Samsung's superzoom compact has a fairly classic design, and although it feels quite bulky, it's still comparable to other compacts of the kind (TZ10, HX5V, SX210 etc.). It'll fit into a large pocket but it's a touch on the heavy side at 230 g. There's nothing really new in its design, and Samsung clearly isn't looking to stand out from the crowd with this model. It's pleasant to handle, but the slight bulge on one side of the camera is hardly big enough to grip the body with ease. A more textured casing would have helped here.
The controls are simple and easy to get the hang of. It's all classic stuff with a scroll wheel on the top of the camera for choosing the exposure mode, and a shutter-release button with an outer ring for operating the zoom. On the back, a four-way controller offers access to all the most frequently used settings (flash, macro, self-timer etc.), and there's a video-record button and Menu button for access to all the other settings. One interesting feature of the WB650 is the 'Fn' button for fast access to options such as image size, picture quality, autofocus mode, ISO sensitivity, exposure correction, white balance, stabilisation, picture styles and creative filters like miniature, vignette and fish-eye.
The WB650 is evidently a consumer camera that's aimed at non-expert use. It has a Smart Auto mode for automatic scene selection, and it works really quite well. However, Samsung hasn't overlooked users looking for a little more control, as the selection wheel features P (fixed) A,S and M modes and, for once, these aren't too watered down. In fact, the 12 different aperture settings are a real treat compared with the 2 measly settings in the Sony HX5V. It is, however, just a shame that Samsung didn't include a rocker switch or a scroll wheel for quicker and easier adjustment.
The AMOLED screen has wide viewing angles. It's nice and smooth, and even does a decent job in low light. Contrast levels are also good, and are particularly effective in bright sunlight. Plus, I actually found the screen's resolution of just 230,000 pixels to be sufficient in the WB650.
The WB650 has a proprietary USB connection for charging the camera and a mini-HDMI port which won't be of use to everyone (and as usual, the cable isn't included).
Samsung's superzoom is pretty snappy, taking just 2 seconds to start up. Plus, the autofocus is fast in wide angle and still does a decent job in telephoto. In low-light conditions, the autofocus does show its limits, but thankfully the WB650 has an effective autofocus assist lamp.
The WB650 may have a good range of controls and features, but we were interested to see whether Samsung could deliver picture quality to match, especially since noise management has been a real problem in the brand's previous models. Progress in this field is noticeable. At 80 ISO pictures are clear and certainly comparable to those taken by its three main competitors. At 400 ISO the Samsung's pictures aren't quite as smoothed as those of the TZ70 and are less grainy than those taken with the Canon SX210. This makes it a good compromise for perfectly usable pictures. In fact, only the Sony HX5V can do better. Moving up to 1600 ISO the differences are more noticeable, and the Sony HX5V clearly puts the others to shame. The Samsung's pictures are very smoothed, but unlike the Panasonic TZ10, the colours are accurately maintained. However, in the 20 x 30 prints we ordered from our partner, Photobox, the Samsung WB650 probably came back with the least convincing prints of all four cameras.
The 24-360 mm lens does the job fine, and is clear and sharp in wide-angle mode. Some distortion is visible, but isn't too much of a problem. The middle of the picture is clear and the edges are still pretty decent too. However, the pictures are lacking a touch of highlighting and accentuation which could really help bring them to life. In telephoto, pictures are still decent enough quality. Chromatic aberration is barely noticeable, almost certainly thanks to Samsung's image processing.
Colours are fairly accurate and well saturated. The automatic exposure system seems to work very well in most situations too.
The WB650 can film in a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels at 30 full frames per second. It's compressed to H.264 but the bitrate (in HQ mode) seems very limited. In our video test scene, the bitrate struggled to reach 1 Mbps, whereas competitors' models generally range from 10 to 17 Mbps. The result is immediately noticeable as the video quality is disappointing. However, you can use the zoom while filming and decent stereo sound is recorded.
- Versatile 15x stabilised wide-angle zoom
- High-quality, easy-to-read AMOLED screen
- Fast and reactive, in general and in P, S, A and M modes
- Good overall picture quality
- Inteagrated GPS (if that's your thing)
- Noise management could be better
- Disappointing 720p HD video mode
- Camera interface is a little limited for use in manual modes
- Installing GPS maps is too complicated for novice users
With the WB650, Samsung will certainly be able to give the competition a run for its money. It's fast, responsive, has a 15x zoom and a good AMOLED screen. The camera is pleasant to use and it isn't short of attractive features. It's just a shame the video mode isn't quite up to scratch and that some issues with digital noise remain.