Nikon Coolpix S800c Review
The Nikon Coolpix S800c is one of only two Android-based cameras on the market, with the other being the more expensive Samsung Galaxy Camera. The S800c takes the "guts" of Nikon's Coolpix S6300 compact ultra zoom and adds a dual-core processor, 3.5" OLED display, 1.7 GB of memory and the Android 2.3 operating system. These additions make the S800 about $170 more than its more traditional counterpart. The one feature both the S6300 and S800c share is their F3.2-5.8, 10X optical zoom, which is equivalent to 25 - 250 mm. The lens is paired with Nikon's lens-based Vibration Reduction (image stabilization) system, which reduces the risk of blurry photos. Flip to the back of this stylish camera and you'll find a large 3.5" touchscreen OLED display with 819,000 pixels, along with the three traditional Android buttons. The display is bright and colorful, with a wide viewing angle. Outdoor visibility is just okay, and I had a hard time seeing my subjects in low light. The only other buttons on the camera are for power and shutter release, which means that you'll be using that touchscreen for everything else. That includes focusing and shutter release in addition to menu navigation and image playback, by the way. One thing I wish the camera had is haptic feedback, which makes typing and pressing buttons on the touchscreen a little bit easier (at least for me).
The big story on the Coolpix S800c is Android. The camera runs version 2.3 (Gingerbread), which is pretty stale these days, especially compared to the Galaxy Camera, which runs version 4.1 (Jelly Bean). While this shouldn't affect most users, the newer versions of Android are much faster, and support more apps (such as Google's Chrome browser). The shooting and playback modes on the camera are essentially apps, with the former loaded automatically when the camera is turned on. While I wouldn't call the S800c a no-frills camera, menu options are light, and those expecting manual controls will be disappointed. The playback app seemed to be quite buggy, often display photos out of order, or not showing them at all. If you want to use another camera app or something like Instagram, go for it (that's sort of the point of having an Android phone) -- just be aware that the highest resolution you can use outside of the Nikon camera app is 8 Megapixel. Some apps will be able to see the photos you've taken, while others (like Adobe Photoshop Express) will not. The S800c has several wireless features built in, including Wi-Fi, a GPS, and Bluetooth. Since Wi-Fi is the main way in which the S800c can share photos, I was disappointed at how poorly implemented this feature is. Reception is truly awful, and I experienced a handful of connection problems at various times. You can use the Wi-Fi to tether to a mobile device (smartphone or tablet), from where you can send photos on to other destinations. Unlike the Wi-Fi system, the camera's GPS system worked flawlessly, and provided accurate locations for both photos and Google Maps. Do note that the camera doesn't display the GPS info when you're viewing photos, so you'll have to find something else to do that.
The Coolpix S800c is a point-and-shoot camera, with white balance being the only manual control. There's an Easy Auto mode which will select a scene mode for you, plus regular Auto, scene, and special effect modes. Two of the notable scene modes includes HDR (two-shot), which reduces highlight clipping, and Easy Panorama, which lets you "sweep" your way to 180 or 360 degree images (of mediocre quality). There's also a Full HD movie mode, which records video at 1080/30p with stereo sound and use of the optical zoom and image stabilizer. Low and high frame rate options are also available. As with still shooting, there are no manual controls in movie mode, unless a wind filter counts. Also, since there's no dedicated movie recording button on the camera, you'll have to enter movie mode each and every time you want to record a clip.
Camera performance is good in most respects, with two notable exceptions. First, startup times. The camera takes 1.8 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. If the camera's been off for a while, then you'll have to wait for an additional 30 seconds for Android to boot up before the S800c is fully functional. You can fire off a few photos during this time, but no settings can be adjusted, and playback mode is not available. Once Android is ready, the camera will reward you with above average AF performance, minimal shutter lag, and brief shot-to-shot delays. Full resolution continuous shooting ranges from 7.5 frames/second (for three shots) in high speed mode to 1.6 frames/second (until your memory card fills up) at low speed. Here comes the other big performance problem: battery life. The Coolpix S800c is CIPA rated for 140 shots per charge, which is about as bad as you'll find. But that's with Wi-Fi and the GPS off, and just taking pictures. If you spend a lot of time playing in Android, you can easily drain the battery in an hour. The S800c charges its battery internally, which takes several hours and doesn't let you use the camera while it's plugged in.
Photo quality is just okay. Exposure is generally accurate, though like most compacts, the S800c will clip highlights at times. Colors were nice and vivid, except in our studio, where everything had a brownish cast. Subjects were soft and fuzzy, with some fine details smudged away by noise reduction. You can crank the ISO up to around 400 and still make decent-sized prints, though ISO 800 is best for small prints only. Whether there's redeye in your photos depends on whether the camera's auto removal system catches it. If it does, you should have good results. If it doesn't, look out. Purple fringing levels were low.
The Nikon Coolpix S800c was the first Android-powered camera (barely) and perhaps gives us a peek at what cameras will look like in the future. Sharing and editing photos is easier than on almost any camera, save for Samsung's 4G-equipped Galaxy Camera (which also sports a more modern version of Android and a larger display). That said, Nikon has quite a bit of work to do before I can recommend this Coolpix. Photo quality, battery life, and Wi-Fi reception are all things that need significant improvements. I'd also add in a dedicated movie recording button and allow the included battery charger to power the camera. While the Coolpix S800c makes a fun "extra camera", I wouldn't want it as my everyday shooter. I haven't used the Samsung equivalent so I can't comment on how well it compares (aside from specs), but I'd recommend sticking with a traditional compact ultra zoom instead of the S800c. If you like the ease of photo sharing offered by the S800c, you might want to look at a "regular", Wi-Fi equipped camera instead.
- Android ecosystem adds thousands of ways to edit and share your photos (among other things)
- 10X, 25 - 250 mm zoom lens in a small, stylish package
- Sharp and vivid 3.5" touchscreen OLED display
- Fast AF, shot-to-shot speeds
- Built-in Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth
- Automatic scene selection when in Easy Auto mode
- Plenty of scene modes and special effects, including HDR and "sweep panorama" features
- Full HD movie mode with stereo sound, use of optical zoom and image stabilizer, and full-time autofocus
- Tons of built-in memory
What I didn't care for:
- Mediocre photo quality; photos are soft and noisy, with strong highlight clipping at times
- Terrible battery life
- Wi-Fi has very poor reception, occasional connection problems
- Buggy playback mode sometimes displayed photos out of order, or not at all
- Camera not fully functional until Android is booted (which takes 30 seconds if camera has been off for a while)
- Running outdated version of Android
- No manual controls, save for white balance
- Hard to see subjects on OLED in low light
- Lack of dedicated movie recording button means you have to switch into movie mode every time you want to record video
- Internal battery charging is slow; camera cannot be used while charging
- Flimsy door over battery/memory card compartment; can't access compartment with tripod
- Software and manual must be downloaded from Nikon website
As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Coolpix S800c and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our gallery to see how the Coolpix S800c's photo quality looks!