussions that even a fake image can help fuel: Do we really want a Note 2 that looks so much like the GS3, hardware home button and all? Just how thin a bezel might be possible with the design notes we’ve heard rumored?
Now, this is less valuable for poorly-put-together renders, but these sort of things usually come from someone with a fair bit of design background, or at least some respectable Photoshop skills. The former makes me think of the fake Nokia render that surfaced last week (top), as well. With this one, the original creator never had any ill intentions, and just wanted to imagine what a phone might look like based around that leaked glass panel I mentioned. Of course, things on the internet have a way of finding momentum in some unexpected places, and it wasn’t long before this image started appearing on smartphone news sites without any clear indication that it was supposed to be anything other than legitimate. The fact that the artist really tried to make this one photo-real rather than a clean, sterile, front-on traditional render ended up contributing to that.
Just as with the Galaxy Note 2 image, the value here is in the discussion motivated by the publication of this fake. It gets us asking questions about what we want from the future of Nokia’s design, and if more Lumia 800/900-style hardware is just more of a good thing, or if the company might benefit from visiting some new ideas.
Beyond using renders of real, upcoming phones to promote a dialogue about them, we’re also fans of totally out-there conceptual renders. Here, there’s usually less of a chance of one being mistaken for real, but that doesn’t diminish their ability to get us thinking about what we want from smartphones. We ran a number of designs like this as part of an editorial “dream phone” series about 18 months ago.
Renders like these are harmless fun, though there’s always the chance that somebody is going to pick up one of these kind of designs and try passing it off as another model further down the line. It’s not quite the same situation, but something similar happened a couple weeks back, when Samsung Pakistan ran an image on Facebook that was supposed to be the GS3 but since it clearly wasn’t (BGR), speculation pointed to the Galaxy Note 2 (which seems to be a magnet for fake renders). I was nearly convinced myself, but a little Google Image Search revealed that this puppy was actually an old fake render, originally someone’s guess at the GS3′s design.
I think an important rule of thumb with these kind of images is to approach them with an appropriately critical mind. Don’t put too much value in whether or not they’re indeed legitimate, but still question what they show you. Why would this manufacturer suddenly go with a new power/volume button layout? Does that seem like a smart change, or one that might needlessly confuse long-time users? Even fakes can open up interesting new conversations which we might not otherwise have without them.
So, all you design students, smartphone fans, and even straight-up tricksters out there: keep the renders coming. When possible, we’d love you to be direct about just what we’re looking at, but even in the midst of doubt and subterfuge, a new fake render beats having nothing at all to look at, any day.