Samsung Galaxy Camera Review: Redefining What A Connected Camera Should Be

by Roy Alugbue on
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Let’s face it, we live in a world connected through the internet where we are constantly looking at (and for) noteworthy photos from our friends, family or anyone of any sort of relevance. It’s no secret that as we become more and more connected through the web, we are looking to share our precious moments with our family and friends faster than ever using our smartphones– especially since we can share photos to our friends and loved ones instantly with blazing fast cellular networks. It’s also no secret while we can share our photos faster than ever, the quality of the photos from many smartphones are average at best— especially compared to a photo taken from a traditional point-and-shoot or DSLR-type camera. Samsung quickly realized this and unveiled the Galaxy Camera: traditional a camera  that takes quality photos, while allowing the ability for users to be always connected to the internet in order to instantly share the photos with family and friends.

So in case you’re not familiar, let’s remind ourselves of what the Galaxy Camera is exactly: a camera that’s stuffed with TouchWiz-infused Jelly Bean running the show. The device is more or less what we identify as a connected camera: a camera allowing us to share quality photos and videos with our friends and family instantly thanks to an always-on internet connection via the camera’s built-in SIM card. As it always does with many of its products, Samsung takes a gamble by using its brand name to market a basic camera that’s connected to the internet via the Android platform, but does it succeed in trying to bring yet another “unique” device to the marketplace? We know that certain celebs have taken a strong liking to the device, but for the rest of you– you’ll need to read on past the break to see if it is worth your fancy in our review.

 

 

Design

 

 

For the most part, the Galaxy Camera is one hell of a looker, albeit a bit on the overweight side of things. Taking a page from the Galaxy smartphone series, the Galaxy Camera features a sort of chalky or pearl white finish and sleek blue lines along with smooth and sleek curves all-around— there are no hard, sharp or jagged edges and corners to be found on the camera. When looking at it for the first time, it’s hard not to think that the Galaxy Camera is what a Galaxy S III smartphone and regular camera would look like if they were molded together. But that’s the reality of the Galaxy Camera– it’s more or less a traditional camera on the front with the Galaxy S III’s screen on the back. On the front of the device, you’ll find the enormous 21x zoom lens that actually protrudes out (even when fully closed) and the LED light. To the top of the device, you’ll find the zoom dial (which also controls the volume level on the device) and the camera’s action button, while the left-hand side features a cleverly placed flash button (which reveals the camera’s flash to the top of the device). The right-hand side of the device headphone jack and microUSB plug, while the bottom of the device features the battery door giving you access to the HDMI-out, SIM and microSD slots. Those are the only buttons you’ll find as the Galaxy Camera is otherwise operated via touchscreen only… which we will dive down into further in the review.

 

 

The camera itself is 5.07 x 2.79  inches which isn’t too big height and width-wise… but is 0.75 in overall thickness while also coming in at a whopping 10.76 ounces! This is probably due to the fact that there’s not only a massive lens included on the front, but also the device has a mesh of both camera materials and Android materials found in a typical smartphone. Toss in the fact that the Corning Gorilla Glass 2 glass backing does feel a bit heavier than most typical Android smartphones. Despite the fact the camera is a bit heavier than the average camera, the camera is fairly comfortable to hold. While most of the camera feels smooth and can be a bit slippery, the right-hand side features some nice material that gives it some solid grip, allowing for better control when taking photos.

 

 

Hardware

The design is solid for the most part, but what about the camera’s guts and internals? Well rest assured that you will find some quality parts that power the camera. Samsung opted to use the latest and greatest pieces of technology in order to ensure the camera operates at an optimal level, so it decided to go with its in-house quad-core Exynos chip coupled with a generous 1GB of RAM. In addition, the Galaxy Camera features a modest 8GB of storage (5GB of which is actually usable), an expandable microSD-out slot, Bluetooth 4.0 and of course– the aforementioned 16.3 MP camera that’s capable of shooting up to 4608 × 3456 pixels plus the 21x optical zoom lens and auto-flash light.

 

Display

 

 

Many of you are thinking the Galaxy Camera’s display looks a wee bit familiar to you right? Well you’re not crazy— the Galaxy Camera features a display that’s roughly based off of guessed it— the Galaxy S III smartphone. That means users will be treated to a similar 4 plus-inch Super LCD screen with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 along with a healthy 306ppi pixel density and rich, vibrant colors. Because there is no pesky or annoying bezel to deal with, users of the camera will be able to see greater photo and video quality, thanks to the extra real estate found on the display. As with most other displays found on Samsung devices, the display shows all the content with awesome clarity and detail.

 

Software/Interface

 

 

Now here is part one of where the real heart of the camera lies: its use of Android to power the camera. As described briefly in the beginning of this review, Samsung managed to cram its TouchWiz-infused Jelly Bean interface into the camera, allowing users of the device operate all of the major functions via a touchscreen-based interface. In short, Samsung has actually done a stellar job of implementing all of the necessary functions into the Android OS. When users first power on the device, they’re instructed to set up and register the Galaxy Camera much like you would any other Android device. Once done, you’ll immediately see the oh-so-familiar TouchWiz-infused Jelly Bean homescreen. However, upon further glance– users will immediately note that many of the camera or photo-related icons and applications presented on the homescreen. Among the noteworthy apps that are available initially are the main Android photo/video Gallery app, Paper Artist, Instagram, Photo Wizard, the Video Editor and the main Camera app.

Pressing on the Apps button from the homescreen brings up the complete and full app drawer, which allows for users to bring up additional applications like Google’s Play Store that are found on a typical Android smartphone or tablet. While most Android apps should operate on the Galaxy Camera with no issues, it’s assumed that users of the camera will only download apps that have something to do with photo editing and modifications or apps that allow for for the immediate upload of photos to your online storage or social network of choice— rather than trying to play that Need For Speed or Angry Birds.

 

 

Samsung did a pretty solid job of squeezing Jelly Bean into the camera, but it did an exceptional job of having the full allotment of camera features utilized by the customized Android interface. As mentioned before, Samsung opted to use virtual buttons for all of its settings. So in essence, when using the standard camera function on the Galaxy Camera, all of the various dials and buttons are seen on-screen. When powered up for the first time, users will see three standard buttons available: the main camera icon that acts as a sort of shutter button, the Mode dial where you can either choose from the Auto, Smart or Expert functions and of course, the camcorder function. The camera and camcorder functions are straightforward, but let’s dive down into the Mode button, which gives users a full compliment of camera features found in any typical DSLR or point-and-shoot camera.

 

 

The Mode button brings up additional dials which allows users to adjust the camera settings depending on the environment. Samsung has included traditional enhancement modes from Night mode, which obviously allows for the images to benefit from enhanced lighting in darker settings to the Rich Tones mode, which allows for your photos to be greatly enhanced by richer, sharper and brighter color tones.

 

 

It doesn’t stop there as Samsung included a full assortment of photo-editing software as mentioned earlier– allowing users to edit photos on the go, so there is no real need to connect the camera to a computer in order to edit your photos or videos.

 

Photo/Video quality

 

 

Sample outdoor shot in Auto Mode

Sample outdoor shot in Rich Tone Mode

 

OK kids, here’s part two of where the Galaxy Camera’s heart lies— the actual photo and video quality. In short, the photos and video taken from the Galaxy Camera are solid for the most part, but let’s be real— most users will probably get better quality photos from a traditional point-and-shoot or DSLR camera. For all intents and purposes for this review, the sample photos taken were all in .jpeg format which is the more traditional and common format used among average and professional photographers alike. When using the traditional Auto mode, the resulting photos did a pretty good job of replicating what was in real life and capturing the surroundings, though many of the images weren’t as sharp or bright as they should have been.

 

 

 

Generally speaking, many of the photos looked sharp on the Galaxy Camera’s gorgeous LCD display, but dare I say average on another screen. However, when fiddling with the Smart Modes and changing a few items, images became much sharper and vibrant than what was in the Auto mode, albeit on a minor level. Case in point with the photos below: you’ll note that the photo taken in Auto mode looked incredibly dull and were generally dark in tones; on the flip side, the photo taken in the Rich Tone Mode looked rich, sharp and vibrant. Most of the time I was on one of the Smart Modes when taking the photos because the Auto mode produced images that even a smartphone with superior image optimization software like the Galaxy S III, HTCs One X or DROID DNA could compete with.

 

 

On the flipside, photos can be further enhanced thanks to a full assortment of advanced camera features. The touchscreen interface gives users the simplified access to the camera’s shutter, aperture, exposure compensation and course, the ISO settings which can all be customized to your liking. An example of this is seen in some photos during a recent visit to my hometown of LA.

 

 

Video quality on the other hand is on par with most other cameras in general. Videos in this review were recorded in full 1080p HD looked solid for the most part and there was little distortion and some really nice clarity as well. A major plus is the file sizes of the 1080p videos were generally reasonable in size, so users won’t have to worry about having too big of files that can bog down the device. You can check out an example of the Galaxy Camera’s 1080p video quality in the video below.

 

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Network Quality

The Galaxy Camera operates on AT&T’s faux-g network, so the speeds are average at best. The camera features a built-in HSDPA chip capable of speeds up to 21Mbps, though real-world speeds only came up to be a fraction of that. Speeds averaged about 3.5 to 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up in the New York City area, while speeds were 2.5 to 3.5Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up in the Los Angeles area. It’s not really a major problem except for the fact that the images generated by the Galaxy Camera are fairly large in size, so the uploading of images to the cloud or a social network can be a cumbersome or dreadful process due to the sheer size of the photos. Thankfully Samsung recently released a 4G LTE variant for Verizon, so the network speeds should fare better for those who opt to go for that variant of the device, but if you do end up deciding to go for AT&T’s version– do yourself a favor and stay close, very close to a WiFi signal.

 

Battery Life

The battery features a 1,650mAh Li-Ion battery which is average at best. While Samsung offers the claim that the camera is capable of up to 280 hours of standby time, users will not be letting the camera stand idle and will want to use the camera often. We found that with moderate to heavy use, the camera averaged roughly a mere 10-12 hours. The hunch is that the camera has to do double duty of processing images and video at a higher level. Furthermore, it doesn’t help that much of the device’s resources are needed to power items like the powerful zoom lens and the camera’s display as well. Considering Samsung prides itself on having devices with superior battery life, it’s somewhat surprising Samsung didn’t really put much focus in optimizing the Galaxy Camera’s battery life. For the average person, the battery life will not be a problem, but if you’re the type to take photos of anything and everything, you’ll want to carry a spare battery or have your battery charger handy.

 

 

Final Thoughts

The Samsung Galaxy Camera is a really neat concept. Like its first Galaxy S or Galaxy Note smartphones, consumers knew the potential was there for something great, but Samsung needed to work through some growing pains to really bring a breakthrough smartphone to the marketplace and the first generation Galaxy Camera is no different. Samsung is a reputable brand at this point and you know that the Galaxy Camera can only get better once Samsung hones in and refines the little things about the camera like the bulkiness & average photo quality. The fact that it gives users a useable camera in an Android package that’s user friendly is reason enough for consumers to at least consider giving this puppy a try.

However— the truth is that Samsung’s Galaxy Camera is more or less has stuffed a $200 camera into a $300 Android package… and that might be a bit tough to chew on for most users. More importantly, consumers should realize that there are cheaper options out there that provide just as good, if not better picture and video quality. If you really (and I mean REALLY) want to have all your precious photos and video look a smidge better on a social network like Facebook or Instagram, have the money and want to try something new and unique— go ahead and purchase the camera. Otherwise, stick with your traditional point-and-shoot or DSLR camera since you’ll get better quality photos for a cheaper price.

 

 

 

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