Nikon Coolpix S800c : The world's smartest camera?

Consumer Reports

Nikon Coolpix S800c
Nikon recently announced the Wi-Fi-enabled 16-megapixel Coolpix S800c basic camera—the first camera on the market that runs Google's Android operating system (version 2.3). Among other things, this means you can customize and expand the set of features on your camera. I've used the camera for a couple of days, and here's what I've found.

Wi-Fi, Android OS, and apps.

The heart of what makes the Nikon Coolpix S800c unique is that it can download any app from Google Play, the Android app store. When I tried this, I first had to jump around in the menus to make sure the camera was connected to Wi-Fi (there's no 3G or 4G connectivity). But once connected, downloading apps and setting them up was a breeze. I added Facebook and Instagram, and I was able to post photos to both directly from the camera.

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I also downloaded some free photography and multimedia apps, including Photoshop Express (for editing photos), Make it 3D Free (for creating 3D images), and Lapse It (for creating time-lapse videos). My favorite app, though, was AndroMedia, which let me create a slideshow with photos, video, and my own music. In many ways, this app more fully realizes the promise of editing photos, audio, and videos on a mobile device that I first saw on my iPhone 3GS a couple of years ago.

Camera features, photos, and video.

Although the S800c has a touch screen for accessing menus and controls, it still has some physical controls, including a shutter button and a small zoom toggle around the shutter button. It also features a 25mm wide-angle-capable lens, which lets you capture a broader vista in group photos and landscapes, as well as a 10x optical zoom, which is long for a camera of this size. (It's a little thicker than most subcompact cameras, but it's just 1.1 inches thick.) Unlike most cameras, this model has a generous amount of onboard storage: 2GB, some for apps but mostly for storing photos and video.

(See also: iPhone 5: What to expect)

The S800c produced still shots that appeared crisp and vibrant. Videos looked decent, with good color fidelity and saturation, but I found that although I could zoom while capturing video clips, the camera didn't refocus on the fly. It also didn't adjust to changes in lighting. That means the focus and exposure is locked, so if say, you move from bright light to dark, or your subject moves toward you, the video doesn't adjust.

Coolpix S800c

Interface, ergonomics, and help.

The large 3.5-inch OLED touch screen looks very clear and sharp while you're shooting or playing back images or videos. Although menus and the layout of the apps and settings look similar to what you see on most Android smart phones, the structure seems less linear. But those who are used to smart-phone interfaces will get up to speed quickly.

Bottom line.

So just how smart is the Coolpix S800c? It's a groundbreaking camera. It gives third-party companies the opportunity to create apps that could take the camera in directions Nikon itself hasn't imagined.

This does not make it a flawless product. For example, when I put the camera through its paces, the battery ran out quickly. And according to the manual, this Coolpix can shoot just a paltry 140 shots or capture just 40 minutes of video, before it has to be recharged. So if buy this camera, you'll want to get an extra battery or two.

We'll have more on the Nikon Coolpix S800c's image quality and other performance tests shortly, when our lab tests are completed.

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.
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