Samsung's 14.2-megapixel ST5500 digital compact is notable for its high quality build and the huge 3.7-inch wide-format AMOLED touchscreen that swallows up the entirety of its back plate, shifting what few physical buttons there are onto its top plate.
Its manufacturer has allied this with a broader-than-average focal range courtesy of its internally stacked 7x optical zoom, which glides through its 31-217mm 35mm equivalent range in three seconds. This means the camera itself is inevitably a little larger than 5x zoom options that come with 3-inch screens -- arguably the new industry standard.
Further future-proofing this model, Samsung has equipped the ST5500 with wireless connectivity options, including Bluetooth 2.0, Wi-Fi and DLNA. This means photos can be beamed straight from your camera to your desktop, the social-networking site of your choice, or your already groaning hard drive. Expect to pay in the region of £299 for the privilege.
Putting a fresh slant on it
Incorporating a 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor at its core, the ST5500 is the usual boxy oblong of a camera at first glance, sporting dimensions of 104 by 58 by 20mm and weighing a manageable 161g. It feels reassuringly solid when gripped in the palm.
Investigate closer and you'll see Samsung has imbued the ST5500's body with a backwards slant, similar to that of the. This is claimed to make for a more comfortable hold and tighter grip, though in practice, the benefits appear negligible. Low-angle shots are a little easier, however, as you don't have to crouch quite as low since the lens is already pointing fractionally upwards.
Powering up in two seconds, the ST5500's large shutter-release button is encircled by a zoom lever and angled slightly forwards. There's little if anything resembling a handgrip on the camera, just two raised plastic strips at the back providing purchase for the thumb.
As a result, it feels more practical to steady the camera in both hands when attempting to take your shot. When you do so, the thumb of your left hand strays onto the screen, since there's very little distance between the screen edge and that of the camera itself. Luckily, the icons that appear left and right of the screen require definite taps to activate their features, so we didn't have any instances of accidentally bumping a button by mistake.
Charge and card
The ST5500's rechargeable battery is charged up in camera. There's no separate mains adaptor provided, just a USB-equipped lead, one end of which plugs directly into the camera and the other into an adaptor plug. Unfortunately, this means the camera is tied up whenever you want to recharge the battery -- there's no facility to recharge a spare while you continue using the ST5500.
The other slight irritation for photographers who already have drawers full of the most common SD and SDHC memory cards is that the Samsung takes the smaller and much more fiddly microSD. This memory format is commonly favoured by camera phones, suggesting the ST5500 is targeted at those who are trading up from their mobile phone camera. Otherwise, there's a paltry 13MB internal capacity to fall back on, allowing for just one super-fine JPEG at maximum resolution. Surely there was room for Samsung to include a full-sized SD slot.
Touch and go
Like most compact snapshots, the ST5500 offers up an intelligent auto mode as its fallback setting. Here, the scene and subject-recognising option is 'smart auto'. To help avoid blur caused by shaky hands, which becomes more pronounced when shooting at maximum telephoto or in lower light, the lens is supported by Samsung's dual-image-stabilisation technology. This divides up the task between optical-based lens shift anti-shake and the often less-effective software-based boosting of ISO and shutter speeds. When shooting in dull conditions, the camera held up remarkably well, our only grumble being some loss of focus towards the corners of the frame at maximum wide angle.