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Kodak's new Ektra smartphone would rather just be a camera

Kodak's new Ektra smartphone would rather just be a camera

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Have you heard of the assassin bug, an insect that eats the insides of its rivals and then wears their hollowed-out corpses like trophy armor? Cool, well, in totally unrelated news, there’s a new Kodak phone coming out.

Yes, digital photography and smartphones definitely killed off the once-mighty imaging company, but its brand — and, it claims, its ethos — live on. Last year at CES we met the first Kodak phone, the IM5; a mid-tier Android handset marketed as an easy-to-use photography device. Now, Bullitt has unveiled the Kodak Ektra — a vintage-looking handset with a souped-up camera modeled after a classical 1941 Kodak of the same name.

As with the IM5, the 5-inch, 1080p Ektra is actually designed by Bullitt, a UK company that makes ruggedized phones under the Cat brand and will be doing something similar for Land Rover soon. The Ektra has a 21-megapixel camera with an f/2.0 aperture and Sony’s IMX230 image sensor (also found in 2015’s Xperia Z3+), as well as 3GB of RAM, 32GB of memory, and a MediaTek Helio X20 processor. It also runs Android 6.0. But from Bullitt’s point of view, what it’s really got is cachet: people know and love Kodak.

Kodak Ektra first look


The company says that although the phone's key selling point is photography, it’s not aiming to compete with the likes of the iPhone 7 or Google Pixel on picture quality. Instead, it’s all about lifestyle, simplicity, and a massive camera bump.

Really, that bump isn’t a bug, it’s a feature, and a lot of Ektra’s appeal comes from the phone’s visual echoes of analog cameras. There’s faux leather on the back, convincing metal-finished plastic sides, and a shiny Kodak shutter button that you double tap to launch the camera and half-press to focus.

There’s also a genuine leather accessory case that emphasizes the phone’s bump and that looks, from the outside, completely like a camera. Even the software continues this theme, with the Ektra’s camera app deploying an on-screen rotary dial to select different shooting modes, and offering nice haptic feedback when you scroll through the options. The whole package, says Bullitt, is "intended to evoke the experience of cameras."

Kodak Ektra sample photos


And it does, it really does! But evoking by itself isn’t enough, and the Ektra’s act isn’t wholly convincing in person. The phone definitely looks the part, but pick it up and it’s disconcertingly light — as if its 3,000mAh battery isn’t even there. Feel that leatherette back for a while and you realize it’s pretty thin; flick those imitation-metal sides and you know they're not metal. Even the camera, in our very brief test, was a bit of let down. The image quality wasn't terrible (check out the sample pictures above), and Bullit’s choice to integrate Google’s Snapseed app as the default picture editor is a smart move, but the Ektra is slow to focus and slow to process.

That being said, our time with the phone was too brief to dole out definitive judgements on the camera’s quality. And there were other features we couldn’t try out, like a built-in photo prints app that lets you order physical copies of your images and get them sent to your door in a classic Kodak-yellow envelope. Combine all these elements together — the retro design, the leather case, the preloaded apps — and you have a package that’s certainly got some appeal, but we’ve yet to see if it’s more than skin-deep.

The Kodak Ektra goes on sale in the UK and Europe for £449 this December. Bullitt says if there’s enough market interest it could also launch in the US in early 2017.