The discussion in the comments on my post about a mobile phone for Sysadmin use  turned to the issue of picture quality. This is an issue for a sysadmin as photographing the screen of a crashed computer while being a rare occurrence can be an important part of solving a computer problem.
Lon recommended a review of phone cameras by the Norwegian site Amobil . This review only included devices that had already passed earlier review, so even the HTC Desire HD (which came last on the Amobil tests) still has a better camera than most phones on the market. It’s a pity that no English-language site seems to have done such a review.
The Amobil article (when translated) says: “In the mobile industry is faced with the need for much extra processing for the images to look good, because there is no room for large optics and large image sensors that receive sufficient amount of light”.
IMHO that’s overstating the case. I have yet to see a camera-phone that couldn’t be redesigned in a trivial way to give a better camera functionality. It appears that the limiting factor is the thickness of phone which limits the maximum focal length and therefore the maximum area (I presume it’s safe to assume that Fresnel lenses are not viable for cameras). My LG U990 Viewty is 14.8mm thick, I would be happy with something a bit thicker if it gave a better picture, 30mm wouldn’t be a problem (my first few mobile phones were thicker than that and had no camera). Maybe a design could have the camera stick out such that the main body of the phone was 15mm thick while the camera part was 30mm. Also having the camera in a central part of the phone (underneath the touch-screen) probably loses at least 1mm of focal length. It seems that the amount of light captured will be the square of the focal length, so an ideal (IMHO) camera design could have twice the depth of a Viewty, 4* the light captured, and therefore have an 8MP camera with a better response in adverse light than the Viewty (which is pretty good for a phone but crap for a camera).
I noted in the comments that it’s a pity that camera-phones don’t support storing pictures in RAW format, Paul pointed out that the Nokia N900 supports RAW pictures. I’m glad to learn that at least one phone-camera manufacturer is doing the sane thing, now we just need to have RAW pictures as a check-list item on reviews to force others to do the same. I wonder whether a modified version of the Android OS could support RAW format…
Amobil published an article about some joint ventures between camera and phone companies . Apparently LG are working on a phone with 3* Optical Zoom that uses Pentax optics, while the Olympus camera company is considering the purchase of a phone company with the apparent aim of producing a killer camera-phone.
I wonder whether I should delay the purchase of my next phone for a few months to take advantage of some of these developments. If nothing else I expect some significant improvements in the screen resolution of phones in the near future. The maximum screen resolution that is common at the moment is 800*480 (WVGA), but the iPhone 4 supports 960*640 resolution which is 60% more pixels and I expect other manufacturers to release phones to compete with it in the near future.