As expected of rumors in December, Polaroid shows off its first Android-based interchangeable lens camera. Now, Android-based cameras aren't new - Samsung has its relatively new Android 4.1 Samsung Galaxy Camera, Nikon has the Android Coolpix S800C and so on. The difference with these cameras and Polaroid's iM1836 is that those are primarily high-end to low-end compacts whereas the iM1836 is essentially a mirrorless camera (think DSLR-like picture quality on a compact's body) with a proprietary sensor size that's "smaller than the Micro Four Thirds", according to a Polaroid spokesperson at CES.
This isn't an unusual move - Nikon and Canon's mirrorless cameras have sensor sizes that are different from the standard MFT's. What's unusual however is Polaroid's decision to keep the sensors in the lens unit instead, ala what Ricoh did for its GXR camera. While we question the decision to do that, thankfully Polaroid has mentioned that the camera will be made compatible with any MFT lens provided you have the optional adapter.
We had a couple of minutes to play with the device before it powered off and here are our initial impressions. From the get-go, startup is extremely, extremely slow, taking about 1 minute to power up. Sure, the cameras are probably prototypes at this moment, but if it's expecting to be shipped in the first Q1 of 2013, we were hoping for better performance.
Playing with the physical controls located at the top was pretty much a non-descript experience - as per normal, there's a mode dial that allows you to toggle from one mode to another. There are two separate on/off and shutter buttons (usually these are combined together for easy accessibility) and we found both to be rather non-responsive because a) the former's too small and recessed and b) the latter's just wouldn't respond properly when we were trying to take photos, resulting in a couple of missed shots. You don't see it here in the pictures but the camera comes an HDMI output, safely tucked behind a hatch on its right side, for direct connection to a TV.
The 3.5-inch LCD touch screen at the back is in no way small unless you take into consideration Samsung Galaxy's 4.8-inch AMOLED beauty. The vanilla Android 4.1 experience is a welcome of course (easier to update, less clunky layered UI). Navigation wasn't extremely speedy and we noticed a short, occasional lag while flipping from page to page. Hopefully, it's a easily rectifiable issue - given that the camera runs on a quad-core processor (Polaroid spokespersons can't quite tell us which make yet), fluid navigation shouldn't be an issue. Otherwise, the camera strikes us as a fuss-free and simple-to-use gadget for those looking to graduate from compacts. Too simple for a MFT-seque camera of course and we are hoping to see more intermediate-level features on it.
If you noticed, there are five touch shortcuts (not part of the screen) that allows you to easily access the major functions such as shoot, gallery and the app landing page. This makes it easy for users looking to just snap and go.
With expected retail release to be in the first quarter of 2013, we were hoping to see a more finalized and stable build of the iM1836 camera. At this stage, it feels like there are many issues yet to be resolved or fixed. Granted that we only had our hands-on on a pre-production unit, the final handling experience might differ greatly from ours. It would be a pity if the camera only came with simple shooting modes since it is a step up from compacts, in terms of hardware specifications. Which ultimately brings us to this question - is an Android mirrorless camera necessary, given the OS's shoot and go, non-optimized for higher-end photography nature? There's a reason why manufacturers stick to making Android point and shoot cameras.
However, for those who are interested, the Polaroid iM1836 will cost USD399 (available in both black and white). That's fortunately a steal compared to the other mirrorless players in town - check our mirrorless guide here for more details. The camera will definitely hit Singapore shores but the rep onsite can't give us a definite date or price at the moment.