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Samsung Galaxy Camera review: An OK camera, but a very good gadget

For those who love to shoot and share, but yearn for a "real camera" experience, this might be worth its high price.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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9 min read

Editors' note: For clarification, a portion of the review regarding Android app support for the zoom lens has been updated with additional information from testing.

Samsung Galaxy Camera
7.6

Samsung Galaxy Camera

The Good

The <b>Samsung Galaxy Camera's</b> feature set is tough to beat, combining the power of a high-end Android OS 4.1 Jelly Bean device with a giant HD-resolution touch screen and the 21x zoom and 16-megapixel resolution of a compact camera.

The Bad

If you're looking for great picture quality for the Galaxy Camera's $500 price tag, you're probably going to be disappointed. Its battery life is fairly short. To get the most from it, you'll want to pay for a monthly data plan.

The Bottom Line

Outside of its relatively high cost of ownership and average point-and-shoot picture quality, the Samsung Galaxy Camera definitely delivers the shoot-and-share experience of a smartphone with the features of a compact camera.

As the first camera available in the U.S. with a data plan and the second that uses the Android OS, the Samsung Galaxy Camera (its actual model number is EK-GC100) certainly deserves some attention. The combination of a standalone camera with mobile broadband access (it's initially available from AT&T's HSPA+ network) is pretty great for those who love the shoot-and-share capabilities of their phone, but want the flexibility of a zoom lens and improved photo and video quality.

This could likely be accomplished without the Android OS, but then you wouldn't get access to a whole world of apps. The camera's interface is basically an app, just like the camera on any smartphone or tablet. You can load the Galaxy up with apps for shooting and editing, and, well, whatever you want, really. This, of course, includes your pick of social-networking apps as well as cloud storage and sharing services. There is also the possibility that third-party developers will make apps to take advantage of this camera's capabilities.

Now, while all of that is well and good, its main purpose is still being a camera and at that, it's fairly average for a point-and-shoot. In fact, the 21x zoom wide-angle lens and 16-megapixel backside-illuminated sensor are the same specs as you'd get with Samsung's WB850F Wi-Fi camera. That camera is currently priced at about $330 or less; the Galaxy is $499.99, and that's without a data plan.

Sarah Tew/CNET

AT&T doesn't require a data plan to purchase the camera, but if you've got an AT&T Mobile Share plan, you can add it to your devices for $10 a month. Otherwise, you can get 250MB of data for $15 a month, 3GB for $30, or 5GB for $50. That seems steep for a device you might not use as frequently as you would a tablet or laptop (and perhaps a pay-as-you-go option would be a better fit). But, since the Galaxy Camera can be used for more than taking photos and videos, you can use that data for e-mail, streaming movies and music, VoIP calls, etc. However, none of this makes its photo and video quality any better than the WB850F, which, while better than a smartphone, is average for its class.

Photo quality
Like many point-and-shoots, the more light you have when shooting with the Galaxy, the better your photos will be. If you're considering this for daylight shooting, you'll likely be very satisfied with the results. Likewise, if you're looking for better low-light shots than a smartphone. Regardless of lighting, though, the results when viewed at full size are not impressive, with noise and artifacts, and subjects looking soft and lacking fine details.

Samsung Galaxy Camera sample pictures

See all photos

Subjects do get noticeably softer as you increase ISO, too, which means with less light you'll lose sharpness and fine details, and things start to look flat. (They definitely benefit from some light post-shoot sharpening if you're going to be using them at small sizes.)

On the other hand, the f2.8 lens and the back-illuminated CMOS sensor keep the camera from immediately ratcheting up ISO, so you can take low-light photos (at least at the wide end of the lens) with better results than with some competing models. Basically, if you're considering this for its online-sharing capabilities and don't typically make large prints above 8x10s, regularly enlarge and heavily crop pictures, or view them at large sizes on screen, it's a fine choice and you will do better than using a smartphone.

Video quality is very good and the optical image stabilization is certainly nice to have if you're tired of the shaky clips from your smartphone. However, like its photos, video does get softer and noisier the less light you have. The zoom does work while recording movies, but it was a bit jerky when moving in and out. Also, the mic is right next to the shutter release, so it picks up any finger movement or snapping of the zoom lever. One thing that's cool, though, is that there's a headphone jack on the right side that can also be used with a microphone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance
Editors' note: We recently updated our testing methodology to provide 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.

Much like the photo quality, for $500 you might expect shooting performance to be faster than an average point-and-shoot with a CMOS sensor. It is not.

Assuming you did an initial startup of the camera, it sits in standby until you're ready to use it. From standby to first capture takes about 3.2 seconds, mostly because of the lens unfolding. From shot to shot it takes on average 1.7 seconds, but that time jumps to 4.2 seconds when using the flash. Shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.7 second in dim. In very low light the lag increases to 0.9 second.

The camera does have a continuous shooting option that can fire off up to 20 shots at up to 4 frames per second. That's pretty good, and you can start shooting another burst almost as soon as you release the shutter button. Focus and exposure are set with the first shot, though, so if you're shooting a fast-moving subject, chances are good that not all of your shots will be in focus.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As for the device's overall performance, it's nice and fast. The 1.4GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM kept everything relatively zippy. And while I occasionally experienced brief freezes while flipping through my photos, it was nothing like the slowdowns and stalls of the Nikon Coolpix S800c. It can certainly act as a media player and does just about everything a smartphone can outside of making phone calls.

Design and features
The other Android camera currently available, Nikon's Coolpix S800c, feels a lot like an inexpensive point-and-shoot with an old smartphone slapped on the back. Nikon's camera interface and the use of an old version of the Android OS didn't help things, either, making it already feel dated. The Galaxy, on the other hand, feels like a high-end compact camera with a fresh, snappy interface that you'd expect from a new Android device.

The camera looks a bit odd, though. Even touch-screen cameras usually have some place to rest your thumb, but the Galaxy is all glass on back, which makes it look like someone sliced the back of the camera off. And although it has a sizable grip on front, the body is still pretty slippery. Add to that the slightly off-balanced weight from the lens and the giant 4.8-inch display, and it's not exactly a camera you want to shoot with one-handed.

Another thing: Part of the reason people leave their cameras at home and shoot with their smartphone is because of the camera's size and weight; the Galaxy doesn't really solve that problem. It's not huge, but it's not particularly pocketable, either, and at 11 ounces, you won't forget you've got it on you. By comparison, the Samsung WB850F weighs just 6.8 ounces.

Key specs Samsung Galaxy Camera (EK-GC100)
Price (MSRP) $499.99
Dimensions (WHD) 5.1x2.8x0.8 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 11 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
Display size, resolution/viewfinder 4.8-inch HD touch screen, 921K dots/none
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 21x, f2.8-5.9, 23-483mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, N/A
Battery charged in camera Yes; Micro-USB cable, wall adapter supplied
Storage media microSDHC card; 8GB internal
Software Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS, Google mobile services

At least part of that weight is from the 1,280x720-pixel-resolution 4.8-inch display. I never felt cramped by the 3-inch LCDs on other point-and-shoots until I used the Galaxy. It's a pleasure to shoot with as well as to play and edit pictures and movies on.

That said, it probably doesn't do the battery life any favors. The WB850F was only CIPA rated for 200 shots, and in my tests the Galaxy is well under this. You're going to want to buy some extra batteries, especially if you plan to do more than just take snapshots in auto. On the upside, Samsung used a battery than can easily be picked up online for about $10. The battery is charged in camera, though, and it takes roughly 4 hours for a full charge, so you'll want to hunt down an external charger, too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The battery compartment is at the bottom of the camera under a locking door, just like a regular compact camera. That's also where you find the SIM card and microSDHC card slots and a Micro-HDMI port. The camera's Micro-USB port is on the right side as is the headphone/mic jack and a spot to attach a wrist strap.

General shooting options Samsung Galaxy Camera (EK-GC100)
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
Photo Filter) Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent H, Fluorescent L, Tungsten, Custom
Recording modes Smart Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Casual (Beauty face, Best face, Best photo, Continuous shot, Fireworks, Landscape, Night, Panorama, Sunset, Macro), Smart pro (Action freeze, Light trace, Rich tone, Silhouette, Waterfall), Movie
Focus modes Multi AF, Center AF, Touch AF
Macro 1.9 inches (Wide)
Metering modes Multi, Spot, Center-weighted
Color effects Multiple photo and movie filters
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 20

Sarah Tew/CNET

For automatic shooters, Samsung's Smart Auto is good for most situations where you just want to take a quick snapshot to post. However, there are also two sets of specialty modes. One set, named Casual, has a few common scene modes for portraits and landscapes, but also has a couple innovative extras. For example, Best Face mode lets you take a group shot -- firing off five frames -- and then you can pick the best faces for everyone in the shot.

The other set is called Smart Pro, which basically translates shooting concepts into a point-and-shoot mode. Light Trace, for example, slows down the shutter speed, and Action Freeze speeds it up.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you like more control, the Galaxy camera does have manual and semimanual modes with an interesting interface for changing shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, and ISO. Tap the mode you want and a lens barrel pops out; you just slide the rings till you get what you want. Unfortunately, it's not exactly fast if your initial settings weren't quite right and you need to adjust again.

At the wide end, there are 10 available apertures from f2.8 to f8.0; at the telephoto end there are four from f5.9 to f8.5. Shutter speeds go from 1/2,000 second to 16 seconds.

For movies, you can shoot at 1,920x1,080 pixels at 30 frames per second; 1,280x720 pixels at 30 or 60fps; 768x512 pixels at 120fps (slow motion); 640x480 pixels at 30 or 60fps; and 320x240 pixels at 30fps. You can also pause movies in the middle of shooting, so you don't end up with a bunch of small clips.

In the auto, program, manual, and semimanual shooting modes there is a row of 13 filter effects you can call up from the bottom of the screen. These can be used when shooting movies and applied to photos after you shoot as well.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course, part of the reason to have Android is for the large number of photo and sharing apps. Something to be aware of, though, is that when you're using Android apps, you're limited to the capabilities of those apps. For example, not all of the camera apps would allow me to control the zoom lens. Only one app, Paper Camera, allowed me to use the zoom lever, though the controls are reversed. Camera Zoom FX, Pro HDR Camera, Fast Burst Camera, and Camera360 require you to either pinch to zoom or use the app's onscreen slider, but they didn't always work correctly. Instagram, Cymera, Little Photo, HDR Camera, Retro Camera, and Vignette don't work at all with the zoom and keep it locked at its widest position. It is possible that this can be fixed with updates to these apps, so it's more something to be aware of than a strike against the camera or hardware.

Conclusion
The best way for me to sum up the Samsung Galaxy Camera is that it's an OK camera, but a very good gadget. The lens and image sensor are nothing special and if you just want a compact megazoom with some wireless features, I recommend the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V or the Samsung WB850F, or just buy another camera and use an Eye-Fi SD card. With those, you can shoot whatever you want, and then wirelessly send the images to a mobile device and use that to upload. The Galaxy's advantage is that it's all in one; you shoot and you share, just like you would with a smartphone or tablet with a mobile data plan. The price for the privilege of doing that, though, is too much.

Samsung Galaxy Camera
7.6

Samsung Galaxy Camera

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7Image quality 7
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