I have never been a big fan of corner-mounted non-protruding lenses, but the i8 does at least have a small raised lip around the lens portal, and the actual front element is recessed several millimetres into the body, which should help to avoid the usual problem with this type of camera, that of greasy fingermarks all over the lens. The same cannot be said of the rear of the camera, which is a smooth plane of shiny plastic, pierced only by the rear controls, covering the LCD monitor in a highly reflective surface that quickly accumulates a collection of fingerprints that would make the FBI envious. This makes it very difficult to see the screen in bright sunlight, and also spoils the look of the camera.
The controls themselves are generally similar to those of the L210, in other words fiddly, poorly labelled and difficult to understand, with the additional complication that they also have to control an MP3 player. At least the white-on-black lettering is easier to read than chrome-on-chrome, but you’ll need a thorough study of the rather poorly translated manual (in PDF format on the CD) and a couple of days practice before you’ll remember which button does what.
As a camera the i8 has a limited range of features, but does include some useful ones. The optical zoom range is only 38 – 114mm (35mm equivalent), which is a bit restricted by recent standards, but the optical quality is good, especially for a non-protruding lens. Stand-out features include multiple face detection, digital image stabilisation, five-step adjustable contrast, saturation and sharpness, Auto Contrast Balance to improve the dynamic range, a Photo Style Selector option with eight different looks, and Auto Macro mode.
As for the extra functions, the MP3 player at least is very good, with excellent sound quality. The supplied in-the-ear headphones are of good quality, and the cable used to attach them features a standard 1/8th-inch headphone jack, so you can use your own headphones if you prefer. The player has a fairly standard set of features including a small selection of equaliser settings and playback options such as loop and shuffle.
The text viewer, multimedia viewer and especially the travel guide do have the distinct odour of gimmick about them however. The text viewer breaks words when wrapping lines, making reading difficult, and the small screen and relatively large text make heavy going of all but the shortest document. The idea of reading an e-book on it is ridiculous. The multimedia viewer can be used for watching movies, but these have to be converted to PMP format using the supplied converter software. The resulting quality isn’t brilliant, and the idea of watching a feature-length movie on a 2.7-inch screen makes my eyes hurt just thinking about it.
The world travel guide is all but useless. It contains a few brief, inaccurate and badly-translated notes for a small and eclectic selection of cities and other tourist attractions, with some very small and badly-cropped photos, and again the text layout makes it very hard to read. Even the cheapest of tourist guide books would be far more useful.