Although a little larger and thicker than previous ultra compact Optio models (thanks no doubt to the shifting CCD mechanism), the A10 is still very compact and very slim (and the lens still collapses completely so it is flush with the front of the camera). Design-wise it's hardly breaking new ground, looking and feeling like a dozen similar models from all the major manufacturers. That said, it's very solidly built and nicely finished, and it does have an unusual 'faceted' ring surrounding the lens (I'm clutching at straws here trying to find something unusual). External controls are also pretty standard for a camera in this class; though there is a green 'function' button that offers fast access to less commonly used functions, and which is customizable.
In your hand
As is increasingly the case with ultra compact 'style' cameras the A10 sacrifices handling slightly in order to look slick and sleek. It's possible to shoot single-handed (though it doesn't feel very secure), but unless you have double-jointed fingers (or an extra thumb) it's impossible to use the zoom without supporting the 'lens side' of the camera with your other hand. That all said, most cameras of this type are the same in this respect, though the complete lack of any kind of grip on the front or back (there is a small textured area next to the play button, but it doesn't really help).
The combined battery and SD storage compartment is found in the base of the camera on the left side under a fairly sturdy hinged cover (one of the only bits of plastic on the body). The battery held in place by a spring clip. It's also nice to see the tripod mount is near the middle of the body. The A10 has 24MB of internal memory, and doesn't ship with a removable card.
The battery (which can be charged inside or outside the camera using the supplied charger 'stand') lasts for around 150 shots per charge (CIPA standard). By today's standards this is pretty poor, and the lack of an optical viewfinder means that in reality in normal use you actually get even fewer shots per charge.
The supplied Battery Charging Stand does just what it says, and though marginally more elegant than a mains adapter I did wonder why Pentax bothered producing something so close to being a 'dock' without actually providing a USB connection (and AV output).
On the right side of the camera (from the rear) are two small ports under flexible plastic 'flaps'. The upper port is a combined mini USB and AV (audio/video) socket, the lower accepts power from the (optional) AC adapter.
The 232,000 pixel, 2.5-inch LCD screen is lovely and clear and has a high refresh rate. It's not very bright though, and I found it impossible to see once the sun came out, making shooting in good weather something of a lottery (there is no optical viewfinder). For reasons best known to Pentax you can actually turn the screen off completely for true 'point and shoot' functionality.
The 38-114mm equiv. lens retracts completely flush into the body and extends by around an inch when powered up. Previous Optio models had 35-105mm lenses (a much more useful range in my opinion), so you're losing around 4 degrees of wideangle, and gaining a little at the long end. The maximum aperture of F2.8-4.8 is fairly standard for an ultra compact.
The shutter release and on/off button are positioned on the far right side of the top plate...
...on the opposite end of the top plate is the Shake Reduction preview button. The A10 uses a CCD-shift anti-shake system, and to preserve power it isn't activated for previewing (it comes on when the camera detects it is needed). By pressing this button you can preview the effect on-screen, which is nice, but ultimately pointless.
The small flash is powerful enough to reach around 5.0m (16.4 feet) at the wide end of the zoom (Auto ISO). It's a little too close to the lens for our liking, but the red-eye reduction system seems to work well. There is a soft-flash mode for close ups and less harsh portraits. Our only complaint is that the recycle time is too long.
The zoom controls are up in the top right hand corner of the back of the camera. I can honestly say that the A10 has the worst zoom 'action' I think I've ever seen on a camera of this type. Not only is it very jerky, lurching through the 6 steps from wide to tele, but it is painfully unresponsive - there is a noticeable delay between pressing the button and the zoom moving. Even the smallest change in focal length also requires the camera to refocus briefly.
The A10 has a 'quick' button below the main controls. It can be configured to activate the shake reduction or movie mode, or - more usefully - as a 'function button', which brings up a 'mini menu' system when the green button is pressed. These menus are highly customizable, allowing you to set up the camera for fast access to the four settings you most commonly access, including ISO, white balance and image parameters.