Design & Usability
The W710's physical design is plain as plain can be, except for a chrome bezel surrounding all the edges.
The camera's surfaces are smooth but a bit slippery. This makes the camera really easy to get in and out of pockets, but more difficult to handle confidently once it's out. The rear control scheme is simple enough to serve as a Fisher-Price My First Digital Camera learning tool, and all the buttons are legible and clear. The directional pad has solid tactile feedback; in fact, it's easy to navigate the entire menu with just one hand.
Unfortunately, the menu itself is very sluggish and suffers from poor design. We like the way Sony's quick menus work, but the W710 lacks the processing power to render the menu as quickly as we want to use it. The main menu is also adequate, but it's only accessible from the bottom of the quick menu overlay, so you have to page through (slowly) to get to it.
Images are reviewed on an ugly, low resolution rear monitor. But unlike the Sony TF1, which we recently checked out, the menu does not contain an option to increase the quality of the on-screen image at the expense of battery life.
Image quality is clearly entry-level.
We had a chance to examine sample photos straight out of the W710. Sharpness is bad (especially in the corners of the image) and chromatic aberration is abundant all over, but noise performance isn't nearly as bad as we expected—even at moderately high sensitivities.
Adding to the W710's overall lack of speed is very noticeable shutter lag; more often than not, the camera waits juuuuust until you're sure it's taken then shot, then fires the shutter. Unbelievably, the shutter lag actually isn't as bad as the Cyber-shot TF1's, but it's still unacceptable.
It's pretty ridiculous to nitpick a 100-dollar point-and-shoot...
Sure, the sensor is a bargain bin CCD, but based on the spec sheet, this camera ought to have more than enough performance and a simple enough design for its segment of the market. But leave it to us to find a deal-breaking complaint. Although this is a cheap camera, shutter lag of this severity is never okay. If Sony doesn't fix this issue before release, we won't be able to recommend the Cyber-shot W710, even at $99.
Even as recently as a few years ago, it would've been hard to predict a single Benjamin could buy a 16-megapixel sensor with HD video recording capabilities. Offering just that sort of package, the Cyber-shot W710 is a simple camera for a specific kind of consumer. There's nothing wrong with a no-frills camera, and in fact that's precisely the point here. But this time, Sony's cost-cutting efforts might have gone too far.
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