Note: This portion of our Hands-on report is excerpted from our First Impressions review on Connect. Click here for the mobile perspecitve on the Galaxy NX: connect.dpreview.com
Camera app and Android OS
The Galaxy NX runs the latest version of Google's Android OS, 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, but comes with a proprietary camera app that is quite similar to the one found on the Galaxy Camera, so in theory you can operate the camera without any external controls at all. On the main screen you get a virtual mode dial plus shutter and video buttons. A range of shooting parameters is displayed at the top of the frame. A tap on any of them opens an animated array of "lens-barrel-style" control rings that you can slide to change parameters.
This interface is nicely designed but, like on the Galaxy Camera, can be a little cumbersome to use if you change settings frequently. The app also offers an electronic level and more settings can be accessed through the menu. The camera app also features "Standard" and "Expert" modes which change how complex it appears.
Like the Galaxy Camera, the NX also offers a feature that you wouldn't find on most conventional cameras: voice control. Once activated in the settings you'll have a range of voice commands at your disposal that allow you to take a picture, record a video, switch to Auto mode and go to the Gallery app, among other functions. This can be useful as a remote-control substitute in situations when you don't want to touch the camera to avoid shake or simply for shooting a self-portrait.
This being a Samsung device the NX is of course loaded with a whole array of proprietary Samsung apps and modes:
- Photo Suggest gives you location-based recommendations of popular photography spots which are sourced from a library of images taken by other photographers.
- Story Album allows you to create digital photo books which can be viewed and shared on your other devices.
- Multi Exposure merges two shots
- Animated Photo combines still images to create a moving GIF file
- Sound & Shot stores sound with an image
- Camera Studio is a customizable widget screen where you can put your favourite photo-related apps all in one place. So you get a screen with all your apps inside a graphic outline of a camera.
Once you close the camera app the Galaxy NX operates just like any current Android smartphone, albeit a very bulky one. That said, despite 4G connectivity you cannot place a phone call with the 'stock' Galaxy NX. Apps like Skype will let you do that, but be prepared for some puzzled looks from bystanders...
|The Galaxy NX runs the latest version of Google's Android OS - 4.2.2 "Jelly Bean"...||...which means you also get a Samsung version of the Android notification tray.|
Because the Galaxy NX is an Android device you can install most apps available through the Google Play store. In theory you could use the NX for navigating to your destination on Google Maps, check a restaurant on Yelp or simply play a round of Angry Birds Space but in practice third-party camera and editing apps will of course be the most interesting ones to install and use.
However, what we've seen when testing the Galaxy Camera will likely also be true for the Galaxy NX. Namely, although you will be able to install third-party camera apps, unless developers update them for 100% compatibility with the NX, you won't be able to shoot at full resolution or use the entire ISO range. There is a good chance some of the controls won't work either but we will only find out once we get a reviewable test unit and can install some third-party apps such as ProCapture or Camera FV-5 on it.
In contrast most of the popular editing apps such as Snapseed or Pixlr-o-matic should be fully compatible and usable in the same way as they would be on any Android phone or tablet. However, one thing to bear in mind is that most editing apps don't allow you to save an edited image at full size. On the one hand, this makes images more easily shareable via wireless connections, but on the other it also means that your output images might not have enough pixels for printing or displaying at large size. At 612 x 612 pixels, the popular filter and sharing app Instagram is one of the worst offenders in that respect. Snapseed's maximum image size is a more useful 2304 x 1728 pixels but that is still a long way away from the Galaxy NX's 20.3MP pixel count.
That said, its ability to record Raw files makes the Galaxy NX more interesting than any other Android device in the context of thirdy-party editing apps. The Photo Mate App, for example, includes a fully fledged Raw converter that offers similar levels of control to what you're used to from Adobe ACR or other desktop Raw converters, much more than what we've seen on the built-in Raw conversion functions on some other cameras. Installed on the NX, this would allow for full Raw editing on the go without ever getting close to a computer, as long as you're happy to do it on a 4.8-inch screen.
The Galaxy NX's Android OS and connectivity features also give you a plethora of options for sharing your images via Wi-Fi or 3G/4G. You can post your images to Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter and any other social networks, just as you would from your smartphone. It's also easy to save your images directly to the cloud via apps such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon Cloud Drive, and then access and view them from any device or share them with others.
The Galaxy NX also comes with various Samsung-specific sharing functions. Share Shot allows you to share pictures right when they are taken with other Samsung devices that support this feature. This includes the Galaxy S3/S4, the Galaxy Note 10.1 and the Galaxy Note II.
There is also the Buddy Photo Share feature which uses facial recognition to match your photos with your contacts. By tagging photos you can send and share pictures, and sort them in your gallery by faces.
By implementing Android in a mirrorless system camera Samsung demonstrates how serious it is about using the Google OS not only in point-and-shoot devices like the Galaxy Camera but also models that are aimed at more serious shooters who value the ability to change lenses, the better image quality of large sensors and the flexibility of processing Raw files.
On paper, the Galaxy NX comes equipped with more than capable hardware components, but the large dimensions mean it's almost as bulky as a mid-size DSLR and due to the small number of external controls photographers who frame their shots through the electronic viewfinder and like to change their settings frequently will have to seriously adapt their shooting style. The Android camera app offers a whole new way of operating the camera including voice control, but only a full-test will show how well the concept works on a system camera.
Another important factor for the system's success will be the willingness of Android developers to optimize their third-party camera and editing apps for the NX. Unfortunately this relationship is a circular one. The better the NX sales figures will be the more attractive the device will be to developers and the more fully compatible apps are available the more attrative it is to consumers. We will have to wait and see if Samsung can can come up with any creative solutions to tackle this chicken-and-egg situation.
Overall the Galaxy NX looks like an interesting concept that doesn't appear to be without its flaws, but Samsung diserves some kudos for the bold move of implementing Google's Android OS in a mirrorless system camera and we are looking forward to receiving a production unit for testing.