If you're going to spend upwards of £200 on a point-and-shoot compact, it'd better be good. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W270's specs certainly bode well. With its 5x wideangle zoom, automatic scene detection, face, smile and blink detection, and an HD movie mode, it's a pretty tempting proposition.
This isn't one of Sony's super-slim Cyber-shots, but it's still small enough to slide in a shirt pocket. The finish is plain but smart. It comes in four colours including black, silver, tan and red, so you can choose between a sober snapper or a glammed-up party-cam.
It starts up fast and focuses even faster. Sony's AF systems remain one step ahead of the rest, and you can use the usual two-stage shutter release -- half-press to focus, full-press when it's locked on -- or if the light's good, you can just stab once at the shutter and get the shot with no discernible shutter lag at all. This is exactly what a 'snapshot' camera should do.
There's no manual focus mode, but there are equally useful distance presets, so that's another way to cut out any lag. The face detection and automatic scene detection are also fast, which is as it should be. Intelligent automation is all very well as long as it doesn't get in the way, and here it doesn't.
That 5x zoom range is definitely worth having. The W270's lens zooms wider and further than the average compact's and it does make a difference, though it can't match the sheer versatility of the new generation of pocket superzooms like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ6, for example.
This is a great camera for novices and casual photographers, thanks to its fool-proof automation and the provision of an Easy mode where there's practically nothing to know and nothing to adjust.