Polaroid SC1630 Android HD smart camera hands-on, is it a cameraphone or a phonecamera?

The camera modules in smartphones continually improve, and these days there are phones like the iPhone 4S and the Nokia N9 who can take snapshots as good -- and sometimes better -- than point-and-shoots. Polaroid's known for making cameras, but its newest device, a rebrand of the Aigo A8 we saw at CES last year, flips the script by taking a 16 megapixel point-and-shoot and shoving an Android phone inside.

The Polaroid version's called the SC1630 Android HD Smart Camera, and it's packed with 850/1900/2100MHz WCDMA and 850/900/1800/1900 GSM radios, along with WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and an FM antenna thrown in for good measure. The SC1630 sports an 800 x 400 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen, while underneath there's 512MB of built-in storage and 512MB of RAM, along with proximity and G-sensors, micro SIM slot, Micro USB and a 2.5mm headphone jack. As we said above, the camera is a 16 megapixel unit, with aperture of F3.1 - F5.6, 3X optical zoom and 5X digital zoom, a max shutter speed of 1/1400 and ISO tops out at 3200. It's got geotagging and anti-shake support as well, and can shoot videos in 720p. Scheduled to arrive in April for $299, the device still has a few kinks to be worked out and there may be some changes to that hardware before it makes it to market. Here at CES 2012, we got a chance to lay hands on the phone and speak with Emanuel Verona, Polaroid's Executive VP and COO about the company's first Android offering, so read on past the break for our impressions and his thoughts.

When we first picked up the phone (camera?), we found it to be a bit chunkier than your average smartphone at 18.5mm thick (price you pay for 3X optical zoom), but it's still easily pocketable. The fit and finish on the floor unit we held wasn't the best we've seen -- the front panel, made of a textured, but cheap-feeling hard plastic, didn't fit securely, and the four capacitive Android buttons on the front didn't feel as solid as we'd like when pressed. Of course, demo units take a lot of abuse on the showroom floor, so it's hard to tell how many of our niggles will remain in retail units. We found the spun metal camera button on the side to be a nice touch, but the volume rocker, red shutter button and zoom control were made of plastic and not nearly as luxurious in appearance. The SC1630's screen won't wow pixel density enthusiasts, but viewing angles were good and color reproduction is good.

Like we said, we got to speak with Polaroid's COO, Emanuel Vorona about the SC1630, and he addressed some of our concerns with the device we saw here at CES. Our major concern was regarding battery life -- right now there's a 1020 mAh cell inside, which is small for any smartphone, and its lack of power is an even bigger problem when it's got to push that optical zoom. Vorona assured us that he's well aware of the importance of battery life, and said that it's a priority to ensure that the phonecamera can make it through an entire work day under normal use without having to plug it in. We also asked him about carrier support, and he told us that the company is in talks with multiple carriers and is considering offering the phone both on contract and as a prepaid handset. Because the thing can take massive photos and sharing such images is a prime selling point, we also inquired about the possibility of an LTE version. Once again, Vorona said it's an issue he's aware of, and is actively pursing the possibility of adding an LTE radio. In the meantime, the SC1630 utilizes Polaroid proprietary compression technology and allows users to choose the size of the photos they want so sharing pics won't run up massive data charges. We must say, this new Polaroid device has our curiosity piqued and we're looking forward to seeing the final version and putting it throught its paces in a review.