On first impressions, the S85 is uninspiring. Compared to Samsung's striking NV models it is a very plain-looking camera, with a conventionally-styled plastic body finished in silver and grey. The shape of the body is a simple rectangular box with rounded-off corners, and is thicker at the right-hand end to accommodate the two AA batteries that provide it with power. This thicker end and the chrome strip on the front provide a comfortable handgrip, although the very smooth finish is quite slippery. The body is quite strong, and overall build quality is well above average for a budget camera. For some bizarre reason Samsung claims in both the specification list in the manual and the description on the company website that the S85 is only 23.4mm thick, which would put it into ultra-compact territory. This measurement is "excluding protrusions", but since those "protrusions" include the lens, monitor screen and a big chunk of the camera's body they're not really fooling anyone. In fact the camera measures 101 x 65 x 34mm and weighs over 200g including standard alkaline batteries, so it's quite large and heavy compared to many other low-cost compacts, such as the Pentax E40.
The control layout appears at first to be very simple, with just three buttons, a D-pad and a mode dial. This offers full auto mode, program auto (in which more features are available), manual exposure mode, scene mode, portrait mode (with face detection), night shooting, movie mode and "ASR". This stands for Advanced Shake Reduction, but unfortunately this is one of the systems I was talking about in my article yesterday. It may sound like image stabilisation, but in fact all it does is boost the ISO setting by a couple of stops to give a faster shutter speed, at the cost of increased image noise.
Despite the apparent simplicity of the controls, they are in fact made rather complicated by the presence of three separate menu systems. The main menu, activated by the button in the centre of the D-pad, controls some camera settings, including sharpness, contrast and AF mode, as well as set-up functions such as shutter sounds, menu language and card formatting. As well as this there is a Function menu for other common shooting parameters such as exposure compensation, white balance, metering mode, drive mode, image quality and ISO setting. A third menu is activated by the ‘E' button, which with impeccable logic stands for Effects. These include colour correction and effects, a strange and not terribly useful colour mask feature, a more useful three-slider colour adjustment feature, and a frame composite mode that puts Pentax's much derided offering to shame. Why Samsung felt that these features, which will be rarely used at best, needed their own separate menu button is a mystery. Personally I think they would have been better relegated to a page on the main menu, leaving the control system a lot less fiddly. The proliferation of obscure functions is not helped by the fact that the engraved labelling of the rear panel controls is difficult to make out even in good light. In the dark it is completely invisible.