When the original Samsung Galaxy Camera was released, it was very different to anything else on the market. It boasted 3G/4G connectivity and ran Android, at a time when most cameras lacked Wi-Fi. So, while at CES 2014, we were keen to get out hands on its successor, the Galaxy Camera 2, and see how the latest smart compact compares.
The first thing you notice about the Galaxy Camera 2 is that it looks much better than the original. It will come in black or white, and uses the same sort of faux leather and metallic trim as the Note 3 (Samsung does like its pleather at the moment). This means it looks more like the mid-range camera it wants to be, rather than the bizarre love-child of phone and camera. It also feels pretty good in the hand, though as previously, it's bigger than we'd like for a compact, and its form has clearly been dictated by its 4.8-inch touchscreen.
In our brief thumbing session, the camera's 1.6 GHz Quad-Core and 2 GB of RAM seemed to keep things running nice and slickly. The camera runs Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) with the TouchWiz UI, so it has the new home screen style with more permanent widgets, and is generally less like stock Android. Obviously our few minutes with the camera weren't long enough to test the extended battery life.
While we didn't get the chance to walk away with files from the Galaxy Camera 2 to look at in detail on our computers, we'd guess image quality is pretty much on a par with the original. To our disappointment, the camera still only has a 16-megapixel 1/2.3 inch (6.2 x 4.6 mm) sensor. Though bigger than those in most smartphones, it's only comparable with budget compact cameras, and as such so will be image quality.
Personally we'd have liked to see a bigger sensor, even it that was at the cost of the zoom – which arguably loses some usefulness with its maximum variable aperture reaching F5.9 at the zoom end anyway. However, maybe Samsung sees the 21x optical zoom as the distinguishing feature between this and its phones, and a draw for smartphone photographers who want something more.
There's also the fact Samsung has only announced a Wi-Fi version of the Galaxy Camera 2, while the first also came in 3G/4G variants. In our review, we found the ability to share images from anywhere was the most compelling feature of the original, so it would be a shame if a 3G/4G option wasn't there this time around. However, maybe most people just weren't willing to shell out for an additional data plan when they already had a smartphone in their pockets, and with NFC, pairing with smart devices for remote shooting and sharing of images is easier this time around.
Based on the few minutes we had with the Galaxy Camera 2, we're not convinced this is a compelling upgrade, or that Samsung is really taking the concept of a connected smart compact camera forward enough. It feels a bit like updates to the processor, RAM and storage are just there to keep the camera in line with Samsung phones, and the lack of a 3G/4G connectivity option feels like a step backwards. We'll know more when we get the chance to put the phone through its paces properly.