It's been a tough time for compact cameras of late, with smartphones beginning to fill the photography needs for the bulk of consumers.
Camera manufacturers have retailated with compacts that carry extra hardware features such as GPS and Wi-Fi connectivity. Samsung now has four Wi-Fi enabled cameras on the market.
But manufacturers are starting to make gains on the software side of things too. Following Nikon and its Coolpix S800c, Samsung has released an Android-powered compact in the shape of the Galaxy Camera. While it may confuse many as to what use an elaborate portable OS such as Android is to such hardware, the benefits appear quickly with use. So can such hybridisation help maintain the compact camera market as smartphones encroach? Can Android jump devices and remain useful? Let's take a look at the Samsung Galaxy Camera and see.
The massive draw of replacing a compact camera with a smartphone is of course the saving in pocket space. The Samsung Galaxy does little to combat this with its 35mm thickness and 305g weight. It does, however slide easily into a pocket, particularly with the lack of dials on the smooth plastic body. Most functions are accessed via the roomy 4.8in touchscreen that takes over the back panel. The body houses a microphone and speaker, enabling Wi-Fi phone calls strangely. On the bottom is a SIM card slot, if you're desperate to beam photos around with a dedicated SIM rather than Wi-Fi. The design is functional without being dazzling. But cameras still favour function over form in this regard.
The hardware is similar to Samsung's WB850, including a 21x zoom lens _ optically stabilised _ and a 16.3 megapixel sensor. As a departure, it packs a beefy 1.4GHz quad-core CPU (the same power as the Galaxy S III smartphone). The HD Super Clear LCD screen offers a 1,280x720 resolution with 308ppi (the Galaxy S III is 306ppi, iPhone 5 is 326ppi). And it's bright, which does limit battery life to six or seven hours, underperforming the Galaxy S III and most other compact cameras.
But it's a joy to take photos with such instant gratification, with results available directly on the big screen, making you a better photographer. And you can browse photo albums comfortably too.
Some will be unhappy about the lack of viewfinder, but they're a shrinking minority.
The main talking point, however, is the Jelly Bean Android 4.1 OS. While many may question the presence of such a powerful OS, it comes into its own with some handling. Most of the operability of the phone is controlled though the software via the touchscreen. You can customise your homescreen, enabling more personalised and efficient use of the hardware. You can edit photos easily, tag them, add text via the virtual keyboard, send them via email or to the cloud. Or, more simply, you can flip through your photo albums on the big screen, meaning a much better balance between content generation and consumption. The balancing of this ratio will begin to dominate all portable devices in the future gadget game, and the Galaxy Camera is ahead of the curve here.
While these extra benefits _ a bright and large screen, SIM-card connectivity, good image quality and a robust OS _ make for enhanced handling, do they justify the price? The Samsung Galaxy sells for 16,900 baht, which is more than Wi-Fi-enabled compacts of similar spec. Most Wi-Fi camera users tether through their smartphones anyway, so the presence of the SIM card slot is questionable. The Samsung WB850 seems like a better alternative to us with the similar spec for around 12,490 baht, albeit without Android on board and access to its abundant apps. While the Nikon Coolpix S800c with Android (Jellybean) that sells for around 12,490 baht doesn't make use of the OS.
Still, the Galaxy Camera emerges as a forerunner of software-enabled compacts of the future, and the versatility that apps can bring them.
Samsung (and other manufacturers) will have to sacrifice hardware in order to lower prices, but it's an exciting prospect for the compact market.