When a _phone_ and a camera love each other very much…

We know about almost all of the major phones coming out this year. The Note 4, the iPhone 6 – they’re all here and official. But there’s one surprise left, the Panasonic CM1.

It’s a _phone_ that packs in a giant camera sensor: a larger one than even the Nokia Lumia 1020. Panasonic is hardly a trusted name in phones, but if a camera is really number one on your mobile phone priority list, you should be very, very interested in the CM1.

It was officially announced at Photokina 2014, a photography show rather than one we normally see phones shown off at. We took a closer look there to see what it’s capable of.

Panasonic CM1 – Design

Panasonic is not a company that makes phones regularly. A couple of years ago it dipped its toe in the water with the Panasonic Eluga (a phone that never came out in the UK), before retreating swiftly.

With the Panaosnic CM1, it's sticking to a niche it has an awful lot of experience in – cameras.

From a glance at the Panasonic CM1 that’s obvious too. The lens housing sticks out from the bodywork in a way that’s going to restrict this phone to a pretty small audience. For that sacrifice you don’t get a Samsung Galaxy K Zoom-like zoom lens either.

Your lens is fixed at 28mm, even if it does pop out further when you try to take photos.

However, it is a fair bit skinnier than obvious rival the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom if you discount the lens part. It’s 15.2mm thick, compared to 16.6mm in the K Zoom or 19.3mm in the Galaxy Camera 2. However, this blooms out to 21.1mm by the lens. Had to go and spoilt it, didn’t you CM1?

With a pokey-out lens part it clearly looks more like a camera than a phone, and you’re sure to get a few strange looks should you hold one to your ear. It doesn’t shy away from this design-wise either, with a leather effect rear and a Lumix logo etched into the phone’s slanted edge: not a standard design move.

It’s more Panasonic GX7 than Galaxy S5. Even Panasonic told us to think of the CM1 as more a camera that happens to have Android than a phone with an unhealthy camera obsession.

However, in-hand the 204g weight is suitably phone-like, and the lens doesn’t ruin the weight balance. It still feels a lot like a phone, even if it doesn’t look like one.

Panasonic CM1 – Camera

The sacrifices in design are arguably worth it for people who really care about camera quality, mostly because of the sensor. The Panasonic CM1 has a full 1-inch sensor, the same size used in the fantastic Sony RX100 III. That’s larger than any other phone we’ve reviewed, including the Nokia Lumia 1020 and older Nokia 808 PureView.

It’s massive – the sort of size than can really make use of the 20 megapixels it has to work with. And it’s apparently the same sensor used in the Panasonic FZ1000, which costs £750. And won’t let you use Whatsapp.

In theory, the Panasonic CM1 should destroy just about every other phone for low-light performance.

Lens aperture is ‘just’ f/2.8 where other phone go all the way up to f/2.0, but the LEICA DC ELMARIT is much more a ‘proper’ lens than the ones seen in other phones. And its equivalent 35mm focal length should be perfect for everyday use.

You do have to wait for the lens to extend before you can take a shot, but this takes less than a second, and there’s a dedicated camera slide on the phone’s edge. As you’d hope there’s a shutter button, too.

The control that should really lure the photo fans in, though, is the manual control ring around the lens, which lets you get manual control over settings without having to fiddle about using the touchscreen. My only concern here is whether it’ll feel convenient enough in use – while big for a phone, the Panasonic CM1 doesn’t really gave much grip for a camera.

However, focusing speeds were fast, even in lower-light conditions. The ISO range is impressive too, reaching from 200 all the way up to 12,800 like the Sony Xperia Z3. With a larger sensor, though, we hope the Panasonic CM1’s high ISO photos will be a lot better than the Sony’s.

It can also shoot video in 4K – pretty common in high-end phones, but still a luxury in the camera world.

Panasonic CM1 – phone Hardware

As a camera the Panasonic CM1 seems pretty exciting, and it’s not too shabby on the phone front either. The only significant cut seems to be in screen size.

For a phone that’s going to cost more than virtually any other phone on the market bar a high-end iPhone 6 Plus, its 4.7-inch display seems quite small. But it does help to offset that the frame is quite large in other dimensions.

The Panasonic CM1 has a 1080p display too, so there’s no lack of pixels to go around. It’s an IPS LCD-type display that’s both clear and vibrant.

Aside from adding a custom camera app, Panasonic hasn’t done anything too drastic to customise Android, and you get version 4.4 here.

The power on tap is hard to criticse too. With a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 CPU and 2GB, the Panasonic CM1 is almost as powerful as any Android flagship of the moment.

Is there a catch we’re missing beyond the chunky lens? Some of you may be sad so see the Panasonic CM1 uses an LED flash rather than a Xenon one (as seen in the Lumia 1020), and there’s not a huge battery to offer stamina much better than the norm. It uses a 2,600mAh battery: fine, but not outstanding.

The 16GB of storage is fairly ordinary too, but as there’s a microSD slot that’ll take cards up to 128GB, it’s no big issue.

The biggest problem for now is price and availability. It’s not going on sale in the UK yet, with Panasonic deciding to experiment with France and Germany first. And there it’ll cost in the area of 900 Euros. That should make it significantly more expensive than the Samsung Galaxy S5, the Sony Xperia Z3 or HTC One M8. As a result, while interesting it's unlikely to break out of its camera niche.

First Impressions

Best phone camera ever? Maybe, as with a 1-inch sensor it has the photo cred we hoped for but never really got in the phone-camera hybrids from Samsung.

If it doesn’t demolish most other phones for low-light performance and dynamic range, I’ll be surprised and disappointed. But mostly disappointed.

However, the Panasonic CM1 isn’t going to see Panasonic suddenly break into the mobile phone big time. It’s just a bit too awkward design-wise, too obviously ‘a camera’ to appeal to all that many people.

Next, read our best mobile phones round-up