Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 First Impressions Review

The smartest camera you can buy that's not actually a smartphone.

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Our First Take

It’s been nearly a year and a half since Samsung launched its Galaxy Camera—an Android-based 16-megapixel point-and-shoot with full WiFi, GPS, and app functionality. We liked the Galaxy Cam’s bounty of Android-friendly features, and acknowledged that the ability to share photos directly over WiFi or 4G is a great draw for picture-happy party people. We had some issues with functionality and usability, but on the whole it was a promising stab at bridging the worlds of photography and mobile computing.

At CES this week, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Camera 2 (price TBA, launching in Q1)—a revamp that's short on functional improvements and big on design. While some of the new features—including the pop-up Xenon flash, sleeker design, faster processor, and improved battery—are nice, it may not be the dramatic upgrade fans of the original are looking for.

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Design & Usability

Looks like a phone, shoots like a camera

The original Galaxy Camera was already pretty big, and the 2 is slightly bigger. That's an odd design choice, given the tendency for next-gen devices to scale down in size. That said, it's not obtrusively bulky—the 2 is even lighter than the original (by 17g). The 2’s HD Super Clear Touch LCD display also feels more responsive than its predecessor thanks to the upgraded 1.6GHz quad-core processor, and the Android (4.3 "Jelly Bean") UI will be instantly familiar to any fan of the Galaxy smartphone series—complete with Samsung's TouchWiz customizations.

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However, the touch-based operation of traditionally hardware functions—such as the mode dial and A/S settings—is something that will take getting used to, especially if you’re coming from a mirrorless or DSLR background. The shutter release and zoom function (21x, the same as the original) are mercifully hardware-based, but aside from the power button they're the only non-touch controls. We found the AF to be a bit sluggish, especially with the zoom fully extended on the slightly dim CES show floor; compared to the Olympus E-PM2 I was shooting with, it puttered along... but it wasn’t a deal-breaker.

Navigation is simple and, dare I say... fun? While hardware controls tend to feel more "correct" in cameras, the touch interaction is inviting and refreshingly easy for anyone to use. One can easily imagine getting lost in an endless YouTube spiral or bout of Angry Birds, only to awaken to the startling reminder that this device is actually a camera.

And that really gets to the nuts and bolts of the Galaxy Camera experience. If you want a communications device with GPS, apps, and improved camera functions—maybe you’re a journalist or PI—then you should probably check out the Nokia Lumia 1020 or Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. If you want a camera with instant sharing/uploading capabilities, with a few time-wasting perks thrown in, the Galaxy Cam 2 is a good bet.

Features

Upgrades to everything but the camera

The Galaxy Camera 2, like its predecessor, is targeted at a specific demographic: those who want to share or upload photos instantly. Manufacturers have been trying for years to shoehorn wireless connectivity into their cameras, with varying degrees of success. For Samsung, it was only natural to leverage its expertise in mobile to improve its photography experience.

We've been critical of this push for wireless connectivity in the past—largely because its implementation has ranged from poor to awful, and also because WiFi sharing usually offers only a marginal increase in speed over traditional memory card readers—but the Galaxy Camera is actually a tangible improvement over any previous effort.

And with 4G LTE connectivity in addition to WiFi, the target demo expands well beyond casual Instagrammers, appealing to photojournalists as well. The ability to sync your photos to a remote PC with Dropbox, for instance, is an incredible value for time-sensitive jobs.

For more close-quarters work, the addition of NFC (near-field communications) capabilities allows you to pair the Galaxy Cam 2 with a tablet or friend's smartphone. Owners will also be given a complimentary 50 GB (yes, 50!) of Dropbox storage for up to two years.

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Connectivity aside, the new Galaxy Camera offers a decent improvement in performance, with its upgraded processor and 8 GB of RAM. (The original featured a 1.4 Ghz processor with 4 GB of RAM.) A pop-up Xenon flash and a more powerful battery are other key additions. This last point is important, because the original Galaxy Camera was unacceptably weak on battery life compared to traditional cameras. Its 1600mAh lithium-ion battery lasted about one day, so, presumably, the new version’s 2000mAh unit will provide some added longevity.

Connectivity aside, the new Galaxy Cam offers a decent improvement in performance.

The full range of shooting modes includes Smart Mode Suggest, which recognizes lighting conditions, scenery, and objects, and provides recommended settings for the ideal shot—another feature that alludes to the Galaxy Cam’s beginner-friendly design.

Finally, there’s the camera's video capabilities, which include full-HD shooting and an interesting feature called Multi Motion Video, which allows users to control the speed of image capture to create sped-up or slowed down videos.

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Conclusion

The ideal camera for Instagrammers

The Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 and its predecessor are cameras for people who love to share their shots on the go. The WiFi and 4G LTE connectivity will appeal to any social media guru, and the easy integration with cloud storage apps like Dropbox, Box.net, and so on will be a big hit with deadline-strapped professionals.

It’s still a camera with an identity crisis.

However, it’s still a camera with an identity crisis, and the newest version doesn’t seem to resolve that conflict. Furthermore, the performance and design upgrades are pretty minimal. The entire imaging stack is essentially unchanged, with the exact same sensor and lens as the original. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing—the image quality on the Galaxy Cam is pretty solid, and certainly much better than anything found on the Galaxy S4 or iPhone. Then again, it’s not a smartphone—hence the identity crisis.

To be clear, the Galaxy Camera 2 looks cool, feels cool, and frankly is cool. But if it's anything like its predecessor, it's going to run you more than $500 for the camera, plus a data plan if you get the 4G-enabled version. Unless you have a legitimate need to instantly share photos, there are plenty of more cost-effective alternatives already on the market.

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Samsung Galaxy Camera 2

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