THE GOOD: Large automatic shooting feature set; responsive touch-screen navigation; unique dual-screen design.
THE BAD: Adapter needed for HDMI output; microSD card requirement might irk some; touch-screen interface not for everyone; battery charges in camera; whole screen not used for framing shots at full resolution.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The technology-packed Samsung DualView TL225 is the ultimate ultracompact for those who like to be in front of the camera more than they like being behind it.
The difference between a gimmicky feature and honest innovation is whether the feature in question is useful at solving an actual problem. The Samsung DualView TL225--and its slightly less expensive linemate, the TL220--fall under "innovative" with its dual-LCD design, snappy touch-screen interface, and robust automatic shooting options all stuffed into an ultracompact body. The TL225 certainly isn't for everyone, though, especially those adverse to touch screens or having no need for being in a lot of their own photos. There are also a couple of other niggling design points that might turn people away, too. But, for the millions of people who like being in front of the camera and sharing their photos online, the TL225 is probably the pocket camera they've been waiting for.
Unless you hate touch screens, there's very little not to like about the TL225's design. Up front is a 27mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 4.6x zoom. Next to it, hidden behind a black plastic front is a 1.5-inch LCD. Physical controls are limited to a power button, shutter release, a tiny zoom rocker, and a play button. Everything else is accessed and controlled through the gorgeous and bright, high-resolution 3.5-inch touch-panel display on back. Because of the positions of the zoom rocker and front LCD, the size of the main display, and that the screens are touch sensitive, there's not a lot of room for comfortably gripping and controlling the camera one-handed.
The touch-screen display is easily one of the most responsive I've tested and Samsung included haptic feedback so you can set the screen to vibrate a little when it registers a touch. This is all great considering that there seems to be a never-ending number of menus. In the top left of the screen is the shooting mode selector; press it and a virtual dial comes on screen with all the modes. Following down that side is a row of icons for changing flash, turning on macro focus, activating a timer, and opening a menu for controlling what is viewed on the front and main displays.
At the screen's bottom is a tab; tap it and up slides a panel of context-sensitive shooting options. There's another tab on the right side that pops out to reveal menu and motion-recognition icons. The menu button takes you to four sections of shooting and system settings. And when you get bored of touch controls, you can use the motion-recognition options to do things like switch shooting modes or start slideshows simply by holding the icon and tilting the camera. These tabs are an efficient way to maximize screen space; however, because it's a wide-screen LCD, there are gutters on the left and right sides when using the camera's full resolution. If you want to use the full screen to frame shots, you'll need to shoot in a wide-screen aspect ratio, which drops photos to a 9-megapixel resolution.
The front display can be set to show flash and focus settings or a yellow happy face when you prefocus with a half-press of the shutter release. It also does a visual countdown when using a timer for the last 3 seconds before a picture is taken. If the screen is off and you want to take a self-portrait, all you need to do is tap the display and it'll turn on, focus on faces in the frame, and release the shutter when it detects even a faint smile. This last feature alone makes the second screen worthwhile. The only issue was that in bright sunlight the screen is difficult to see and there's no way to adjust the brightness on it.
It's overall an extremely good design, but there are a few things that combined might keep you away from the TL225. The biggest of these might be the use of microSD/SDHC cards for storage. According to Samsung, it used this impossibly small memory card to shave off some camera size and because it's the removable storage type used in just about every mobile device available. The latter reason makes perfect sense, too, if you like showing shots on photo-sharing and social-networking sites. Other than size, the downsides are that offloading photos means connecting the camera by USB to a computer, using a microSD-to-SD adapter card, or buying a USB microSD card reader and, if you're upgrading from another camera, you'll have to purchase a card (up to 8GB cards are supported).
Another issue is the battery, or at least the charging of the battery, which must be done inside the camera unless you buy a third-party charger. It means that if you want to take more than one battery with you for a day of shooting (and you'll want to get a second battery), you'll have to do a little planning ahead with your charging.
Lastly, Samsung uses a proprietary jack in the bottom for data, power, and AV output. A USB cable is included for charging from a wall outlet or a computer as well as an analog cable for connecting to a TV. But, you'll have to shell out about $20 for an adapter if you want to connect by HDMI. This isn't unusual, but it does take away from the package on the whole, especially since HDMI connectivity is one of the upsells from the TL220.
Shooting options on the TL225 go deep, but they're overwhelmingly geared for point-and-shoot photography, which is fine. (The only direct controls over shutter speed and aperture are available in the Night scene mode.) The Smart Auto mode automatically chooses the appropriate camera settings based on 11 scene types. Want to pick your scene type? There are 13 to choose from, including a Children mode that starts an animation playing on the front screen in an attempt to get the attention of your subject. Those who don't want to touch any settings can put it in Auto, which locks most options from being changed. My preference was for the TL225's Program mode because you get the most shooting options and control over results, but it takes more user effort. There are several focus options such as the ability to touch your subject onscreen; you can also touch and hold and the camera will focus and shoot (though it would be nice if you could just tap and have it focus and shoot without continuously pushing on the display). There are plenty of little extras, too, such as effective backlight compensation, exposure bracketing, and a motion-sensitive shutter-release timer.
While it's easy to pick up the TL225 and start shooting, I strongly suggest thoroughly reading the manual. Aside from discovering all of the features that are at your disposal, it's the only place you'll find out how using a feature affects others. Turning on face detection, for example, limits other shooting options, and instead of just graying them out or telling you that something's unavailable because of face detection, Samsung just removes the options altogether, leading to a lot of "where was that" menu taps.
Performance is fairly average, neither bad nor exceptional. The camera starts up reasonably fast at 1.5 seconds, but then requires an average wait of 2 seconds between subsequent shots. Turning on the flash only extends that time to 2.6 seconds. It takes a reasonable 0.5 second to focus and shoot in good light and only goes up to 0.7 second in dim conditions. The TL225's burst mode lowers the photo resolution to 640x480 pixels. Nevertheless, it does have a continuous drive option capable of 0.9 frames per second. Worth noting is that we saw a performance difference between a cheap microSDHC card and a slightly more expensive card from a name brand.
The photo quality for the TL225 is overall very good, especially below ISO 400. At ISO 400 subjects get a little softer, but fine detail remains strong thanks to a good balance between noise and suppression. That balance continues up to ISO 800, so low-light performance is better than most ultracompacts. The camera can do full-resolution shots at ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200, however, noise and suppression kills most detail and causes color shifting and yellowing. The TL225 is capable of taking very sharp photos, but sometimes a little too sharp, which makes subjects crunchy. On the upside, if photos look over-processed, Samsung includes the ability to adjust sharpness, contrast, and color saturation.
The wide-angle lens showed no barrel distortion at its widest position and a barely discernible amount of pincushioning when the lens was fully extended. Other than some distortion out in the corners, the lens was near consistent edge to edge and there was no picture-destroying purple fringing in test shots. However, my guess is chromatic aberration is being digitally removed based on visible fuzzy edges in high-contrast areas when photos are viewed at 100 percent.
Colors are generally accurate and very pleasing; if you don't like them the way they are, the TL225 has several options for tweaking them. The auto white balance was usually better than the presets, which tended to be on the cool side. Exposure was good, though as typical of compact cameras, clipped highlights aren't uncommon and the Smart Auto mode seemed to struggle now and then, resulting in photos that looked washed out. I also don't recommend Smart Auto for self-portraits because it tended to make faces look soft while keeping everything else sharp.
Video quality is very good, and you do get use of the optical image stabilization and zoom while recording. The camera does kill the audio, though, while the lens is in motion so you don't hear it zooming--or anything else for that matter. One pleasant surprise is the ability to apply one of Samsung's Photo Styles to your video, including the Custom RGB option.
The Samsung DualView TL225 is an awesome little camera. It's not for everyone; although its extra abilities are nice, the secondary front LCD is definitely more for those who would rather be in front of the camera than behind it. Also, the touch-screen interface might drive some people insane regardless of how responsive it is. The camera is a standout in design and features and actually solves a real problem instead of just being a gimmick.