Budget cameras usually don't offer a lot of options. You can probably find an inexpensive camera that can take decent pictures, but you'll be hard pressed to find one with any flashy gimmicks or stylish design points. HP tries to buck this trend with the Photosmart R837, a flashy, fashionable, sub-$250 digital camera that has a unique design aspect normally found in "stylish" cameras costing almost twice as much.
The R837 takes its style cues from Sony's much more expensive Cyber-shot T-series cameras. Like the T-cameras, the R837's most prominent design aspect is its lens cover, a hard plastic shield that slides down to reveal the lens as well as turn on the camera. The cover protects the camera's lens from bumps and scratches, but its smaller and looser design doesn't look or function nearly as well as those of Sony's T-series. The small, rectangular shield covers only a portion of the camera's length, and its loose sliding mechanism tends to jam when you push down on it from anywhere but the exact center of the cover. This can make turning on the camera with one hand a frustrating task.
The camera's back panel lacks the stylish--and awkward--touches of its front. Rather, it sports a simple, direct layout and a large, 3-inch LCD screen. A large, square directional pad offers access to most of the R837's settings, and HP's signature L-shaped zoom rocker fits comfortably under the thumb. The top edge of the camera holds a sliding mode switch and two smaller buttons for accessing scene presets and flash controls. They're not quite as easy to finger as the directional pad and can prove slightly frustrating if you plan on switching shooting modes often.
The R837 comes loaded with several features for shooting, editing, and organizing photos directly on the camera. The camera's Design Gallery mode can crop, recolor, retouch, and apply a variety of artistic effects to photos. The R837 can also take out red-eye from both people and pets, distinguishing it as the first Photosmart camera to do so; lower-end HP cameras can remove red-eye from peoples' portraits, but they won't fix Rover's peepers.
A tagging system lets you organize your photos on the camera, filing them under any of nine categories, such as Family, Pets, or Vacation, though you can't create a category of your own. You can flag certain photos as favorites, though, so it's easy to mark which shots to keep and which shots to trash. Once organized in the camera, you can upload your photos to your computer and view them, presorted, in the included Photosmart 2.0 image-editing program.
The camera doesn't have many settings beyond sensitivity (aka ISO), white balance, and exposure compensation, though it does include 12 preset scene modes for shooting in different situations. Besides standard shooting modes such as high-speed, portrait, and landscape, the R837 has two panoramic shot modes that can frame and stitch together as many as five shots into a single ultrawide image.
Despite all of its software bells and whistles, the R837 performed sluggishly in our tests. After a 2.5-second wake-up time, the camera rattled off a new shot every 1.6 seconds. Its shutter performed admirably in bright light, lagging only 0.5 second. In low light, however, it took 1.3 seconds to focus and shoot. In burst mode,the R837 captured three shots in 1.4 seconds, for a solid average of 2.1 frames per second.