With one of the smallest price tags of all the major digital camera models, the HP Photosmart M437 looks like an appealing little camera. Its 5-megapixel sensor and 2-inch LCD won't turn many heads, but its just-slightly-more-than-$100 MSRP looks mighty good to anyone looking for a budget camera.
The M437 is essentially the scaled-down twin of the HP Photosmart M537, another sub-$150 shooter. Besides the smaller screen (2 inches to the M537's 2.5 inches) and lower resolution (5 megapixels to the M537's 6 megapixels), the M437 perfectly mirrors its marginally more advanced brother. They share the same chunky, simple design, the same 3x lens, and the same onboard image editing functions.
They also share the same utter lack of controls. Besides a few scene presets, users have no way to control their exposures. The M437 completely automates white balance, ISO sensitivity, and exposure when shooting. You can select special settings such as Portrait and Night modes, but otherwise you'll be letting the camera make all the decisions.
All this decision-making--and focusing, of course--tends to take some time, as seen on our slow test numbers. You can expect a lag of more than a second when shooting in bright light, and a wait of up to 2 seconds when shooting in low light. After you take the shot, you'll have to endure another wait of 2 seconds before you can shoot again.
This automation also causes a problem when shooting indoors, as the automatic white balance makes most images shot under incandescent lights severely yellow. Yellowed indoor photos are common among many point-and-shoot cameras, but most of those cameras at least have indoor (often labeled tungsten) white balance settings to fix it. The closest fix you can find is the M437's dubiously named Theater setting, which produces more neutral, but not perfect, tones with incandescent lighting. Even if you can get the colors to look good, however, the images are still sadly deficient; they're plagued with horribly softened details and distinct colored fringing along high-contrast edges.
The HP Photosmart M437 is one of the least expensive cameras out there, but it's also one of the least impressive. Its low resolution, poor performance, and disappointing image quality makes it a poor choice for all but the most frugal users. If you really want an easy-to-use budget camera, consider spending a bit more for the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W35. It costs a bit more than the M437, but it's a much, much better camera.