In terms of major factors such as build quality, performance, image quality and overall specification, there really isn't much to choose between the major camera manufacturers. If you're looking for a high-spec ultra compact with a 4x or 5x zoom wide-angle lens, mechanical image stabilisation, HD video recording, a 6.85cm (2.7 inch) monitor and a resolution of around 10-12 megapixels then there are plenty of models to choose from; Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Samsung, Olympus, Pentax, Fujifilm and Casio all make cameras fitting that general description. In such a competitive market it's hard for any one manufacturer to make its products stand out from the crowd. The usual lazy way of doing so is to bump up the megapixel count every few months, and indeed some manufacturers are still doing this despite the abundant evidence that it offers the consumer no benefit in picture quality.
A more ambitious but ultimately better way of standing out is to offer innovative new features, and preferably ones that are actually of some benefit to the user. Fortunately there are some camera manufacturers who take this approach, and the results at least make my job a bit more interesting. A good example is this, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1. It was launched late last year, but is still one of the cornerstones of Sony's high performance W-series. Like another of Sony's recent compacts, the Cyber-shot HX5 which I reviewed a few weeks ago, the WX1 is a showcase of the latest in digital camera technology, with a number of advanced features some of which are unique to Sony.
The WX1 is not a cheap camera, but in fact its £230 price tag isn't particularly expensive for an advanced ultra-compact. Compare it to around £200 the Fuji F80 EXR or Panasonic FX60, £250 for the Samsung WB1000, or even £275 for the new Canon IXUS 210 IS. The general build quality is certainly on a par with such esteemed rivals, with a strong all-aluminium body that is available in silver, gold or the matt black seen here. The WX1 is one of the smallest ultra-compacts on the market, measuring just 90.5 x 51.8 x 19.8mm and weighing 149g including battery and memory card, small and light enough to slip into a shirt pocket. The camera's flat profile and rectilinear shape are rather plain and nondescript, and it's not particularly easy to hold securely. The large screen on the small body doesn't leave much room on the back for the controls, which are very small and rather cramped, but they are at least well labelled and function smoothly, as does the well designed menu system.