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If you can put cameras and MP3 players in phones, why can't you put MP3 and video players in a camera? If this idea strikes you as just wrong, you probably won't be a fan of the Samsung i series. The i8 is the latest in this line of all-singing, all-dancing point-and-shoots.
The i8 is an 8.2-megapixel point-and-shoot that also functions as an MP3 player, portable multimedia player (PMP), world tour guide, text viewer, storage device and voice recorder. It's available now for £115, which is reasonable for the number of gadgets you get in one package. The question is, are those devices good enough to consider throwing out your iPod and Archos?
Aesthetically the i8 is far from the grey plastic twisty-turny i7. The glossy black plastic frame, rounded corners and silver bezel make it look more like a cuddlier iPhone. The LCD screen measures 69mm (2.7-inch), which is reasonable for a camera but feels rather cramped for multimedia viewing.
The body feels plasticky and the whole camera picks up fingerprints like a crime scene investigator. The sliding cover for the USB connection is a nice touch, however, and we are fans of the USB lead doubling as a charger cable, so there's less to carry and less to lose.
The chunky rounded buttons have a cartoony charm, but the horizontal zoom rocker is one of the slowest and least responsive we've used for a while. The mode button is straightforward, but we can't help feeling that the difference between Fn (shooting functions) and E (picture effects) isn't enough of a distinction to warrant two buttons.
One downside is the headphone jack. Instead of a 3.5mm jack, there's a proprietary connection with an adaptor to plug headphones into. This means the sound quality will be limited by the adaptor, no matter how good your headphones are. The supplied headphones are the usual cheap pair, with equally tinny results.
Even if it does have various functions, the i8's primary role is as a camera. The 38-114mm equivalent focal length is distinctly average, but the i8 is extensively adjustable: there are numerous colour and style settings, with handy sliders to tweak other settings. Red, green and blue levels, as well as sharpness and saturation, can be adjusted in this way.
The menus feature luminescent animated icons, which look slick but make the scrolling experience feel slow. In some of the functions, text occasionally wraps mid-word, which can be odd, but most of the time we barely noticed it.
As well as program and auto modes, there's a handy guide feature. It presents you with a list of five common photographic problems and gives you solutions to each one. Each suggestion features a practice function, showing which buttons to press. Even if it doesn't teach you anything new, it's a good way to learn the controls of the camera, and is accessible enough to teach novices plenty of photographic tips that could get them past the point-and-shoot stage.
Fun mode includes some frivolous frames, but also showcases a few souped-up options. One alternative is to place comic book bubbles and balloons around your subjects in the frame.
The MP3 player has all the basic functions: shuffle, repeat, skip, remembering the last played track and so on. There are also a number of equaliser settings for different genres of music. You can skin the player with one of your photos, which is pretty neat.
We admit we wanted the tour-guide function to be full of dodgy translations, but it isn't actually bad. It's fairly lightweight -- the entry for Portobello Road is just a jokey reference to the film Notting Hill -- and the lack of maps mean it's no substitute for an actual guidebook. But as a quick introduction to the major sights of a particular destination it hits the spot.
The PMP function plays Xvid MPEG-4, with bundled software to convert other formats. A fast-forward option going up to 32x is included, while it also remembers where you were in a video.
Start-up is rather slow because you have to push and hold the power button -- not great for snapshots. Flash recycle time also felt slow to us.
Another convergence bugbear is battery life. As a camera, the i8's battery is fine: we didn't have to recharge the camera while taking test shots. But when we mixed in use of the MP3 player and other functions we noticed the battery dropping faster. The battery will last long enough to watch a feature film, but we do suggest topping up the charge at every opportunity if you're going to use the multimedia functions heavily.
Although it is possible to watch whole films, this reviewer couldn't face an entire feature staring at the screen. Although it does a clever job of automatically adjusting to lighting conditions, the picture isn't great, with motion causing blur and diagonal lines rendering horribly jagged.
Image quality is respectable at low ISO levels, but noise is more of an issue than it should be, even as low as ISO 100. The maximum ISO 3,200 is only available at 3-megapixel resolution and should be avoided like the plague.
There's some purple fringing in evidence in high-contrast shots and around some colour boundaries. This is especially true in higher-ISO shots. Apart from that, images were untroubled by vignetting or distortion. In fact, our biggest problem with ruined shots was fingers creeping in because of the positioning of the lens at the top left.
The traditional objection to convergence devices is that the extras aren't as good as a separate device. If you're happy to take that as a given, the Samsung i8's extras do the job well enough for you to keep your pockets light, but they won't replace separate, high-end PMPs or MP3 players.
We'd like to be charmed by this cheeky snapper, but the plasticky build makes it less exciting than the sturdy and stylish i70, while the uninspiring camera function isn't a patch on comparable point-and-shoots such as the slender Casio Exilim EX-S10.
Edited by Marian Smith