By now, we've seen smartphones that come with impressive imaging performance. However, in the pursuit of making smartphones lighter and thinner, certain features that are present on dedicated compact cameras are not seen on their mobile phone counterparts. Polaroid, better known to us for its instant imaging products, also has digital cameras in its lineup. But interestingly, at CES 2012, the company showcased its Polaroid SC1630 Android HD Smart Camera.
Yes, this is essentially an Android smartphone-like camera by Polaroid. Given that smartphones have proven to be sufficiently capable for average imaging purposes, what does the SC1630 offer that hasn't been seen? Its dimensions, which measures 111.9 x 56.9 x 15.5 (18.5 with lens extended)mm isn't exactly the thinnest smartphone around. Fortunately, its weight of 140g isn't too hard to handle in our hands.
Screen-wise, the SC1630 comes with a modest 3.2-inch display with a WVGA resolution. According to Polaroid, the unit comes with an anti-reflection coating to improve display legibility under direct sunlight. We do agree with that, though it has an insane amount of fingerprints (probably from the horde of visitors to its booth) smudged all over the screen.
The four buttons that links to the back, home, menu and media player functions of the device felt stiff to us, but this is an early unit, thus Polaroid might make some improvements along the way. Since the SC1630 focuses more on its imaging features, it makes sense that we have a large and obvious red camera button on the left profile. Right beside that, is the jog dial that controls the optical zoom of the SC1630. And safe to say, they are easy to reach, and not too stiff for our fingers.
A textured material is used for the rear of the device, and we got to say that it gave us a good grip. This is especially useful when we were taking images with the SC1630 - we didn't fumble with the controls nor tried to balance the device which had a well-distributed weight.
Unlike most other smartphones out there, the SC1630 comes with a 3x optical zoom to catch those imaging subjects from far (but not too far, as we've tried). The camera itself comes with 16-megapixels, with a focal length of 6.5mm to 19.5mm and an aperture value of F3.1 to F5.6. A Xenon flash is located just beside the camera sensor, and if you prefer to manually control the imaging settings, there's a Program mode and various other preset scenes within the camera app. Image processing options, such as adding filters and editing the images for red-eye correction and many more are also included with the SC1630.
We did notice some downsides to the SC1630. Oddly, it only supports a video recording resolution up to 720p, while we were hoping to see a full HD resolution that is now quite commonly seen on smartphones. Secondly, with just a 1020mAh battery, we are skeptical over its mileage. Even if you were to use the SC1630 solely as a camera, the battery might not be able to handle the load.
Lastly, instead of the standard 3.5mm audio port used by most manufacturers, Polaroid opt to use a 2.5mm jack. This probably would have made sense many years ago, but in this day and age, it'll only serve to deter people from purchasing the device. We didn't manage to pry the device open (though we heard there were competing exhibitors who tried to do so and got told off), but we were informed that the SC1630 uses a micro SIM card.
According to Polaroid, the SC1630 will be available in retail shops from April 2012, starting in the US. Priced at US$299, the device might make its way into other regions, depending on the reception of its initial launch. A spokesperson also stated that Polaroid is intending to include LTE connectivity into its next Polaroid smartphone, targeted for a soft launch around June 2012 with an estimated release date in Q3 2012.