How smart is a smartphone without the phone? Here are two mutant electronic devices that try to find out.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera is a new member of the Galaxy family that already includes smartphones (of course), tablets, phablets (part smartphone, part tablet) and media players — all running an Android operating system. Samsung stocks the Galaxy Camera with the Jelly Bean 4.1 OS, which means it acts like an Android phone in every way except making a call.
The camera is network-ready, too, with separate versions offering mobile broadband from AT&T’s HSPA+ network ($500) or the $550 version I tried with Verizon’s 4G LTE service. Those prices include only Wi-Fi capabilities. Is it worth $20 a month for a data plan?
Like a smartphone, the Galaxy Camera downloads apps from the Google Play Store, checks email, plays Netflix movies, YouTube videos and accesses the Web via the Chrome browser. The screen is a beauty, a 4.8-inch LCD touch screen with 1280 x 720 resolution.
I took the snow-white Galaxy Camera for a walk after the recent blizzard in the Northeast, sending images of snow to family and friends or depositing them in my Dropbox account. Any smartphone, already equipped with a camera, can do that, too.
The Galaxy Camera, though, is more like an actual digital camera than a standard smartphone’s meager built-in camera. Its feature set includes 16-megapixel imaging with 21x optical zoom and, for the skilled photographer, an “expert” mode with manual adjustments for shutter speed, aperture, exposure and ISO. It comes with 8 gigabytes of internal storage.
This will not exactly stir envy in DSLR owners, or even owners of Samsung’s Wi-Fi cameras that, without Android’s powers, cost up to $200 less. The Android-fueled Galaxy Camera is an energy hog, too: Verizon estimates the rechargeable 1650 mAh battery powers two hours of steady use.
Yet this is, indeed, a smart integration of camera-first and smartphone-without-the-smartphone.
Favi Entertainment SmartStick: The SmartStick, like the Galaxy Camera, is an Android device powered by the Jelly Bean 4.1 operating system. This smartphone adaptation is a streaming device, a set-top box on a stick, that brings Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Pandora, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, a Web browser and the rest of your apps from Google Play to a not-so-smart HDTV. (No camera.)
The SmartStick requires an HDTV with an available HDMI port and a home network. It’s designed for older HDTVs lacking Internet access, streaming movie services and other apps.
Favi makes versions with 8-gigabyte ($80) and, now, 4-gigabyte ($50) storage. The SmartSticks come only with a tiny remote that quickly proves itself inadequate. Browse the Web with a remote control or enter an elaborate home-network password with an on-screen keyboard? No thanks.
Favi says the remote, in fact, is for backing up and restoring the SmartStick system. To navigate, it recommends an Android phone or tablet with the free GoogleTV Remote app, or any wireless keyboard and mouse.
For non-Android owners who wish to duplicate the feel of an actual smartphone keypad, try Favi’s SmartStick Wireless Keyboard with Mouse Touchpad ($40). That’s what this iPhone user did, and though it made navigation easier, the SmartStick remains dependent on a high-speed Wi-Fi connection.
The SmartStick is actually a dumbed-down Google TV, a system that failed stunningly as Logitech Revue’s set-top box two years ago. Where Google TV connected to both the HDTV and the cable box, co-opting control of the cable program guide, the SmartStick connects directly to an HDTV, abandoning the guide, and greatly simplifies its features. This is the likely blueprint for Google TV to challenge Roku, Apple TV and other set-top streamers.
If you’re ready to stream, choose the right streamer. For households still welcoming actual movie discs, a Wi-Fi-enabled Blu-ray player accommodates the discs and streaming services like Netflix. The cost of the SmartStick, without the keyboard, would pay for one. The Blu-ray player, alas, would be even less like a smartphone.