Is Nikon's Android-powered compact snapper the shape of things to come?
Android isn't just an operating system for phones and tablets. It can form the basis of all sorts of gadgets, such as music players, smart TV boxes and in the case of the Nikon Coolpix S800c, a camera.
The main benefit of having Android behind the scenes is Wi-Fi picture sharing and social networking. Non-Android cameras, such as the Samsung WB850F have tried this before but come unstuck with fiddly interfaces that aren't designed for entering usernames, messages and the like. Could Android be the catalyst for a new wave of social networking cameras, starting with the Nikon S800c, Samsung Galaxy Camera and even the mythical Polaroid SC1630?
Nikon Coolpix S800c review – why Android?
From the front, the S800c looks like a regular compact camera, but round the back it's all screen, aside from three Android buttons. It's running v2.3 of Android, which is looking a bit old fashioned now, and the sparse, unskinned homescreen that greets you isn't the most encouraging start. To start taking pictures you need to touch a tiny onscreen icon.
Once you're in camera mode things proceed as you'd expect, with mode and scene settings selected from the touchscreen. Despite the fairly high price, we're in point-and-shoot territory here so in use it's pretty simple as there aren't a whole lot of options.
Nikon Coolpix S800c review – touchscreen
The 10x optical zoom is impressive for a snapper this size, and is backed up by image stabilisation that does a good job at the lower end but gets twitchy at full stretch. While you might be impressed by the long shots you've taken, once you get them back to your laptop you might be disappointed by the amount of fringing around the edges of objects and the rather fuzzy focus.
The S800c performs better at its widest setting, capable of sharp macro shots, portraits and general snaps with reasonable detail and rich colour reproduction. Overall, picture quality is below the level we'd expect from a camera at this price. Movies are recorded at 1080p/30fps, and while the footage is OK it's bettered by other, similarly priced compacts from Sony and Samsung.
Nikon Coolpix S800c review – picture quality
Uploading to Facebook and elsewhere is just as easy as it is on an Android phone. Out of the box the S800c can share photos via Picasa, Google+ and Gmail, and it's just a matter of installing your preferred social networking app to add that as a direct share option from the Gallery app.
Nikon Coolpix S800c review – Wi-Fi sharing
Aside from the sharing it's hard to see any major wins on the decision to go with Android. It puts too many steps between you and the camera and certainly doesn't do anything for battery life. Just an hour of use is enough to bring the camera to its knees. Combined with a non-standard USB connection, that could get quite annoying.
Nikon Coolpix S800c review – battery life
You do get access to the Google Play Store, and that allows you to download and run camera apps. However, none of those we tried supported the use of the zoom or the hardware shutter button. Most other apps work fine, and that does broaden the S800c's uses out to gaming, email and web browsing. But with such a lean battery it's unlikely you'll want to run it down any more than necessary when you're out and about.
Nikon Coolpix S800c review – apps
We like the idea of an Android-based camera, and if there was the backing of some creative photography apps to take advantage of the theoretically superior optics, there could be a future in the concept. Interesting as the S800c is, ultimately its performance and usability don't stack up to its price.