Hands-on with Polaroid’s wacky Android camera (video)

We had a chance to play with Polaroid’s $399 mirrorless camera this week, powered by Android 4.1, and came away a bit perplexed. While it’s clear the company is intending to make the technology ultra-affordable by essentially creating a hollow body, the idea certainly has legs.

See, the camera’s sensor is in the lens; that means that the body just houses the processor, acting as a personal media player or sorts. Polaroid intends to sell many different varieties of lenses, though it will ship with a 10-30mm kit lens that feels cheap and takes extremely poor photos. Then there’s a low-resolution touchscreen on the back to control stock Android, but the device doesn’t seem powerful enough to make use of the bounty.

So the idea is good; the execution is not. The creaky chassis feels cheap in the hands, and the way the product is being marketed almost makes it seem like an expensive disposable.

Polaroid is doing the exact opposite of many of its competitors; it is producing premium-sounding products at a huge discount with cheap, off-the-shelf parts, and selling it to users who wouldn’t otherwise be willing to buy them. In this way, it is opening up the mirrorless camera segment to many more people, but it’s too bad so many shortcuts were taken along the way.

There will eventually be an adapter to allow non-Polaroid lenses to attach to the iM1836 — a good thing, considering the less-than-ideal quality of the original parts. Because the sensor is in the lens, not the body itself, dust intrusions need not apply; merely throw away the original lens and buy a newer, better one. It’s an interesting business model, but since a good entry-level Sony mirrorless such as the NEX-F3 can be purchased for as little as $449, the iM1836 doesn’t seem like a great deal anymore.

So much for that.