Have you ever whipped out your smartphone to take a picture that you then post on Instagram or Facebook? And then you wished that you had a better camera to take that picture, only to realize that your standalone camera isn’t the most connected thing in the world? Trying to find a way to marry these two desires is the Google Android-powered Nikon COOLPIX S800c digital camera.

We first heard rumors of this device earlier this year, which were confirmed shortly thereafter. Now, I’ve had the chance to take this out for a test drive (or several test “shoots,” if you prefer) out in the real world and here are my impressions.

So, It’s an Android Digital Camera?

That’s the crux of the idea. Here you have what may otherwise appear to be your standard issue point-and-shoot digital camera, except it has a 3.5-inch OLED touchscreen on the back. Even then, touchscreen interfaces on digital cameras aren’t all that new, except this one gives you access to real Google Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread.

No, it’s not the newest version of Android out there, but this is real Android, including full access to the Google Play Store. What this means is that you can very quickly post the pictures you take to your Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or wherever else, as well as watch YouTube videos, read your Gmail, and check in on Foursquare. It’s worth noting, though, that the COOLPIX S800c is WiFi-only, so you will need to find a wireless connection or tether off your smartphone.

Check out my short unboxing video for a quick overview of the camera and what’s bundled in the box. I mistakenly mention that charging is via microUSB and that’s not the case; the Nikon uses some sort of proprietary connection and you will need to use this USB cable to charge the relatively small battery.

Core Imaging Specs and Features

We have to remember that, despite all the hub-bub about having Android under the hood, the COOLPIX S800c is still a point-and-shoot camera at heart and it still needs to take halfway decent photos. There’s a 16MP backside-illuminated sensor to go along with a 25-250mm f/3.2-5.8 (35mm equivalent) 10x optical zoom lens.

It takes SD/SDHC memory cards for storage, naturally, and it features GPS, Wi-Fi, ISO 125-3200, multiple scene modes, multiple focus modes, 4-inch macro, color effects, and a three-shot burst mode. You have access to effects like sepia, plus scenes like night landscape, fireworks and food. I imagine most users will probably stick to auto mode most of the time, but that’s entirely up to you. However, as this is a consumer-geared point-and-shoot, you won’t find much in terms of manual controls.

Layout and User Interface

The layout mostly appears to be standard as far as compact cameras go. You have the power button on top, along with the shutter button that is surrounded by the zoom ring. The battery and SD card slots are hidden behind a common flap on the bottom, next to the tripod mount. On the right side are the HDMI and USB ports, covered by their respective flaps.

The main user interface, of course, is done through the back. You have that 3.5-inch OLED touchscreen for mostly everything and, to the right of that, are the Android-centric hard buttons for back, home and menu. The shooting and playback on-screen interfaces will feel familiar for those coming from other touchscreen-enabled Nikon compacts, giving relatively large “buttons” for changing the flash mode, turning on macro mode, and so forth.

When you hit the “home” hard button on the right, you dive right into what appears to be a vanilla build of Android 2.3.3. It’ll feel like a smartphone, albeit one from some time last year. Touchscreen responsiveness isn’t too shabby though.

The Startup Issue

This is one of the issues that can arise when you try to find the middle ground between two disparate products. With a digital camera, you want a fast startup time, so you can take that spontaneous photo as quickly and as easily as possible… but you don’t really leave it on all the time. With a smartphone, you don’t ever really turn it off, because you leave it in standby and just expect to charge it each night. This is because the typical startup time for an Android smartphone can take several seconds.

And that’s kind of where we find ourselves with the COOLPIX S800c. When you hit the power button, you enter this odd unresponsive “middle ground” where you can take a picture, but you can’t access or alter any of the settings for several seconds. When the touchscreen buttons become responsive after a period of up to 7-8 seconds, that’s when you can change settings. That’s presumably because Android has to “start up” before you can do anything.

I can’t say whether other Android cameras, like the Samsung Galaxy Camera and the Polaroid SC1630 smart camera, suffer from the same fate, but this was a definite annoyance with this particular camera.

1080p HD Video Quality

The S800c is capable of shooting video at up to a resolution of 1920 x 1080 at 30fps. The 1080p full HD video quality is roughly on par with other point-and-shoots in this range, but it’s nothing really to write home about.

Naturally, this is nowhere near the kind of video quality that you’d get with a DSLR, but it’s probably better than most smartphones and it’s at least as good as most of the cheaper consumer-friendly point-and-shoots on the market. There are better, to be sure, but they also cost more money. The backside illuminated sensor helps with dimmer conditions too.

Image Quality and Samples

Much like the video quality, the still image quality produced by this 16MP camera is roughly on par with what you’d expect from a standard compact camera. The details can be on the fuzzier side, so you may want to sharpen that up with some processing. However, if you get a higher end smartphone or “phablet” like the Samsung Galaxy Note II or iPhone 5, you can arguably get nearly if not better quality photos. It also doesn’t help that battery life isn’t the best (rated at 140 shots) and I had some issues with the auto focus at times, even when I was in a reasonably well-lit situation.

All of the following photo samples were taken in auto mode and have not been corrected or altered aside from resizing.

f/3.2 @ 1/60sec, ISO 160

f/3.2 @ 1/30sec, ISO 280

f/3.2 @ 1.0sec, ISO 1600, handheld

f/3.2 @ 1/40sec, ISO 125

MEGATechie Smart Shooter or MEGATechie Pointless Point-and-Shoot?

I get it. I get why companies like Nikon have embarked on this strange experiment to combine the appeal of Android with the conventions of a point-and-shoot digital camera. We want to share our content. We want to be connected. But we want to take decent photos too.

At the end of the day, the Nikon COOLPIX S800c comes up short in both regards, failing to achieve either goal in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re sacrificing something. A newer smartphone will give you better Android performance. A similarly priced camera, without Android, can give you better pictures. Indeed, the same kind of camera quality can be had for much less money if you’re willing to give up on the Android thing.

Given that the COOLPIX S800c sells for about $300 online, I’d recommend you either invest your money in either a better camera or a newer smartphone rather than end up halfway to neither here. That said, the concept shows some promise and a more refined experience coupled with either a lower price or a better camera could prove to be quite compelling.

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