Are the latest high-tech digital cameras featuring Wi-Fi connectivity already obsolete? Last week at PMA, Sony entered the Wi-Fi camera arena with its compact 6MP DSC-G1 -- a digital camera with 2GB built-in memory that also lets you wirelessly transfer photos and video to Wi-Fi equipped computers, home networks, kiosks, or directly to a Web site at your local Wi-Fi enabled coffee shop. Cool feature? Yes. But Wi-Fi cameras have been around for several years (most notably from Kodak and Nikon), and both Canon and Nikon offer Wi-Fi adapters for their top DSLRs, so this isn’t a new feature. Despite the advantages of Wi-Fi, the compact models haven’t really taken off, and I’m afraid they won’t if Samsung has anything to say about it.
In late January, Samsung introduced the VLUU i70, a slider-style 7.2MP camera with a 3X optical zoom, ISO 1600, a 3-inch LCD screen, and built-in MP3 player. Unfortunately, this slim-cam is only available in Korea, Europe, and several other markets, and won’t be available in the US because we aren’t ready to take advantage of its key feature: wireless HSDPA connectivity. If you’ve never heard of High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), it’s no wonder, as this technology is primarily aimed at giving the next generation (4G) of cell phones the ability to transmit data (including photos, video, e-mail, and web pages) at a theoretically high rate of up to 14Mbps. In Korea, real data rates of up to 1.8Mbps have already been achieved, enabling the transmission of a high quality 7.1MP JPEG in just seconds.
The biggest advantage of HSDPA? With it, the i70 can take pictures or video clips and send them from anywhere in an HSDPA coverage area (HUGE!) -- while Wi-Fi cameras must be within a few hundred feet of a Wi-Fi modem or near a Wi-Fi hot spot (many available for free in urban areas, but forget remote locations). Another advantage? Longer battery life. There are several cell phones available that already use this technology, and based on claimed battery life, these appear to use far less energy while transmitting than current Wi-Fi cameras and PDA’s (which drain batteries very quickly when Wi-Fi is turned on). So the i70 will be able to send hundreds of pictures and small video clips from the middle of a park, from a ski slope, or even from the middle of a lake. You can even use it to send text messages, but it lacks a full-functioning phone. (I guess Samsung doesn’t want to compete with its own advanced camera phones in this regard -- yet.)
It will be several years before HSDPA is widely available from GSM cell phone providers such as T-Mobile or Cingular in the US, and it’s not at all compatible with the transmission technology used by Sprint and VerizonWireless. But my point is that HSDPA capability is already in a high res digital camera, and it doesn’t appear to have added much weight, size, or significant battery drain to it. Given its obvious advantages, I can’t imagine that we’ll see many more Wi-Fi cameras being introduced in the future.