Nikon CoolPix S800c: Does Android Belong in a Camera? [REVIEW]
Nikon CoolPix S800c Android-Powered Camera
The Nikon S800c is the world's first camera to run Android the same way it works on a smartphone. The $349.95 point-and-shoot can download and run apps such as Instagram and Google+, using the 10x optical zoom lens to capture photos smartphones can't.
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The Nikon CoolPix S800c sounds like a great idea: As the world's first Android-powered point-and-shoot camera, it's meant to bridge the worlds of mobile technology and cameras like nothing before it. Finally, you have access to all the apps for photo shooting, editing and sharing from a dedicated camera. Instagram just got steroids.
At least that's the theory. In practice, the Nikon CoolPix S800c feels less like a new species of photography and more like a camera with some extras, which just happen to be Android apps. Aside from the camera lens itself, the apps don't do much to take advantage of -- or adapt to -- the device.
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That's not to say they're not welcome. There's a lot to be said for being able to snap some Instagrams with a 10x optical zoom. You can even dash off emails and Facebook updates straight from the camera, attaching all the pics and snapshots you want (assuming your Wi-Fi connection can handle them).
However, there's nothing outstanding about the execution -- using Android on the S800c works almost exactly the same way as if you had offloaded the pics and then copied them to a smartphone. It's like adding a sidecar to a motorcycle: You can take more stuff with you, but at the price of making the experience inelegant.
To be clear, I'm talking about the experience of using Android apps to modify your photos. As a simple point-and-shoot, the S800c is a more than capable (if simple) camera. But Android makes it an outlier, and that's primarily what I focused on.
Picturing Android on the Nikon CoolPix S800c
Powering up the Nikon S800c for the first time, you may get a little frustrated that you can't jump right into the Android menu. That's because Android takes a bit longer to boot up than the actual camera. However, you can start taking pictures almost instantly. Having a camera OS separate from Android was a wise choice by Nikon -- if the camera didn't start up as quickly as other point-and-shoots, they may as well not have bothered.
The Android experience on the S800c lives and breathes over Wi-Fi. This is actually a big limitation: Many Android photo apps (such as Instagram) have a social component. Taking pics is something often done in the moment, and if there's no way to share immediately, you'll need to remember to do so the next time you connect.
This is probably why the "other" Android camera that's been announced, the Samsung Galaxy Camera, will support a data plan from AT&T (it probably helps that Samsung has solid relationships with wireless carriers; Nikon does not). Without a data plan, the photo-sharing experience on the S800c ends up similar to what you'd get with an Eye-Fi card, which also connects via Wi-Fi only.
But it does eliminate multiple steps in the sharing process once you do get back on Wi-Fi. And before you do, you can edit your pics right in the camera. Android is fortunate to have a robust catalog of photo-editing apps, and they're all available to you on this camera.
Well, all the apps that are compatible with Android 2.3 "Gingerbread," anyway. While Nikon gets props for even daring to combine Android with a point-and-shoot, it's Android from a couple of years ago, which is probably why the experience feels a little clumsy at times. Instagram, for instance, failed to download properly from Google Play and I had to manually "send" it to the camera from a browser.
As a point-and-shoot, the S800c is no slouch. It can capture images up to 16 megapixels, and the 10x zoom is pretty good (though today's superzooms can do much better). It also feels good in the hand, with the number of buttons (apart from the standard shutter and zoom controls) kept to a merciful three.
That doesn't include the touchscreen, however, which I found a bit awkward to use. I often ended up accidentally changing a setting or launching an app with an errant thumb when I was just trying to pick up the camera. While you need a touchscreen to take full advantage of Android, you inherently hold a camera differently from a phone.
The S800c has a few features to help capture better photos, including an excellent Smart Auto mode that really seemed to know what it was doing. You can also adjust things like white balance and ISO manually.
There are also two handy continuous shooting modes, one that takes several pics in rapid succession, and another that snaps just three, but reduces the time interval between shots. I could see these being helpful for sports photography or group pics where someone always blinks.
Android, Cameras and the Future
Cameras take great photos. Smartphones are terrific at sharing them. For years the bulk of the effort around merging those two worlds has come from phones, but the Nikon represents the first real hand extended from the other side.
While there's no question the execution in the Nikon CoolPix S800c feels somewhat shoehorned, this is really a 1.0 device. The benefits of Android on this camera to the end user are few, though if you do use a point-and-shoot, it will eliminate a few steps when you want to share individual photos. But for most users, that convenience probably won't justify the $349.95 suggested retail price.
However, the idea has promise. If Nikon continues down this path -- and I hope it does -- more advanced versions of Android will merge with more sophisticated cameras. That could lead to better digital controls for things like shutter speed and white balance, as well as not-yet-imagined ideas, such as augmented-reality games that take advantage of the optical zoom.
Those are exciting possibilities, and we may even be at the dawn of a new era of smart cameras. But first people have to respond to the Nikon Coolpix S800c, and I don't think there's enough here to convince them that the idea of a camera behaving like a cellphone really is more than the sum of its parts.
This story originally published on Mashable here.