Nikon really shows off its style with its Coolpix S500, a sleek, compact camera that feels every bit as good as it looks. This little shooter has some of the nicest design points we've seen in a small shooter, plus a few handy features normally seen on higher-end cameras. Unfortunately, looks and tricks aren't everything, and the S500 simply doesn't live up to its potential.
The 7-megapixel shooter's brushed-stainless-steel body stands out as its most notable feature. Its simple, blocky design and steel shell give the camera an elegant look and a surprisingly sturdy feel. The S500 is hardly the only metal-bodied camera out there, but it is one of the very few made of stainless steel; many Canon IXUS and Sony Cyber-shot T cameras sport aluminum shells that look quite stylish, but don't feel as durable.
Despite its steel frame, the S500 is surprisingly small and light. Its 22mm-thick frame cuts a slimmer profile than the Canon Digital IXUS 75's. It weighs just 125 grams, making it one of the lightest cameras we've picked up this year. The small size and weight let the S500 fit into almost any pocket comfortably; you won't feel bogged down when carrying around this camera.
An iPod-like click wheel controls most of the camera's commands. While derivative, the wheel is a welcome upgrade over the conventional joy pad that most cameras use. Like the iPod's click wheel, the S500's spinning wheel makes navigating menus and browsing photos in its 2.5-inch LCD screen a simple, intuitive, and speedy process. If you don't like the change, however, the wheel can also work like a regular joy pad by pressing it instead of spinning it.