I was thrilled by the possibilities of adding a professional-quality camera sensor and lens to my iPhone, so I immediately pre-ordered Sony’s DSC-QX100 “lens camera”. It held so much promise, not just as a real innovation but also as a major productivity tool. That’s why I’m angry to write this, a scathing review of the horrid software that ruins the QX10 and QX100 experience. Do not buy this device.
A Camera in Two Parts
Although it looks like a lens, the QX100 (and little brother QX10) are actually complete cameras. In the case of the QX100, that means a Zeiss 3x zoom lens, an exceptionally good 20 megapixel sensor, and most of the internals one would expect (image processor, Micro SD card slot, USB port, etc).
The entire user experience of the camera, however, is dependent on Sony’s “PlayMemories” app for Android or iOS. This is the camera’s viewfinder, aperture and focus control, enabling you to compose your shot. PlayMemories also downloads images from the camera, allowing quick sharing through your favorite apps.
To understand this device, one must view the QX camera as a combination of these two elements, hardware and software. Although it includes a shutter button, allowing it to be used in standalone mode, this is no rangefinder camera. It’s simply too hard to grip the cylinder-shaped device to aim and shoot effectively.
PlayMemories is a Spectacular Failure
As excellent as the QX100 hardware is, it is dependent on the PlayMemories app for usability. And this app, at least on the iPhone, is a spectacular failure. Let’s go through the motions, shall we?
- Right out of the box, the QX presents a challenge: Buyers have to go locate a copy of PlayMemories on their own in their app store of choice. It’s as if half the camera wasn’t included with purchase!
- On iOS, users must manually associate with the QX over Wi-Fi, typing in a random string of characters (found inside the battery compartment) to connect. And this password apparently cannot be changed.
- Since the connection is Wi-Fi and the QX is an AP, not a client, one must disassociate with any networks actively in use before they “search the shooting device from the network setting of the terminal and set it.” (sic) Why oh why couldn’t it use Bluetooth? Or client Wi-Fi mode?
- What’s with the “Engrish” text, Sony? This software makes up half the product, yet your translation is that haphazard?
- When the “shooting device” does connect to the app, it’s seriously laggy, with spinning “wait circles” constantly appearing and frequent inexplicable interruptions.
- The app often crashes while in use, refusing to come back online without manually killing it using the iOS app manager’s “up flick” gesture. I’ve had to kill PlayMemories this way probably 30 times in the weekend I have used this camera!
- Even when everything is working perfectly, the app is simplistic, sparse, and ugly. There are very few settings and the defaults are puzzling: Why should I have to tap the (disappearing) back button after each shot? Why is the photo transfer either 2 megapixels or full size with no other option in between?
All in all, PlayMemories feels like a slapped-together afterthought, rather than the integral QX component that it is. PlayMemories is reminiscent of the crappy third-party app that Canon paired with its line of Wi-Fi-enabled camcorders. But my camcorder is fantastically usable without the app, while the QX us unusable with it!
I cannot emphasize enough just how bad the app is: It’s sparse, limited in functionality, laggy, crash-prone, and just plain ugly. Someone should be fired for launching the QX100 with this crappy interface. The whole team should be fired! It’s mistakes like this that will kill Sony just as they are showing sparks of life and rebirth.
PlayMemories is so bad that I urge my readers actively to question any reviewer who gives this “camera” anything but a scathing review. I can see a gadget-head being taken in by the cool concept, but no one who actually tries shooting photos with the QX and iPhone combo could possibly have a kind word. Positive reviewers are either on the take from Sony or just plain dishonest. Maybe the Android app is better, but I doubt it!
A Bit About the Hardware
Now that I’ve thoroughly panned the “QX experience”, let me briefly reiterate the awesomeness of the QX100 hardware: The sensor and lens is every bit as good as I had hoped. This is to be expected since it’s shared with the RX100 Mark II, perhaps the best pocket camera ever made. When you do manage to overcome the hideous ergonomic lapses of the QX100, you can take some remarkable shots.
The QX100 feels very sturdy, and I love the integrated whole. But even the hardware isn’t perfect:
- The QX100 is a bit too big for pants pockets, though it fits perfectly in a jacket.
- I don’t like having the shutter button on the left side of the “barrel”, opposite the common camera placement. It’s ok to have zoom over there on a two-handed device, but that’s not what this is. Both controls should be on the right (or on top).
- It’s very difficult to hold the QX100 straight, even when clipped onto a phone. Maybe it needs a spirit level!
- It’s nearly impossible to shoot anything handheld – it just feels unnatural. I can’t figure out a “solo grip” that lets me hold the camera steady and straight while zooming and hitting the shutter button.
- The QX clip attachment is too “roomy” depth-wise for my slim iPhone 5s but not wide enough to grip the Mophie Juice Pack Air.
Can the QX Be Saved?
I sincerely hope Sony will respond with an entirely-revised app experience for the QX100, but I’m not optimistic this will happen soon enough. The whole thing needs to be gone over with stability and user-friendliness in mind. At the very least the visuals and text must be brought out of the current “proof of concept” stage!
The real problem for Sony is that they already released the QX system in this form. New users, tempted by the obvious innovation of this camera, will feel cheated and give up on it. I’m a crazy gadget nut, and I’m seriously considering sending the QX100 back to Amazon. And I already encouraged a friend to cancel his order.
So far, in just over a week, PlayMemories has not been updated. Sony support hasn’t offered anything useful in terms of help, either: They suggested deleting and re-installing the app (didn’t help) and even suggested that I use a different phone! Seriously!
Some Specific Issues (For Sony)
Sony, I want you to make great products. I shoot with a NEX-7. I love my XBR Trinitron. I’m from the Walkman generation. You can do better than this!
Here are a few things to fix right off the bat:
- Support this thing. “Oh noes” is not the response an adult professional camera user wants to hear!
— Sony Electronics USA (@SonyElectronics) September 30, 2013
- If you’re going to support iPhones, support them. Never suggest that someone buy an Android phone or blame iOS for your crappy failure.
- Figure out why the iOS app locks up and crashes. Fix it. This is priority one!
- Get a native English speaker to rewrite the app help text. Then do the same for Spanish, French, German, Italian, etc…
- Figure out why the iOS app sometimes can’t “find” the camera.
Now some longer-term suggestions:
- Give me more options than just 2 megapixel or full-quality transfer.
- Tidy up the app, bringing it (especially the settings menus) into this decade.
- Use an iOS profile to pair the camera and phone like Eye-Fi.
- Add client Wi-Fi mode so I don’t have to manually disassociate with my AP whenever I turn the camera on.
- Change the default to 2-second review rather than a “it stopped working” still image.
- Include a protective carrying case.
- Why does the PMHOME partition on my SD card lead me to a page of software for everything but the QX?
And finally, for the next-generation product (if it lives that long):
- Move the manual controls to the top of the “barrel”.
- Include a tiny LCD for no-phone shooting.
- Add Bluetooth support because Wi-Fi is a hassle.
- Completely redo the app, enabling plug-ins and sharing outside your chosen ecosystem. At least integrate the native iOS photo sharing services!
It’s very rare that I’ll make sweeping judgments, but here it is: Do not buy the Sony QX10 or QX100. The usability is abysmal, Sony doesn’t seem interested in improving the app or supporting buyers, and the result is a useless waste of money. It’s a crying shame that a camera as good as the RX100 and an idea as innovative as the “lens camera” could be screwed up this badly!