Kodak Ektra review: Hands on with camera maker’s 1940s throwback
Camera manufacturers have form for delving into the past and reprising designs of years gone by. But Kodak’s latest feat of rose-tinted history-gazing is on another level entirely. Instead of lavishing a plush retro design on a modern digital camera, Kodak has produced instead its very own Android smartphone: the Kodak Ektra.
Believe it or not, this isn’t the manufacturer’s debut phone. That honour belongs to the Kodak IM5, which the company released last year. But it is Kodak’s first attempt at a flagship smartphone, as indicated by the Ektra’s £449 price. The manufacture has been handled by British smartphone firm Bullit – the company responsible for the devices such as the rugged CAT S60 – but the look of the thing is unmistakably Kodak.
If you’re into your camera history, in fact, you may even recognise the design because this device was inspired directly by Kodak’s iconic 1941 camera of the same name. Like the original Ektra, its brushed-metal buttons, huge chamfered edges and a soft faux-leather rear lend it some presence, and it’s a seriously chunky piece of kit, a large part of that extra bulk coming from the Ektra’s raised hand grip, which swells generously at the front to give you something extra to hold onto.[gallery:6]
This makes the Ektra much easier to hold when shooting photos in landscape orientation, but I’m worried it will be rather unwieldy in everyday use. I’ll have to wait and see how I get on with it as a smartphone once I get one in for a full review, but from my hands-on time with it, I can definitely say that, as a camera grip, it’s a much better effort than some other smartphone grips I’ve seen this year – the Cam Plus module for the LG G5, for instance.
Personally, I prefer the Motorola Hasselblad True Zoom camera module for its new Moto Z phones. This not only has a bigger grip, but it’s also more ergonomically pleasing, ensuring you can hold it single-handed and not worry about it falling out of your hand.
The Kodak Ektra, on the other hand, feels like a slightly muddled halfway point between the two. As much as it provides a broad platform for you to rest your forefinger on – perfect for its dedicated two-stage shutter button – it still doesn’t feel quite big enough to hold securely in one hand. It doesn’t stick out quite far enough.
I also have some concerns with the camera itself, as the whole process of actually taking a picture seemed quite slow in my hands-on demo. This doesn’t bode well for capturing things “in the moment”, so to speak, but as the phone’s launching in early December, there’s still enough time for Kodak to iron out any lingering software kinks.[gallery:4]
Kodak Ektra phone: Camera specifications
As for the Ektra’s camera, well it certainly looks the part. Its 26.5mm lens has an aperture of f/2.0, there’s phase-detect autofocus for quick focusing and you also built-in optical image stabilisation and a dual-LED flash. I was a little discouraged to see no optical zoom in place, but more disappointed to discover that Kodak hasn’t gone to town on the sensor size or resolution. Instead, you have a standard-issue 21-megapixel Sony-made camera sensor, which means quality is unlikely to be an order of magnitude better than any other modern smartphone.
The front-facing camera, on the other hand, does look promising, with a huge 13-megapixels resolution, an f/2.2 aperture and phase-detection autofocus.
The highlight of the Kodak Ektra’s camera, though, is its onscreen control dial. This works in a similar way to the mode dial on an ordinary digital camera, and you can rotate it with your finger to switch between its various scenes and camera modes. These include HDR, Landscape, Portrait, Macro, Sport, Night-time, Panorama, Bokeh and Smart Auto, plus there’s also an advanced Manual mode that gives you control over the camera’s exposure, ISO, focal length, white balance, shutter speed and mechanical aperture adjustment.
You can also tap the ring to bring up a bigger, fullscreen version of it, making it easier to see which mode you’ve landed on. Either way, the best thing about it is that you get a lovely bit of haptic feedback with each turn of the wheel. It’s a great touch for photographers hankering after the tactile familiarity of physical controls, and by far the best attempt I’ve seen at recreating full-blown camera controls on a smartphone.[gallery:2]
Kodak Ektra phone: Software
The Ektra comes packed with loads of pre-installed photo-editing apps, too, including Google’s Snapseed app and Kodak’s own Super 8 software, with the latter allowing you to apply vintage filters to your photos and videos, such as Kodak’s very own classic film stock effect. Kodak is also set to include a recommendation widget that promotes other hand-picked third-party photography apps.
Naturally, the Ektra has some pretty powerful hardware to help with all that hefty post-processing software, and at the heart of it all is a deca-core 2.3GHz MediaTek Helio X20 chip and 3GB of RAM. I’ll have to wait and see how this compares to other top-end chips such as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, 821 and Samsung Exynos 8890, but needless to say, its vanilla version of Android 6 Marshmallow (sorry, Nougat fans) felt perfectly slick and responsive during my hands-on demo. Don’t expect an update to Android 7 Nougat any time soon, either. Kodak refused to be drawn on when we might expect the Ektra to get an upgrade.
As for the display, that’s a little less interesting: a 1,080 x 1,920 unit, measuring 5in across the diagonal. It looked decent for the most part, but it’s hard to judge absolute image picture at this stage. My worry is that it didn’t seem very bright during my time with it. Given that there’s no optical viewfinder, this may become problematic when you’re taking pictures outside in direct sunlight. Its colour accuracy also needs to be best in class if Kodak is expecting users to edit their pictures on it, but I’ll be able to bring you more accurate display figures once I’ve put it through our calibration tests.
Other specifications include a non-removable 3,000mAh battery, which charges via USB Type-C and comes with 32GB of storage that can be expanded by microSD.[gallery:5]
Kodak Ektra phone: Early verdict
Still, from what I’ve seen so far, the Kodak Ektra is definitely one to watch and it will be interesting to see how it measures up. We won’t have to wait long to find out, either: the Ektra will be launching across Europe in early December for £449. It’s yet to be confirmed whether the Ektra will also be available on contract, but I’ll bring you further details as and when they become available.