Cameras used to be simple. They may have had complicated dials, they may have even required the use of a separate light meter, but everyone knew what they were for: capturing images. However, now that cameras are built into everything from computers to MP3 players to mobile phones, it's all getting a bit blurred. And with the introduction of this bizarre device from Kodak, it's blurrier still.
The EasyShare-One is definitely a camera. It has a 3x zoom lens, a modest 4Mp sensor, a flash unit and an LCD screen. But it's also a media viewer, with 256Mb of built-in memory as well as organisational and editing functions. And beyond that, it's a wireless internet portal, letting you upload photos to your PC and the online Kodak Gallery, e-mail images to your friends and buy prints.
The chunky metallic One splits easily into two, with a huge three-inch rotating touchscreen that takes up most of the camera's rear. The display is swift to refresh and bright enough to use outdoors, although it's grainy in low light. The fold-out screen is handy for angled shots and self-portraits, but folding it right out leaves the buttons upside down, so a traditional rear-screen configuration will make sense for most users.
The 3x optical zoom is sluggish but the shutter is responsive, combining almost zero shutter lag with fast burst modes. As a camera, the One makes a good Wi-Fi device, as manual features are restricted to metering and focusing zones, white balance presets, average close-ups and scene modes.
Some are selected from clear Flash menus on-screen with a small stylus (or a finger if your hands aren't too large). However, others require you to use the menu button and four-way pad instead, which can get confusing if you want to alter even simple settings in a hurry.
Optically, Kodak has pushed the One's 4Mp chip as far as it can. The colours are definitely Kodak-strong and Kodak-bright. Skin tones, come with a Californian glow of healthiness that can enliven the palest of British faces. Exposure is crisp and lively, and the flash delivers enough light for group portraits. On the down side, wide-angle shots are prone to fringing and there's little detail on offer at full magnification.
And so to the extra features. The One comes with no less than two Secure Digital slots. The first gives room to expand the One's generous 256Mb of internal storage, while the second houses the camera's Wi-Fi card. That 0.25Gb of storage is meant to reduce your need for a PC. You can fit around 150 full-resolution images on the camera itself, view or edit them, and add them to various albums and slideshows.
But if your camera fills up, or if you'd like to share your photos, simply pop up the Wi-Fi card to go wireless. The One is amazingly easy to set up. There are none of the complex SSID or channel number questions you get on the Nikon CoolPix P1, for example. Just tap in any security details on the camera's virtual keyboard and you're done.
Once you've found a home or Wi-Fi hotspot, you can upload snaps to a PC running EasyShare software or use its internet connection to link up with Kodak EasyShare gallery online. Direct from the camera, images can be uploaded, e-mailed and turned into prints for mail-order delivery. You can even download and view (though not save) Gallery images on the camera, turning the One into a neat portable, connected media viewer.
Best of all, these pie-in-the-sky concepts actually work. Finding wireless networks and moving images around really is no harder than sending MMS picture messages from a phone. But there's the rub. Mobiles like the Sharp 903 are already up to 3Mp, with optical zooms, flashes and burst modes. Moblogging is easy and cheap enough for kids to do without them straying from a familiar mobile phone handset.
The EasyShare-One is a bold, innovative camera. Its touch-screen interface and simple wireless connectivity allow us to imagine an entire digital photography life without using a computer. But its snapshot resolution and limited photo features means that this first model, at least, feels more like an overpriced and bloated mobile phone than the camera of the future. Roll on the EasyShare Two! Mark Harris