Whilst it would be over-doing it to say the Stylus Verve offers a groundbreaking new take on digital camera design, it is a welcome break from the identikit silver boxes that make up the majority of models in the increasingly crowded point and shoot market. The flowing curves and rakish angles might not be to everyone's taste, but the high quality construction (and splash proof sealing) belie the fact this is a fairly inexpensive model, and cannot fail to impress once you've got the camera in your hand.
In your hand
As with all very small cameras there is inevitably something of a trade-off when it comes to handling, and specifically to keeping it steady when taking pictures. The Stylus Verve is by no means the smallest camera in its class, and handling is surprisingly good, and single handed operation feels very secure, though I still found it felt safer if you hold the camera with both hands (all those curves!).
Side by side
Here for comparison is the Stylus Verve flanked by the considerably bulkier Canon PowerShot A520 and the smaller Pentax S5i.
The Stylus Verve is available in six colors; Silver, Pure White, Black, Crystal Blue, Velvet Red and Copper Orange, though all colors may not be available in all parts of the world.
The combined battery/xD Picture Card compartment sits under a sturdy plastic door. Both battery and card are securely held in place with retaining clips, so no danger of losing one when changing the other.
The Stylus Verve uses possibly the smallest Lithium Ion battery we've ever seen in a digital camera. The 3.7V, 645 mAh battery - using the CIPA testing standard - is good for around 100 shots. We found this to be a little optimistic (no viewfinder means using the screen a lot) and if you use playback mode even moderately you'll be lucky to get more than about 80 shots before the red battery warning appears. Budget for at least one more battery unless you're a very light user.
Tucked away next to the card slot is the single combination USB and A/V port. The Stylus Verve doesn't have an AC-in socket, but an optional 'dummy battery' mains adaptor is available from Olympus.
The small flash is a little underpowered (a quoted range of around 2.8m), but it's perfectly good for close range social snaps; just don't expect miracles. There are the usual options for red-eye reduction (using a pre-flash, not very effective) and slow sync, though the latter is only accessible by choosing the correct subject/scene mode. The biggest problem with the flash is the recycle time, which at 5 seconds (longer if the battery is running down) is more 1995 than 2005.
The Stylus Verve sports a small 35-70mm equiv. 2x optical zoom lens that protrudes around 5mm from the body when powered up. At F3.5 - F4.9 it's on the slow side, which can be a problem when shooting in low light (camera shake is a problem at the long end of the zoom).
When not in use the lens is very well protected behind a very nifty circular sliding cover. The Stylus Verve is certified 'weatherproof' meaning it can be used happily on the beach or ski slope (the manual is a little vague as to what this actually means, stating that the 'camera is not damaged by water spray from any direction').
The 1.8-inch, 134,000 pixel high contrast TFT screen is simply superb; bright and clear and usable in very bright conditions. Refresh rate is a bit on the low side, meaning there is some video lag, but the screen gains up very quickly in low light.
Although external controls are fairly minimal, there is a four-way controller offering easy menu access and dedicated buttons for macro mode, flash and self-timer.
One nice design touch is the unusual chrome milled mode dial.