Relatively affordable. Lightweight build. Large image sensor. Smooth overall performance. Solid image quality. Can shoot in Raw.
Mediocre battery life. Outdated software. Lacks fingerprint sensor. Subpar 4K footage. Shutter button has focus lag.
- Bottom Line
The Kodak Ektra is a unique smartphone that doubles as a solid point-and-shoot camera at an affordable price, but don't expect it to match up to more traditional devices in either regard.
It's a hassle to carry around a separate camera when you're traveling. You don't want to burden yourself with too many devices in your pockets or too many things you need to keep charged. But there are often moments when the camera on your phone just won't cut it. That's where the Kodak Ektra comes in. It's an unlocked phone built in the style of a point-and-shoot camera, packing a large image sensor (for a phone) in a lightweight body. You get solid image quality, the ability to shoot in RAW, and fairly smooth overall performance for an affordable $399.99. That said, it's not as powerful as many comparably priced phones, battery life is lackluster, and the software is dated, so if you're not keen on the camera capabilities, you're better off with a different phone.
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Design and Display
The Kodak Ektra stands out. It features a big protruding lens on the back, a hard black leather finish, and a thick band of metal along the sides. Combined with the shutter button and a rather distinctive rounded bottom, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Ektra is one of those Android-powered point-and-shoot cameras like the Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 or the NX.
In reality, the Ektra has more in common with the outdated Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1. The two phones both feature similar form factors with large camera lenses, but the Ektra distinguishes itself by minimizing the bulk. It measures just 5.8 by 2.9 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and weighs a lightweight 5.8 ounces. Compared with the hefty Lumix (5.3 by 2.7 by 0.8 inches, 7.2 ounces), the Ektra is easier to slip in and out of your pocket. Of course, top camera phones like the Galaxy S8 (5.9 by 2.7 by 0.3 inches, 5.5 ounces) and LG G6 (5.9 by 2.8 by 0.3 inches, 5.8 ounces) have tall and narrow bodies making them even easier to handle, while the Ektra has a rather large bezel.
Along the sides, the Ektra features most of the standard ports and buttons you'd expect on a phone. On the right you have a pair of clicky metal volume buttons, a larger power button, a Camera Shutter key, and an attachment point for the included carrying strap. The top of the phone has a 3.5mm audio jack, and the bottom has a USB-C port you can use for charging or transferring pictures to your laptop. The left side also gives you access to a SIM/microSD card slot that worked fine with a 256GB card. The one missing feature here is a fingerprint sensor, which is a disappointment considering even more affordable phones like the Moto E4 have them.
Front and center is a 5-inch, 1,920-by-1,080 IPS display with faintly backlit capacitive buttons below. The resolution works out to a crisp 445 pixels per inch (ppi), bettering the display you'll find on the similarly priced Moto G5 Plus (401ppi). But compared with the Galaxy S8's Quad HD display (570ppi), the Ektra isn't as sharp. That's not really significant though, since the pixel density is high enough that text and graphics appear crisp, and viewing angles are good. What is problematic is that the Ektra doesn't get very bright, especially compared with the S8. That makes it troublesome to use outdoors and in direct sunlight, which isn't ideal if you're using the display as a viewfinder on a sunny day.
Network Performance and Connectivity
The Ektra is available unlocked and supports LTE bands 2/4/5/7/12/17, for compatibility with AT&T and T-Mobile. It recorded a high download speed of 18.9Mbps during our network testing in midtown Manhattan, which is in line with other phones we've tested in the same area recently. The phone also supports dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 4.1, but not NFC so you won't be able to use Android Pay. That's a bit disappointing because you do get NFC on comparably priced phones like the ZTE Axon 7.
Call quality is mixed. Transmissions are faint and can sometimes be inaudible if you're trying to carry on a conversation in an area with lots of background noise. Earpiece volume also leaves something to be desired. But transmission quality itself is good—voices are clear and natural, and noise cancellation blots out nearly all background noise from nearby traffic. The speaker on the back is tinny at higher volumes.
Processor and Battery
The Ektra is powered by a MediaTek MT6797 Helio X20 processor clocked at 2.3GHz. It's a solid midrange chipset when it comes to benchmarks, scoring 84,045 on AnTuTu, which measures overall system performance. That's not as high as the Snapdragon 820-powered Axon 7 (141,989), but it's better than the Snapdragon 625-powered G5 Plus (63,845).
In terms of real-world performance, the Ektra is mostly smooth. Its 3GB of RAM is enough that you shouldn't have any trouble multitasking, and we rarely encountered any sluggishness. There were some instances when the phone felt a bit slow when switching between apps, but that appears to be due to the unresponsive capacitive buttons that don't seem to register touches very well. Animations also feel a little slower than normal, but these are things you can speed up using a third-party launcher. The Ektra can play demanding games like GTA: San Andreas, but you'll encounter some glitches like flickering textures and dropped frames.
Battery life isn't the best. The Ektra clocked 4 hours, 30 minutes in our rundown test in which we stream full-screen video over LTE at maximum screen brightness. That's much lower than the Axon 7 (6 hours), and even less than the G5 Plus (7 hours, 35 minutes). It's not impressive given the 3,000mAh battery and relatively dim screen. The phone supports fast charging with the included adapter (5V/2A), but it won't charge as fast as Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0-enabled phones.
Don't mix up the Kodak Ektra with the Kodak Ektar. One is a phone. The other is an absolutely fantastic ISO 100 color negative film stock. But even though the Ektra isn't Ektar, it still puts some emphasis on its camera. It packs more pixels, 21MP, and a larger image sensor than most smartphones. The 1/2.3-inch sensor is the same size you get in a point-and-shoot, about 1.6 times the size the sensor found in an iPhone 7.
The camera you get with an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy is really good, bettering low-end point-and-shoots in pretty much every category except optical zoom. The Ektra doesn't offer the extremely fast burst capture options that iPhone owners have enjoyed since the 6s generation, but it does deliver solid image quality, minus the bells and whistles.
You get a wide-angle lens, covering a 26.5mm field of view with a fixed f/2 aperture. It's stabilized optically, which steadies images and video. We used Imatest to check the quality of the lens and were happy to see that it's quite sharp. It scores 2,531 lines per picture height on a center-weighted test, with strong performance right up to the edges of the frame. The extra sensor resolution certainly gives it a boost; the iPhone 7 squeezes 2,055 lines out of a 12MP sensor paired with a 28mm f/1.8 lens.
Image noise is a big concern for smartphone cameras. Sensors are small and components are packed tightly together, resulting in a device that can get warm. The Ektra does a pretty solid job controlling noise, curbing it to less than 1.5 percent through ISO 6400 and avoiding the green color shift we've seen with some other camera-centric phones at high ISOs.
Clean images at ISO 6400 from a small sensor don't come without some caveats. The Ektra applies noise reduction to its JPG output. Even as low as ISO 400 we see the finest lines in our test scene blend together, although you do see more detail than you get from an ISO 400 iPhone 7 or Galaxy S7 JPG.
Quality only takes a slight step back at ISO 800, and while blur and artifacts are visible at ISO 1600, we wouldn't call the results blurry. Blurry, however, is the word we'd use to describe ISO 3200 and 6400 output—both settings are too much to ask of any smartphone, with the exception of the long-discontinued Panasonic CM1, a model with an even larger 1-inch sensor that never gained traction in the market, despite delivering superlative image quality.
Raw capture is also an option; you'll need to change the shooting mode to Manual to access it, but you can still leave all exposure settings set to automatic if desired. When shooting Raw you get more detail at higher ISOs, but images can appear rather grainy. We'd still recommend trying to keep the ISO at 1600 or less when shooting Raw, but if you do need to work at a higher sensitivity you'll see more detail in images.
There is one big downside—each Raw DNG takes up 43MB of storage space. That's only about 10MB less than Raw images from the full-frame, 50MP Canon EOS 5DS R SLR. Our guess is that the Ektra is using an uncompressed DNG format in order to speed image processing time. Regardless of the technical reason, if you plan on shooting in Raw, you'll want to invest in a big memory card.
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Focus speed can be an issue with smartphone cameras. Slow focus limits the functionality of the Hasselblad True Zoom add-on for Moto phones—it requires about 0.7-second to lock focus and take a picture. If you use the Ektra's physical shutter button you'll experience a similar, unacceptable lag—0.7-second. But if you tap the shutter icon on the screen the camera responds much more quickly, recording a more typical 0.1-second lag. Make sure to tap the screen when shooting those candid moments. We'd love to see the shutter lag issue with the physical shutter button fixed, of course.
In the lab, we were leveraging manual mode to capture our standard array of test images. We ran into some bugs with the app here. With shutter speed set to automatic and ISO set manually, we ended up with some images that were way off in exposure. We didn't experience this when leaving the ISO set to automatic, which is how most folks will use the camera, but it's worth noting.
Lab tests are one thing. Real-world use is another. We took the Ektra out and about to snap some shots and work with a few of its shooting modes. In Raw, we found the images to be quite easy to work with using Adobe Lightroom CC on a desktop. Shadow and highlight recovery is effective when shooting at lower ISOs, but a scene we shot at ISO 1000 didn't give any room to pull out detail from darker areas of the frame without introducing a ton of extra noise—that's not a surprise given the small image sensor.
If you shoot JPG, you'll notice that colors are on the muted side. Take a look at the two shots above; the first is an out-of-camera JPG, and the second is the same image with some basic Raw processing. It was shot on a bright, sunny midsummer afternoon, and while the color of the water might be a bit truer in the JPG, the foliage and sky are flat. You don't have to shoot in Raw to tune colors, of course; Snapseed is preinstalled, and you can always download VSCO or the image editor of your choice to tune the output. It's a shame the app doesn't let you adjust the JPG settings, as that could go a long way to save you some editing work.
Despite having just one lens, the Ektra has a bokeh simulation mode. When you enable it the phone prompts you to remind that it works best with the lens within a foot of your subject, and to ensure that it stands out from the background. This means that you won't be using it much for portraits—sticking a camera in someone's face is not going to draw them in a flattering way—but it does have some potential for macro work. The image above was shot with the bokeh mode enabled, and is a JPG right out of camera (the colors are pretty solid here, and we were in a shady spot). The processed Raw image, without the bokeh setting enabled, is below.
The Ektra also shoots video at up to 4K quality, with optical image stabilization. Stabilization is much more important for video than it is for stills when shooting at a wide angle. Handheld video is mostly free of jitters, but the 4K footage is not good. Texture is absent, even when shooting in bright light, and detail is anything but crisp. It looks like poorly upscaled 1080p video rather than true 4K.
There's also an exclusive, filter-centric app for video. Super8 shift colors, adds a rounded frame, and adds some grain and scratches to give your video the look associated with old 8mm film. We like the effect—especially the black-and-white Tri-X option—but be aware that there is some processing time required, about two minutes for the 12-second clip below. You're limited to 1080p capture when using the Super8 app, and the filter effects hide some of the faults that are apparent in the main camera app's 4K output.
Finally, there's a 13-megapixel front-facing camera. It doesn't have much in the way of features compared with the rear sensor. You have a few selfie modes and you can record video in 480p, which isn't very sharp. Photos outdoors and in good lighting come out fine, though a little soft. Indoors and under lower light you'll encounter issues with focus and muddiness.
The Kodak Ektra comes running Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It's a much older version of Android than you'll find on the G5 Plus, which runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat, and it doesn't bode well for the Ektra getting future updates. On the plus side, the software touch is light. Most visual elements are close to stock Android and there are no unnecessary features tacked on.
Bloatware is also minimal. Aside from AVG Antivirus and Office Suite which you can uninstall, you'll only find a handful of Kodak apps like Print and Gallery that let you save and share scans or photos, and the aforementioned Snapseed and Super8. Out of 32GB of total storage, you have 20.51GB to use. It's a decent amount of space, but if you plan to shoot in Raw or take lots of 4K video, you'll want to use a microSD card.
The Kodak Ektra is a $400 Android phone that doubles as a point-and-shoot camera, sparing you the hassle of carrying around two devices. It takes solid pictures and offers a reasonable level of performance for the price. That said, it's not necessarily the best camera phone you can get. The Samsung Galaxy S8 is pricey, but it remains the best shooter among smartphones, and has a gorgeous design, faster performance, and a sharper display. If you're looking for something in the same price range, both the Moto G5 Plus and ZTE Axon 7 give you updated software, excellent hardware, better battery life, and a slew of unique features. But the Kodak Ektra is still worth considering for travelers who want something with a little more punch than a phone camera, but don't want to splurge on a point-and-shoot.
By Ajay Kumar Mobile Analyst
Ajay Kumar is PCMag's Analyst obsessed with all things mobile. Ajay reviews phones, tablets, accessories, and just about any other gadget that can be carried around with you. In his spare time he games on the rig he built himself, collects Nintendo amiibos, and tries his hand at publishing a novel. Follow Ajay on Twitter @Ajay_H_Kumar. More »
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