The F88 is typically Sony, with the attention to detail we've come to expect in both design and use of materials. When the lens is 'closed' (rotated to face down into the camera body) the only protruding part is the knurled steel mode dial, and the whole thing slips easily into a coat pocket or purse. The majority of the body is covered in a matt-finish metal cladding, though the bottom is a fairly flimsy-looking plastic affair (the tripod mount, however, is metal) and the end of the camera nearest the lens is covered in natty (or should that be nasty) looking chrome-effect plastic. The rotating lens unit - the biggest selling point of the F88 - swivels through 300 degrees, from pointing directly down (the 'off' position) to facing backwards. The small optical viewfinder built into the lens unit can be used either with the lens facing forwards (when shooting with the color screen switched off, for example) or backwards (which means you can frame the shot with the viewfinder, but the subject can see the preview on the color screen).
In your hand
Although it might not look it at first glance, the F88 actually handles very well - the lack of any kind of moulded grip is countered by a small but effective chromed 'bar' that stops the camera slipping out of your hand. That said, we found the F88 considerably easier to use when held with both hands. There are a couple of minor niggles that take some getting used to, particularly when shooting with one hand. The main one is the rotating lens itself, which is too easy to knock with your shutter finger or thumb. The smooth, light rotating action may feel nice, but it is all too easy to accidentally move it or even turn the camera off (rotating the lens to point down cuts the power). A slightly stiffer 'notch' at the 90 degree (pointing forward) point would definitely be welcome, though after a few days use - as with any camera - you get used to the F88's foibles.
The F88's main selling point is its rotating lens assembly, which moves smoothly (perhaps a little too smoothly - see above) through a full 300 degrees. This allows you to take perfectly framed self portraits, get down low for close ups or hold the camera high to shoot over the heads of crowds. There are click stops at the 90, 180 and 270 degree positions, and the preview screen automatically flips once you go past the half-way position (so the picture is never upside down).
A sturdy spring-loaded hinged plastic door covers the combined battery and Memory Stick card slot. It's nigh on impossible to open accidentally, and the battery is held in by a small latch, meaning it won't fall out when you change cards. The F88 is fully compatible with the original Memory Stick and the new faster, higher capacity PRO variant. The rechargeable lithium ion battery pack is charged in-camera whenever the (included) AC adapter is plugged in.
Unsurprisingly - this is a Sony after all - the 1.8 inch non reflective LCD screen is excellent, only succumbing to glare problems in the harshest of light. There is no discernible lag. It works like a treat in low light too, automatically increasing the gain if the ambient conditions are very dim. Coverage is as near to 100% as you can get, meaning what you see on the screen is exactly what you get in the final photograph.
For the first time in a rotating lens Sony, there is a small optical viewfinder built into the lens assembly. Unfortunately the viewfinder shows just under 80% of the scene actually being captured, making it nigh on useless for accurate framing. One nice consequence of the design of the F88 is that by pointing the lens backwards and using the optical finder, your subject can see themselves on the screen - great for portraits.
The only control on the top of the camera is the chrome shutter release. It's perfectly positioned but suffers from a slightly soggy feel - it's incredibly difficult to find the 'half press' point when pre-focusing - you tend to end up taking a picture every time. After a couple of weeks of use I had managed to train my trigger finger to apply exactly the right amount of pressure, but a more positive feedback (in the form of a click stop) would not go amiss, helping prevent wasted shots.
Directly above the card/battery slot door on the right side of the F88 (looked at from behind) is the main mode dial. The knurled steel dial surrounds the power switch, which can be used to turn the camera on when the lens is pointing down (moving the lens to and from this position also turns the power on and off). This allows you to turn the camera on in play mode or off with the lens in a different position, but is otherwise pretty superfluous.
The small flash unit is built into the lens assembly, meaning it is always pointing the same way as the lens. It's not very powerful (the maximum range is around 2M), but for social snapping (around a dinner table, for example), it is perfectly adequate. Sony has made significant improvements in the flash performance of its digital cameras over the last few years, and the F88 charges and recycles pretty speedily, and flash exposures are generally excellent.
The zoom rocker is placed on the rear of the F88, about an inch and half below the shutter release. It's a smidgeon too low for my liking, especially when shooting single-handed, but is perfectly useable, sitting directly under your thumb when holding the camera ready for shooting.
The main digital controls are found in a cluster to the right of the color screen. The most important everyday controls (flash, macro mode, self-timer and image size) get their own dedicated buttons, meaning you won't need to enter the F88's extensive menu system ever other shot - and a nice touch is an instant review button, which brings up the last recorded image for checking. The four-way controller is used to navigate said menus
Although there is some disparity in the official specs, the F88 appears to use the same lens/sensor assembly as the ultra-compact T1. The 'folded optics' debuted in that model have allowed Sony to include a zoom lens (3x) for the first time in a rotating lens Cyber-shot. Directly above the main lens are the viewfinder window (which is near enough to the lens to avoid too much parallax error) and the AF illuminator, which doubles as the self-timer lamp.