Editors' note (October 25, 2012): We've updated this first take with hands-on video, embedded above.
You always shoot photos with the camera you have with you -- which is precisely why the ubiquitous smartphone cameras are taking over for point-and-shoot cameras. But convenient as they are, smartphone cameras still lack the advantages of some of the most basic point-and-shoots -- as anyone who's ever wanted an optical zoom lens on their phone can attest.
That's where Samsung's new Galaxy Camera comes in. Call it a tech mash-up: it's got a 16-megapixel camera with a 21x zoom lens one one side, an Android 4.1 device with a large touch screen on the other, and networking abilities in the middle. That last point is key: one of the big advantages of smartphones is that you can do something with the photo immediately after taking it -- sharing with friends on Facebook, for example.
And though camera makers have made phones with Wi-Fi, what sets the Galaxy Camera apart is the integration of 3G and 4G mobile-phone networking with HSPA+ wireless technology. That means you'll be able to share photos immediately -- but it also means you'll have to pay a carrier for the data you transmit.
Samsung's research shows increasing spending on high-end cameras, though, and that's where it hopes this model will fit in. It'll be priced the same as high-end compact cameras -- though not as high as the mirrorless models with interchangeable lenses such as Samsung's NX line. In the U.S., the Galaxy Camera will be coming to AT&T later this fall; pricing and exact availability has yet to be announced.
The camera's 16-megapixel sensor uses backside-illuminated (BSI) technology for better low-light performance. The lens starts at a wide-angle equivalent of 23mm; it zooms smoothly but not rapidly through its 21x range to 483mm on the telephoto end.
With the full Android operating system, photographers can use the usual range of apps: Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and the like.
In addition, Samsung supplies its own Photo Wizard and Video Wizard software and another tool designed to get good group shots. The camera also has some cloud-based backup services, and offers the same photo-sharing features found on some Galaxy phones: AllShare Play (for sharing with other Samsung devices on the same network) and Share Shot (for sharing photos with other Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note phones nearby).
The Galaxy Camera should be thought of more as a camera with wireless networking than as a phone with a really nice camera. That's because, though it uses mobile networks, it won't come with a phone number. That means you'll be able to use VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) for telephony, but not traditional phone and text-messaging features.
So at least for now, it suffers to some degree the plight of ordinary point-and-shoot cameras: most people will probably have their smartphones with them, so the Galaxy Camera will be a second device people must remember to bring along.