I’ve spent the past week playing with the new Samsung Galaxy camera, a gizmo that’s most notable for its wi-fi and cellular capability. It’s a nifty idea that’s another step closer to ubiquitous wirelessness, where everything is directly connected to the internet.
The camera’s main feature is that it lets you email or upload photos directly to the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, thereby saving you from having to connect to a computer, or from removing the memory card and then popping it into your laptop. It’s as simple as shooting a pic, then hitting the share button and bam – it’s online in seconds, very similar to how we currently do with smartphones.
The Galaxy camera is indeed a giant smartphone; it uses Google’s Android operating system and in fact has the same user interface as a Galaxy smartphone. It’s got the same grid of apps, the same Google Play app store, the same web browser, the same $599 price tag, and so on. The only thing it doesn’t have are phone and text-messaging apps.
Where it differs is with its proper lens, which is what makes the Galaxy camera a camera. The 23-millimetre zoom lens has a 21x optical zoom, which isn’t all that bad even at maximum extension. I gave the camera its baptism-of-fire test at the recent KISS concert here in Toronto; I was sitting a good hundred feet from the stage and I managed to get some decent pics. The one at the top of this post – Gene Simmons playing from the scaffolding above the stage – was perhaps the best one, while the image below is at maximum zoom. It’s a little hazy, but still decent enough:
There are, however, a few things I’m not crazy about with the camera, though. For one thing, it has the same big problem that most smartphones have – very short battery life. I brought the Galaxy to the concert fully charged, but it was almost drained by the end of the show. That compares very poorly to a standard SLR, which can usually go for days without needing to be juiced up.
The culprit, obviously, is the cellular connectivity. Aside from simply shooting pics, I was trying to upload them to social networks as well, which is where the other issue came in. In a situation such as a concert, the camera’s instant upload capability is only as good as the wireless network it’s riding on. When there are tons of people using their phones in a given space, that’s usually not good.
I actually wasn’t able to upload any pics from the show itself – Twitter and Facebook kept hanging – simply because of network overload. I got them up on the streetcar ride home, but still, the purpose was somewhat defeated. The Galaxy is better suited to situations where network congestion isn’t an issue, like instantly sharing vacation pics.
There’s also the inevitable issue of data charges. I can’t see too many people willing to pay for an extra SIM card for the camera just so they can upload photos, so its utility ultimately takes a backseat to pricing realities. The smarter way to go might actually be to tether the camera to a phone via its wi-fi capability, or to investigate the data sharing plans currently being rolled out by carriers. Either way, anyone who wants to use the Galaxy camera on a regular basis is probably going to want to beef up the size of their data plan, because it will chew into it.
The cellular capability actually seems tailor-made for vacation photos and traveling abroad. With just about every country having cheaper data than Canada, it almost makes more sense to pick up local SIM cards in the destination country and share photos that way. The same smartphone tethering logic also applies.
One last minor gripe I have about the camera is its vanilla Android interface. Before I turned it on for the first time, I was kind of hoping it would have its own vibe, so I was a little disappointed that it looked exactly like the average smartphone. Samsung is obviously intending to convey familiarity by going this route, but it would be nice to do something a little more customized with future iterations. Giving consumers an option might be ideal – they could either stick with the standard Android layout, or they could turn on the special custom interface.
Otherwise, the Galaxy camera is a cool step forward to a ubiquitously connected future. By eliminating the extra step of having to connect to a computer, it saves time and allows for the quicker sharing of those important moments. It’s not going to replace the SLR by any stretch, but there’s little doubt that all cameras are inevitably going to move toward this sort of ubiquitous connectivity.