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Samsung Galaxy NX Review - First Impressions

by Mike Tomkins and
Preview posted:

It's long been rumored, and it's finally happened: the interchangeable-lens camera has just stepped into the modern, connected world and become a smart device! With the Samsung Galaxy NX, Korean consumer electronics powerhouse Samsung has taken the smarts of a smartphone and the expandability of a mirrorless camera to create a single, coherent product.

Building on experience. The Samsung Galaxy NX, not surprisingly, draws much from the company's experience not only with smartphones -- a section of the market in which it has a dominant presence -- but also from 2012's fixed-lens Galaxy Camera. Like that model, the Galaxy NX runs Google's Linux-based Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system, which offers not only a powerful, connected feature set of its own, but can also be extended to do almost anything courtesy of a vast array of third-party apps.

It's that extendability, along with the Samsung Galaxy NX's built-in 3G / 4G LTE and Wi-Fi wireless connectivity that make it exciting. Sure, you could probably slap an Eye-Fi card in your current SLR or mirrorless camera, and pair it to your existing smartphone, and many of us do -- but the experience is clumsy, and that makes it far too easy to leave a photo on your camera that might otherwise have been tweaked and shared with friends and family on social networks.

An all-in-one imaging powerhouse. The Galaxy NX is an all-in-one device that takes away the hurdle of working with multiple devices. Whatever your Android smartphone can do -- at least, with the exception of standard voice calling -- the Galaxy NX should be able to do as well. A bundled Photo Suggest app lets the Galaxy NX recommend popular photo spots and guide you to them. When you're there, you can grab your photo using Samsung's camera interface, or if you prefer you can opt for a third-party app that provides the features and layout you need. (And unlike Nikon's Coolpix S800c, which didn't provide access even to basics like the full camera resolution or optical zoom, the Galaxy NX should let third part apps get at its full camera feature set, via an interface called Camera Studio.)

And then, once you've shot your photo, you can view it, tweak it, and share it to the likes of Facebook or Instagram. Ditto videos, which can be uploaded to YouTube straight from the camera, so long as you're in range of a mobile data connection or Wi-Fi network. There's also a Story Album tool which creates digital photo books from your shots, which can be shared with and viewed on other devices. And when you're done, you can use the Galaxy NX check your email or browse the web.

Extendability. And that's just a snippet of what you can do with the bundled apps. Hop onto the Google Play store or Samsung's AllShare Play, and an endless selection of apps extend that functionality still further. Want to navigate your way to the location of a past photo? You can. Perhaps you'd like to translate some text in one of your images? Not a problem. That's the delight of working with a smart device: new uses crop up almost on a daily basis -- you're not limited to the feature-set your camera had the day you bought it.

Think back to the likely reasons why you chose an interchangeable-lens camera in the first place -- the ability to build a system of lenses and accessories which would extend the capabilities of your camera beyond that of a mere fixed-lens model -- and you realize that a similar degree of expandability on the inside could prove to be a very exciting thing. And if past experience is anything to go by, you may even be able to look forward to third-party ROMs that could restyle or even radically alter the entire user interface of your camera. It happens on Android smartphones, and Samsung has proven uncommonly supportive of such efforts by releasing the necessary source code to make life easier for the hacker types amongst us.

Pricing and availability. When it ships in October, you'll be able to pick up the Samsung Galaxy NX direct from Samsung and its authorized retailers for around US$1600 body-only. If you prefer the kit lens option, you'll pay an extra US$100, for an all-in list price of US$1700. It isn't yet clear whether the company's wireless carrier partners will be offering the Galaxy NX with a subsidy, as they would with a smartphone or the existing, fixed-lens Galaxy Camera.

That makes the Galaxy NX the most expensive NX-series camera by quite some margin, but it was only to be expected: You're essentially purchasing a complex camera and smart device in one, and although Google doesn't charge for its Android operating system, the hardware needed to run it is not inexpensive. Take a look at the pricetag of even a fairly basic smartphone without carrier subsidy, and it was clear that just the smarts of the Galaxy NX were going to come at a cost.

In terms of its imaging hardware, the Samsung Galaxy NX is pretty similar to the Samsung NX300. Let's take a closer look.

Hands-On with a Pre-Production Samsung Galaxy NX

by Dan Havlik

Look at the 20.3-megapixel Samsung Galaxy NX from the front and you may think it's a DSLR, but once you turn it around and see its impressive, 4.8-inch high-definition screen, you'll know it's something different all together. Of course, the Galaxy NX is not a DSLR at all. It's a mirrorless, compact system camera with cellular connectivity -- both 3G and 4G LTE -- and that massive touchscreen on back has its roots in smartphones. It's also the first interchangeable lens camera to run Google's Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) operating system, making the Galaxy NX a truly unique device. And working with the camera, too, is a unique experience.

I got some hands-on time with a prototype Samsung Galaxy NX yesterday and I found it to be both wonderful, and at the same time a bit confounding. But first off, it's important to emphasize that the camera I shot with was not a finished model, and all early impressions should be taken with a grain of salt. It's also worth noting that I'm an iPhone user, although I have used and reviewed Android smartphones in the past. I'm also quite well versed in Samsung's "traditional" NX-series compact system cameras, which the Galaxy NX is partially based on, having reviewed several of them for Imaging Resource.

Either way, the Galaxy NX and its operating systems -- which not only includes Android but a dedicated, touch-based, camera interface as well -- takes a little getting used to. There are only a few external controls on the Galaxy NX and several layers of menus to choose from to make basic changes. If you're new to the set up, it's fairly easily to get lost in the various screens and dual operating systems. For instance, the Android apps and modes are entirely separate from the dedicated touch-based camera controls, although there is a camera app when you're in Android-land and the built-in Camera Studio feature makes it easy to customize Android photography apps to automatically use the Galaxy NX for their camera, with various user-created configurations of the NX's settings

There's a physical control wheel on top of the camera that helps you scroll through some of the Galaxy NX's functions but it was only later that I was informed that if you press the wheel it also functions as a button for confirming commands on the screen. At one point while playing with the camera I ended up in some kind of "factory mode" and the entire 4.8-inch screen turned into a giant calculator. Like I said, it takes some getting used to.

After a few minutes of touching and swiping (and poking and prodding) the Galaxy NX, I was able to get the hang of it, however. Early adopters, who are likely to be the initial buyers of this camera, will probably enjoy figuring it all out. Also, since Android is an "open" system, there will, no doubt, be many users out there creating and sharing their own custom user interface "skins" for the Galaxy NX. In the case of the Galaxy NX, this openness has been taken a good bit further than usual, in that Samsung has taken the unusual step of open-sourcing all of their mirrorless camera firmware, giving developers deep access to the camera's functionality. Either way, an Android-loaded, interchangeable lens camera with cellular connectivity is an exciting step forward and Samsung deserves kudos for bringing easy sharing features to a high-end shooter.

We've already reviewed the point-and-shoot style, cellular Samsung Galaxy Camera on Imaging Resource. That model also runs Android, and the new Galaxy NX seems like its natural extension; anyone who's used a Galaxy Camera will find the Galaxy NX's user interface immediately familiar. Holding the Galaxy NX in your hand, its large, comfortable grip makes it feel like a solid but modern, mirrorless compact system camera, much like the Samsung NX20. (Along with some design cues, both models share the same 20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor.) I shot with the Galaxy NX using the 18-55mm OIS kit lens, which gives the camera a serious but still portable presence.

While the Galaxy NX shares the general body and system design of the NX20 (all NX20-compatible accessories should also work with the Galaxy NX), the sensor and processor have been updated to those found in the NX300. The sensor's resolution is still the same 20.3 megapixels as that in the NX20, but now also incorporates on-chip phase-detect elements for faster and more sure-footed focusing. Given the excellent test results we've seen from the Samsung NX300, we hold high hopes for the Galaxy NX's image quality and performance.

The lack of external controls on the Galaxy NX does seem a bit strange, but there's a hot shoe on top if you want to add an external flash, along with well-placed shutter and movie record buttons. The idea being that once you configure the camera the way you want it, you just shoot and share you images or video via the camera's cellular connectivity. The large screen on its back reinforces the idea of this connectivity, making you think it actually contains an Android phone which you can pull out from the camera and make a call with. You can't do that, but using Skype or a similar app, you will be able to make a video or voice call easily with the Galaxy NX. One other thing that struck me about the Samsung Galaxy NX while playing with it yesterday: you shut it down as you would an Android phone, not as you would a camera. There's a small power button on top which you hold for a few seconds, triggering a prompt on the touchscreen that asks you if you would like to shut it down. But as we do with our phones, it's best to just leave the Galaxy NX on, so it's always ready to shoot and share.

Bottom line, the Samsung Galaxy NX is a true quantum leap in photographic capability on the Android platform, finally bringing serious camera functionality to a segment previously limited to small-sensor image quality and very restricted options for optics or other accessories. I liked what I saw of the camera integration with Android-based apps, and think the ability to automatically upload high-quality images directly to Dropbox will be a boon to many event photographers and certainly family memory-keepers as well. As noted, the user interface takes a little getting used to for someone coming from the more conventional camera world, but one of the most exciting aspects of the Galaxy NX is the extent to which programmers will be able to play with and tweak the interface on their own. Huge kudos to Samsung for being so open with their source code, especially for exposing elements of the image-processing chain, an area of camera operation manufacturers normally treat as highly proprietary. The Galaxy NX looks like a photo-hackers dream product, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a rich ecosystem develop around it, as the most programmable, open camera system to date. I don't think it will be very long at all before we see the first third-party user interfaces appear for it. Regardless of all that, though, it's already a powerful tool for truly connected imaging, just as it stands.

There's no question that Samsung is cutting a wide swath in the interchangeable-lens system camera market; the new Galaxy NX will only further expand their reach.

Video tour of Android-based Samsung Galaxy NX mirrorless camera.

Samsung Galaxy NX Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

Sensor. The Samsung Galaxy NX uses the exact same image sensor as in the NX300. It's an APS-C sized CMOS chip with an effective resolution of 20.3 megapixels, but what's more important is that it provides the necessary on-chip phase detection elements to allow for a hybrid autofocus system.

Maximum resolution of the Samsung NX's image sensor is 5,472 x 3,648 pixels.

Processor. Also like the NX300, the Samsung NX is based around a DRIMe IV-branded image signal processor. That is, we believe, distinct from the 1.6 GHz quad-core processor used to power the camera's smart functionality.

Performance. The pairing of sensor and processor combine to allow a manufacturer-rated burst shooting performance of 8.6 frames per second. Obviously, we'll need to put the Samsung NX through our lab before we pass judgement, but if it can match the manufacturer spec at full resolution, that will make for one very swift camera.

Sensitivity. The Samsung Galaxy NX has a base sensitivity of ISO 100 equivalent, and tops out at a maximum of ISO 25,600 equivalent. There's also an Auto ISO function, but we don't yet know what portion of the sensitivity range is available under automatic control.

Optics. Like its NX-series siblings, the Samsung Galaxy NX accepts all NX-mount lenses. As of this writing, the company currently offers 13 different lenses, including its unusual 45mm 2D/3D lens, which works using two LCD shutters that swing into the optical path when the lens is switched to 3D mode.

There's no in-body stabilization system, so optical stabilization is available only if the lens supports it. You can also mount various third-party lens types using adapters, but this will typically mean relying on manual controls.

Autofocus. As we mentioned previously, the Samsung NX includes on-sensor phase detection pixels, allowing for hybrid autofocus that combines both phase and contrast detection. It's the same system -- and indeed, the same sensor -- seen previously in the NX300. Our review of that camera is still in progress, but early signs for that AF system seem pretty promising in terms of performance. That bodes well for the Samsung NX.

Body. There are no two ways around it: the Samsung Galaxy NX is large, by mirrorless camera standards. It's only an inch thick, but a full 5.4 inches wide and 4 inches tall. Compared to the Samsung NX20, that's half an inch taller and 0.6 inches wider, but the body is about a third slimmer. That's only if you ignore the popup flash housing and handgrip, however. Measure at the handgrip, and the Galaxy NX is around a third thicker than the NX20.

Display. That size comes in no small part thanks to the NX's truly vast touchscreen LCD panel, without which its Android operating system wouldn't be usable. It's a 4.8-inch panel with a high-definition resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels. By way of comparison, the NX20 has a 3.5-inch panel, and the NX300 has a 3.3-inch panel. That puts the Galaxy NX's screen at close to double the area of that on the NX20, and more than double that of the NX300.

Viewfinder. For those who prefer SLR-style framing, the Galaxy NX also includes a built-in electronic viewfinder, another significant contributor to its size. It's said to have SVGA resolution.

Exposure. As you'd expect on an interchangeable-lens camera, the Samsung Galaxy NX offers a full complement of Program, Aperture- and Shutter-priority, and Manual exposure modes. There's also an Auto mode, 30 Smart modes that take into account the scene you're framing before deciding on appropriate camera setup automatically, and a User mode where you can store your own settings.

There's also a My mode which lets you access not just favorite camera modes, but also specific third-party apps for instant access from camera mode. For example, you could configure an option to launch Instagram's app, from which you could then capture a photo, edit, and upload it.

Shutter speeds as fast as 1/6,000 second are available.

Flash. The Samsung Galaxy NX is also unique among Android-based digicams in including not only a built-in flash strobe, but also a hot shoe for external strobes. The internal strobe is a popup type, and the hot shoe has connectivity for intelligent strobes, as well as a hole for a locking pin.

Creative. There are also a variety of more specialized creative options in the Samsung NX. These include Multi Exposure mode which merges two shots into a single image, Animated Photo which creates a five-second animated GIF file, and Sound & Shot which stores a brief audio clip alongside each photo captured.

Movie. The Galaxy NX can also shoot movies at up to Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel; 1080p) resolution. Full HD movies are captured at a rate of 25 frames per second, and use H.264 / MPEG-4 compression.

Apps. Bundled apps include Google's Chrome web browser, plus Gmail, Local, Maps, Messenger, Navigation, Plus, both Search (including Voice Search), Talk, and YouTube. You also get the full suite of Play media apps, including Books, Magazines, Movies & TV, and Music. And then there's the Google Play Store, providing access to a world of content and apps, although not all will necessarily be available for download on the Galaxy NX. (That's up to the app developer to decide.)

There are also an array of Samsung-specific apps. These include Samsung ChatON, Group Play, Link, S Translator, S Voice, Photo Suggest, and Trip Advisor.

Power. With such a large screen and a powerful smartphone-like processor -- not to mention its array of radios and sensors -- the Samsung Galaxy NX requires lots of power. That comes courtesy of a huge 4,360 mAh battery which resides in the generously-sized handgrip, explaining its size.

Storage. Perhaps surprisingly, for a camera this big, the Samsung Galaxy NX opts for the tiny MicroSD card format used in many smartphones, rather than the full-sized SD cards that are more common in dedicated cameras. Cards up to 64GB are accepted, and there's also 16GB of internal memory in which to store apps and data.

Connectivity. An important area of differentiation for the Samsung Galaxy NX is its built-in 3G (HSPA+ 42Mbps) and 4G (LTE Cat3 100/50Mbps) wireless data connectivity, which allows instant photo sharing direct from the camera whenever you're within range of a cell tower. Frequencies will vary by market, but will include 850/900/1900/2100 MHz for 3G, and 800/850/900/1800/2100/2600 MHz for 4G LTE.

You will, of course, need to arrange for the camera to be added to your mobile carrier's data plan, though -- and that is likely to involve ongoing fees. A SIM card resides in the base of the camera directly behind the battery, and alongside the MicroSD card slot.

The Galaxy NX also offers 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity, compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n networks, as well as a short-range Bluetooth 4.0 LE radio.

And the rest. There are also an array of sensors and receivers you'd expect to find a typical smartphone. These include an accelerometer, compass, gyro, proximity sensor, and a GPS receiver with support for both GLONASS and A-GPS.

Software bundle. The Samsung Galaxy NX comes bundled with a copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, an extremely popular and capable photographer-centric imaging app. There's also a copy of Samsung Kies, an app used to transfer data between your camera and a Windows or Mac PC. (The same app comes bundled with many of Samsung's other products.)