Nikon Coolpix S800c review: First Android point-and-shoot misses mark

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MSRP: $399.95

The Good The Nikon Coolpix S800c is a good-looking point-and-shoot running on Android with a nice touch screen, Wi-Fi, GPS, and full access to the Google Play store and all the apps and content you'd find on other Android devices.

The Bad The S800c feels like a camera with an Android smartphone tacked on, and a slow and old one at that. Battery life is very short. Photo quality isn't any better than its far less expensive line mate, the Coolpix S6300.

The Bottom Line The Nikon Coolpix S800c marries an above-average point-and-shoot with the functionality of an Android device with mixed results.

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6.6 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 5
  • Image quality 7

It was only a matter of time before a major camera manufacturer started using Android as the operating system for a camera. Nikon made the jump first with the Coolpix S800c.

There was the Polaroid SC1630 announced at CES this year, but that wasn't much of camera and it doesn't appear to be available for sale. The S800c, on the other hand, has a 1/2.3-inch 16-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, a Nikon Expeed C2 processing engine, and a 10x f3.2-5.8 25-250mm lens with optical image stabilization -- all the stuff you'd find in Nikon's Coolpix S6300. So, yes, this is a real point-and-shoot camera running on Android.

Android does bring some fun stuff to the table, of course, with a whole world of apps at your fingertips. Although the camera doesn't have a headphone jack, it does have Bluetooth, so you can connect wireless headphones or speakers and use the camera to play games, listen to music, and watch movies. It is Wi-Fi only (there's no mobile broadband access), so while you can share directly from the camera to any of your favorite sites, you'll need to have wireless access to do so. If you're on the go, though, Nikon does have mobile apps for Android and iOS, which allow you to send to a smartphone or tablet that you could then use to upload.

My main issue with the S800c, though, is that it's not a better camera simply because it's running Android. The S6300 I mentioned earlier is currently available for about $150, and at that price, it's a decent camera. The S800c is about $350, and while that adds Android, Wi-Fi, GPS, and a touch screen, the camera itself isn't anything special.

Picture quality
Forgetting about the Android part of this camera for the moment, overall photo quality from the Nikon Coolpix S800c is above average for a point-and-shoot with its features, suitable for prints up to 8x10 or slightly larger and Web use. You will get better photos (and videos, for that matter) from it than from a smartphone, barring top models like the Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC One X, Nokia 808 PureView (and probably the Lumia 920), or iPhone 5. Even against those, it's better in low light.

Though its sensitivity settings run from ISO 125 to ISO 3200, the S800c is best used with plenty of light to keep sensitivity below ISO 400. Regardless of sensitivity, photos can appear somewhat soft and benefit from sharpening with photo-editing software. There's a Fixed Range Auto option that will limit you to ISO 125-400; I recommend using it in daylight when possible.

The two highest ISOs -- 1600 and 3200 -- should only be used in emergencies, mainly because the colors get very washed out and the noise reduction makes subjects appear smeary and flat, and actually, colors are so bad at ISO 3200 you probably shouldn't use it at all.

Video quality was very good; it actually appeared to be slightly better than the results I got from the S6300, which is nice. You do get use of the optical zoom while recording and there is an option for continuous autofocus. You may, however, hear those picked up by the camera's stereo mics in quieter scenes.

Editors' note: We recently updated our testing methodology to gauge slightly more real-world performance, so the results aren't necessarily comparable with previous testing. Until we're finished refining our procedures, we will not be posting comparative performance charts.

The shooting performance for the camera is slightly better than it is for the S6300, which is good because that camera is pretty quick. The camera will start in whatever interface you were last in, so if you turn off the camera while in the Nikon camera interface, it takes on average 2.4 seconds from off to first shot; otherwise you'll be greeted with an Android lock screen when you turn on. Shutter lag -- the time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- in bright conditions was 0.2 second. For lower-contrast targets, the camera could take up to 1.9 seconds to focus and shoot. Shot-to-shot times averaged 1.5 seconds without flash and 1.6 seconds with, which is excellent for a point-and-shoot.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The S800c can capture three-shot bursts at 7.9 frames per second. However, focus and exposure are set at the first shot, so if your subject is moving, chances are good all three shots won't be in focus. The camera also has 60fps and 120fps bursts; the former captures up to 25 images at a resolution of 1 megapixel, and the latter grabs up to 50 VGA-quality shots at a press of the shutter release. There's a substantial wait while the camera stores all those photos, but if you're trying to capture a specific moment in time, this is your best bet with this camera. Also, with all of these modes, the focus, exposure, and white balance are set with the first photo. If you have a fast-moving subject, like someone running, there's a good chance your subject won't be in focus for all of the photos.

So overall, shooting performance is very good. However, the rest of the camera's performance is somewhat sluggish. Apps, outside of Nikon's camera interface, are slow to open and using them isn't any better. During testing there were several times where apps would force close or hang. I was also frequently greeted with a "Please wait..." message when turning the camera on or off. It was not unlike using an inexpensive Android smartphone from two years ago. To top it off, battery life is poor (more on that in the next section).

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