There's a fine line between useless gimmicks and worthwhile, innovative features. Sony's thrown so much technology at the little, chromium-plated Cyber-shot DSC-TX1 that some of it's surely got to stick. It can be yours for around £280, from Currys and PC World, among other retailers.
If cameras get much thinner than this, you won't need an LCD display, because you'll be able to see straight through them. The DSC-TX1's slimness makes it supremely pocketable, although this raises its own issues. For example, make sure you use the wrist strap, because sliding down the front lens panel to switch the camera on is like trying to wrestle a bar of soap.
The lens is a fairly ordinary 4x 'folded' zoom model that remains inside the camera body while you're shooting. It's round that back that things get interesting, mostly because there isn't anything around the back except the LCD display. The DSC-TX1 is controlled entirely by touch, via big, chunky icons. There's an assortment of chimes to provide audio feedback when you select an option.
The display is only the start, though. Elbowing convention in the groin, Sony's used a 10.2-megapixel CMOS sensor and a variation on the Exmor processing system in its digital SLRs to provide some extraordinary features.
Take the 'sweep panorama' mode, for example. In this mode, you don't just shoot a series of individual overlapping shots in the usual way. Instead, you pan the camera in a single movement and it takes all the shots automatically, stitching them together in-camera. The results aren't perfect, but they're good enough.
The DSC-TX1 is pretty handy at action shots, too, with a 10-frames-per-second continuous-shooting mode. We've seen such modes before on compacts, and they usually chop the resolution down to a couple of megapixels, but the DSC-TX1 can shoot 10fps at full resolution. That's quite something.
This high-speed motion-capture technology is used elsewhere too, such as in the 'handheld twilight' mode. Don't worry about low light or shake, just hold the DSC-TX1 as steady as you can and leave it to take six shots, which are then stitched together into an image that's ten times better than you could ever have expected.
If you ever get fed up of taking all the photos at parties and never being in any of them, you can get an optional Party-shot gadget that lets the camera take pictures on its own, firing off frames automatically using its face-detection system.
Yes, amid all these good ideas there's an element of strangeness. Sony's fixation with face detection extends to a 'smile shutter' mode with customisable sensitivity and a choice between adult- and child-priority modes. Is anyone really going to bother?
There's also a 'paint pen' in the box which you can use for drawing and writing on your photos, and you can add stamps and frames and do other fun stuff with them too. This seems out of place given all the more serious cutting-edge tech built into this camera.
There are other things which aren't quite as they should be. By today's standards, the 4x zoom is pretty weak. It's not a wideangle zoom (it's equivalent to 35-140mm), and, while the definition's not bad, there's some pretty serious barrel distortion at the wideangle end of the range. Also, the use of a 16:9 ratio display on the back of the camera means that, when you're shooting ordinary 4:3 ratio stills, much of the screen area is lost to thick black bars on either side, and the touchscreen interface has a few too many layers and sections to be truly intuitive.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX1 is a clever camera, and many of its abilities, including the sweep-panorama mode, 10fps shooting and multi-shot twilight mode, are genuinely impressive. But it's not without its gimmicks, it's tricky to hold, the interface can be confusing and the lens is pretty ordinary.
Edited by Charles Kloet