A Free Guide to Mobile Journalism, Part 2 – New or Old Smartphone?

One of the first questions I get asked during my training workshops is: “Can i make mojo on my phone? “”Not if you have no memory! “The next frequently asked question is:”Ok, which phone should I buy?

Android is like a coalition winning the numbers race, while iOS is a rich store going it alone. Are Cheaper Android Phones Good? Absoutely. But do you need a new phone? The simple answer is if you can use your smartphone to produce your mojo story – shoot in low light, run a good camera and multi-layered video apps, and it has a lot of memory – save your money. If not, you might need a new mojo phone.

Ivo’s tip: Before you throw away that old phone, learn how to use all of its features.

Here is my checklist that debunks some myths around smartphones.

Platform – Android vs iOS

When I first started training people on mojo, there was a big difference in what phones could do. iOS was clearly a winner due to its workflow, lack of viruses, plenty of third-party devices like microphones and pedestals, and there were more mojo iOS apps (see Mojo Tools). The Android operating system (AOS) benefits from the algorithmic power of Google, but cell phone makers often disagree with app developers. Android’s open platform allows manufacturers to create a different user interface (skin) for all Android brands. Android app developers say this can make it difficult to scale apps across multiple manufacturers. Another problem is creating updates for dozens of phones. While the high-end line of phones receives their updates quickly, it may take a while for them to arrive for cheaper devices, which can lead to security risks.


The best platform for mojo apps is iOS. I don’t find as many free Android apps as free mojo apps for iOS (eg iMovie, VN, Ferrite, Vont; see “Mojo Tools” and “Editing on a Smartphone” for apps). The other problem that can arise in countries like China is that since there is no Google Play store, you probably have to use OEM (manufacturers) stores.

Ivo’s tip: Buy a good phone on a platform that has all the apps and peripherals you need to create mojo content.

Phone basics

An effective mojo begins with deciding the story, which informs the process, ahead of the technology. Despite this, once you decide whether you’re going to make any changes on your phone, tablet, or laptop, consider the following:

  • An easy-to-use phone with a fast chipset that integrates across platforms, workflows, high-end broadcast-grade applications and peripherals
  • Multi-core chipsets to distribute the load, increase application speed and reduce power consumption
  • Whether you need SD card functionality or intend to export content to laptops via transfer devices like iXpand or Airstash
  • That the battery lasts a long time
  • Microphones don’t come cheap, so make sure yours connects to your new phone

My favorite phone is still my old iPhone 6s Plus, which scored 81% in a recent review in Australia, where the top-rated phone scored just over 84%. It shoots up to 4k (I shoot mostly in 1920 x 1080 resolution) and it has a 3.5mm microphone input. If you’re using a phone with a Lightning microphone input, you’ll need a mini-jack to Lightning cable or an Apple mini-jack to Lightning adapter. If you are using the adapter workflow, you may also need a TRS to TRRS adapter (see Recording Mojo Audio to a Smartphone).

Ivo’s tip: If you’re considering upgrading your phone, ask if you’ll need to change your cradles / platforms, adapters, and microphones. One of the reasons I use the Beastgrip Pro cradle / platform system is because it works on all types of phones.

The truth about pixels

Pixels are red, blue, and green square representations of light trapped on an electronic sensor (film). A pixel is like a bucket to trap water (light). The larger the bucket (pixel), the more water (light) it collects. Former Apple Camera Engineer Nikhil Bhogal explains that when it comes to smartphone cameras, pixel quality matters more than actual pixel count. What he means is that a large sensor supports larger, more light-sensitive pixels. On a 12-megapixel one-inch sensor, the pixels are twice the size of a 24-megapixel one-inch sensor and should capture more light in low light conditions.

Ivo’s tip: When could 24 megapixels be better? When the sensor doubles in size. If you have a terrible camera with a terrible lens with more pixels, you will end up with poorer quality pixels.

One goal or more?

In 2016 LG unveiled two cameras and in 2017 the iPhone 7 Plus had two independent cameras (12MB each), the second with 2x optical zoom. Digital zoom degrades image quality by zooming in and cropping the edges of the photo and increasing the pixel size to simulate optical zoom.

Here is a link to a video on a comparison between three wide angle smartphone lenses.

The latest scuttlebutt is that Chinese manufacturers OPPO and Huawei are planning 10x periscope zooms on their cameras. If the optical aspect works, these will allow for better coverage of sports, wildlife and the like where a long lens is required. Now it might be worth the wait.

The iPhone 13 Pro now comes with four lenses – even the front selfie lens is 12MB. The advantage of this phone, besides being able to switch between lenses, is that the wide lens allows the mojo using the lens. ‘camera, or shotgun mic, to be closer while maintaining the MCU (medium close-up) frame, making audio cleaner (see Recording Mojo Stories).

Objective speed

Another important factor is the lens speed of your smartphone. You should look for the widest (fastest) opening possible. For example, the new iPhone 13 Pro has a primary lens with an aperture of f1.5 and on the ultra-wide lens it’s f1.8. The aperture, or f stop, indicates the aperture width of the lens in low light conditions. The wider the aperture (lower f-value), the more expensive the lens. The photo below, taken using the iPhone Xs, shows the camera’s ability to change the bokeh (focus depth of field) after the photo is taken. One photo taken at f16 has a great depth of field, the other taken at f1.4 has a shallow depth of field.

Transfer devices

They are basically USB sticks designed to connect to your phone. There are generally two types: one creates a local WiFi link with your phone; the other is plug-in type (Lightning, mini USB or type C). I find the connector type faster, but the WiFi version can connect to many devices simultaneously. Many Android phones also offer SD card memory.

Maxell AirStash

Ivo’s tip: you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a large capacity USB flash drive with a lot of storage, it is used to transfer content and can then be erased.


If you are purchasing a smartphone to use for mojo work, consider the following:

  • Fast chipset – essential for running multi-layered applications
  • Built-in memory – more storage and RAM is preferable as it allows your phone to run quickly while editing
  • SD memory – if you need removable SD card functionality, Android is your option
  • Microphones – accessibility of microphones is essential. Most companies like Sennheiser sell smartphone specific mics with 3.5mm and USB-C connectors.
  • Camera – a good camera with a fast lens is essential. You want the front and rear cameras to be as close as possible in megapixels to each other, so you can easily switch between them
  • Large sensor – with larger pixels
  • Applications – Besides your skills as a mobile reporter, applications are a key feature of the mojo job. In the past, cheap Android phones didn’t run some high-end editing apps, but that’s not always true today. In Myanmar, when we brought mojo to newsrooms, we used $ 165 Xiaomi Android phones which worked great with all of our apps.
  • 5G – is your phone 5G ready?

In short, your smartphone should be able to connect to professional microphones, record at least 1920 x 1080 HD (we use more than 4k, but not always), have enough power to run high-end camera apps (FilmicPro, Camera + 2), run advanced but easy-to-use audio applications (Ferrite) and multi-layered editing applications (iMovie, Kinemaster, Luma Fusion, Power Director and VN).

Does your current phone do all of this? If the answer is yes, brace yourself. BTW, if you change, don’t throw away your old phone, take a look at this DIY radio microphone video before you do.

Come on mojo …

About the Author

Ivo Burum is an award-winning journalist and executive television producer. Writer, director and producer of documentaries and self-shot content series, he has worked in all genres, including international frontline news for over 30 years. Dr Burum has written five books on mobile journalism and his latest, The Mojo manual: from theory to praxis has just been chosen as one of the 12 must-read investigative journalism books for 2021. You can read more about Dr Burum on his website and follow him on Twitter.

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