Nikon S800c Review

 
Camera Reviews / Nikon Cameras / Nikon Coolpix i Express Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Nikon Coolpix S800c
Resolution: 16.00 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3"
Lens: 10.00x zoom
(25-250mm eq.)
Viewfinder: OLED
ISO: 125-3200
Shutter: 4-1/4000
Max Aperture: 3.2
Dimensions: 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.1 in.
(111 x 60 x 27 mm)
Weight: 6.5 oz (183 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $350
Availability: 09/2012
Manufacturer: Nikon
Full specs: Nikon S800c specifications
16.00
Megapixels
10.00x zoom
1/2.3"
size sensor
image of Nikon Coolpix S800c
Front side of Nikon Coolpix S800c digital camera Back side of Nikon Coolpix S800c digital camera Top side of Nikon Coolpix S800c digital camera Left side of Nikon Coolpix S800c digital camera Right side of Nikon Coolpix S800c digital camera

S800c Summary

The first mainstream camera based on Google's Android operating system has access to a huge ecosystem of apps that let it do things almost no other dedicated camera can. Unfortunately, there's a strong divide between its camera and Android features, and various issues with hardware and software make it harder to recommend.

Pros

Compact body; Powerful zoom lens; Fast autofocus; Generous internal memory; Android operating system; Huge selection of available apps.

Cons

Strong division between camera, Android features; Lens defects at wide and tele; Issues with stability; Display hard to see outdoors; Poor battery life; Very limited burst shooting depth.

Price and availability

The Nikon Coolpix S800c went on sale in the US market from September 2012. Pricing is set at around US$350, and two body colors are offered: white, or black.

Imaging Resource rating

3.0 out of 5.0

Nikon Coolpix S800c Review

by Dave Etchells, Mike Tomkins, Roger Slavens and Shawn Barnett
Hands-on preview posted: 08/22/2012
Review posted: 04/22/2013

Marking a true watershed in the photo industry, the Android-equipped Nikon Coolpix S800c merges Google's popular mobile operating system with a 16-megapixel, 10x zoom, Wi-Fi-enabled pocket digital camera. The Nikon S800c shares all the benefits of Android 2.3, including the Google Play store, and has a better sensor than almost any smartphone or tablet on the market. Its 25-250mm equivalent lens ensures you can frame your subjects just like you want, whether near or far. Starting at US$350, the Nikon S800c is the first mainstream digital camera to have a user-accessible operating system for over a decade, and unlike the ill-fated Digita OS, Android is already quite well established. We think it's the first of many OS-enabled digital cameras to come.

The camera industry has long been trying to figure out how to compete with smartphones and tablets -- devices that take pictures, but don't take them nearly as well as most digital cameras. The Coolpix S800c is the first ground-up design that attempts to coexist with smartphones and tablets, and even bypass them completely, uploading photos directly to sharing and storage sites. Some manufacturers have approached the challenge by adding Wi-Fi capabilities to their cameras, allowing photographers to transfer their higher-quality images to smart devices so they can be easily managed and shared via email, texts and social media. But with the Coolpix S800c, Nikon breaks new ground by bringing the smarts into the camera itself. Nikon says they worked closely with Google to optimize the integration between camera and Android system so that photo-minded consumers could get (at least some of) the best of both worlds in one device.

The Nikon S800c's Android system looks and feels like virtually any other Android-based smartphone. You interact with it through a large 3.5-inch Organic LED monitor on the backside of the camera, which has a capacitive touch screen, as most folks are used to on a smartphone. The Nikon S800c's Wi-Fi connectivity lets you access and upload photos to your social networks, surf the Web and download a vast selection of free and paid applications (including dozens of photo and video apps) from the Google Play store.

Nikon told us that it chose Android 2.3 (also known as Gingerbread) -- and not 4.0 or 4.1 -- for the Nikon S800c because it wasn't as demanding of the CPU, and required less RAM. That's not to say that it is underpowered, though. Perhaps surprisingly, it's even up to a little light gaming. We tried the Temple Run series, for example, and it played smoothly and responsively.

While it runs Android, it's important to remember that the Nikon Coolpix S800c is at its heart a camera. With a 16-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor chip, a 10x-wide 25-250mm equivalent NIKKOR zoom lens and an EXPEED C2 processing engine, the Nikon S800c has a decent set of specs, putting its photographic capabilities well ahead of any other smartphone or tablet. It measures just a bit bigger and rounder (4.4 x 2.4 x 1.1 inches) and heavier (6.5 ounces) than a typical Android smartphone, albeit quite a lot thicker. The camera features an internal flash, a continuous-drive mode that captures three frames at a rate of up to 8 frames per second, and various scene modes and creative filters. Its built-in GPS is a rather standard implementation, but it does have the ability to download and store ephemeris information, meaning it will map your location quickly the next time you power up the camera. This information has to be downloaded manually (and regularly, once every 14 days), and transferred to the camera via SD card -- you can't just download it using the camera's own Wi-Fi connection. The Coolpix S800c also shoots Full HD video at 1080p with stereo sound.

In terms of its touch-screen operation, we liked what we saw with the Coolpix S800c. The touch shutter works very well, and the shutter lag is very short. We also enjoyed the AF/AE touch-focusing system, which set focus properly with a simple touch of the OLED screen. (The AF touch area is limited to about 70% of the total screen area, though; you can't focus way out on the sides of the frame.)

Subject tracking also worked reasonably well, but it fared best with distinct color differences. Simple tonal differences weren't enough to keep the Nikon S800c on target, and it couldn't track a very fast-moving subject.

The Nikon S800c has 4GB of built-in storage, of which roughly 1.7GB is available for images, 680MB for apps and the rest is consumed by the Android OS. While that 680MB might seem rather limiting, it's worth bearing in mind that many apps on Android are vastly smaller than their equivalents on desktop operating systems like Windows or Mac OS. And you can copy at least part of some apps to the 1.7GB of internal memory, stretching your app storage even further. Whether this is possible -- and how much of the base 680MB of app storage will still be used by the app after it copies data to the 1.7GB partition -- is down to the individual app, though.

And you'll need to get used to the fact that even though the 1.7GB of storage is physically soldered into the camera and can never be removed, Android refers to it as an "SD card" -- which it clearly isn't. It's doubly confusing given that the camera has a real SD card slot, which you can use for additional image storage -- but not as storage for Android apps.

Together but separate. The camera and Android parts of the Nikon S800c exist somewhat separately, so the camera operates in two different modes. That divide brings advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it means that if the camera was completely powered off, you don't have to wait for Android to boot up before you can capture a photo. You will, however, have to wait until Android finishes booting up -- a lengthy process of around 15 seconds or so by default, although it will likely vary with the apps you've installed -- before you can access the menu system, or use any of the camera's controls other than the shutter button and zoom rocker. If you want to shut Android down completely to save battery power, that process will take 30 seconds or more to complete. Should you change you're mind after the shutdown process begins, you're out of luck -- you'll have to wait at least 45 seconds for shutdown to complete and the camera to power back on again.

And that's assuming the camera doesn't lock up completely while shutting down, something that happened to us on the latest firmware and with only a couple of apps installed after completely returning the camera's Android side to a wiped, fresh-out-of-the-box status. The green On/Off button light kept blinking, and no amount of time (we waited several minutes) or holding the On/Off button down (we tried 30 seconds or so) would get the camera to go to sleep or reboot. The only solution was to pull the battery and hope no data was lost.

In practice even without stability concerns, given the slow Android startup and shutdown and almost feature-free shooting experience before startup finishes, you'll more likely adopt the smartphone paradigm of leaving Android running all the time. That will mean religiously attaching the camera to its charger when you get home, just as you do with your phone -- and unless you're shooting right next to that charger, you'll find your battery already partially drained when you arrive at your subject's location and first reach for the camera at the start of a day's shooting. How much it's drained will depend on the apps you have installed, and how much power each uses when in the background for things like syncing, as well as whether it plays nice and lets the camera sleep properly, or keeps it in a higher-power state.

But enough about startup, shutdown, and power consumption: Let's return to that divide between camera and Android functionality. When you're taking pictures, you're in Camera mode, and when using the Android apps, you're in Android mode. You switch from camera to Android mode using the physical buttons at screen right, and return using two touch-controls on the OLED screen. In camera mode, one press of the Home button or two presses of the Back button will retract the lens and take you to Android. You can also press and hold on the Home button to access the Recent Apps list, and switch directly from the camera to a specific app, rather than navigating past your Home screen to get to your chosen app. Sometimes, we were also presented with a Welcome screen with slider to unlock the Android mode enroute, although we never figured out any rhyme or reason as to when this would or wouldn't appear.

From within Android mode -- the launcher functions either in landscape or portrait mode -- the same physical buttons at screen right instead perform their standard Android functions much like any Gingerbread-based smartphone, and there's no way to use them to get back to Camera mode without also interacting with the touch screen. By default, two icons on the Home screen return you to the camera in either Record or Playback mode; like any Android home screen icon or widget you can remove these. The stock launcher also has an ever-present (except when you're running an application, anyway) Dock that provides access to duplicates of both icons. If you install a third-party launcher, you'll need to configure your own shortcuts, and until you do so you'll find your camera mode accessed via the App Drawer of your launcher.

And when you're in Android mode, you will need to explicitly switch back to Camera mode before you can take a picture. The shutter button does nothing while in Android mode unless you're running a third-party camera app, which we found very disconcerting. Worse still, while you can install third-party camera apps, the way in which Nikon has configured the camera means that they can't access anywhere near the actual sensor resolution. Instead, they're limited to just eight megapixels. Nor could the apps we tried access the S800c's optical zoom. Instead, they'd use digital zoom from the camera's wide-angle position. And opening a camera app with the lens retracted would result in the app immediately crashing. Suffice to say, third-party camera apps on the S800c proved to be a wholly unsatisfactory -- and indeed, frustrating -- experience.

Now, we should note that it doesn't take that long to switch the Nikon S800c from Android mode to Camera mode, or vice versa, but we'd still worry about missing a key shot if we were off fiddling in Android-land when something interesting happened.

The Nikon Coolpix S800c makes a clear division between camera and Android modes. When in the Android Home screen, as shown here, you need to tap the Camera button in the dock before your Shutter button comes to life and lets you capture images.

Some third-party camera apps will use the physical Shutter button too, but won't allow full-res shooting or optical zoom control, making them effectively unusable.

Initially, we were a little undecided how to feel about the Camera/Android dichotomy. On the one hand, we really wanted the camera to feel like a camera when we were shooting with it, and that does dictate an entirely different user interface than that employed by Android. On the other hand, we'd have liked the integration between the two functions to be more seamless, at least to the extent of having the Shutter button override Android functions, to let us snap an image quickly. In our time with the camera, we came to strongly dislike the split between the two modes, and to yearn for a better integration.

(Note to Nikon: What we'd like to see in a followup camera is the ability to choose between first and third-party camera apps without artificial limitations on resolution and features, with the Shutter button always calling up the user's chosen camera app and immediately capturing a photo, and the zoom rocker always controlling optical zoom whether or not the individual app is even aware of its existence.)

Your Home screen has five pages, and you can swipe through them one at a time, or jump straight to the screen of your choice, as shown in the tiny preview thumbnails.

Getting your images in sync. Transferring images from the Nikon S800c to your smart device proved to be pretty easy, with one important catch. We played around with the Android "Connect to S800c" photo transfer app that lets the camera connect to an Android phone or tablet; Nikon also offers an iOS version, but we couldn't test this as we didn't have access to any iOS devices at the same time as the S800c.

To connect with a phone / tablet, the Nikon S800c publishes its own Wi-Fi node, which an app running on the smart device then connects to. The first time you connect to a given device, the camera and phone / tablet have to find each other and confirm that they're each talking to who you want them to. This is an Android-to-Android connection; you have to go into the Nikon S800c's Android mode to do it.

Wi-Fi connections are configured and initiated through the Upload app, found by default on the camera's Home screen. Just like on your smartphone, you can delete this shortcut, or move it around the home screen pages. It's also found in the All Apps screen, accessed with the middle of the three buttons at the right of the screenshot.

On the Nikon S800c, you select the Upload app from the Android app screen, while on the phone / tablet side, you choose the "Connect to S800c" app. Select Simple Setup on both, and hit start on each as well. After a few moments, both devices will display a 4-digit number that indicates they're in communication with each other. If the numbers do in fact match, you hit OK on both devices, after which they say "setup complete," with another OK needed to confirm that.

Connecting the Nikon Coolpix S800c to your Wi-Fi-compliant smartphone or tablet couldn't be much simpler.

Simply launch an app on both devices, click to start pairing, and once connected they'll both show an identical 4-digit PIN number.

With the two devices paired in this manner, you then select Start Service on the camera and Connect to Camera on the phone / tablet. After another moment or two, the Nikon S800c will say "Connected to smart device," and thumbnails of all the photos on the camera's card will appear on the smart device's screen. If the devices have been paired previously, you only need to do the Start Service/Connect to Camera part of the process to get going.

With all the Nikon S800c's thumbnails displayed on the smart device, you can rapidly scroll though them with swipes of the finger, just as you'd expect on a typical phone or tablet. Touching an image marks it for transfer, and there are select/deselect all buttons on the bottom of the screen to do what their names suggest. With the images you want transferred selected, you touch the Camera Download button (a little icon of a camera with an arrow pointing down and out of it) at the bottom of the screen, and the images will transfer over to the phone / tablet. We didn't time this transfer, but it seemed pretty quick. You can make it even quicker by opting to downsample the images on the camera to 1,600 x 1,200 or 640 x 480 pixel resolution before upload to the phone, though. Once the images are transferred to the smart device, you'll find them in a new folder inside your Android device's Gallery app. (With the iOS version, downloaded photos will presumably be in your Photos app.)

This was one small point of disconnect for us: We'd like to be able to immediately browse the smart device's photos from within the transfer app, rather than having to hop out to the Gallery application, and also to view more than a tiny postage-stamp sized thumbnail before transfer. Perhaps we'll see this in future versions of the photo-transfer app, but in the meantime, it seemed a little awkward to have to exit and enter another app to see what you just transferred.

Once paired, both devices should remember each other for future connections.

All you'll need to do to transfer images and movies is tap a single button on each device to initiate a connection.

Another, similar niggle, but one that there's probably no getting around: Since there's only one Wi-Fi radio in the typical smart device, you have to exit the camera-transfer app before you can connect to a Wi-Fi network with your phone or tablet and upload the transferred photos to your favorite sharing service. If your smart device has a cell radio in it, that form of transfer is immediately available.

A much bigger problem, though, was that while the Connect to S800c app lists itself as compatible with numerous Android tablets, and indeed seems to run on them just fine, we were unable to establish a connection between the S800c and any Jellybean 4.2-based tablet we tried. (The same may or may not be true of Jellybean 4.2 phones; we didn't have access to one with which to test.)

As it so happens, we had access to a raft of different Android devices: four tablets (a Google Nexus 10 running stock Jellybean 4.2, an Asus Transformer TF101 running a rooted, third-party Jellybean 4.2 ROM, a stock Asus Transformer TF101 running stock Ice Cream Sandwich, and a Fuhu Nabi 2 running rooted Ice Cream Sandwich), and three phones (an HTC One X and an HTC One X+, both running Jellybean 4.1 and unrooted), as well as a Samsung Galaxy Ace running Gingerbread (again, stock and unrooted).

Every single one of the Ice Cream Sandwich and Gingerbread devices worked just fine. Both of the Jellybean-based tablets failed to work with the Nikon app, and in both cases the failure mode was the same: an interminable wait, followed by a "Failed to connect" message on both phone and tablet.

Of course, with the Nikon S800c's Android capabilities, you don't have to transfer your image files via another device, if you don't want to. You can connect to a Wi-Fi network or even the Wi-Fi hotspot on your smartphone and post your photos to social sites such as Facebook and Flickr from the camera itself, and you can edit and manage your images with some pretty sophisticated Android photo apps. That's likely the real attraction for the prospective Nikon S800c buyer.

As well as catering for data transfer to other smart devices, the Coolpix S800c's Wi-Fi connectivity lets you share your masterpieces online--either through social networking apps or the built-in web browser. Of course, the Nikon S800c's 3.5-inch screen is more conducive to apps and games than web browsing, but it happily allows you to check the latest camera reviews straight from your camera itself.

Nikon S800c Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

Nikon has based the Coolpix S800c digital camera around a sixteen megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor. BSI sensors are pretty common in phones and tablets these days, but the S800c's 1/2.3-inch sensor is larger. Where phones and tablets typically sport sensors with diagonals of around 3-6mm, the Nikon S800c's sensor has a diagonal just slightly under 8mm.

That along with a higher-quality lens than you'd find in typical smart devices translates to noticeably better image quality, especially in terms of noise handling and low-light sensitivity. The Nikon S800c has a standard sensitivity range of ISO 125 to 1,600 equivalents, with up to ISO 3,200 available in Auto exposure mode.

Smoothly flowing from the Nikon S800c's front deck is a Nikkor-branded 10x optical zoom, yielding 35mm-equivalent focal lengths from 25 to 250mm, a pretty useful range. Maximum aperture is a bit dim, falling from f/3.2 to f/5.8 across the zoom range.

The Nikon S800c retains the company's EXPEED C2 image processor, first seen in late 2010. While it's not the newest chip around, it still allows for eight frames-per-second burst shooting, albeit with a depth of just three shots.

Other burst-mode choices include 60 fps and 120 fps modes, operating with greatly decreased resolution. The 60 fps mode allows only 1,280 x 960 pixels, and the 120 fps mode is limited to just VGA (640 x 480 pixels).

The S800c offers Nikon's Best Shot Selection function, too. This takes a quick burst of images and then sorts the wheat from the chaff automatically.

There's also a Multi-shot 16 mode, the sole option on the next page (not shown.) This captures 16 VGA images at 30 fps, then combines the result into a single image, made up of the smaller shots on a four by four grid.

Ordinarily, the Nikon S800c focuses to 20 inches at wide angle, or 40 inches at telephoto. When Macro mode is enabled--it's available either separately, or using the Close-up scene mode--you can focus as close as just four inches at wide angle.

As you'd expect given the telephoto reach, the Nikon S800c's lens includes Nikon's optical VR image stabilization.

The Nikon Coolpix S800c sports a 16:9 aspect, 3.5-inch Organic LED screen with a resolution of about 819,000 dots. (That's about 273,000 pixels, with each pixel made up of separate red, green and blue dots.) Unfortunately, it's not terribly bright, and easily washes out in direct sunlight.

The display includes a capacitive touch-panel overlay like those on high-end smartphones, rather than the less sensitive resistive touch-panels found on some devices. Since the camera itself has a 4:3 aspect ratio, this leaves plenty of room for soft buttons on the touch screen without obscuring the image itself.

As well as a built-in GPS receiver, the camera can identify its location from nearby visible Wi-Fi networks if it's online.

The Nikon S800c also includes a fixed-position, five-mode flash strobe with red-eye reduction function.

Flash modes include Auto with or without red-eye reduction, fill, slow-sync, and off.

Exposure modes include both Easy and standard Auto, the obligatory Scene mode, a Special Effects mode, Smart Portrait, and Movie. The latter allows capture at up to Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution with stereo sound.

Program, priority, and manual exposure aren't possible with the Nikon S800c.

There are no less than 17 different scene modes to choose from, including an Easy Panorama mode that handles stitching for you automatically, in-camera.

You also get a whopping 18 different special effects that let you do your editing without a PC. As well as those above, these include Toy Camera, Pop, and Super Vivid color filters, Cross Process and Peripheral Darkening functions, and more.

Connectivity options include both high-definition Mini HDMI (Type C) video output and USB data.

The latter supports both PTP and MTP transfer modes, and is also used for in-camera battery charge, but unfortunately it uses a proprietary connector rather than a standard one.

Power comes from a proprietary EN-EL12 lithium-ion battery pack, nestled alongside the Secure Digital card slot in the camera's base.

Battery life is rated at a rather brief 140 shots on a charge, to CIPA testing standards. That gels with our experience; battery life is modest at best.

The Secure Digital card slot supports SDHC cards, but not the higher-capacity SDXC or higher-speed UHS-I types.

There is, however, a generous 4GB of internal memory in the Nikon S800c. In the US market, 680MB is given over to app storage, and 1.7GB to image storage by default, although some apps can optionally use this space, too. The remainder, presumably, is occupied by the Android operating system itself.

The Nikon Coolpix S800c went on sale in September 2012. Pricing is set at around US$350, and two body colors are offered: white, or black.

 

Nikon S800c Shooter's Report

by Mike Tomkins

Image quality is pretty good, if you're willing to overlook some lens issues towards wide angle and telephoto. Certainly head and shoulders above most other Android devices.

When Nikon announced the Coolpix S800c, I was immediately intrigued, and keen to see it for myself. Mine is an Android household -- currently, we have four Android tablets and three smartphones, spanning every release from Gingerbread to Jellybean 4.2.2, with a mixture of stock devices and those running rooted or third-party firmware. Suffice to say, I'm a bit of an Android nut, and I was struck by the potential of a device that combined the best attributes of a smartphone with a proper camera.

After spending some time with the Nikon S800, however, I've realized that while it has some strengths and fairly unique capabilities and a much more compact package than its nearest rival -- the Samsung Galaxy Camera -- it's also very much a first-generation product. Its camera feature set is fairly restrictive, and there's a strong division between the camera and Android features. In short, it became clear that unless having an Android camera is your first priority, you'll probably want to give the concept some time to mature. For the more typical Imaging Resource reader, although we still believe an Android-based camera represents the future, the current design probably isn't what you're looking for, and for that reason this review will be rather more abbreviated than would typically be the case for a device of this complexity.

The OLED monitor makes judging exposure nigh on impossible. This image looked unusably dark in the screen, causing me to reshoot it -- but it was actually just fine. Of course, you could install an image viewer with histogram function, but you'll still need to be adept at shading the screen with one hand to see it.

Nevertheless, this is an important camera for what it portends, and it's deserving of a closer look. The Nikon S800c's Android operating system is clearly the most important feature. If you're not familiar with Android, it's worth knowing that Google gives major revisions of the OS alphabetically sequential, food-related codenames. Notably, although the current release when Nikon launched the S800c was Jellybean (Android 4.1), the company based its camera around the significantly older Gingerbread (Android 2.3.3) release from early 2011. Nor is it even the most recent Gingerbread release available. And it's likely to be even further behind soon, if Google releases the Key Lime Pie update at its I/O 2013 event, as has been widely predicted.

The reason for using an older version is easy to understand, though: Gingerbread is less hungry for resources such as processor and memory, and it's still the most common flavor of Android in use today. The decision to use it here is nevertheless a bit of a shame, though. Beyond the greater visual gloss of newer versions, Gingerbread also lacks features like a customizable launcher, built-in photo editor, ability to permanently disable stock applications, overhauled gallery app, ability to shoot Photosphere panoramas, and more. Almost all of my devices run Ice Cream Sandwich or Jellybean, and although it's still pretty powerful, Gingerbread feels quite dated by comparison.

Although it's pocket-friendly, the Nikon S800c offers oodles of zoom reach. These two shots were taken at wide angle and telephoto from the same position.

I must admit that I wasn't expecting especially great performance, given that battery life (and thus processing power) is at a premium in the S800c -- but it surprised me. While it lags far behind current smartphones, the Nikon S800c is more than capable of playing even some basic 3D games, such as the popular Temple Run series, without noticeable lag or stutter. Battery life with a CPU-intensive app and the screen switched on isn't great, but you do have the option to change batteries, unlike many smartphones.

Since we're talking about a full-blown OS here, it seemed appropriate to run a few benchmarks, so you can compare performance to your own smartphone, or to reviews of other phone and tablet hardware. As results vary somewhat, I ran each test a couple of times to get a feel for the variance:

Benchmark Score (approx.)
AnTuTu Benchmark v3.3 4,100 - 4,200
Quadrant v2.1.1 1,200
Sunspider 5,200
Linpack v1.2.8
Single-threaded
40
Linpack v1.2.8
Multi-threaded
34
GLBenchmark v2.5.1
Egypt Classic onscreen
28 fps
GLBenchmark v2.5.1
Egypt Classic offscreen
9 fps

GLBenchmark v2.5.1
Battery test, 100% brightness
Egypt Classic onscreen 60 fps

1 hr., 53 min.
to 20% remaining

The results are similar to what you might expect from an affordable smartphone launched a couple of years ago, and more than sufficient for the tasks an S800c owner is likely to expect of their camera. Most likely, that will involve light image editing, social networking, email, a little light web browsing, and the occasional game of Angry Birds or similar. A lot more is possible, although the design of the phone may not be the most conducive to some apps, and the lack of data connectivity when you're out of reach of a Wi-Fi network may limit the utility of others.

This Peel P50 is a tiny car, and the S800c is pretty compact too. It's much smaller than its nearest rival, the Samsung Galaxy Camera.

You, can, for example, listen to MP3 or streaming music, or watch videos on YouTube and some other services, but there's no headphone connectivity, so everybody around you will be joining in as well. (On the plus side, the S800c's bottom-mounted speaker is surprisingly loud -- if rather tinny-sounding -- so long as there's something below it for the sound to be reflected off.) You can even find apps that will do much more unusual things, such as offline GPS navigation, remote control of your PC or Mac, or even automatic translation of text in an image you'd just shot with the camera.

Note that some apps may not be usable on the S800c -- or for that matter, any specific Android device -- because the developer has chosen to limit availability, or due to missing or unusually implemented hardware features. Most apps can't access the magnetic compass, for example -- in fact, the only one that did seem to be able to tell which way the camera was facing was the Sky Map app, and even it would occasionally drift a few degrees to either side when the camera was stationary. And some apps such as augmented-reality app Layar list themselves as compatible and seem to install just fine, but force close immediately when they're opened. Others, like AR app Wikitude, simply aren't available if you search for them in the Play store on the camera. (And if you search from your PC, the app is listed, but shown as incompatible with the camera.)

This handheld Full HD video, shot with the Nikon S800c, demonstrates its zoom reach -- but unfortunately also shows the jerkiness of its zoom mechanism, which induces an unattractive jello effect. That issue is especially noticeable in the corners. Focus also drifts during zoom occasionally.
YouTube clip above recompressed by Google; download the original video file here.

And of course, if you use many processor-intensive apps, you'll want to invest in spare batteries and an external charger -- otherwise it won't be that long before you run out of power. Even just when using the Nikon S800c in camera mode, battery life is brief. If you've spent an hour gaming and run out half the battery before you even start shooting photos, you'll find you get very few shots indeed. This isn't helped by the fact that, just like your smartphone, the Nikon S800c is essentially an always-on device, consuming a constant trickle of power even when it's in your pocket. (Just how much power depends on how many apps you've installed, whether they let Android sleep properly, and how often they wake it up to perform various actions.)

You can, of course, power the camera off entirely, just as you can with your smartphone, and Nikon clearly recognizes many users will choose to do so. I appreciated the ability to capture a photo on power-up without first having to wait for Android to boot, a process that takes 15 seconds or more, but found it frustrating that this didn't allow me to adjust any camera settings. Essentially, for that first 15 seconds or so, you have the most basic, straightforward camera imaginable -- no bells or whistles at all. It's better than the alternative of not being able to take a picture, but I'd prefer to see the camera's menu system accessible without Android running.

The Nikon S800c seems rather buggy, although the situation is improving. Here, the GPS was off by 5,158 miles, placing me in the middle of the Pacific Ocean north of the Midway Islands. That bug was squashed by a firmware update, but the camera doesn't install it automatically, something most other Android devices will do.

I also wasn't thrilled by the Android / camera dichotomy. The Nikon S800c feels like something of a conflicted device: half of it wants to be pure camera, and the other half smart device. They never quite meet in the middle. The camera features are frustratingly obscured from the rest of the OS, for example. Other than the built-in camera app, no other app I found could shoot at more than half the camera's actual resolution, something which seems to be down to Nikon's APIs not playing nice with third-party apps. Nor could any third-party app I tried control the camera's optical zoom. Instead, they'd all stay fixed at wide angle, and attempt to zoom in digitally. Not a satisfying experience, and equally the fact that -- unless you're in a camera app -- the shutter button serves no purpose was frustrating. It's there and essentially unused, so why not configure it to fire the camera features back to life?

Unfortunately, I also found Android itself fairly unstable on the Nikon S800c, with more frequent force-closes or random shutdowns of applications than I'm accustomed to on other devices. I also experienced a complete lockup of the camera that required a battery reseat to resolve, along with random "Please wait" messages that never went away until the battery was pulled. Even more bizarrely, I experienced an app that I'd installed just five minutes previously disappearing from my list of installed apps in Google Play, preventing it from receiving updates, and requiring a trip to settings for it to be uninstalled.

And the camera's Wi-Fi radio regularly disconnected from my home wireless router, claimed to be unable to see a network that every other device in the house could, and then sat idle until I manually disabled the Wi-Fi and reenabled it. I already found the Wi-Fi features somewhat clumsy, and this was really the final straw for me wanting to use them in the first place. And even when Wi-Fi did work, it felt underutilized. Why, for example, on a camera that has Wi-Fi connectivity and a full-blown OS, did downloading ephemeris data for a faster GPS lock require me to download the file on a PC, transfer it to a flash card, and then load it into the camera? And why weren't OS updates automatic, as they are on all my other Android devices? (I actually missed an update that resolved a GPS issue thanks to this, and so most shots in the gallery have the GPS location off by half a planet; the problem is fixed in current firmware, at least.)

In all, I found the Android features to be frustrating, and I found myself wanting to put the Nikon S800c down so I could shoot a different camera. That's a shame, because as a camera itself, the hardware design was actually rather nice. Sure, it had some issues -- key among them the extremely short battery life, limited burst shooting, and rather dim, smudge-attracting OLED screen, which I found difficult to see under even bright light, let alone direct sunlight. It was quite comfortable in the hand, though, and reasonably attractive. It also fit in my pants pocket easily, something the rival Samsung Galaxy Camera will not do. And it focused surprisingly swiftly.

While its camera features felt rather limited -- essentially, this is a camera in which you shoot automatically and merely coax it towards your artistic vision using scene modes and the like -- this was made up for with a generous zoom range. And although we weren't thrilled with the softness that extended well into the image frame at both wide angle and telephoto, image quality was otherwise fairly good. Certainly, light years ahead of anything you'd get from most other Android devices, be they phones or tablets. (And none of them would offer that liberating zoom range.)

It's a shame. I wanted the Nikon S800c to be so much more, and I feel it could have been. I still think a proper, user-facing operating system with a rich app ecosystem is the way forwards for digital cameras. Chalk this down as a learning experience for Nikon -- if they can fix even half of these issues in a followup, I think they could have a pretty interesting camera on their hands!

 

Nikon S800c Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Soft at upper left
Tele: Slightly soft at center
Tele: Noticeable blurring, upper right

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Nikon Coolpix S800c's zoom shows moderate to strong blurring and flare in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, and blurring extends far into the frame. At telephoto, the right corners show noticeable blurring, while the left corners are sharper, though blurring on the right side again extends fairly far in toward the center of the frame. Details at center at telephoto are also just a little soft.


Wide: Very mild to moderate pincushion
Tele: Trace barrel distortion, barely visible

Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly little visible distortion at wide angle along the top edge of the image (less than 0.1% pincushion), but the bottom edge shows about 0.5% pincushion distortion. The telephoto ends shows between 0.1 and 0.2% barrel distortion. The Coolpix S800c's processor appears to be overcorrecting here, as we'd normally expect to see barrel distortion at wide angle, and pincushion at telephoto.


Wide: High but faint
Tele: Also high and faint

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide angle is somewhat high in terms of pixel count, though fringing is not very bright with a faint blue tint. Results are similar at telephoto, though slightly sharper and more distinct.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Nikon Coolpix S800c's Macro mode captures a very sharp image with strong detail throughout most of the frame. Corners are soft, which is common among digital cameras in this mode, though the effect isn't overly strong because of the gray background. Minimum coverage area is much larger than average at 4.27 x 3.20 inches (108 x 81mm), and color balance is quite warm with the Auto WB setting. The camera's flash produced an uneven exposure with strong vignetting, making external lighting a much better choice when shooting in this mode.


 

Nikon S800c Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: OLED Monitor
Tele: OLED Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Nikon Coolpix S800c's OLED monitor showed about 99% coverage at both wide angle and telephoto in record mode, which is good.


 

Nikon S800c Image Quality


Color: The Nikon Coolpix S800c produces pretty good overall color. Saturation is a bit high in bright oranges, reds, blues, and greens (highest in reds), while yellow and aqua are just a touch undersaturated. Mean saturation is 109.5%, or 9.5% oversaturated, which is about average these day. In terms of hue accuracy, the Coolpix S800c pushes cyans towards blue, red toward orange, and green toward yellow, but shifts are relatively minor. The camera's average "delta-C" color error after correction for saturation is 4.5 at base ISO, better than average. Lighter skin tones are just about right, though darker skin tones show a slight push toward orange.


Auto WB:
Noticeable red cast
Incandescent WB:
Too warm
 
Manual WB:
Best overall

Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting best overall, with the most natural color and the most accurate white readings. Auto produced a noticeable red cast, while the Incandescent setting resulted in a strong warm cast.


Horizontal: 1,950 lines
Vertical: 1,900 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,950 lines per picture height horizontally and about 1,900 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred after 2,500 lines per picture height.


Wide: Inconclusive
Tele: Bright
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows somewhat dim results on the target at the rated wide-angle distance of 18 feet, but the white ceiling and walls may have thrown metering off, so results here are inconclusive. The telephoto test came out well at 10 feet, though ISO was boosted to 1,250 to achieve this.

Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, with a pinkish cast from the ambient light, at a slow shutter speed of 1/15 second at ISO 400. The camera's built-in image stabilization should help with avoiding blur due to camera shake, but keep in mind that any movement of the subject could be problematic at this slow shutter speed. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


125
200
400
800
   
1,600
3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is fairly strong at the lower ISO settings, though the effects of noise and noise suppression are already visible at ISO 125. Some Chroma (color) noise becomes noticeable at ISO 400 and 800, and luminance noise grain is also visible at these settings. At ISOs 1,600 and 3,200, details are quite blurry and obscured by both noise suppression and grain pattern. See Printed results below for more on how this affects prints.


Print Quality Assessment: Good 13 x 19 inch prints at base ISO of 125; ISO 800 capable of a nice 5 x 7; ISO 1600 good at 4 x 6.

ISO 125 prints are good at 13 x 19 with only mild softening in our red swatch. 16 x 20s are usable here for wall display.

ISO 200 images are usable at 13 x 19 though again a bit soft in the reds, with 11 x 14 inch prints looking good.

ISO 400 11 x 14 prints show a bit too much noise in certain areas and softening in others, while 8 x 10s are good and crisp here.

ISO 800 produces a good printed image at 5 x 7 with only minor amounts of grain in shadowy areas, and a usable print for wall display at 8 x 10.

ISO 1600 is good for printing at 4 x 6, although still shows some noise in the shadows.

ISO 3200 also makes for a good 4 x 6 print but loses all contrast in our target red swatch.

With so many new features packed into this Android-based camera, it's still worth remembering that its primary function for most people is turning out good images. In comparison to dedicated digicams, the S800c holds its own when it comes to print quality (at least where the lens is sharp), and for most people will yield good prints for the class.


 

Nikon S800c Performance


Startup Time: The Nikon Coolpix S800c takes about 2.4 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's on the slower side of average, but not bad for a 10x zoom.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is very fast at 0.19 second at wide angle, and about 0.15 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.101 second which is slower than most, but still quite responsive.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is on the slower side, capturing a frame every 1.7 seconds in single-shot mode for Large Fine JPEGs. The Nikon S800c's Continuous H burst mode is rated at 8 full-res frames per second for 3 frames, however we did not test that mode. The S800c also has high speed modes rated at 120 frames per second at 640x480 resolution, and 60 frames per second at 1280x960 resolution.


Flash Recycle: The Coolpix S800c's flash recycles in about 4 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is fair.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, and in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled. We did notice however that focus was not always reliable at lower light levels.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Nikon Coolpix S800c's download speeds are very fast. We measured 22,075 KBytes/sec.


Battery Life: The Coolpix S800c's battery life has a CIPA rating of 140 shots per charge, which is much lower than average compared to dedicated digicams.


 

In the Box

The Nikon S800c retail package contains the following items:

  • Nikon Coolpix S800c digital camera
  • EN-EL12 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack
  • EH-69P charging AC adapter (in the US market; will vary by market)
  • UC-E6 USB cable
  • Wrist strap
  • Quick Start guide
  • One-year limited warranty paperwork

 

Recommended Accessories

  • At least one extra battery pack (EN-EL12) for regular usage; two or more for extended outings
  • Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. We recommend 16GB capacity, with a minimum Class 4 speed rating.
  • Capacitive touch stylus (if you don't want to smudge the screen)
  • Lens cleaning cloth (because you're still going to smudge the screen, even if you try not to)
  • Camera case
  • Smartphone capable of providing a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth hotspot (preferably the former)

 

Nikon S800c Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Powerful 10x optical zoom lens
  • Can shoot photos before Android finishes booting up (but not change settings)
  • Large library of available apps for download from Google Play store
  • Third-party apps allow functionality unheard of in closed-OS cameras
  • Integrated Wi-Fi and friendly app ease photo sharing, if you're not using a Jellybean-based device
  • Processor is fast enough even for some light gaming
  • Internal memory is pretty generous
  • Bright colors with very good hue accuracy
  • Low to moderate geometric distortion, but overcorrected
  • Very fast full autofocus shutter lag
  • Fast burst mode, albeit for only three frames
  • Very fast USB transfers
  • Good print quality at intermediate focal lengths
  • Unlike many smart devices, battery is actually interchangeable
  • Dim OLED display attracts smudges, is hard to see under sunlight
  • Very limited stock camera feature set for its price
  • Strong division between Android and camera features
  • Doesn't fully take advantage of Android's benefits
  • Android version used is showing signs of age
  • Third-party apps cannot save full-res images or use optical zoom
  • Quite unstable; force-closes, lockups and the like are common
  • "Connect to S800c" app doesn't work on Android Jellybean devices
  • Can't use camera or Android features when charging
  • Android confusingly refers to internal memory as "SD card"
  • Soft corners with low contrast and flare at both wide angle and telephoto that extend far into the frame
  • Macro mode doesn't get very close
  • Auto and Incandescent white balance settings too warm indoors
  • Shallow buffer depth (3 full-res frames)
  • Flash shots use slow shutter speeds
  • Poor battery life either as a camera, or as a smart device

 

The Nikon S800c's design feels conflicted, with its camera and Android portions often seeming to be at odds with each other. Our conclusion after shooting with the S800c for some time is equally conflicted: there were things we liked about its design, and others that drove us batty. It's handsome, compact when you consider its zoom reach, and has swift autofocus. And while it does have issues with blur quite far into the image at both wide angle and telephoto, it's easier to forgive these problems when you consider that they're likely tradeoffs which allowed that compact, far-reaching optic in the first place. In other respects, image quality was mostly quite good. Unfortunately, the Nikon S800c offers little manual control over its images, and its burst-shooting performance and battery life are disappointing -- all things we'd see as significant drawbacks for the typical Imaging Resource reader.

We could to some degree overlook these if the camera lived up to its billing as an Android smart device, but unfortunately there are just too many shortcomings in this area. For one, there's simply too strong a dividing line between camera and Android functionality. It's unintuitive that the shutter button does nothing when in Android mode, and disappointing the camera doesn't expose much of its feature set -- most significantly, its full sensor resolution -- to third-party camera apps.

Android itself also seems to suffer from more stability issues than is typical on the Nikon S800c, and the version of the operating system chosen is really starting to show its age. A full startup and shutdown are slow, and if you rely instead on standby then the camera's already-brief battery life is robbed still further. And if you plan on actually taking advantage of the camera's Android features beyond simply offloading photos to another device quickly, you'll find a second and perhaps even a third battery to be must-haves. Offloading images with Nikon's app was relatively simple, but sadly that app doesn't work on newer devices running Android Jellybean. Of course, third-party apps can fill this gap.

Coming into this review, we really wanted to like the Nikon S800c. It's a pocket-friendly, long-zoom camera that takes a genuinely different approach, and thanks to Android, it can do things that no dedicated camera before it could. Unfortunately, it's all too clear in operation that this is a first-generation product. There are too many features of the design which feel like stumbling blocks, and you feel that you're making too many sacrifices to attain in-camera Android capability. For that reason, we can't recommend the Nikon S800c to the average shooter. If you're dead-set on owning a dedicated Android camera, though, and you're on a tight budget or need a pocket-friendly body, the Nikon S800c is essentially your only choice -- and there's still quite a bit you'll come to like about it, once you've come to terms with its drawbacks.

 

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