The Nikon Coolpix S800c is the first Android-based camera I've tried out in the field and it's a great use of the Google software you'd normally find powering smart phones and tablets. In this setting, it's fast and responsive and the touchscreen interface works very well.
You can consider the S800c to be a PDA with a good camera strapped to the front, rather than a phone with a mediocre camera on the back. It can run regular Android apps, so you can access your Gmail, listen to music and upload images directly through your Wi-Fi network. You can even download new apps from Google Play. But beyond all this cleverness, does it actually perform the core function of taking brilliant pictures?
Android on a camera
Naturally enough, an app controls the camera, but the controls have plenty in common with those on Nikon's regular cameras. If you've used a Coolpix before, you'll feel right at home.
There are only three buttons on the body to handle navigation, aside from power and the shutter release. Everything else is controlled by the 3.5-inch touchscreen. This is smooth and doesn't take a lot of prodding, so the overall experience is excellent.
Common shooting controls like flash, macro and timer are ranged around the side of the screen, but they disappear when you half-press the shutter release, to avoid distracting you. Those that invoke settings on a scale, such as exposure compensation (+/-2.0EV in 0.3 step increments), can be dragged directly on the screen rather than using buttons.
With such a large screen and responsive operating system at its disposal, Nikon has made the most of its graphical menus, rarely putting more than six options on any one page. So, switch to scene mode and the 17 options are each given a large icon and split across three screens that you swipe between.
It's an excellent menu design, but elsewhere it lacks flair, particularly when compared to the, which I'll review in full soon. Early builds of Samsung's Android-based interface feature luscious graphical dials that are highly reminiscent of analogue controls on old-school cameras, and you drag them to choose each setting. They exhibit the kind of panache that's lacking here.
There's no 3G connectivity, so you won't be able to upload images to social networks without first connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot. The Wi-Fi is easy to configure though, and the S800c walks you through the process step by step the first time you set up. Novice users shouldn't be put off as it's really no more complicated than setting up a regular 'smart' camera with Wi-Fi, such as the Samsung EX2F.or the
So long as the S800c is connected to a Wi-Fi network, you can share your images directly from the review screen, although in its default state the options have a distinct Google flavour, outputting to Gmail, Google+ and Picasa. If you want to share them with anything else, you'll have to download the appropriate app from the Google Play store. The same is true if you'd like to edit your images in situ.
One drawback is it runs-- also known as Gingerbread -- which is now over 18 months old. Because of this, your choice might be limited when it comes to more recent apps, but staples like Instagram and Aviary, which both require 2.2 and above, shouldn't pose any problems.
The S800c isn't blinkered where rival OSes are concerned either. There's a free Connect to S800c download on the iOS App Store, also available for Android devices, that lets you connect it to your iPhone, iPad or . From here, you can save your images to the iOS camera roll and edit or share it from there.
The battery is a little under-powered. I charged it to the brim overnight before taking it out for a day's shooting -- after firing off 49 frames and filming 27 minutes of video, it warned me that the battery was exhausted and switched itself off. Although these tests do hammer the battery a little harder than you might do in day-to-day use, with intensive shooting and frequently switching it on and off, even Nikon's specs state it will manage only 140 shots per charge, which isn't great.
You'd do well to buy a spare to keep in your camera bag, but beware of the fact that the S800c doesn't ship with a separate charger -- only a plug and USB adaptor that fits into a port on the side of the camera to charge the battery in situ. That means you can't leave one cell back at your hotel on charge while you take the camera out for a day's sightseeing.
On one occasion during my tests, the 'shooting' app, which is the one that controls the camera element, hung and wouldn't show the lens view on the screen. Despite force-quitting it twice, the only way I could get back the shooting features was to remove the battery.
The S800c has a 16-megapixel sensor delivering 4,608x3,456-pixel images when set to shoot at its highest resolution. The lens has a 10x optical zoom, which is equivalent to 25-250mm on a conventional 35mm camera. The widest aperture setting ranges from f/3.2 at wide angle to f/5.8 at full telephoto, both of which are par for the course. Minimum sensitivity in automatic mode is ISO 125 and the maximum is ISO 1,600.
In my tests, it didn't need to push up sensitivity anywhere near this level when shooting in low light. In a dimly-lit studio, it tended to switch between ISO 400 and ISO 500. Even at the higher of those two, the visible grain was light and even, so it didn't spoil the image.