By Eamon Hickey
In one of the comments under his "Payola" post, Ctein said, "Plus, most reviewers try to avoid reviewing obvious dogs, because it's just not fun...." He's 100% right, and his comment reminded me of an assignment I got back in 2003 (from a big media empire) to review what turned out to be by far the worst non-toy camera I've ever seen. Saddled with this hunk o' junk, I thought I'd try to salvage a wee bit of fun—at least for me, and, I faintly hoped, a reader or two—by flipping the logic of the review. Alas, my heartless editor spiked the piece. I offer it hereby both to stick my tongue out at said heartless editor (are you reading, A?) and as an example of one bored reviewer's response to the obvious dog dilemma (Ctein's Conundrum?). —E.H.
Review of the Polaroid iON 230
At first we thought Polaroid's bare-bones 2-megapixel iON 230 was made by drunken clowns, but then we realized that—of course!—it's a deliberately ironic commentary on the quest for perfection. Connoisseurs of crud, this is your Mona Lisa.
Our initial confusion was probably due to the fact that, from a distance, the iON 230's slim shape looks appealing, and it's brushed aluminum body is very light at 3.9 ounces with battery and media installed. Approaching the camera a little closer, however, we found impressively shoddy build quality with nary a single evenly joined seam and, in a daring innovation, front and rear surfaces that are actually warped. The inadequately labeled, generally mushy controls and the weirdly cryptic menu system are, frankly, predictable. But in an inspired touch, the strap lug on our sample camera was so badly made we couldn't thread the strap through it. Genius!
Despite this great start, Polaroid was able to do little worse than average with the iON 230's very basic snapshot feature set. Both white balance and exposure are fully automatic only, but there is an exposure compensation function (to plus or minus 3EV) buried in the menus. The 48mm lens (the 35mm film equivalent) offers no wide-angle capability, but that hackneyed move gets no credit from us. The lens has two focus positions (normal and macro), which you select with a slide switch on the camera's left side. You can choose one of three resolutions for your JPEG still images, which are saved on an SD/MMC card, and you can record 320 x 240 silent video clips up to sixty seconds long. With the included cradle, you can also use the iON 230 as a webcam.
If the average feature set is a puzzling misstep, Polaroid regains its footing with the iON 230's miserable performance. Startup and shot-to-shot times are about seven and five seconds respectively, and shutter delay is an agonizing 1.5 to two seconds, a remarkable achievement for a non-autofocus camera. Switching modes and accessing the menus is delightfully painful. The 1.5-inch LCD is unfortunately not that bad, offering an acceptably sharp image, but maximum flash range is a short six feet. We got 210 shots from a single charge of the camera's proprietary lithium battery.
Truly crummy images are, of course, the necessary finishing touch on this kind of work, and Polaroid delivers. Although noise is relatively low, our test pictures are blocky and harsh with blown out highlights, sickly colors, and occassional strange color shifts across the frame. The obligatory blurriness, however, looked to us like merely an afterthought.