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Samsung ST550 review: Samsung ST550

Its pictures are fairly ordinary, but the 12.2-megapixel ST550 is a stunningly successful exercise in interface design. With a front-mounted touchscreen that makes taking self-portraits a piece of cake, a rear-mounted touchscreen that delivers haptic feedback, and a motion-sensitive menu system, it's a joy to use

3 min read

Samsung's ST550 has received plenty of attention for being the first compact camera to have a second LCD display on the front. But this is only one of a number of highly innovative features that make this £250 snapper much more interesting than the average 12.2-megapixel compact.


Samsung ST550

The Good

Front-mounted LCD display has many uses; excellent 'haptic' interface; high-resolution display; high-definition movie mode.

The Bad

Mediocre lens quality; pictures suffer from too much smoothing of fine details.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung ST550 is extremely clever in some respects, but pretty ordinary in terms of picture quality. As an exercise in interface design and an electronic plaything, it's just fantastic. It's the number of ideas and the way they've been integrated into the design that impresses

Display delights
We've got to start with that second LCD display, and we're pleased to say that it's not just a gimmick. Anyone who's tried setting up a self-portrait will know how difficult it is to come up with a good shot when you can't see your expression, or your hair's gone wrong, or your thumb's in the way of the lens. It really is quite a novelty to be able to see what you and your companions look like as you set up the shot. Just point the camera towards you, then tap the front to activate the display. That tap also activates the face-detection system.

The ST550 produces crisp edges and good colours, but smoothes over fine detail and has a lens that goes slightly soft towards the corners. It holds up quite well at higher ISOs, though (click image to enlarge)

That's not all this extra display does. It can display a countdown when you're using the self-timer, show an animated cartoon to distract very small children while you're taking their picture, and even tell your subjects when to smile, by displaying a smiling face when you press the shutter button halfway down.

We've all managed without front-mounted LCDs until now, but the ST550 demonstrates that something that might sound like a pointless gadget can actually be extremely useful.

The front-mounted touchscreen isn't just a gimmick -- it really comes in handy

It's round the back that the ST550 is really interesting, though. It has a whopping, 89mm (3.5-inch) touchscreen interface with a difference. It's a 'haptic' display that produces a vibration when you activate an icon. This makes for a much more tactile experience than usual.

This interface has been used to do plenty of clever things. For example, you can click on any part of the scene to focus on it, and then keep pressing to take a picture. The interface also supports 'smart gestures', so that, for example, you just swipe left or right with your thumb to cycle through pictures in playback mode. You can rotate pictures with a circular movement and pan around magnified images using a sweeping diagonal motion.

There's more. The ST550's motion-detection system lets you activate menus by tilting the camera rather than pressing a button. The camera's got to be more or less upright for it to work, and it takes a few attempts to get the movement right, but it's going to be handy in winter when you've got gloves on.

Ordinary pictures
Samsung's really pulled the stops out with the ST550, cramming in so many smart design and control innovations that there's scarcely room to list them all.

The test chart shows an odd mixture of super-sharpened detail and filled-in textures (look at the 9 block on the right). This gives the ST550's images a distinctly over-processed look (click image to enlarge)

Underneath, though, is a somewhat ordinary imaging system. The 4.6x wideangle zoom is handy, but Samsung's image processing smoothes over too much fine detail, even at low ISOs. The lens quality is only so-so too -- it's okay in the centre of the frame at normal zoom settings, but rather woolly at the edges and at full zoom.

The Samsung ST550's twin displays are what most people will pick up on, but it's the haptic touchscreen interface that's the real star. The camera's motion-detection capability is also very impressive. Its pictures are pretty ordinary, but the camera itself is a stunningly successful technical exercise.

Edited by Charles Kloet