Imagine the powerful Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone, except that it can't make phone calls and its backplate has been replaced by a digital camera -- handgrip, zoom lens, and all. That's basically the Samsung Galaxy Camera in a nutshell, and whether it's a small, awkwardly-shaped Android tablet or a digital camera that you can play Modern Combat 3 on depends on how you look at it.
When the Galaxy Camera launched last month, it was only available in white, and cost $499 on AT&T's network with a month-to-month data plan. But on Dec. 13, it launches on Verizon's network, in both white and black. The Verizon Galaxy Camera costs $50 more up front, but in return it has 4G LTE instead of HSPA+, and Verizon is offering a "promotional price" for the monthly charge: Only $5 to add it to a Share Everything plan, instead of the usual $10 tablet rate.
A 4G digital camera
While it's capable of functioning as an Android tablet (or game machine), the biggest reason for the Samsung Galaxy Camera's 4G wireless Internet is so it can automatically upload photos it takes. Apps such as Dropbox, Photobucket, and Ubuntu One offer a limited amount of online storage space for free, where the Galaxy Camera can save photos without anyone needing to tell it to. Those photos can then be accessed at home, or on a tablet or laptop.
Most smartphones are able to do this already, but few (with the possible exception of the Windows Phone powered Nokia Lumia 920) are able to take photos as high-quality as the Galaxy Camera's.
Not as good of a deal as it sounds
Dropbox is offering two years' worth of 50 GB of free online storage space for photos and videos, to anyone who buys a Samsung Galaxy Camera from AT&T or Verizon. (The regular free plan is only 2 GB.)
The problem is, you may need that much space. The photos taken by the Galaxy Camera's 16 megapixel sensor take up a lot more space, at maximum resolution, than ordinary smartphone snapshots do. Those camera uploads can eat through a shared data plan, and with Verizon charging a $15 per GB overage fee (plus the $50 extra up-front on top of what AT&T charges) it may make up for the cheaper monthly cost.
On top of that, the Galaxy Camera's photos are basically on par with a $199 digital camera's -- you pay a large premium to combine that kind of point-and-shoot with the hardware equivalent of a high-end smartphone.
It does run Android, though, right?
The Galaxy Camera uses Samsung's custom software for its camera app, and lacks a normal phone dialer app. Beyond that, though, it runs the same Android operating system found on smartphones, and can run all the same games and apps.
Some apps don't work the same on the Galaxy Camera as they do on a smartphone, however. Apps which only run in portrait mode, for instance, require you to hold the camera sideways to use them (especially unpleasant when they're camera apps). And while it can make voice and even video calls over Skype, it lacks a rear-facing camera or the kind of speaker you hold up close to your ear. So you may end up making speakerphone calls and filming the palm of your hand.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.