In the social-networking age of Twitter and Facebook, lots of people snap self-portraits for online profiles and such. Samsung has designed a digital camera that promises to make it much easier to capture your own mug. The company's new DualView TL225 point-and-shoot, which I've enjoyed shooting with for several days, boasts a large, 3.5-inch LCD display on the back and a smaller, 1.5-inch screen on the front.
My initial reaction was that this dual-screen, $350 compact must have gimmick written all over it. But the front display is practical, for much the same reason that self-portrait mirrors come in handy on some camera-phones. Moreover, people who own camcorders commonly flip their LCD displays to get a lens'-eye view of what's being shot.
There's nothing to flip or rotate on the Samsung — the front LCD is embedded on the camera and isn't even visible until you tap the front of the camera. Tapping again makes it disappear. Through camera settings, you can always leave it on or off. You'll want to leave it off when you don't need it so as not to drain the battery.
The camera elicited positive reactions from the folks I photographed. Though far from perfect, it takes generally excellent pictures, especially outdoors. It's one of those cool "why didn't I think of that?" gadgets.
Here's a closer look:
Camera basics. You quickly come to appreciate the 27mm lens, wider than you usually see on a point-and-shoot. The 12.2-megapixel camera has a 4.6X optical zoom and image stabilization to reduce the shakes. There's also a slot for a memory card, but you'll have to supply your own - and it is a MicroSD card rather than the SD card that's become a de facto standard on most compact cameras. You can snap only a few pictures using the camera's internal memory.
As with most point-and-shoots these days, the camera can shoot video, too, but you can't take advantage of the front display while capturing a scene. Through an optional adapter, you can connect it to a high-definition television or HD monitor, via HDMI. You can also record voice memos.
Samsung uses a proprietary USB cable for connecting the camera to a computer, printer or the supplied AC adapter for charging, so you best not forget it if you travel.
A mixed bag of tricks. The front display isn't just for shooting self-portraits. Your subjects may get a kick out of seeing their faces, too (and pose accordingly). When the self-timer is on, a 3-2-1 countdown cleverly reminds your group when to smile. The screen is small, though, so you won't see everything that's in the background of your shot.
A major challenge for many parents is getting kids to sit still for pictures. In Child Mode, you can use the front display to show them an animated video of a clown. With any luck, the youngsters will be enthralled just long enough for you to get them to flash a grin.
My kids found the clown amusing, but I worry about how quickly the thrill will fade. Starting in October, Samsung will wisely let you download new animations for free. Only one animation can exist on the camera at a time.
The camera also makes use of smartphonelike finger gestures with "haptic" vibration feedback that lets you know that your menu selections have been registered. You can flick the back display to move from one picture you're viewing to the next. You can "draw" a circle to rotate an image. And you can also draw an X on the back screen to delete a photo — the gesture I found the most useful. If you have second thoughts, you can resurrect deleted images from a recycle bin (so long as you have enough memory).
Yet another trick: The camera can automatically identify smiling faces and can snap the shutter at the opportune moment. Blink detection is supposed to recognize when a subject's eyes are shut, but I couldn't get it to work. As with many other state-of-the-art shooters, it also has face detection and numerous shooting modes.
But some stunts go too far. There's an onboard motion sensor, which means you can tilt the camera to change shooting modes, such as when you want to capture video. While I see the benefit in some of the touch-based gestures, at least once you get the hang of them, I don't quite get the point of tilting. I may not think two screens are gimmicky, but the tilt stuff certainly comes across that way.
I also found some of the touch icons and menus confusing. Moreover, though the camera takes good pictures outdoors, you may have a difficult time framing them. There's no viewfinder, and both the front and rear LCD screens are exceedingly hard to make out in direct sun.
All that aside, when it comes to delighting a crowd, Samsung delivers. Two screens are generally better than one.
The bottom line
Samsung DualView TL225
3 stars (out of 4)
Pros. Front screen makes it simple to capture your own image or to show animation to get kids to smile. Wide-angle lens.
Cons. Screen images hard to see in sunlight. Menu icons confusing. Gimmicky tilt controls. Proprietary USB cable.