The camera arrived in a compact box containing the camera, the battery, a wall charger with USB cable, a CD-Rom, Quick Start Manual, warranty, and wrist strap. Apparently to save cost, the 131 page user's manual is located on the disk rather than provided in hard copy format.
It took 2 hours and 20 minutes to fully charge the battery before the camera could be used. The charging cable is quite short about 20", so an extension cord will probably be needed to reach from the power outlet to the camera. The cable provides a relatively large red lighted arrow on the camera side when the camera is charging that turns green when the camera is fully charged. Although the cable has a standard USB profile at one end, the other end has a profile I hadn't seen before. The "mini dashboard", i.e, the two analog dials on top of the camera, one for battery charge and the other for memory usage, do not work in the charging mode. Thus, you can't see charge progress on the battery dial and need to rely on the charging light's 'not charged'/'fully charged' indicator.
Operation is not obvious. For example, a red circled button on the camera back can be pressed to begin and end a movie, This was done to allow the shutter button to be used for still photos while recording a movie. An outstanding feature, but this implementation is not intuitively apparent. Some options are unavailable in certain modes when other modes were previously selected, which options are available or unavailable in what mode is not immediately obvious. For example the 'Image Adjust' mode for changing contrast, sharpness, or saturation appears as unavailable if any 'Photo Style" or 'Smart Filter' choice was previously made.
I found a problem when I first tried to transfer images from the camera to my Windows 7 computer. The camera was not recognized. While other maker's digital cameras worked without problem via my external powered USB extender the Samsung did not. Fortunately, when I connected it directly to my computer it worked without problem. It seems Samsung's USB connection is a bit more temperamental than some others. Once operational, files transferred relatively quickly, on my system averaging about 4.5MB/second when transferring larger groups of photographs. As a side note, it's not necessary, and perhaps undesirable, to install the current version of the iStudio SW mentioned in Samsung's manual. Its image editing software that's not necessary for file transfer, and it may occasionally cause computer 'hangups'.
The specifications give a maximum aperture of f/2.4, at the wide end. The EXIF data with my photos shows its minimally better at 2.38. At 24mm, the f/2.4 lens is relatively sharp in the center although a bit soft at the corners. In aperture priority mode the telephoto has a modest aperture range of f/5.8 to f/7.5, and the wide-angle f/2.4 to f/7.2. On my camera, the lens seems sharpest near f/2.4 at the wide and mid ranges, and around f/7 only near the 120mm setting.
One nice feature is the textured right front grip which makes the camera easier to hold without dropping. Unusually, for a modestly priced camera, it provides raw, manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, and interval exposures modes, and the ability to zoom when taking movies. Its default settings produces more natural colors and less sharpened images than some of its competitors. The 'Image Adjust' option is available to produce more 'snappy' photos if desired.
Noise is reasonably well controlled at ISO settings of 400 and below. At lower ISO values images are quite good. ISO 80 and 100 images held up reasonably well under enlargement, although some artifacts became visible at higher enlargements. Between ISO 400 and 800 noise is clearly visible. I found ISO 800 was the highest level at which I achieved acceptable, although slightly noisy images. At ISO 1600 noise showed a rough texture. At ISO 3,200 shadows contained 'blotchy' areas of color noise, so its best employed only for emergency use. JPG images at the highest quality setting have been between 2.9 to 4.6 MB, with the occasional smaller or larger file.
This camera has a number of unique and useful features, and a few, arguably, 'gimmicky' ones. Of real value is the AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) display. According to the specifications this 3" screen has a 10,000:1 contrast ratio and 920,00 pixels, this display is really amazingly sharp and usually visible even when used in sunlight. However, I still would have liked even a minimal optical viewfinder, useful not only for bright sunlight scenes where glass reflections make it difficult to easily see the screen, but also to allow the camera to be held against the body for greater stability. I also like the display's various options which can go from image only to overlaid detailed information including a histogram.
It takes outstanding full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels, not the more common 1280 x 720 pixels, video at 30 frames/second with stereo microphone. This camera allows shooting high-speed movies to allow video capture of action that would normally be difficult to record. For example, flying birds, insects, bats (more about this below), children playing, golf swings, etc. However, resolution at its 1000 fps mode is really minimal at 192 x 64 pixels, so the 240 fps rate with a resolution of 432 x 320 seems the more usable option. One evening I noticed two animals flying in my garage. They were moving so fast it was impossible to tell if they were birds of bats. The high speed recording (slow motion playback) option confirmed they were bats. I now leave the garage light on if the garage will be left open in the evening :-).
Three relatively novel features I use and like are: 1) it's ability to take still images and movies simultaneously, 2) its time lapse option and 3) its panoramic option, which produced images with 2 to 3 million pixels, in landscape mode images were about 700 pixels high.
One of the arguably 'gimmicky' features are the analog "retro dials" on the top of the camera. Since the same information appears on the AMOLED screen these dials appear superfluous, particularly since they don't work when the camera is in charge mode.
This camera is not without some disappointments. In high contrast situations, small sensor cameras typically blow out highlights or lose shadow details. That's still the case here. The stills and video are usually outstanding, but its auto white balance seems poor in low light. Some of Samsung's cost cutting decisions (e.g., the very short USB cable, requiring the same cable used for charging to be disconnected to transfer photos, the user's manual on disk, only 22 MB of internal memory, and the failure to provide an external battery charger so a separate battery could be charged while the camera is in use) are somewhat disappointing. A slightly greater disappointment is the Drive Mode Dial located on the camera's back. Its used to select, e.g., movie speed, self-timer, bracketing, interval settings, etc. Its hard to know why Samsung's designers chose a rotating cylinder-style dial which, at least on my camera, is somewhat difficult to use, when a simple thumb-wheel would have seemingly been easier and quicker.
In the past I've bypassed Samsung cameras in favor of competing models from, e.g., Panasonic, Canon, Fuji, Sony, etc. However, based on my experience with this model, Samsung's digital camera technology now appears quite competitive in this market
Bottom Line: The camera is relatively fast and responsive. Noise control at ISO 800 and below is higher than I anticipated for a sensor this small. It has a truly exceptional 24 mm wide angle lens, interval timer, 1920 x 1080 HD, and high-speed movie options. Surprisingly for a camera in its class, it offers manual, shutter priority, aperture priority, interval options, and raw mode. In most shooting situations it makes the right decisions to produce excellent results. Its lack of some options not intuitively obvious in some modes, along with some minor but unfortunate cost cutting decisions, are probably its chief deficiencies. The camera is generally quite easy to use, except for the 'Drive Mode Dial'. Although it does not always provide the sharpest still images in its class it comes very close, and its HD/HQ movies are, arguably, the best in its class. Put simply, its combination of capabilities is just not found on other compact digital cameras. Its deficiencies are minor compared to the totality of it's capabilities. It's energy efficient AMOLED provides exceptionally sharp, bright, and saturated images, while conserving battery life. Although I can't confirm the maximum number of photos that can be taken before the battery needs recharging, my experience shows its over 200. Outfitted with an 8GB SDHC card, particularly useful in movie modes, the camera will record about 1,470 still photos at its highest quality setting. Overall, an exceptional camera.