Imaging technologies have really come up front-and-center as key components of smartphone design; in just one week, the big one a lot of us have been waiting for should make its debut – the Nokia Lumia 1020 as the first non-Symbian 41-megapixel PureView phone. This focus is far from limited to Windows Phone, and Android OEMs have taken a number of big strides themselves in recent months.
Just a few weeks back, we saw Samsung release a pair of camera-centric devices, the Galaxy S 4 Zoom and the Galaxy NX. The former, of course, is a smartphone gifted with a nice optical zoom, while the latter is a more traditional interchangeable-lens digital camera, albeit one powered by Android.
You may have read Jaime Rivera’s piece last week about the GS4 Zoom, and how he just couldn’t get past the smartphone’s thickness. While he dug the idea of the higher-end imaging the phone’s advanced camera hardware would afford, the trade-offs were too great. Instead, Jaime posited, it would be better if bulky gear like an optical zoom arrived as accessories we could connect to or remove from our phones as needed.
I’d love to see a manufacturer take a stab at a modular phone system like that, but Jaime’s editorial got me thinking about something else: what about the flip side of that arrangement? That is, instead of separating the camera bits and keeping the smartphone part of the Galaxy S 4 Zoom, what if we took the Galaxy NX and made its Android half an optional accessory of its own?
Yes, but that’s not quite what I’m talking about. Hear me out:
The Galaxy NX looks like a perfectly nice camera. The interchangeable lenses are a huge improvement over last year’s Galaxy Camera, giving the camera far more flexibility. But for as much about the NX stuff that works, there’s just one big problem I can’t quite resolve: a digital camera seems like a huge waste of smartphone hardware.
What’s my beef? Well, data concerns for one. Unless you’re a serious shutterbug, any sort of monthly wireless plan could go largely wasted for a device like the Galaxy NX. While plenty of amateur photographers won’t think twice about dropping $1000 on a camera, another several hundred bucks every year for data might be pushing it.
Maybe more than that, this implementation strikes me as a poor fit for Android’s more general purpose hardware. It may be nice to know that the camera’s GPU can render 35 million triangles a second, but that’s not going to help much when it comes to taking pictures.
Why even consider the marriage of Android and digital cameras, then? Should we just keep trying to make the cameras on regular smartphones better and better? Far from it. The Galaxy NX is based on a sound idea, as a smartphone platform like Android can bring many benefits to a camera: superior in-device editing and cataloging features, and advanced sharing options for getting your pics out there into the world.
Is there any way to get these two different spheres to overlap in a way that makes sense?
What if Samsung released a Galaxy NX, that instead of having all its Android guts an intrinsic part of the camera, instead featured a rear dock that allowed users to connect an external Android phone?
It could be hard to make a universal dock that both looked nice and was sturdy, but perhaps Samsung could sell a series of interchangeable dock adaptors, offering them for its headlining phones like the GS4 or (with a large enough camera) the upcoming Note III. You’d download the NX app from the Play Store, snap your phone into the camera’s bracket, and you’ve got something that’s going to function very closely to the Galaxy NX.
There are a lot of different directions a product like this could go. For instance, a manufacturer would need to decide how much functionality should be built-in to the camera itself. Will it be usable on its own, sans smartphone? Would that mean giving it a smaller LCD that’s ultimately covered by a docked smartphone, or should users just use the viewfinder when a smartphone’s not hooked up?
The important part is that this could be a best of both worlds solution, while avoiding unnecessary waste. Perhaps it’s not as elegant as an all-in-one Android camera, but I think that with the proper design, it could still be a hit.
* – and per the headline, yes, I’m aware that the Galaxy NX isn’t a DSLR – I’m saying that I prefer one to an MILC, though.