Not too many people expected Kodak to get into smartphones last year, but that’s just what they did with the Ektra (kind of — Kodak lent their name to it, but Bullitt manufactured it). The longtime photography company wanted to make waves with a smartphone that looked and felt like a camera, with the photography bona fides to back it up. But, it only saw release overseas — that changes today, with Kodak announcing that they’re bringing the phone to the United States.
Because no one’s looking to Kodak for a state-of-the-art smartphone, the Ektra was designed to provide a premium photography experience. That started with the exterior — it’s a thicker device, shaped somewhat like an old Kodak point-and-shoot. It has a rounded grip around the dual-press shutter button, and there’s a wrist strap for quick shots.
The back has a nice textured finish, making it a pretty nice looking device (although reviews have noted that the material itself feels cheap). In fact, fashion was a big focus for Kodak, which makes sense when you’re trying to stand out in a sea of smartphones — they partnered with designers Pop and Suki for a series of leather cases for the phone, which come in pink, black and scarlet, and tan and ochre colorways. They really went all-out on the pink one, too — it looks like a clutch and has pink leather tassels coming off the zipper.
But, the biggest obstacle for the Ektra is that high-end smartphone cameras have gotten really, really good — the Google Pixel, HTC U11, iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus all have stellar rear cameras. In some ways, Kodak can hang — the Ektra has a 21 MP sensor with phase detect autofocus, optical image stabilization, and dual LED flash. It has a manual mode, too, allowing for adjustment of settings. Kodak is also adding some improvements for this relaunch, including support for RAW and improved autofocus, auto white balance, and auto color saturation. It’s also better at reducing noise for ISO settings up to 6400.
That’s all well and good, but only the 21 MP part offers anything that other premium phones don’t. Unfortunately, that sensor is paired with an f/2.0 26.5 mm lens — that’s not bad, but with other premium options boasting f/1.7 lenses, the Ektra’s low-light performance won’t quite stack up with the best of the best.
The front camera has a pretty powerful 13 MP sensor, and like the rear camera has phase detect autofocus. But, it’s only got an f/2.2 lens, which again holds back low-light performance compared to the big guys — normally this isn’t something we’d harp on, but for Kodak, they have to get by on camera dominance.
There are some good tweaks to the camera app. The Android navigation buttons are disabled while shooting, to prevent anyone from accidentally leaving the app while trying to get a shot. They also have their own editing app, plus a Super 8 app with some fun editing features and filters. There’s a Super 8 video recorder mode, too, which should be fun to play around with for enthusiasts. Those tweaks are important, because the Ektra got touched up by critics at launch.
The phone hardware is so-so. It runs Android 6.0 on a MediaTek Helio X20 chipset with a 10-core 2.3 GHz processor — looks good on paper, but we’re not familiar with that chipset. It’s backed by a solid 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage (with a microSD card slot for an extra 256 GB), and a 3,000 mAh battery recharged over a USB Type-C connection. There’s no fingerprint sensor, unlike just about every other smartphone these days.
The Kodak Ektra is available in the United States starting today for $400, which is a bit cheaper than what it launched for overseas. It’ll be available directly from Kodak or from B&H Photo Video, Best Buy, and Amazon. There’s also a bundle combining the phone and that pink Pop and Suki case for $450.