Compact camera's have had the same rectangular shape for decades now. The QX100 arrives in a cylindrical box; and inside is a cylindrical camera (and a USB cable and tiny manual - there isn't a USB power charger.) Out of the box the QX100 certainly gets attention; everyone who has seen it has played a guessing game with me to its identity and purpose.
Its fair to say few people that played along with me guessed it was a Camera those that did were helped by the Carl Zeiss Lens square and markings on the lens front. From looking and picking it up it no one guessed it was a quality camera hiding inside the cheap plastic finish. None of the contestants were impressed about how long it took to frame and take a photo after pressing the fiddly and unresponsive power button. Those who stayed to look at the photos were more than impressed. The issue is the camera uses your phone as its screen and optionally as the shutter release. The main design feature of the lens are two feet that pop out and clip to your camera' sadly there isn't a standard mark on the camera to show you orientation it would be nice to have a gunsight line for landscape and portrait. Inside the fat round black body of the lens you can insert a micro sd memory card; as well as the battery that powers the camera. There is a USB slot for connecting it for charging or downloading photos to your computer; the charging slot is one you might use a lot as I found the slow start up times meant I kept the camera on whilst i was testing it rather than powering it on and off - this drained the battery on the camera quickly as well as the one on my phone.
The Sony Play Memories application is available on Android and iOS systems and I tried it with my iPhone 4s and Samsung Galaxy S4. The features of both applications seem to be the same; the build quality not so much.On both apps you only have limited camera controls - there isn't much of a manual so I have no idea the difference between iAuto and Superior Auto. Given the canvass the 1080p screen on the S4 offers its a shame that there aren't more manual mode options - only Program Auto and Aperture Priority are available. You can control the focus on both apps with touch to focus; or switch to manual focus when the metal round around the lens becomes a focus ring. On either app pressing the shutter release there was a definite lag; there is a shutter release button on the side which responds immediately so i quickly found myself using that. Neither of the apps tags the photos with the GPS coordinates; but the camera's clock is synchronised with your phones on connection.
On the iPhone the app is pretty good; with a manageable couple of second lag when moving the lens about; and it was quick to transfer photos over when you take a photo. As my iPhone is only a 32Gb (and its mostly full of music) I set the app to transfer 2Megapixel images over after taking a shot. You can transfer the full 20megapixel images over if you have the space (on android i tried this and whilst the transfer of the 2mp image took 5 seconds on the larger images it took 23s to transfer and the phone had to do some work to display the image back.
Galaxy S4 (Android)
The stability of the Sony app on my iPhone was missing on the Galaxy S4. In fact my first world issue was when i wanted to use the lens with my S4 I often found the iPhone had grabbed the wifi connection -and despite the NFC the camera didn't connect to the S4 without forcefully disconnecting it from the iPhone. When the app worked the lens had less lag on the S4 than the iPhone - though using the camera with the bigger screen was a much better experience. Transferring full size images is more of a proposition here thanks to the S4's own Micro SD slot.
If you don't want to connect to a phone; you can shoot from the hip but the settings are locked to the last time it was connected so it can be hit and miss.
Image and Video Quality
All that said still Image quality (JPG only - there is no RAW here) is very sharp; and when zoomed all the way out the F1.8 sensor has good bokeh for a compact camera. Together the image sensor and lens combination are first rate; the lens having a 4 times zoom that you can control via the app; a toggle switch on the lens or via a metal ring around the lens. When you zoom in the lens does distort images a little but you can correct it easily in a photo library these days. Despite not having a flash the lens works into winter pub levels of light slowly ramping up the ISO (you can't set it) Im not sure why but Sony don't even try and use the LED flash on the phone; and it doesn't try and use the LED light on your phone - so once the light levels drop the noise levels go up and there isn't a whole lot you can do about it.
Video for some reason is shot at a reduced 1440 x 1080p rather than 1920 x 1080p that modern full HD screens are looking for - when you play it back you get black bars on the sides or the image will be stretched to fit. It shoots that at 30fps and the bit rate is around 12mbs MP4 so its a nice solid image but not quite right.
The selling point of the QX100 seems to be to take better photos and video than your camera phone can and still allow you to share them quickly with others. Its a brave new camera category probably sitting alone with the Canon PowerShot N
both of which are new format cameras designed to make it easier to share images. Ultimately after hundreds of photos Im still struggling to click with the QX100; partly its because the size and shape that make it an impractical camera to carry around but mostly its the delay in taking a photo when something unexpected happens. To get the camera connected to my iPhone and take a photo could easily take 20-30 seconds. The camera I normally have in my Bag is the Canon PowerShot SX280
this has a traditional rectangular camera shape; and it fits into most pockets; it too has wifi and an app on my phones. From pressing the power switch its ready to shoot with its screen powered up in about 3 seconds. I would rather get the photo and spend time afterwards connecting the camera to my phones wifi afterwards to share it to the world than the other way around. That said the software on the Canon isn't likely to get upgraded and Sony has a chance to improve theirs and add more features; so hopefully over time Sony will make it a better world. I am giving it 3*s for the sharp images and Sony's push into new territory.