Compact camera or smartphone? First impressions of Samsung's Galaxy Camera
By any yardstick, Samsung is having a good IFA. With its trio of product announcements, the Galaxy Note II smartphonetabletthingie, the Galaxy Camera, and its range of Ativ Windows 8 devices (not to mention throwing the biggest party in town with its Unpacked event) it's an enormous understatement to say that Samsung made its presence felt in Berlin this year. The Galaxy Note II may be the headline act (more on which very soon), but in our opinion the Galaxy Camera, the EK-GC100, is the most interesting of Samsung's newly-announced gizmos. Having had more than one opportunity to give the thing a try, here are our initial thoughts.
Let's face it. Smartphone cameras don't cut it. They're fine for the purposes of quick snaps, especially for sharing on social networks (where the display medium is often the same as the capture device: the smartphone itself, with its necessarily small screen), but even photographs taken with the much-vaunted camera of the 8-megapixel iPhone 4S look a bit pants when displayed on anything larger. For ultra-portable photography, compact cameras are still best. So for photography enthusiasts hoping to keep their gadget-count to a minimum, Samsung's Galaxy Camera, touted as a proper camera with built in connectivity, is a tempting proposition.
It's worth emphasizing the point of the Galaxy Camera, at least as Samsung would have it. This is a camera with support for social networking. There's no voice support—you can't call someone with it, so smartphone it ain't. But with Jellybean in tow, the Galaxy Camera is otherwise a fully-fledged Android device. The point is to get your photos out of your camera and into your social streams (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, email etc.) as simply as possible. But having gone to all this effort, one almost wonders why Samsung don't go the whole nine hogs, make the thing a telephone, and be done with it. That said, for the status-update-addicts of Generation Facebook, perhaps lack of voice support is actually a feature. It does come with 4G-connectivity, which is good. Obviously.
So how good a camera is it? On paper, terrific. It has 16.3-megapixel image sensor, ISO up to 3200, 1920x1080 30-fps MPEG 4, AVC/H.264 video capture and, most eye-catchingly, a 23-480-mm 21x optical zoom lens. Photos taken on the device look terrific on its 4.77" 308-ppi touch-display, but until we see full-sized photos blown up on a large screen, it'd be wrong to cast judgement. As far as image quality goes, all the signs are positive, though.
It's on the usability front that things get interesting. The process of actually taking a photograph is much more akin to smartphone than compact camera. Sure, there's a dedicated shutter-release button where you'd hope to find it, with optical zoom rocker close by; but otherwise things are decidedly smartphoney.
There's a noticeable delay between hitting the shutter release and seeing your photo on the screen as the camera finds focus. And though it's a minor point, I was disappointed to find that, when using Android apps, depressing the shutter release half-way did not activate camera mode for emergency from-the-hip snapping. You have to navigate to the camera app using the touchscreen interface. You know—like a smartphone. Still, such a feature is only a software release away, and the Samsung rep we spoke to assured us that the software was still subject to change. But, just as the Galaxy Camera isn't a smartphone, it's not quite a true compact camera either. The photos may prove to be just as good, but initial impressions suggest it's a half-stride off the pace as far as user experience goes.
All of which may be small beer when weighing up the obvious advantage of the Galaxy Camera: provided you don't need to actually speak to anyone, this is one device fewer to carry in your pocket. There's definitely a gargantuan hole in the market for connected devices for photographers, but speaking as an untalented-but-enthusiastic amateur photographer, this is a device I really really like, but am yet to fall in love with. Underneath it all, it's a deliberately-crippled smartphone.
At this point I'll leave you with the lazy predictable caveat: until this thing comes out and we get to spend serious time with the product (this coming October, all going to plan), this could all change.