Announced at the end of August 2012, the Nikon Coolpix S800c was the first consumer compact to adopt Google's Android OS, more frequently seen in smartphones and tablets. A week later, Samsung arrived on the scene with the Galaxy Camera, which we've already had the pleasure of testing in our labs. The two firms have inevitably taken different approaches to building their Android cameras. So how does this classic camera-maker's venture into the world of Google's OS compare with that of smartphone-making electronics all-rounder Samsung? Time to find out!
As the name suggests, the Nikon S800c is part of Nikon's S-range of superzoom compacts. It inherits its design from the S6300, with the same soft, clean lines. Some users will no doubt like its "bar-of-soap" design, which sits easily in the palm of your hand when using this camera in "smartphone" mode. Others may find the lack of any grip strips or handles quite annoying, as some kind of grip would make the camera easier to keep hold of when taking pictures. In any case, we can safely say that the S800c isn't pushing back the boundaries of camera design. But what it doesn't offer in originality, it makes up for with its decent enough build quality.
The camera's dimensions obviously have to make room for the 3.5" capacitive touchscreen on the back, but the body doesn't feel too outsized. In any case, the S800c will still fit into a coat pocket. The huge screen on the back definitely gives this camera a "smartphone" kind of look that's light years away from Nikon's usual control layouts. Seeing as there are only three physical buttons here ("Menu", "Home" and "Back"), the S800c handles more like an Android mobile phone, as you have to use the multitouch display to do pretty much anything. And the good news is that the screen is nice to use. Navigation is smooth and the touch-controls are precise enough to write out e-mails or surf the web with no real hassle.
The touchscreen and limited number of physical controls have forced Nikon to re-think everything about how this device handles as a camera. And Nikon has risen to the challenge successfully, using big icons, including information in the right places, using easy-to-understand names, and using effective multitouch technology for flicking between shots and modes. All in all, it's very user-friendly. In fact, we hope that Nikon will start including some of these features in its other consumer cameras.
Android brings new possibilities to the S800c thanks to the Google Play Store. You therefore have access to all the latest apps, so you can play games, listen to music or use picture editing apps directly in the camera. However, the S800c and its Cortex A9 processor soon show their limits. Plus, battery life is ridiculously short (max. 140 photos with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off), so you may need to think twice about going heavy on gaming if you're planning on taking a load of photos too. In our tests, the battery held out for about a hundred photos and a few videos.
In practice, the Nikon S800c is a device that's not so easy to define. It's hard to decide whether this is a compact camera designed for taking photos or a kind of giant smartphone-type device. It does a good job of both of those things independently, but the S800c doesn't seem to be able to bring the two together in any kind of convincing way. Worse still—photo apps tend to take precedence over more "classic" shooting options and these in turn slow the camera down (each time you take a photo the camera asks you to decide whether you want to use the standard shooting mode or one of the onboard Android apps). After using the Nikon S800c for several days you may therefore tire of it. Anyone who wants to play around with Android will soon head back to their smartphone.
As with the Samsung Galaxy Camera, the nature of the device means that the "OFF -> ON" time we measured here is the time it takes to bring the S800c off standby rather than the time it takes to switch on fully. With the camera switched off completely, you can easily multiply our on-to-off time by four, as Android takes ages to boot and the camera then takes ages to switch to shooting mode. If you're planning on snapping away at an action-packed event (birthday party, spots match, etc.), switch the camera on before you get there then leave it on standby, otherwise you might end up missing those must-capture moments.
Once the S800c is up and running it works pretty well ... in daylight. The autofocus is nice and fast both at wide-angle and when you zoom. But if the light starts to fade or if your subject is moving too much, performances drop considerably. For day-to-day shooting, this slowness is noticeable and frustrating—after taking ten or so photos that end up being shot that bit too late, you may be tempted to give up.
The Nikon S800c uses the same 16-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor that's also used in the S6300, as well as the 10x zoom lens (which is, incidentally, quite slow at getting from the minimum to the maximum focal length).
A hint of smoothing is noticeable from the lowest ISO setting (125 ISO) but picture quality stays stable and perfectly acceptable up to 400 ISO, where fine detail is still present. From 800 ISO quality drops markedly. We can see why Nikon has set the ISO-Auto mode to stop at 400 ISO! Compared with its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Camera, Nikon's S800c holds its own reasonably well. But for a compact camera outed in mid-2012, it's actually quite disappointing.
This camera does a bad job in low light. First of all, the night scene modes are terribly slow to use but, most importantly, the white balance is all over the place. In "Night Landscape" mode (chosen automatically by the camera), the test scene in our lab ended up looking a washed-out magenta colour. To be honest, even a smartphone could do a better job than that.
The lens isn't amazing. The 10x zoom does its job without proving exceptionally good or exceptionally bad for this kind of camera (restricted by the electronics and image processing system).
All in all, picture quality is barely more than bog-standard for a compact camera, but it's particularly disappointing for a product at this price point. In terms of its credentials as a camera, only the 10x optical zoom sets the S800c apart from the average smartphone. For the rest, given its intended uses and potential customers, quality clearly isn't revolutionary.
Out of the box, the Nikon S800c films 1080p Full HD at 30 frames per second. The framerate can be upped to 240 fps in QVGA resolution (320 x 240 pixels) or 120 fps in VGA (640 x 480 pixels), which could prove handy for anyone filming slow-motion video and looking to post it online straight away.
Like in photo mode, smoothing gets pretty heavy here. Plus, the dynamic range is much more limited, with dark parts of the picture that block together in black masses and light zones that are totally overexposed. You get a posterisation effect in some scenes too. Note that you can zoom and change the focus while filming but you can't snap a still shot while shooting video.