Wi-Fi mode

The image quality of smartphone cameras might be getting better and better but digital cameras still have the edge for serious photography. However, smartphones come with the advantage of connectivity which allows you to share your images almost instantly on social networks or image hosting sites, or via email. With the NX210, Samsung is making a serious attempt to bridge the gap between camera and smartphone by integrating a Wi-Fi mode into the camera.

The only visual difference between the NX210 and NX200, apart from the model name and a Wi-Fi icon on the camera front, is the added Wi-Fi position on the mode dial. It replaces the panorama mode, that is now accessible as one of the scene modes on the NX210.

The Wi-Fi mode gets its own dedicated mode dial position, and once you've set the dial here you can choose from the following options:

  • MobileLink - in this mode you can connect the camera to a smartphone and transfer images and video from camera to phone. You'll have to download and install Samsung's MobileLink app on your smartphone to make this work.
  • Remote Viewfinder - in this mode you can see the camera's live view image on the screen of your smartphone. You can adjust the flash and image size settings, enable the self-timer, and trigger the shutter-button remotely. To use these functions you have to download and install Samsung's Remote Viewfinder app on your smartphone.
  • Social Sharing - in this mode you can share pictures that are stored on the camera's memory card on your Facebook, Picasa, YouTube or Photobucket accounts.
  • Email - does exactly what it says on the tin, let's you send images from the camera's SD card to an email address.
  • SkyDrive - allows you to upload images to Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service, requires a SkyDrive/Windows Live account.
  • Auto Backup - in this mode you can back your images up wirelessly to your PC.
  • TV Link - this mode allows you to play back images and video files on other wireless devices such as Smart TVs if they are connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the camera.
When you turn the mode dial to its Wi-Fi position, you get the Wi-Fi homescreen where you can choose from the functions described above. To use the Social Sharing, Email and SkyDrive apps you have to connect to a Wi-Fi network, which works in just the same way as it would on a smartphone.

The MobileLink and Remote Viewfinder apps are currently available for Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems. For the purpose of this test we have used a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone running Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean'. In these modes the camera basically acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot that the phone connects to. In the case of the Android app that happens automatically once you launch the app. On the iPhone you have to manually connect the phone to the camera's Wi-Fi hotspot first and then launch the app. On the iPhone we also found we occasionally had to try a couple of times before a connection was established, making the process a little more longwinded.

To use MobileLink you need to install the corresponding app on your smartphone. After you enter MobileLink mode on the camera and launch the app on your phone, the two devices hook up and you can browse thumbnails of the images on your camera on your smartphone. Tap on a thumbnail to mark it for download and then hit the download button to transfer the images to a folder on your smartphone, where you can view and magnify them in your phone's standard gallery application. You can view up to 1000 and send up to 100 files at a time.
The Remote Viewfinder app allows you to see the camera's live view stream on the screen of your smartphone. Pressing the shutter button at the bottom of the screen will take an image. You can also set the self-timer, configure the flash (Off or Auto) and select an image size (20 or 2.1MP). All other settings are taken over from the current camera settings. You can transfer a reduced size version of the image to your phone by clicking on the image thumbnail after it has been taken. The range is approximately seven meters which works well for most self-portraits. Both apps allow only one connection to a smartphone, so you are safe from 'unauthorized users' connecting to your camera.

In Social Sharing, Email and SkyDrive modes the camera connects directly to the Internet via a Wi-Fi connection. When you enter any of these modes you'll have to select one of the available Wi-Fi connections and enter a password if necessary. You can then upload images directly to the supported social network and image sharing sites, send them attached to an email or save them to your SkyDrive account. Access data is remembered if you connect to the same network again.

The Social Sharing app lets you you upload images and videos on the memory card to Facebook, Picasa, YouTube or Photobucket. You select the images in a browser and hit the upload button. You can also enter a comment. Of course you have to sign up with each of these services first in order to use them (this can't be done on the camera itself).
You can also send an image by email straight from the camera. To do this you simply enter the sender and receiver email addresses into the form and select the images/videos to send, in the same way as you do for Facebook-upload. There is a virtual keyboard for text entry but its use - you move a cursor with the camera's four-way controller and then select the letters one by one - is a little tedious, and most users would arguably prefer to do this sort of thing on their phone.

Finally you can configure the camera to back-up images automatically to a PC, on which you'll need to install Samsung's PC Auto Backup software. You can also view images and play video via another device (such as a Samsung Smart TV) that is connected to the same Wi-Fi hotspot as the camera.

In practice we found the NX210's Wi-Fi function to do its job, with no disconnection issues and decent transfer speeds. However, compared to some of the Wi-Fi solutions we have seen from other manufacturers, such as Nikon's optional WU-1a adapter for the D3200, Samsung's approach feels a little convoluted. You have to install two different apps on your phone - one for transferring images and one for remote-controlling the camera - while other functions, such as upload to social networks, are operated from the camera directly.

In Nikon's solution all these functions are handled in one single app, which makes the whole process feel a little more streamlined. Direct upload from the camera of course means you save yourself the additional step of connecting to a smartphone, but the user interfaces of smartphones are arguably more suitable for many sharing/web-related tasks (and specifically for typing text), making the 'integrated' app approach a more attractive solution in most situations. Of course nothing stops you from only using the MobileLink app to transfer your images to your phone and then do all sharing/uploading from there.

That said the camera's user interface offers a login-browser for logging on to public Wi-Fi networks that require you to accept terms and conditions or enter a user name and password into a web-form. It also comes with a virtual keyboard, although typing text by moving a cursor with the camera's four-way controller and selecting letter by letter is tedious to say the least, and will almost always keep your messages very brief.

The Samsung's Wi-Fi radio is only active while you are connected to either a smartphone or a Wi-Fi network. In normal use these are relatively brief periods of time and in our testing we found the Wi-Fi option to not have much impact on the camera's battery life.

Like most similar solutions the Samsung NX210's Wi-Fi implementation has room for improvement, and feels more like a bolted-on afterthought than a solution that has been integrated into the camera's operational concept. It would be much more comfortable to perform most tasks on a computer, even if that means you have to take the memory card out of the camera and stick it into your computer's card reader. Equally, the process for connecting the camera wirelessly to a TV feels so long-winded that we suspect most people would probably prefer simply to use an HDMI cable.

That said, for those who don't carry a portable computer or simply prefer to travel light, the NX210 lets you upload and share images on the go, as long as you're within reach of a Wi-Fi network. It might not be as comfortable as doing it with a device that was designed with this sort of thing in mind from the start, but it certainly gets the job done.