If you're of a mind to spend around £250-£300 on a digital compact camera, you're going to have some pretty nice products to choose from. Most of them are going to be top-of-the-range cameras loaded with advanced features, models such as the Panasonic LX3, the Canon S90, the Ricoh CX2 or the Nikon P6000. There aren't many ultra-compact snapshot cameras that fall into that price bracket, but there are one or two, such as the Canon IXUS 990 IS or the new Olympus mju 9010. There is now another one to add to that very short list; the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX1, a 4x zoom 10-megapixel ultra-compact that is currently selling for a wallet-busting £290.
Although that might seem like a lot of money for what is essentially a point-and-shoot snapshot camera, there's no denying that the TX1 is a beautifully made camera with some very clever features to add to the value. The build quality is excellent, with a sleek all-metal body that is just 16.5mm thick, making it one of the slimmest cameras on the market. It's fairly light too, weighing 142g including battery and memory card, making it a good fit for a shirt pocket or purse on a night out.
The TX1 is available in a range of colours, including silver, gold, pink, blue and the handsome gunmetal grey shown here. The overall design is basically the same as most of Sony's other T-series cameras, a with a slide-down front panel that covers a corner-mounted internal zoom lens, in this case the same Carl Zeiss 4x zoom f/3.5-4.6 optics as last year's T900, giving it a focal length range equivalent to 35-140mm.
The TX1 has a touch-screen interface, with a three-inch wide-screen monitor taking up most of the room on the back of the camera. There is a narrow textured area on the right, and the large strap lug doubles as a thumb rest, so despite its ultra-skinny profile the TX1 is actually quite comfortable and easy to grip securely.
There are only four external controls; the on/off button (although in normal use opening the front panel switches the camera on), the shutter button, a button to toggle between playback and recording modes, and a very small slider switch to operate the zoom. At first I thought that this was going to be very fiddly, but in fact the zoom action is smooth and responsive, and it is possible to jog the zoom in very small increments by tapping the control, allowing for very accurate framing.