About a year ago, at CES 2012, we learned that Samsung was going all-in on connected cameras. It planned to push point-and-shoot cameras sporting Wi-Fi capabilities and easy-upload despite a sea of mirrorless DSLRs flooding the show. And while other new models from Samsung have certainly packed a punch, nothing has quite prepared us for the Samsung Galaxy Camera. It’s the first, truly connected camera of its kind, and while there are plenty of getting-used-to moments with this device, it’s setting a whole new bar for the kind of experience consumers expect from their electronics.
Its $500 price is going to cause more than a few double takes, as well it should. So is the Galaxy Camera’s hybridity enough to help it live up to such a steep price tag, or will its dual nature make it a lame smart device and camera? Read on.
In the box
The Samsung Galaxy Camera comes with a USB, charger, li-ion battery, and wrist strap.
Design and Feel
We were impressed with what Samsung brought to the table with the WB150 F and the WB850 F. While neither camera sported sensors or lenses worth bragging about, their incredibly user-friendly physical and in-camera navigation easily won us over. Too often, quality point-and-shoots can alienate novice users, bullying them into unfamiliar systems with completely new and unfriendly menus. Samsung has gone to great lengths to break out of the mold entirely, and the Galaxy Cam is no exception – in fact we can say without much reserve that this device may feel more natural in more consumers’ hands than anything else most of us have ever picked up.
Of course, this is largely thanks to the smartphone market. It’s very nearly a ubiquitous device – there’s one in nearly all of our pockets. Samsung knows this, and more or less decided to take a Galaxy smartphone and strap a 21x optical zoom lens to the front of it. This is the Galaxy Camera.
There are only three physical functions on the Galaxy Camera’s body: The shutter, the zoom toggle, and the pop-up flash button. There is no chance for getting lost among unfamiliar functions here. As far as the body and build goes, it’s a slick device, with an edge-to-edge touchscreen and clean white chassis devoid of many fixtures. It is heavy, however, and the grip is rather subdued and doesn’t give you a great one-handed hold. Still, it’s a nice shape and size and point-and-shooters will feel comfortable handling it.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera is feature rich, to say the least. Aside from being a smartphone hybrid and having the assortment of apps and capabilities available by its nature alone, the camera also sports a 21x optical zoom, a pop-up flash, in-camera editing, in-camera filters, 4.77-inch touch display, voice control, HD video capture, a 23mm equivalent wide angle lens, and a massive variety of photo-sharing capabilities.
First, let’s cover the camera’s … well, more “camera-like” features. The 21x optical zoom is impressive, and means you can easily use the camera for your landscape and travel needs. We’ve always found anywhere between a 12x and 24x optical zoom to be more than adequate for the average consumer, and that the feature is especially nice for travel.
The lens itself isn’t the sharpest we’ve ever seen, and it’s been a bit of a disappointment in recent Samsung point-and-shoots. It’s not that there’s a ton to complain about here, there just also isn’t much to talk about. Although it’s worth mentioning that this camera isn’t intended to compete with DSLR-like fixed lens or Micro Four Thirds models – it’s truly a point-and-shoot, in the truest sense … just a new breed of one, that comes with a price tag that will make your eyes roll back in your head.
The camera’s pop-up flash is a really nice touch, and something that any camera even near this price range really should sport these days. The edge-to-edge, 4.8-inch touchscreen is the feature that makes the Galaxy Camera almost more phone than camera, and while the screen is quite responsive and intuitive to use, it was also a bit difficult to view outdoors under harsh overcast light. You can toy with these settings, however. But there are so many different things you can do with this camera that you might get tired of the settings screens upon settings screens upon settings screens that you “get to” manipulate – but hey, more options is better than fewer options and the interface is intuitive.
Instead of the traditional camera menu, which is mainly full of a icons and numbers peppering the frame of the screen both horizontally and vertically, the Galaxy Cam instead launches you into the Android homescreen. We’ll dive deeper into the camera’s Android 4.1 (with TouchWiz UI) interface later, but for now let’s talk a little about the ease with which you can dig through the camera’s menus, homescreens, and Settings.
Upon booting up, you will see the camera and gallery icons lining the bottom of the page. The homescreen also has a weather and time widget as well as a Google Search bar and Google Now functionality. If you want to start shooting, all you have to do is select the camera icon or press the shutter button. From there, you have options to use preset modes, auto, or fuss with manual settings – and because the Galaxy Camera is entirely reliant on a responsive capacitive touchscreen (again, just like a smartphone), the amount of fussing is incredibly low.
Everything about navigating the camera’s interface is like using a smartphone and smartphone photography apps. In fact, some more complicated photography apps are more difficult to use than diving into the Galaxy Camera’s manual settings, which give you complete control over aperture, shutter speed, exposure, and ISO. Overall, Samsung has certainly raised expectations here. There are certainly a few quirks, for instance living within a virtual lens interface instead of feeling the physical click of the mode dials will be strange for camera buffs at first, but it’s a needed upgrade that you’ll quickly grow to love.
Android operating system
Of course, what truly separates the Galaxy Camera from every other point-and-shoot is that it is basically a full-fledged Galaxy phone. We keep saying this, but it’s worth repeating. On the inside, this is almost a Galaxy S3, minus calling functionality. It runs Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI layered on top, much like the Galaxy phones and tablets.
Unlike its Galaxy phones, Samsung has not included any haptic or physical navigation buttons with the Galaxy Cam, instead using onscreen navigation buttons for Android’s basic functions – Back, Home, and Menu. (Hold the Home button to access Recent Apps.) The onscreen navigation is consistent and easy to use. We had no trouble jumping in and out of the many apps installed, including the camera app.
Along with the ability to instantly upload your photos to the likes of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Dropbox, Flickr, or email them, you are also have access to 700,000 other completely non-photography focused apps in Google Play, like Skype, Gmail, YouTube, etc. And yes, you can make calls with Skype, although be ready for a very weird experience: Because there’s no front-facing camera, you have to point the giant lens at yourself without the ability to see the person you’re trying to talk to is … well, it sort of misses the point, right? Still, the ability to use this function is leaps and bounds beyond what we know in the average point-and-shoot.
All photo-sharing apps worked seamlessly and were incredibly familiar. There’s no learning curve here, unless you’re making a jump from iPhone to Android, and even that isn’t too difficult.
Samsung has loaded the Galaxy Camera with its typical slate of apps, like AllShare Play, Group Cast, and ChatOn, which all enable you to communicate easily with other devices, assuming those devices happen to be made by Samsung (recently) and running Android. For fun, AT&T has added a few typical apps of its own, as well
Without a doubt, the Galaxy Camera’s Android OS is the feature that sets this device apart from any and all competition; really, it puts it in an entirely different bracket. Samsung has nailed the device in this respect. Point-and-shoots, DSLRs, and Micro Four Thirds cameras of the future will use the Galaxy Camera as the model for how to create a connected, touch-enabled camera.
Android specs and performance
By camera standards, the Galaxy Camera is lightning fast, but even compared to many top of the line phones and tablets, this is a speedy device. That’s because, inside Samsung has included a 1.4GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos 4412 processor, 8GB of internal storage (with a microSD slot), and 1GB of RAM. The screen is gorgeous at 4.8 inches and 1280 x 720 pixels. Though Samsung has been a strong proponent of AMOLED, this is a nice LCD screen, covered by Gorilla Glass 2.
Like a good camera, the battery is removable via a hatch on the bottom of the camera, which is also where the SIM card and microSD cards sit. To charge, you can attach any Micro USB cable. Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, Wi-Fi, and other standard smartphone features like an accelerometer, gyroscope, and digital compass are all present. If you want, you can probably play Grand Theft Auto III on this thing.
When you talk about the Galaxy Camera’s performance and use, you have to talk about this from a photography and from a smartphone perspective – so let’s start with the former.
It can’t be emphasized enough that this camera is nearly identical to the Samsung WB850 F, a camera that performed well but didn’t blow us out of the water.
The Galaxy Camera houses the same 21x optical zoom, 43mm equiv. lens as the WB850 F as well as the same 16 megapixel, 1 /2.33 inch sensor. And as you might imagine, since their interiors have so much in common, so do the image results. Colors are punchy and a bit oversaturated, and the lens (which isn’t particularly sharp) has the tendency to flare and make subjects a bit smudgy – although, noise is controlled well until around ISO 800. Thankfully, noise wasn’t much of an issue, and having a 21x optical zoom at your disposal makes the Galaxy Camera an incredibly versatile point-and-shoot.
It should be mentioned this isn’t a very fast camera. Power up to capture is a bit slower than we’re used to, and the recycle rate is fine – although compared to some traditional and less expensive point-and-shoots on the market, it will feel a little laggy. Switching over from using the Galaxy Camera as a phone to a camera also comes with a brief pause. Continuous shooting gets as good as 4fps, which again, is adequate but not outstanding.Really, this can be blamed on the processor, which isn’t quite what we’re used to in point-and-shoots of this vein and price.
We found ourselves relying almost entirely on the camera’s manual settings. The presets and auto mode were adequate, but as things go with point-and-shoots, results and capabilities are limited. The manual interface is very interesting: You exist entirely within the touchscreen’s virtual lens, flipping through to change your aperture, shutter speed, exposure, and ISO. The departure from physically manipulating your camera will make purists weep, but nostalgia isn’t necessarily a good reason to keep things the way they are; beginners will be far more comfortable diving into manual modes with this type of interface.
The overall experience of using the Galaxy Camera is that it’s fun. While you’re certainly not creating art house, professional-level, high-res images you’ll be able to blow up and plaster to your wall, you come away with some truly nice photographs – and more importantly, you’ll enjoy doing it. The problems with many capable and feature-full point-and-shoots is that too many buttons and unfamiliar menus scare users off until they’re living entirely within the Auto zone, a really average, boring place to be. That simply doesn’t happen with the Galaxy Camera. Exploring everything that camera has to offer is endless, and while it can be overwhelming to realize the sheer amount of things you can do with this device, that certainly didn’t keep us from trying out as many options as possible.
Video was about what we’d expect from this camera. It shoots HD video (although manual capabilities disappear), and using the zoom was reasonably stable – although you will hear a change in audio when you enable the zoom, which is a bit frustrating. The capabilities of what you can do with videos – filters, editing, slideshows, sharing – are really where the Galaxy Cam shines … which is beginning to be something of a pattern with this camera.
There are a few interesting kinks worth mentioning that come with the Galaxy Cam. For starters, turning the camera off isn’t a simple button press – that just puts it to sleep. Instead, you’ll need to hold the power button until a screen asking if you want to restart, put on airplace mode, or power off surfaces. Also, it doesn’t take SD cards, so getting photos off your camera means you either need to use the digital locker gallery or any app you want, or you need to upload to a computer using the USB. You can also connect via Bluetooth if you prefer.
AT&T is selling the Galaxy Camera (in the U.S.) for $500, but if you want service, you’re going to need an AT&T Mobile Share plan. If you’ve already converted to AT&T’s shared data plans, then the Galaxy Camera will take from your pool of data and cost you a $10 per month device fee. If you don’t yet have a plan, then they start at $40 for 1GB a month up to $200 a month for 20GB. Yes, it’s expensive.
Creating something like the Samsung Galaxy Camera is a risk: Because it’s a hybrid device, there’s the chance it’s both a crappy Android device and a crappy camera. This isn’t a perfect camera; it could have a bigger sensor and a better lens. And, of course, while you can use video or voice chat apps for calls, this isn’t actually a phone and using it as such is awkward, at best.
But none of that denies how compelling it is. There is, simply put, so much you can do with this device, and it certainly stands on its own two legs as a point and shoot. However, the concession you have to make is the fact that the virtually same camera, the WB850 F, is currently selling for almost half the Samsung Galaxy Camera’s price: It’ll cost you around $270 on Amazon, and the Galaxy Cam costs a whopping $500 (and don’t forget about paying for data). For that price, you could get an impressive Micro Four Thirds or bridge camera. Then again, most high-end smartphones will run you $500 without a wireless contract as well, so the price isn’t uncalled for, considering the hardware.
Of course, if you’re interested in the Galaxy Camera, it’s for other reasons. It’s almost more toy than camera (or phone, for that matter), but the possibilities that open up when you combine these two are pretty powerful. Still, when you’re shelling out that much, you’re bound to get frustrated by any complications or limitations that it comes with. There’s endless potential here, but we’re already finding ourselves looking forward to what Samsung has in store next for future iterations – as well as a price cut for the first.
The Galaxy Camera is a bold step into a new world of connected cameras and is the first true camera to also double as an impressive Android device. We just wish it were a better point-and-shoot camera for the price. As is, it’s a great, though bulky Android device with a so-so camera at an expensive $500 price point.
- Incredibly fun to use
- Features galore
- The camera’s connectivity is inventive and useful
- Manual mode is approachable
- Great Android interface
- Powerful hardware
- The lens isn’t very sharp
- Slow image processor
- Not much point in using this for voice or video chat
- Somewhat heavy