Lauren Goode

The Galaxy Camera: A Better Android-Based Camera, but a Big Commitment

Would you pay $500 dollars for a high-quality digital camera that’s always connected to the Internet? What if it meant paying another wireless bill or monthly fee?

With its new Android-based Galaxy Camera, Samsung is gambling that Web-crazed consumers will want to take on these commitments for the chance to share photos whenever they want.

The idea of marrying a Google Android mobile operating system with a digital camera is not entirely new. Nikon has done it, Polaroid plans to do it, and now Samsung has introduced this camera.

The Samsung Galaxy Camera has some distinct advantages over its main competitor, the $300 Nikon Coolpix S800c. It has better hardware and is running the newest Android OS, Jelly Bean. And the Nikon is Wi-Fi-only. While testing it (here’s my review of that camera), I wasn’t able to share many photos on the spot. Most times, I’d wait until I was back home or at a hotel before I would share the photos via Gmail, or to Instagram or Facebook.

While testing the Galaxy, I’ve been able to share my photos at any time — even when I didn’t have access to Wi-Fi. And the camera shares photos quickly when it connects to AT&T’s 4G network (which is HSPA+, not LTE).   

But there are three key things to consider with this camera. For one, it’s relatively big. Another detractor is price: It sells for $499.99, although AT&T is currently offering the camera for $399.99 if you also buy any Samsung Galaxy smartphone — yes, a second device — with a two-year contract.

If you want the constant connectivity, you’ll have to sign up for an AT&T data plan, or add another line to your existing AT&T plan. You can pay an additional $10 a month on top of your AT&T mobile plan to share between one gigabyte and 20GB of data, or you can opt in to a separate “data connect” plan that can range from $15 to $50 to share between 250 megabytes and 5GB of data.

And in case you’re wondering: The camera does not act as a phone.

There’s also a plan activation fee of $35.

 So, unless you’re already an AT&T customer on a mobile share plan, you can expect to pay at least a $15 monthly fee to use this camera, plus a fee just to get it connected. While consumers are pretty accustomed to these costs when it comes to smartphones, they’re new to cameras. 

Some consumers might even wonder why they’d need such a high-priced Android camera when some newer smartphones, like the iPhone 5, the HTC Evo 4G, the Samsung Galaxy S III and the Galaxy Note II, have pretty good eight-megapixel cameras.

With all that said, if you’re still interested in buying the Galaxy Camera — it’s an impressive camera, one that does take better photos than a lot of smartphone cameras.

It measures 5.07 x 2.79 x .75 of an inch, and weighs 11 ounces. Its all-white body has a curve on the right side that’s covered with etched plastic for a better grip, and it feels solid.

It’s also chunky, due in part to the large lens pocket on the front of the camera. It felt heavy in my purse and in my coat pocket. It didn’t fit in some smaller clutch purses, and it definitely wasn’t fitting in the pocket of my jeans. Samsung explains it size by saying that the camera basically crams two high-end gadgets into one. 

The Galaxy Camera has a powerful, quad-core processor, a large 16-megapixel image sensor and a 23-millimeter wide-angle lens. It has an attractive, 4.8-inch HD touchscreen display. On the top, there’s a dial for controlling the 21x zoom — which also doubles as a volume control button. Otherwise, there are no dials on the camera, keeping it refreshingly simple. 

Its home screen looks just like the home screen of an Android smartphone — including icons for apps like email, Google Maps, a Web browser and the Google Play store. I was able to easily download apps for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

When you tap the camera icon, you can opt to shoot pictures in Auto mode, Smart mode or Expert mode, the latter of which offers some manual settings (like ISO, shutter speed or aperture priority). Auto mode includes a variety of fun photo filters. There’s also a one-tap video-recording button for capturing HD video.

In most situations, excluding some low-light settings or scenes with a lot of movement, the camera took amazingly crisp and vibrant photos. 

And the option to share those photos right away was admittedly pretty convenient.

When I was out in Boston one night, I was able to take a good picture in the dark of the exterior of Fenway Park, and quickly post it online for my boss (who happens to be a rabid Red Sox fan). Over Thanksgiving dinner, I took pictures of a couple and their dog for a potential Christmas-card cover, and sent them the ones they liked on the spot. I shared photos via Instagram.

A photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy Camera

I also used the camera to check email, browse Twitter and navigate an unfamiliar area using Google Maps. 

It was almost enough to make me ditch my smartphone some nights — except, of course, I couldn’t receive or send text messages or make phone calls with the camera. So I still carried around both devices, and mainly pulled the camera out when I wanted to capture a really good-quality photo. 

In my experience, battery life on the Galaxy Camera wasn’t great. I had to charge it once every couple days, and I was using it intermittently. Samsung doesn’t have an official claim for battery life. The battery life of standard point-and-shoots is usually measured by how many shots you can take per charge. When you add a full mobile OS to the camera and allow for apps and Web browsing, it gets a bit tricky.

Fortunately, as with Android smartphones, you can see which apps are running in the background, or put the camera into either “Airplane” or “smart network” mode to conserve power. 

The Samsung Galaxy Camera is the best Android-based camera that’s currently available, but consumers should weigh the cost commitment that comes with being always connected.

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