The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 seemed too good to be true when it was announced in February. For around £200, you get a wideangle lens with a 5x zoom, 12-megapixel resolution, some of Sony's advanced automatic shooting options, high-definition video capture, and a 76mm (3-inch) LCD, all packed into a good-looking body roughly the size of a deck of cards. Sounds great. There had to be something wrong.
Well, as with most point-and-shoot cameras of its calibre, the W290's photo quality could be better and its performance slightly faster. In the end, though, neither is really that disappointing, and, if you take into account its attractive price tag, the W290 is tough to beat.
Available in silver, black, blue and bronze, the W290 resembles Sony's other W-series Cyber-shot cameras. It's an attractive camera in a pocketable body, but there's some weight to it, so you won't forget it's on your person. Our silver model retains fingerprints noticeably all over the body -- something to keep in mind if that sort of thing bugs you.
One minor gripe with the body design is that the W290's front features concentric ridges that improve grip but also trap grease and dirt, so your fingerprints are imprinted as soon as you touch the camera and they aren't easily wiped off. We'd also like to see a lock on the all-too-easily-opened battery/Memory Stick compartment.
Sony has managed to get almost all of the controls onto the back of the camera without making it feel cramped and confusing, while allowing for a secure one-handed grip that doesn't result in accidental button presses or mode dial changes. This is the case even though there's a 76mm LCD on the back. There are just three buttons on top: the usual power and shutter-release buttons and a Smile Shutter button for instantly activating Sony's have-smile-will-shoot feature.
Gone from this model is Sony's confusing 'home' and 'menu' buttons set-up from previous models. That set-up relied on the user remembering which button to press to access context-sensitive shooting controls and which one to press to access the menu for all settings. Now there's just one menu button, giving you access to shooting controls as well as an option to see all settings.