It’s taken me some time to get to play with the i7 but it’s worth a look since it is a very interesting camera indeed, or rather, it’s a very interesting multimedia device. And anyone familiar with Samsung camera products will know the company is a master at throwing features at “the wall” and seeing if they stick and with the i7, things are no different. But is it any good?
Well, not only is this machine unusual for its feature set, but the hub of it all is a high resolution (230k-pixels) rotating 3-inch colour touch sensitive screen that has a novel and simple-to-use graphical user interface (or GUI) to help control it all. And by all I mean it has a 7.2-megapixel camera with 3x optical (internal) zoom lens, it camcorder functionality and MP3 player and video player all built-in too.
Each function is activated by rotating the large screen through 90-degrees (movie mode) 180 degrees camera mode. Left at its “normal” rotated position the screen sits flush with the body and represents the camera’s MP3 music player mode. When rotated by 180-degrees, the LCD sits slightly proud of the camera’s otherwise slimline body to provide an extra hand hold when snapping stills.
The camera mode position also allows access to the curved array of controls on the right side that include the sluggish lens zoom control; it takes four seconds to zoom from the 38mm wide end of the zoom to its 114mm zoomed extremity then another three seconds to go back again.
Other controls include a playback button, screen button and a mode button that will fire up a menu that allows you to choose the function you want to activate (music player or video player for example.
The camera can be activated from any mode as long as it’s not active (so a music track has be paused first for example) by pushing the shutter button that sits alongside the on/off and face AF buttons on the otherwise Spartan top plate.
However, if in music mode with the screen left in its “shut” music player position, the controls under the screen such as the lens zoom buttons cannot be used. But it has to be said this is a clever design since despite all the functions and gizmos at its disposal, there are only nine buttons on the camera.
The rest of the controls are in menus that can be activated from the screen simply by tapping on a desired icon, say the focus mode, and then selecting from the new set of options this presents. This looks very funky indeed and is actually logical and easy to use no matter what the mode you’re in.
The down side here of course is it’s pretty slow to use with multiple taps sometimes being needed before a selection is recognised, then you have to wait for the GUI to animate the next screen of menu options.
In terms of sound, video and still image quality, the i7 does rather well in all but the latter and arguably the most important. The supplied headphones allow for a remarkably rich and bright sound, particularly when the built-in SRS surround sound is turned on.
A small built-in speaker provides surprisingly loud and very “tsk, tsk, tsk, plink” sounding music that’s sure to annoy your fellow bus or train passengers should you not opt to listen or watch the thing without the headphones when traveling.
The camera’s excellent screen may get lots of grubby finger smudges on it but its easy to clean and provides a remarkably clear and crisp picture that makes it a pleasure to watch of view you snaps or 800 x 592 (at 20fps or 640 x 480 at 30fps) movies.
In terms of the picture quality, the camera works well enough as a neat point and shooter, subject to the sluggish performance comments above. However, the problem is image noise. Colour and white balance are good and the flash modes are good too (though again the flash can take an age to recycle), the metering is excellent and while the AF is slow it does offer a great 1cm macro mode that is very good indeed.
If you shoot at ISO 80, 100 or 200 things are okay, but detail is starting to drop at ISO, stripped away by noise processing, over ISO 400 noise and detail drop further and at ISO 800 and 1600, well, lets not go there.
There are a couple of other niggles too, it takes over two seconds for the camera turn on, in movie shooting mode, the AF system won’t refocus as the view changes, so if you start with a close up and want to pan to a longer shot, you’ll need to stop shooting and start again focusing on the more distant subject.
On a more positive note there are other neat features in the camera including a World Tour Guide that shows places of interest around the world with pictures and text, it has a mammoth 450MB internal storage capacity (that’s about enough space for about 100-shots in the top quality, full resolution setting) and it accepts SDHC external storage too.
Take a huge range of multimedia features, chuck ‘em into a stylish and svelte camera body, stir in some control panache and see if it all works together. Well, here the answer is … almost, since everything but the camera functionality is rather good. But...
As a multimedia device the i7 is very clever but as a camera, it could do much much better but if it’s just snaps you want and feel the need for all those lovely extras, it may still be for you.