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Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart 635

Hewlett-Packard (HP), traditionally, has always been a computer peripheral company. They started by manufacturing and selling excellent laser and inkjet printers. It was only common sense for them to move into the digital imaging market ten years ago. Back then, they provided scanner technology and provided early pioneering effort in digital camera technology. Although their camera technology never caught up to traditional film camera companies (Canon, Nikon, Olympus, etc.), HP did manage to populate the consumers with decent point-n-shoot classics like the PhotoSmart C200 digital camera. So when I finally had my chance of trying out the HP PhotoSmart 635 digital camera, I was ready to see what HP's ten years of innovation has to offer.

The packaging of the camera looks professional, clean, and desirable. On the cover of the box, the PhotoSmart 635 digital camera looks hefty in its metal-clad shell. After opening the packaging and removing the digital camera, I found out that the PhotoSmart 635 is made out of plastic. I have seen its siblings, the PhotoSmart 735 and the PhotoSmart 935, at the stores. Although its siblings is also made out of plastic, they have more metal (feels like magnesium) in their shell construction that is cool to the touch and very comfortable when held. The PhotoSmart 635 feels like a cheap plastic toy in my hands. To add oil to the flame, with the exception of the shutter release, all of the control buttons on the camera uses ugly gray plastics. The shutter release is a chrome button. To add inconsistency, HP implemented a separate video shutter button that also uses the ugly gray plastic. If HP had use the same chrome on the rest of its buttons, the PhotoSmart 635 digital camera may be more appealing. The 735 and the 935 have chrome and silver buttons that made these cameras feel luxurious. The PhotoSmart 635 is also big and bulky like the PhotoSmart C200. The C200 is more rounded and ergonomic than the 635. I thought HP took a step backward in the ergonomic department.

After trying out the HP PhotoSmart 635, I felt HP has been stagnant with its digital camera technology advancement. The technological innovation in the PhotoSmart 635 is not much different than the PhotoSmart C200. Sure the 635 has a bigger sensor and that it even has a nice picture delete eye-candy, but its controls and menu operations are not very different than the awkward control and menu operations on the C200.

The PhotoSmart 635 also features a 5 to 15mm auto-focus optical zoom that was not available on the PhotoSmart C200. In fact, the optical zoom and the auto-focus capability are both lacking on the Vivitar ViviCam 3695 and the Che-ez! Splash digital cameras that I recently reviewed. I used the PhotoSmart 635 to shoot some of the pictures for those reviews. However, its minimum focus distance is so far that I had to use digital zoom to get close enough to the Vivitar ViviCam 3695 and the Che-ez! Splash digital cameras.

One nice thing about this digital camera is that it has an optical viewfinder. By using the optical viewfinder rather than the LCD, battery can be saved on long trips. But using the optical viewfinder has its minuses. Parallax effect causes the pictures to shift a bit lower and to the right relative to the viewfinder. It caused quite a pain in framing my pictures where I decided that it would be easier to use the LCD. When used as the viewfinder, the LCD updates slowly. Its painful to watch when framing the subject. I noticed in movie mode, the LCD does not have the slow refresh problem. Overall, shooting with this camera is not a pleasant experience.

As part of the PhotoSmart 635 digital camera accessories, HP included a lens cap, wrist strap, two AA batteries, adapter for the HP PhotoSmart 8886 Camera Dock, USB cable for connecting to the computer, USB cable for connecting to the printer, instruction manual, and software on CD-ROM. I found it interesting that HP implemented this camera with a separate lens cap. Most of the point-n-shoot digital cameras I seen today have integrated lens cap. Also, I found it interesting that the digital camera required two different USB cables to connect to the computer and the printer. I thought it would have been more convenient for the consumer to use one cable for both purpose. I know the two cables would confuse my parents. My parents are already confused enough with coax and RCA cables for their TV and VCR.

The digital camera has 16MB of internal memory. The memory can hold about 12 high-resolution (2.1 megapixel) pictures. And it is non-volatile, meaning that the pictures will not be lost when the camera loses power. The PhotoSmart 635 digital camera can also accept SD cards. I tried a 32MB card, which the camera reported that it could store 26 high-resolution pictures on the card. The SD card slot is in the same compartment as the batteries.

Although the HP PhotoSmart 635 has some nice features that is lacking in other entry-level cameras, in the end, I have picked those other cameras as gifts this past Christmas instead of the HP PhotoSmart 635 digital camera. The PhotoSmart 635 seems to look great conceptually, but falls apart in the usability area under scrutiny. This digital camera is going back to the store.

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Copyright © 2003 by Chieh Cheng. All Rights Reserved.