Nikon introduced eight new products to us today; five new digital compact cameras, one new Nikon 1 mirrorless system camera (the J2), a new 1 Nikkor lens and an underwater case for the J2. Out of the five new compacts, two really caught our eye - the Coolpix S800C which comes with Android, Wi-Fi and a capacitive touchscreen, and the S01, a camera smaller than an iPhone.
The Coolpix S800C was the main draw of the event for us. It's a 16MP camera with 10x optical zoom, a 3.5" 819k-dot capacitive OLED touchscreen, Wi-Fi, built-in GPS and running Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The camera can download and run apps from the Google Play store, so in theory anything that Android 2.3 can do, the Coolpix S800C can do (except make calls).
We were skeptical at first, but on trying it out we found that Android runs pretty smoothly on the S800C and the capacitive screen is responsive. Even touch-typing on the screen turned out easier than we thought. Surfing the web was a revelation - this reviewer has never surfed the web on a digital compact camera before. You can even play games on the camera!
The Android implementation is smart; camera apps recognize the camera just like the camera on a smartphone, so there's no need to first take a photo, then use a gallery to transfer it to an app. Instead, you can launch an app like Instagram, snap a photo like you would using a smartphone, and immediately share it online using Wi-Fi. If there's no Wi-Fi hotspot nearby, you can wirelessly transfer images to your smartphone or tablet and share from there.
Nikon shared with us another smart detail about how Android works on the camera. The Android OS (indeed, any modern-day smartphone OS today) doesn't boot up instantly from a cold start, and while smartphone users might be okay with that (since hardly anybody switches off their phones nowadays) it would be a disaster to ship a camera that took 30 seconds to start. So the Coolpix S800C actually turns on the camera capabilities first, allowing you to switch on the camera and take a photo almost instantly - the start-up is seriously fast - while Android boots in the background. When Android finishes starting up, an icon appears which lets you go into the OS.
As to why the camera runs Android 2.3 instead of 4.0, Nikon told us that the camera was developed around the time that 2.3 was available. They don't rule out that a firmware upgrade might be possible in the future, but told us that developing a camera to run Android isn't just a simple matter of mashing OS and camera together, so no guarantees.
The Coolpix S800C is promising and looks to solve two major problems: Smartphones share photos easily but they don't always take the best images - definitely not 16MP images with 10x optical zoom. Cameras take great photos which can't be shared easily, not until you get home and offload them into your PC. With the S800C it looks like you can both take great pictures and share them easily. Now the three big questions we have about the camera is just how good the image quality is, how running Android impacts battery life, and what the retail price will be. While the local price and availability hasn't been confirmed, The Verge pegs it as US$349.95 and arriving in the US in September.
Our first impressions while playing with the S800C is that this is the future. A digital compact camera that runs a mobile computing OS - what would you call it? A smart camera? Once you surf the web on a smart camera you realize that sooner or later smart cameras will be the norm rather than the exception.
Fun fact: The Coolpix S800C is not the first camera to merge Android with a digital compact camera. Panasonic has had the LUMIX Phone 101P for nearly a year now; a smartphone running Android with a 13MP image sensor (but no optical zoom). Sadly, that camera can only be bought in the land of the rising sun. Polaroid showed off their SC1630 Android HD Smart Camera mobile phone with a 16MP image sensor in January, but it's since disappeared off the radar.
The other camera to catch our eye was the wee Coolpix S01. It's even smaller than an iPhone (thicker though) and just a little bigger than a credit card. This diminutive camera measures 77mm in length and is 17.2mm thick, weighing in at less than 96g - a true pocket pocket camera. 10.1MP, 3x optical zoom and it also has a 2.5" touchscreen LCD - besides using the shutter button, you can also tap the screen to shoot.
Sure, it isn't a 'serious' camera, but we were delighted by how small and friendly the S01 is. With the right price (Dpreview says it's US$179.99) we think Nikon may be onto a real winner here.