Samsung’s new device is an unusual and innovative concept that puts a smartphone operating system into a compact camera. Called the Galaxy Camera, the new gadget adds the latest version of Android and a large touchscreen to a powerful camera with a large optical zoom lens.
- Quad-core, 1.4GHz Exynos processor
- 4.8-inch Super Clear LCD display
- 8GB internal storage
- 16.3 megapixel camera
- 21x optical zoom
- 1080p video recording at 30fps
- 300g weight
- Android Jelly Bean
- 1650mAh battery
- 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Design and Build
Although Samsung has moved away from the shiny plastic of the Galaxy S III and Note II devices and opted for a matte white finish, the Galaxy Camera still looks very much like one of the Korean manufacturer’s recent devices. However, the slightly fragile feel that has been a drawback for the S III is gone and the Galaxy Camera feels incredibly sturdy and solid, with a build quality that is a step above pretty much anything seen in the smartphone world.
With a curved, rubberized grip that makes the device easy to hold, as well as a handy wrist strap, the camera takes its ergonomics more from photographic equipment than it does mobile phones. With a large, extending lens mounted at the front the camera is eye catching, and the positioning of its controls at the top makes them easy to reach.
We found ourselves slightly disappointed by the cheap, plastic feel of the pop-up flash bulb but aside from that minor gripe the Galaxy Camera is a fantastic looking device and is truly distinctive and eye-catching.
While the front face of Samsung’s new device may not betray its unusual design, the rear looks unlike almost anything else we’ve seen. The 4.8-inch Super Clear LCD touchscreen dominates the camera’s back fascia and is as big, bright and impressive as anything seen on a high-end smartphone.
Having a display of this size attached to a camera is excellent, making it perfect for lining up and taking shots. With the addition of the Android software and the editing options that this opens up, the large display come into its own and is a perfect platform for adding effects and touching up images.
Samsung’s most recent devices have had outstanding screens and the Galaxy Camera is no different, with a depth, clarity and coolness to colours which looks sophisticated and is easy on the eye. Aside from actually dealing with photos, the display performs brilliantly for regular functions such as web browsing and using apps.
Under the Hood
With a quad-core, 1.5GHz processor in place this really is high-end smartphone territory and the Galaxy Camera works as fluidly as the most high-spec mobiles on the market. With 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage there is plenty for the Android OS to work with and there’s also support for a microSD card up to 64GB in size.
To Samsung’s credit, the firm hasn’t skimped on processing power at all and there is almost no lag or holds ups in the device’s operation whatsoever, especially impressive considering the added processing strain that the detailed images must put on the camera’s chip.
Sadly, the Galaxy Camera’s battery performance does not match that of a high-end smartphone and we found it to be noticeably poor. 1650mAh is considerably less than the 3100mAh power cell found in Samsung’s Galaxy Note II and it doesn’t keep the camera’s functions running for a long time at all.
On one occasion when we took the camera out it was switched on for around 3-4 hours, capturing between 30 and 40 photos. We then edited around ten of these and uploaded a couple to Instagram (over Wi-Fi) and found that the battery meter was almost in the red.
On the positive side, the Galaxy Camera is not the sort of device that you might keep switched on constantly and does provide enough power to capture a decent number of photos, although it would have been nice to see a higher capacity battery included.
Operating System and User Interface
Running Android Jelly Bean, the Galaxy Camera’s launch OS is a step-up from that which comes with the S III and brings the latest version of Google’s mobile platform to the innovative device.
The user interface looks very similar to that seen on recent Galaxy devices, with a cool blue default wallpaper and a subtle and easy-on-the-eye look to all elements. After a short time, using the Android functions feels just like it would on any other smartphone but the way in which they augment the camera’s performance is incredible.
Strangely, there is no need to swipe a finger across the camera’s display after pressing the unlock button. Also, onscreen virtual keys have been added to the UI, something not seen on the likes of the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II.
Despite these interesting alterations there seems to be an unnecessary amount of bloatware included, with several apps that may be superfluous on a smartphone seeming even more so here. The Game Hub and drawing app Paper Artist may well be staples of Samsung’s UI but they are hardly necessary here.
However, the Korean firm has included several apps which are very much appropriate for photography, most notably photo-sharing app Instagram and cloud-storage service Dropbox.
After capturing an image, uploading it to either of these is as easy as it would be on a smartphone and it’s easy to forget that that’s not what you are using. The way in which the Galaxy Camera integrates the entire digital photo-sharing process into one device is incredible, with capturing, editing and uploading all achieved from the same location.
The Android OS also gives users access to countless third-party photo apps. Of particular note is Snapseed, the editing app recently purchased by Google and launched for Android that is now available for free.
Camera and Video
On to the camera itself and it feels like neither a smartphone or compact camera, offering something new and unfamiliar.
The camera app itself is based around Samsung’s standard iteration and looks like that on many other smartphones, at first glance at least. However, looking deeper into the camera’s function opens up a range of new options previously unseen on Samsung’s smartphone output.
Whilst there are a selection of presets that tailor the camera’s functions to different circumstances it’s the expert mode that really sets it apart, allowing the user to take control of things like aperture, ISO and shutter speed.
The interface used to control these functions employs a series of onscreen dials which mimic the barrel of a DSLR camera lens. While the controls themselves are accurate and responsive we found that the way in which the menu rolls out fills much of the screen and leaves little room to actually see what you’re taking a photo of.
Beyond the digital functions there is also a fantastic, 21x optical zoom lens which captures incredible detail. Nothing seen on a smartphone can match the power of the Galaxy Camera’s zoom lens and the optical performance is far better than the digital zoom seen on most handsets.
Along with imaging, the Galaxy Camera can also capture video in 1080p at 30fps. While users don’t have the same level of control over setting as with still images, the brightness of footage can be adjusted and the result is smooth video which is generally of a good quality.
Using the zoom function for video is interesting but the camera’s autofocus can be a little slow to react, leaving footage looking blurry.
Finally, there is a slow-motion mode, capturing footage at 120fps but saving it 30fps so that it plays back four times slower. While this may have little practical application it is certainly creative and can be fun.
Connectivity and Multimedia
Although cameras with Wi-Fi connectivity have been produced before the 3G capabilities of the Galaxy camera give it another unique selling point. While online performance is slower over a mobile network it is still amazing that such high-spec images can be shared online from the very location they were captured.
Beyond this, there is also support for Bluetooth 4.0 and HDMI, allowing the camera to act in pretty much the same way as any high-spec smartphone.
The only downside in terms of connectivity is a lack of support for voice-calling, although Skype calls can be made using the device’s loudspeaker.
Performance and Verdict
Samsung’s Galaxy Camera is a fantastic concept and is capable of producing impressive photographic results. While the quality of images it produces are comparable to a good compact camera the fact that a smartphone OS is built into is incredible.
Seeing Android running on a camera highlights just how much better its user interface is than those of many cameras - it will certainly set the bar higher for compact cameras of the future. Also, the third-party apps the OS gives access to means a huge array of editing options not seen on other cameras are available, all accessed through the large, responsive touchscreen.
While the high price tag may put some people off, the ease of use of the camera and its OS makes it really stand out. Samsung’s Galaxy Camera opens up the possibility of well-designed mobile platforms being used in other gadgets and manages to be much, much more than just a concept device.