Apple confirms bug in iOS 5 causing battery life issues

Apple confirms that there are errors in iOS 5 that are causing battery life problems in some iOS 5 devices. Apple believes it will be able to solve the problem in a few weeks with a software update.

Complaints of poor battery life on iOS 5 devices first gained some attention over the weekend. Today Apple confirmed to AllthingsD that there is in fact a problem with iOS 5 that is causing battery performance problems in some phones. In fact the official statement from Apple states, “A small number of customers have reported lower than expected battery life on iOS 5 devices. We have found a few bugs that are affecting battery life and we will release a software update to address those in a few weeks.”

Unlike the antennagate scandal from last year it does appear that this issue is purely software based, and can be fixed by an update. It is also important to note that this problem is not limited to the iPhone 4S, and it is also happening in older generations of iPhones with the latest version of iOS.

It would be very interesting what Apple considers to be “a small number of customers” seeing how there seems to be countless people citing the problem on Apple’s official support forums. We are also curious why the errors in the OS are only effecting a small number of customers and not all of the customers.

It is nice to see that Apple responded as quickly as it did in this situation, but hearing that it will take a few weeks to address the bugs is disheartening. So have you noticed less than stellar battery life on your shiny new iPhone 4S, or reduced battery life on your idevice since updating to iOS 5?

Apple loses patent battle with small Spanish tablet maker

Yes, you might want to read that again. Apple has LOST a patent battle with a small tablet vendor in Spain called NT-K. Apple had claimed that NT-K had copied the design of the iPad in the making of its own tablet (sound familiar?). The ruling this week by the Spanish court, in favor of NT-K, will be looked upon with envy by Samsung lawyers, though it might also help in their battle with Apple regarding similar patent infringement lawsuits.

Apple has lost a patent infringement battle with a small electronics company in Spain after the Cupertino company claimed it had copied the design of its iPad.

Samsung lawyers must be scratching their heads wondering where they’ve been going wrong. Apple hadn’t been doing too badly recently with its slew of patent infringement lawsuits around the world, many of which have been directed at Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone and tablet devices.

With recent court rulings in the US, Australia and Germany going in favor of the Cupertino company and against the Korean electronics giant, the iPad maker must have been feeling confident it would notch up another success against little-known Spanish tablet vendor NT-K, maker of the NT-K Android tablet. However, Apple lawyers were in for a shock this week.

Apple filed the complaint against the Spanish company in November last year, accusing it of copying the design of its iPad. That resulted in shipments of NT-K’s tablet from China being seized, with NT-K ending up, albeit temporarily, on a list of European product pirates. Even worse for the Valencia-based company, Apple also brought criminal charges against it in December last year.

Writing on the FOSS Patents blog, which broke the story, Florian Mueller said: “Considering that this was not a case of product piracy but just a dispute over whether or not Apple has exclusive design rights covering NT-K’s Android-based products, I think it’s absolutely outrageous that Apple tried to attack its rival under criminal law.”

He continued: “Having a commercial dispute is one thing, but going down the criminal law avenue is totally unreasonable.” Hardly surprisingly, NT-K is now seeking compensation from Apple for lost revenue during the time its tablet was banned.

Mueller also wrote that, according to NT-K, Apple has been pursuing a number of small tablet makers over patent issues, many of which have given in to pressure from the computer giant. NT-K, however, was determined to fight its corner, and this week came out on top.

In a post on its blog, NT-K commented on recent events and its court victory (machine-translated from Spanish): “We are a small company like many others in these times of crisis we are trying to get ahead, and it seems grossly unfair that a company the caliber of Apple has to use its dominant influence.”

It’s going to be interesting to see the effect of this case on Samsung’s ongoing legal battles with Apple in courts around the world as it defends its right to sell its Galaxy range of devices.

The iPhone 4S review

This isn't the iPhone 5. No matter how badly you wanted something slim, sleek and wedge-shaped, this isn't it. If you went ahead and got your hopes up ahead of Apple's "Let's Talk iPhone" event, hopefully you've gotten over the pangs of discontent by now, because this device pictured front and center is the iPhone 4S. It's a new spin on an old phone that will shock none, but give it half a chance, and it will still impress.

The iPhone 4S comes with a faster processor, a better camera, a smarter virtual assistant and twice the storage of its predecessor -- if you don't mind paying for it. Like the iPhone 3GS did before to the 3G, the 4S bumps the iPhone 4 down to second-class status, leaving those Apple fans who must have the best aspiring to own its decidedly familiar exterior. Apple says this is the most amazing iPhone ever. Is it? Yes, of course it is, but read on to see whether it's really worth an upgrade.
Apple iPhone 4S review


Familiar is a good term for the exterior of the iPhone 4S. When the 4 was unveiled in the summer of 2010 it was a strikingly different design from anything else on the market -- glass on the front and back, exposed screws holding together a deliciously clean ring of stainless steel. It was kind of chunky and industrial, like a tastefully refinished factory loft -- a big contrast to the smooth and nondescript models that came before. The iPhone 4 was something truly new and, for the days and weeks after its release, just spotting one in the wild caused a sensation. It was so different that people wanted to touch and hold the thing, to see how it felt in the hand.

Few are going to go out of their way to touch and hold the iPhone 4S, but that's not to say it isn't very nice to grasp. The iPhone 4 felt like a finely crafted piece of machinery and there's no doubt this one walks in those very same footsteps. Compared to your average modern Android wunderphone the 4S feels small, dense and heavy, a very different sensation than the occasionally lighter but frequently more plasticky competition. The 4S does actually have slightly more heft than the 4, but only by carefully holding one in each hand can you notice the increase from 137 grams (4.83 ounces) to 140 (4.94 ounces).

Save for a few tweaks that even the most dedicated Appleista wouldn't be able to spot at a distance, the 4S is identical from the exterior. A few of the controls have been shifted by fractions of a millimeter and this uses the same exterior antenna layout as the CDMA iPhone 4 that hit Verizon earlier this year. Rather more significantly, though, how it works with those antennas has changed.

The iPhone 4S can now intelligently and instantly switch between those exterior antennas, in real-time, even while you're in the middle of a call. Will this successfully put to rest the iPhone's reputation as a call dropper? That we're not able to say conclusively at this time, as you really need masses of people hammering on a device to bring out its worst. ("Antennagate" didn't come to light until a few days after the iPhone 4's release.) But, in testing a Vodafone 4S against a 4 we found the 4S to be consistently one bar higher, and did a far better job of holding on to 3G data. Here in the States, our Sprint 4S kept right up with another device we had handy from the same carrier: the Nexus S 4G.

There have been a fair number of other tweaks on the inside. In fact it's safe to say Apple threw out the lot of the iPhone 4's guts and stuffed in a whole new batch, starting with the A5 processor. Yes, it's the same dual-core chip that powers the iPad 2 and, while Apple isn't saying, it's running at 800MHz -- a bit of a step down from the 1GHz it's clocked at in the tablet. RAM unfortunately stays the same, at 512MB, but maximum available storage has doubled, matching the iPod touch by maxing out at 64GB.

The other major change to the internals comes in the wireless network support. This is a quadband UMTS / HSDPA / HSUPA (850, 900, 1,900, 2,100MHz) and quad-band GSM / EDGE (850, 900, 1,800, 1,900MHZ) device, while also offering dual-band CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (900, 1,900MHz). All that naturally means you'll be getting 3G data on nearly every carrier in these lands and abroad, though those providers are still being cagey about just how much success you'll have at porting the 4S from one to another -- at least until the unlocked model shows up in November. There's no 4G on offer, though AT&T's 14.4Mbps HSPA+ service will leave you feeling a bit less out of touch.

Up front is the same 3.5-inch, 960 x 640 Retina display that wowed us 16 months ago on the iPhone 4. That 326ppi density is still quite a lovely thing to behold, surely one of the highest quality panels currently available today in a phone, but in nearly a year and a half the world has moved on. Smartphones are bigger than they were in 2010 and 3.5-inches seems on the small side of average. It's a great size for those with moderately proportioned hands, and opinions certainly differ when determining what is the optimal girth for a smartphone (if, indeed, there is such a thing as optimal) but, after living with a 4.2-inch or larger device, looking at the digital world through a 3.5-inch portal feels just a bit... narrow.

Software (Siri)

Though it comes a few days after its release, the iPhone 4S ushers in the world of iOS 5. This latest revision of Apple's mobile operating system helps to clean some of the dust off of what was starting to feel a bit dated without actually changing any fundamentals. iOS 5 introduces a slew of improvements and enhancements, some minor and some rather more major. We've already posted a particularly comprehensive iOS 5 review, so we won't blather on about it any longer here except to say it's a very solid update that will make your smartphone an even more seamless, integral part of your life.

The one thing we will blather on about quite a bit more here is Siri, your own digital helper. Siri is an evolution of the Siri Virtual Assistant, a spin-off of a DARPA project called CALO. Apple bought the company in early 2010 and now that functionality is baked right into the OS. Sort of.

Siri can only be found on the iPhone 4S, a curious and seemingly arbitrary shunning of the other iOS devices. We've heard that's due to the processor demands required for voice recognition, but since you need an active data connection to use Siri we have to imagine that the heavy lifting for voice recognition is happening somewhere inside Apple's massive data center, which would seemingly allow lower-spec devices to do the same. And, since the iPad 2 is running the A5 at an even higher clock speed, there's just no good reason we can think of for putting Siri exclusively on the 4S. Let the poor girl out, we say.

Should you find yourself owning the requisite hardware to give Siri a shot, you'll probably be pretty impressed with what she can do. Of course, "she" is a characteristic bit of anthropomorphism that we'll apply to the same voice you've probably heard in a half-dozen GPS devices in the past, but still, calling her an "it" just seems a little wrong. Siri herself, though, wouldn't mind. Ask her "Are you a man or a woman?" and her response is a curt "I was not assigned a gender." We think she's just playing hard to get.

Siri can do a huge number of things, from sending texts and emails to finding restaurants and getting directions from one place to another -- things that, it must be said, could largely be done before by voice on other devices and platforms. It's really the enhanced ability to understand casually spoken English mixed in with the notion of context that sets this apart.

Let's talk about the context bit first. Say you want to send a text to your wife to remind her to pick up the dogs from boarding on the way home from work. You can just say, "Tell my wife don't forget the dogs." Siri will send your wife a message saying, "Don't forget the dogs." How does Siri know who your wife is? Well, she doesn't at first, but she'll ask, and once you tell her she'll remember -- until the end of time.

That context works in other situations, too, like receiving a text message from someone, asking Siri to check your calendar, and then just saying "Reply, I'll see you then." You don't need to say who to reply to, Siri will remember. For the first time we feel less like we're giving stiff commands to a device and more like we're actually having a conversation. That said, you can still be as commanding as you like. Siri won't mind.

And then there's the other part that makes Siri good: you don't have to remember the commands. At least, not as much as you do with Android. If you want directions on Google Navigation you have to specifically say "Directions to X." With Siri you can say "Get me directions to X," or you can say "Tell me how to get to X," or even "Directions to X." It's a minor difference but it feels more like Siri is smart enough to figure out what you want, whereas the voice recognition elsewhere feels more like you have to be smart enough to remember to say what it wants. (Even so, we'd certainly prefer to use the far more polished Google Navigation than IOS's Maps to get around.)

Still, this isn't exactly unprecedented, apps like Vlingo do similar things elsewhere. Also, it should be noted that Siri isn't necessarily any more accurate than other offerings. We did a side-by-side comparison of the dictation abilities of iOS 5 vs. those built into Android and Windows Phone and found them to be similar. Android's dictation services, though rather less friendly than Siri and requiring a few more taps on the display, were every bit as accurate. Windows Phone, however, struggled to provide consistently accurate transcriptions, often missing words and getting more complex statements wrong. For example, the spoken text "Kurt Vonnegut lived near Schenectady, New York," one time resulted in the message "Could I get laid in your Schenectady New York." An interesting message that Mr. Vonnegut would have likely approved, but wasn't exactly what we had in mind.

It's in going the other way that Siri has even more potential, saying that you have a new message and then promptly reading it to you -- then letting you reply by voice. The biggest issue here, though, is that you can't have emails read to you, which means you can't fully reply by voice. (You can do voice dictation, but you'll need to trigger that with your fingers.)

This potentially could be a boon for people who would rather listen to their inbox than NPR on the commute home from work, and indeed it is, but the functionality here is a little more limited than we'd like. For example, you can tell Siri to look up something on Wolfram Alpha, and that she'll dutifully do, but she won't read you the response. You have to look at the phone, likely thanks to Wolfram Alpha rendering its results as images rather than plain text.
Apple iPhone 4S screenshots

A truly good assistant will look up whatever you ask and promptly tell you the answer -- not print it out and make you read it. Having to still fish your phone out of your pocket for some things makes Siri rather less wonderful than she could be, but she's very impressive nevertheless. And, more importantly, this signals that Apple is taking a real interest in improving voice recognition and hands-free device interaction. That should mean some amazing progress from here, and we can't wait to talk to the next generation Siri.

We also hope that Siri's siblings will be able to run offline, because today's girl requires a 3G or WiFi connection to do anything. Even the simple voice commands that were available in iOS before no longer work offline, and if you happen to be one of the few who actually used those commands to change tunes while offline, you're sadly going to have to find another way. We also hope that she broadens her horizons a bit, as much of Siri's functionality (directions, looking up businesses) doesn't work in Europe.

Battery life and performance

The teardown of the iPhone 4S revealed a new battery pack that's just a wee bit bigger than that found in the 4 (5.3Whrs vs. 5.25) so the promised increase in longevity found here must come from more efficient internals. And that's a very good thing -- we'd prefer to see phones get more frugal than simply progressing on to bigger and heavier batteries.

Apple promises up to eight hours of battery life on an active 3G connection, which is up one hour from the 4. Curiously, though, standby time has dropped from 300 hours on the 4 to 200 on the 4S. (This phone is, apparently, something of a restless sleeper.) Other stats remain the same: 14 hours on GSM, 10 hours of video watching and 40 hours of listening to tunes. Alas we've not yet been able to complete our full suite of battery tests (we'll update this when we do).

When you're less concerned about longevity and more concerned about outright speed, the 4S won't disappoint when compared to its predecessors. On the SunSpider 9.1 JavaScript benchmark, a good test of overall ability to render the best the web has to offer, the phone scores a 2,200ms on average. That's well lower (quicker) than the 3,700 the iPhone 4 manages and faster than any other smartphone we've tested. In fact it ranks right up there with tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (2,200), but still the iPad 2 leaves it behind with its score of 1,700.

But it's not all about the benchmarks, and we've been overall quite impressed by the performance of the 4S in general tasks. We remain continually impressed by the performance of the iPhone 4 -- despite its aging assets, it still performs like a young smartphone in its prime. In other words, we're not seeing a particularly strong difference between day-to-day usage of the two devices. Yes, your apps will load a little more quickly and react more responsively and your webpages will render more snappily, but Apple already did such a good job of ensuring solid performance on the 4 that this upgrade seems rather less than necessary.

Of course, that could all change when we start to see some games able to make use of the extra firepower the iPhone 4S has at its disposal. At the phone's coming out party Epic showed off Infinity Blade 2 and wowed us with very impressive graphics. The problem is, that game isn't due out until December, and we're not aware of other similarly eye-popping 4S-exclusive titles in the pipeline that will be dropping before then.

The final aspect of performance is network speed and, as ever, your mileage can and will vary greatly depending on the relative strength or weakness of carriers in your area. But, regardless of carrier, the lack of LTE here is a definite disappointment. Top-tier phones on Android almost universally feature a fourth gee and, with Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T all finally onboard the LTE train to 4G Town, it's about time the iPhone hitched a ride too. Its omission surely helps battery life but hurts this device's status as a world-conquering wunderphone.

We tested a Sprint version of the phone and found that, with full bars on 3G, download speeds were averaging about 1Mbps down and .9Mbps up, with pings hovering around 70ms. Comparing that to a Nexus S 4G (with WiMAX disabled), also running on Sprint, we found download speeds to be quite comparable. Signal strength between the two phones was comparable as well.


Apple is quite proud of the iPhone 4's status as the most popular camera on photo sharing sites like Flickr, and now the company is finally giving all those guerilla photogs something good to capture pictures with. As was long rumored, the iPhone 4S steps up to an eight megapixel, backside-illuminated sensor that sits behind a new lens array with an f/2.4 aperture (improved from the old phone's f/2.8). More megapixels certainly don't equate to better pictures, but it's safe to say the new camera package here impresses.

But, what will impress you first is the speed. Apple is quite proud of the speed improvements for bringing up the camera app and taking the first picture, and it is a noticeable improvement over the 4 -- except when using the HDR mode that was introduced in iOS 4.1. Here it doesn't seem to be much if any quicker at all. Leave that off, though, and you'll be hopping from one shot to the next like someone who hasn't got time for shutter lag.

In our initial camera testing, we put ourselves into tourist mode: walking around, taking random pictures of things that tourists would. The quality of the resulting shots is definitely good, among the top top tier of shooters we've tested. The phone doesn't seem to be bothered by big differences in contrast (like the Galaxy S II) and does a good job focusing quickly and accurately -- we only had one or two missed macro shots.
Apple iPhone 4S review sample images

Video quality is also top-notch. The iPhone 4S will record at 1080p30 and we found the footage to be clear and bright. Auto-focus happens quickly and we didn't detect any obnoxious focus-hunting.

Overall the improvements on the camera are tangible and appreciated, but there's one thing Apple sadly failed to fix here: its location. The peep-hole for the lens is still too close to the edge of the device for our tastes, which resulted in many a stray finger sneaking into our shots. We'd have liked to see it sneak its way a little further toward the center of the phone.


Is this the best iPhone yet? Yes, of course it is. The iPhone 4S takes the previous king, gives it some more pep and adds on a better camera to boot, all without really gaining any extra weight. This is, then, the best iPhone on the market, but that still leaves us with two unanswered questions: is it the best phone on the market, and is it worth the upgrade?

The first question is hard to answer. If you're into iOS, have a wealth of App Store purchases you'd like to keep using and in general are down with the Apple ecosystem then, yes, this is the best phone out there. If, however, you've been shopping around, or are already tight with Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry or Meego (hey, the N9 is pretty great) then it's hard to see this as a truly forward-looking device. The 3.5-inch display and abject lack of 4G connectivity alone make this phone feel a little too conservative to really tickle the fancy of those looking for something a bit more progressive.

So, then, is it worth the upgrade? Well, if your contract happens to be up and you want an iPhone and you haven't already jumped on the iPhone 4 then yes, this is the one you want. It does come at a $100 premium over its predecessor, but in the long run that premium will be worth it as the 4S will surely be supported by Apple for a good bit longer than the 4 (as the 3GS continues to be, while the 3G is now fading into obsolescence). But, if you're mid-contract or haven't quite yet been wooed by all that iOS has to offer, we'd recommend sitting this one out. The iPhone 4S does everything better than the iPhone 4, but it simply doesn't do anything substantially different.

Update: We spent a few days shooting with the iPhone 4S's eight megapixel camera, and were quite pleased with the images it was able to capture. We were slightly less impressed with the smartphone's battery life, however -- after the same shooting period, the iPhone 4 had 52 percent remaining, while the iPhone 4S had just 30 percent left.

Nikon Coolpix P500: Hands On Review

A camera's zoom range has always been an important spec, but in the past two years, there's been an almost unhealthy obsession with making faraway objects look really big. Since 2009, the longest zoom range in a fixed-lens camera has doubled. We can't recall anyone complaining that 18x zoom just wasn't enough, but these days, we hear from camera shoppers who are literally not sure if 30x will be enough.

Competition is great that way (for setting outrageous expectations and standards, that is), so here we are reviewing the Nikon Coolpix P500, which sports a class-leading 36x zoom lens. More importantly, the P500 has much more going for it than a comically large zoom range. It's one of the best-rounded superzooms on the market right now.
Body & Design

The P500 is the most compact "full-size" superzoom that we’ve seen. There’s still enough real estate for a comfortable grip and well placed controls, and it’s substantial enough to feel like a serious camera, but it’s noticeably smaller than its competitors.

The size is all the more impressive considering that it sports the widest zoom range on the market, at 36x. While the 810mm telephoto range isn’t quite the longest on the market, the 22.5mm wide angle is the broadest. The lens barrel is deep, though at the wide-angle setting, the lens itself barely protrudes. Fully extended, the lens juts out about two inches from the barrel, increasing the body's depth by about 50 percent.

A 3-inch tilting (though not swiveling) LCD takes up most of the rear panel. At 921,000 pixels, it’s one of the sharpest screens on any long-zoom camera, period. It’s clear and vibrant anywhere except in bright, direct sunlight, and the hinge comes in handy for composing low-angle, close-to-the-ground shots. The P500 is also equipped with an eye-level electronic viewfinder (EVF), situated right above the LCD. It isn’t the sharpest EVF we’ve seen, and it doesn’t have an eye-level sensor, but the port-hole has rubber padding, and there’s a diopter adjustment to accommodate photographers with less-than-perfect eyesight. A dedicated EVF/LCD toggle sits in the upper-left corner.

To the right of the LCD, there’s a traditional four-way selector and a few buttons for accessing playback, the menu system, and for deleting shots. There's a jog dial in the top-right corner, then a dedicated video record button to the left, complete with a toggle for high-def and high-speed video modes. We’ve never seen a system like that on a fixed-lens camera, and while most users probably won’t use it much, it's a clever design to simplify video mode. And finally, a display toggle sits between the video button and the EVF.

Up top, the shutter/zoom-tilter combo sits at the tip of the right-hand grip, angled slightly away from the user. A hot-key for burst mode sits behind it, followed by the small power switch, recessed into an LED indicator. A big, easy-to-turn mode dial sits against the crest of the camera. A stereo microphone and flip-up flash sit on top of that crest, and on the left-hand side, there's a manual release for the flash.

The last notable feature is a secondary zoom tilter, situated on the left side of the lens barrel. Finishing up our tour for posterity, a rubbery flap on the left side of the body covers the mini-HDMI and micro-USB outputs, while a sturdy door on the camera's bottom hides the battery and SD/SDHC compartment.
Performance & User Experience

In a nutshell, the Nikon P500 is a responsive, intuitive camera that usually stays out of the user’s way (and that last part is a compliment). By our count, this is Nikon’s fourth-generation superzoom, and they’ve nailed down a pretty solid formula, though they still take risks with up-to-date shooting modes and new on-body controls. It isn’t perfect, but the user experience is a positive one.

Like most of this year’s premium superzoom cameras (and a number of compact zooms as well), the Nikon P500 is built around a backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor. These sensors perform well in poor lighting (which we’ll discuss in the Image Quality section below), and they also enable speedy performance, cutting down shot-to-shot times and shutter lag, while boosting autofocus and burst-shooting rates.

Though it isn't the fastest camera in its class in any category, the P500 is fast enough that it rarely misses a shot. It takes just a shade over two seconds to start up and snap a shot, which is quick. Autofocus is quite fast and generally accurate. It slows down a bit in dimmer lighting, though not as dramatically as many cameras. It has some trouble focusing on close-up objects at times; it can get some nice macro shots, but about half the time, it'll opt to focus on something other than closest object. At the telephoto end of the zoom range, autofocus speed and accuracy plummets, much more than we’d like to see, but bringing the range back even just a little bit seems to solve the problem.

Shot-to-shot times are pretty quick, clocking in at about one second in good conditions (including a brief review of the previous shot). Burst mode tops out at 10 frames per second, which is respectable, but it can only shoot five frames per burst. Continuous drive mode (Continuous L in the drive mode menu) churns out about one shot per second for as long as the battery or memory card lasts. Those specs are pretty weak compared to the speediest compacts out there, though they're still useful in certain situations.

As with just about any fixed-lens camera out there, the P500 is geared toward automatic operation: Turn it on, switch it into auto mode, snap away, and enjoy the results. Even the preset shooting modes -- including Night Landscape, Night Portrait, and Backlit, all of which are meant for challenging conditions, and not coincidentally, each have a dedicated spot on the mode dial -- are a cinch. They’re easy, they’re intuitive, and they get the job done (for the most part).

The P500 also has a standard Program mode, which opens up some extra settings to user control: Exposure compensation, white balance, ISO sensitivity, and burst mode, among many, many others. As some of the extra dials and levers would suggest, the P500 also supports manual exposure modes: Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and full Manual.

Actually using the manual modes (and even program mode, for that matter) is a bit of a mixed bag. The jog dial is great for navigating menus and selecting exposure settings in the A, S, and M modes. The hot-keys on the four-way selector are useful, as are the dedicated EVF/LCD toggle, burst mode hot-key, and video mode selector. Even the little things, like the manual flash release, and the secondary zoom tilter on the lens barrel, contribute to a positive experience (though truth be told, we’re so used to zooming with the tilter by the shutter that we hardly used the barrel-mounted control).

But for shooters who adjust settings frequently, the P500 doesn't offer enough direct control. We had to press too many buttons to make commonplace adjustments to ISO sensitivity and white balance. A “quick” menu (laid over the photo preview) would help tremendously. And an assignable function button or two would really tie the interface together. An orientation sensor would help a great deal, too.

There is no perfect interface -- at least one photographer would change something about even the most well-loved control scheme. That said, superzooms have it particularly hard. Since they straddle the casual- and enthusiast-shooter realms, the interface has to seem simple and approachable, but it can't be too dumbed down. The P500 strikes a decent balance, though it's more accommodating to casual users than serious shooters.

Those same serious shooters, however, might be pleasantly surprised at the in-camera adjustments that are available. There’s no RAW capture mode, but the P500 does have adjustable sharpening, contrast, and saturation settings. It’s a little bit of a paradox: a relatively high level of control, with a somewhat rudimentary control scheme. Even so, patient users can learn to get some great results out of the P500.

Superzooms generally have decent battery life -- bigger bodies can fit bigger batteries -- but the P500 manages a meager 220 shots per charge. We actually eked out a bit more than 220 shots, but not by much. It isn't terrible, but a backup battery should be on any buyer's shopping list.
Image & Video Quality

As we’ve come to expect from cameras with these BSI CMOS sensors, the P500 performs well in a variety of settings. Image quality is generally solid for the price, with a few caveats.

As we mentioned above, BSI CMOS sensors tend to perform better at high ISO settings than their CCD predecessors do. That translates, loosely, to better low-light shooting. The P500 can’t work miracles, but it makes it easy for anyone to get a decent shot in dark conditions.

At ISO 800 and even 1600, where older cameras (and even some newer CMOS shooters) would turn shots into grainy, spotty messes, the P500 manages to produce some decent results (ISO 3200 is still unusable, however). Details are still pretty soft, with a bit of an oil-painting texture, but less grainy than what’s typical of a compact camera, and less likely to be blurry.

Noisy or not, the P500 makes it easy to get nice indoor and low-light exposures. Concert shots, birthday party pics, and even photos of indoor sports should look pretty good -- at least more often than they would with most cameras, and that’s counting several of the other premium superzooms currently out there. As long as you aren’t searching for problems, you’ll probably be happy with the photo quality in challenging conditions. Medium to medium-large prints will look good.

The strong high-ISO performance comes with a trade-off though: Pictures are relatively soft at lower ISO settings, a trend we’ve seen in other CMOS-based cameras. They aren’t “bad” per se, just softer than they could and probably should be. Fine details are lost even at the ISO 160 base setting, which is certainly undesirable, but the result looks more like a texture than an outright flaw.

Our biggest complaint is that indoor shots are usually overexposed a bit. It’s probably a side effect of the same system that makes it easy to take low-light shots, but we found ourselves having to switch to Program mode and take the exposure compensation down a few steps to balance the images.

The P500 also tends to mute colors in less-than-ideal situations. In cloudy conditions in particular, shots have a pale, washed-out quality -- that can be a challenging setting for many cameras, but the P500 really dulls the colors by default. Of course, color is highly subjective, so what we consider to be flat and dull, somebody else could just consider neutral -- most compact cameras tend to vivify and over-saturate colors, so it could just be that Nikon errs on the side of accuracy compared to their competitors. In any case, shooting with the Vivid or More Vivid effects can help out, and users can manually adjust saturation settings, too. And outdoors on a bright, sunny day, the colors look beautiful, leaning toward the cool end of the spectrum -- blues are particularly striking.

For a lens with such an extreme focal range (22.5mm on the wide end and 810mm at the long end), distortion is corrected pretty well. We noticed a bit of warping in the corners of wide-angle shots, sometimes pretty obviously, but with just a bit of zoom, the problem goes away. Green and purple fringing are well-managed, except in the corners of those distorted wide-angle shots.

The Nikon P500 offers a full 1080p HD video mode, and it’s pretty solid. Movies aren’t quite as good as they would be from a traditional camcorder, but the P500 is a better video camera than most pocket camcorders.

The highest-quality movie mode captures 30 frames per second in Motion JPEG format, which creates large files with a maximum recording time of 30 minutes.Those files are easier to edit on a computer than the awkward AVCHD format that seems to be en vogue these days, for what it’s worth. The P500’s low-light abilities carry over into video mode. The camera does support optical zoom during video recording, though it struggles to re-focus. At the telephoto end of the range, hand-held videos are pretty stable, though we’d still recommend a tripod.

High-speed video mode is basically a novelty. It captures movies at 240 fps at a very reduced resolution for 10 seconds, then switches to a standard 30 fps recording mode. High-speed videos don’t hurt the user experience, but after you’ve watched water dripping out of a faucet in slow mo a half-dozen times, it’s not fun anymore.

The superzoom genre as a whole gets a lot of criticism. Some buyers expect a lot out of a $400 or $500 camera: a huge zoom, ease of use and comprehensive control, a solid build, and above all, near-flawless photos. That's not going to happen for quite some time, but it won't stop most manufacturers from trying to please the sticklers (nor should it).

But perhaps to its credit, Nikon doesn't really pander to the pixel-peeping crowd with the P500. They've designed a very good point-and-shoot that happens to have a gigantic zoom lens. We'd like to see some of the image quality issues resolved, and a more elegant control scheme to boot. But the average casual photographer should be pretty satisfied with the P500. Pictures are usually well exposed and look clear at regular viewing distances -- that is, when you're not looking for problems. Auto mode is a breeze, and the manual modes are there for those who want to experiment with them. The only big drawback is the beefy price tag for what is, as we said, an over-powered point-and-shoot.

There are some other worthwhile options in superzoom category. Panasonic's FZ100 is one of our favorites, thanks to a great feature set and interface, though it "only" has a 24x zoom, and the image quality gets iffy at higher ISO settings. Fujifilm's HS20EXR is a dark horse in the field. It has the ability to take excellent pictures, and offers the most comprehensive set of manual controls in the class. But one needs to use those comprehensive controls to get the great pictures. It isn't a very good option for inexperienced photographers. We've heard excellent things about Sony's HX100V model, though we have been unable to test it yet.

Canon's SX30 IS and Olympus SP-810UZ also offer massive zoom ranges (35x and 36x respectively, and both of their telephoto ranges are actually longer than the P500's), though they're both built around CCD-type sensors, which aren't as nimble as their CMOS counterparts. (It's worth noting that the Canon model is set to be replaced in the very near future, though the specs still have not been confirmed).

Even with those other options out there, we still strongly recommend the Nikon P500 as one of the best superzooms for your money.