Samsung's DualView TL225: Innovative Features, Exhausted Battery
At a Glance
Samsung TL225 Compact Camera
Packed with innovative features, the dual-screen, touchscreen, gesture-controlled TL225 is more for gadget hounds than for hardcore photographers. Its whistles and bells drain the battery quickly.
The 12-megapixel Samsung DualView TL225 ($350 as of December 1, 2009) packs various never-before-seen features into a single point-and-shoot camera. As a feat of engineering and design, it's an astounding piece of work. Performance-minded photographers, however, will see past those nifty features and demand better battery life, sharper photos, and more manual settings for the price.
"Subtlety" isn't in the DualView TL225's vocabulary. When you tap the area to the left of its 4.6X (27mm to 124mm) optical zoom lens, its black front faceplate morphs into a secondary LCD screen. The front-facing LCD screen has several useful functions, depending on the mode you set the camera to.
In Portrait mode, you can aim the camera at yourself, compose a self-portrait, and have the shutter fire as soon as you smile (sometimes you have to exaggerate the smile for the feature to work, but it's still a neat trick--and if your nickname is Fang, you should have no problem). When the camera is in Self-Timer mode, the front screen displays a 3-2-1 countdown clock, eliminating some of the timing guesswork normally involved in unmanned shots. And when the TL225 is in the Children scene mode, the front LCD shows an enchanting animation of a clown, meant to capture a kid's attention just long enough to get a decent picture.
In other respects, the TL225's innovative touchscreen interface is closer to what you'd find on a high-end cell phone than on a camera, offering haptic feedback and gesture-based controls. The touchscreen controls all of the TL225's functions aside from its power button, shutter button, zoom toggle, and playback button; and the interface is as polished and responsive as any touchscreen UI I've seen.
When you touch any option on the TL225's crisp, bright, beautiful 3.5-inch LCD screen, a subtle vibration lets you know that the camera got the message. The screen's gesture controls are well implemented and intuitive. Swiping with your finger lets you page through saved photos, drawing an "X" on the screen deletes unwanted pics, and making a circle on the screen rotates your photos during playback.
The TL225's gesture-based controls aren't limited to the touchscreen. Thanks to in-camera accelerometers, you can change the camera's functions by tilting the camera in different directions while pressing a touch icon on the right edge of the screen. Tilting forward puts the camera in movie mode (at its highest resolution setting, the TL225 records 720p MPEG-4 video at 30 frames per second), tilting it upward selects Program mode, and rotating it counterclockwise selects Smart Auto mode (which automatically chooses a scene mode based on the shooting environment). Alternatively you can select those modes by manually tapping icons on the touchscreen, just as people did in the olden days of 2007.
It's a good thing that the TL225's touchscreen is so bright, because it's also prone to smudging (as is the glossy front-LCD area). You won't see many fingerprints and smudges when the displays are turned on, but when they're off, they can look like a finger painting without the paint.
To charge the TL225, you plug it directly into a wall or into the USB port on your computer, without removing the battery; this arrangement may attract some users and irritate others. The TL225's proprietary USB cable comes with a wall-outlet adapter, which means that you use the same cable for charging the camera via USB, charging it via a wall outlet, and offloading photos to your computer.
Its nifty, futuristic tricks notwithstanding, the TL225 has significant drawbacks. Because Samsung opted to have the camera use the microSD/microSDHC storage format, you can't use any SD or SDHC cards that you may already own.
Another weakness is overall image quality. In PC World Labs tests, the Samsung DualView TL225 showed an evident lack of sharpness and color accuracy in test shots, though it excelled in flash exposure and in freedom from distortion. In my hands-on tests, I noticed blurry or soft images in many circumstances, and images became pixelated when I offloaded them to my PC and zoomed in at all.
ISO performance was on a par with that of most point-and-shoot cameras. Shots taken at ISO 3200 and 1600 showed significant noise, and those taken at ISO 800 looked a bit pock-marked.
Perhaps the biggest ding in the TL225's armor is its battery life. As you might imagine, all those advanced features come at the expense of battery juice. In PC World Labs battery tests, the camera managed to take just 182 photos on a single battery charge--far short of the 300-shot count that most recent point-and-shoots have registered, and only sufficient for a battery life rating of Fair.
This is a love-it-or-hate-it camera. It's hard to imagine a point-and-shoot that can match the TL225's cool factor; and a couple of its innovations--the gesture-based controls and the front-panel LCD--may soon become commonplace in point-and-shoot cameras. But its performance falls short of its $350 price tag, suggesting that the lion's share of that sum goes for the camera's fancy trappings.
The design and touchscreen interface on this camera are near-perfect, and if Samsung can iron out the battery-life and image-quality issues, the TL225's successors could be a huge hit. The TL225 is fun to use and its features attract a lot of attention, but we expected better image quality and battery life for the price.