Hands On with the Kodak Ektra
Bullitt Group is back with another Kodak-branded smartphone and believes it has a better combination of form, features, and functionality in the Ektra. The Ektra clearly taps into the nostalgia factor thanks to its resemblance to older cameras. Bullitt has done its homework this time around and has high hopes for this unique handset. Here are our first impressions.
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Bullitt Group is back with a new Kodak phone and hopes it will sell in the U.S. A year ago, the company — chiefly known for making the CAT brand handsets — introduced a Kodak camera that was a cheap, uninspired mess. Bullitt regrouped after realizing they'd not hit the mark and came up with the Ektra.
The Ektra is named after a 1941 camera of the same name, and the design is clearly retro-tastic thanks to its faux leather covering and exaggerated camera module. At first glance, you'll think the Ektra is a camera, not a smartphone. That's the way Ektra wants it. I like the bulge at the bottom / right where the handgrip would be on a camera, and the dedicated two-stage camera button is a really nice feature to have. The device is he'd together by a metal frame that wraps around the side edges.
The Ektra is rather large. The big screen is surrounded by lots of bezel. It's thick, too. The sizable footprint and non-traditional share (thanks to the camera grip) means it won't fit into pockets all that well. It feels okay in the hand, but I wish the side edges weren't quite so sharp. The quality is very good, but just short of excellent. The materials mostly impress, but I know Bullitt Group could have done a little bit better here.
The rear panel is where the camera module us. Bullitt selected a 21-megapixel Sony sensor. It has an aperture of f/2.0 two-tone LED flash, optical image stabilization, 4K video capture, and phase-detection autofocus. The module is a ginormous raised circle with a massive piece of glass protecting the lens. It looks like an old-school camera from the 40s or 50s, and that's the whole point. The module sits on a metal ridge that catches your hand sometimes, as well as your pocket. Kodak's logo is stamped in the leatherette that covers the rear.
The front is mostly screen, but I wish the bezels were a tad thinner. There's a small slit above the screen of the earpiece and the user-facing camera is very obvious over to the left. There's no selfie flash for the 13-megapixel imager. There are three capacitive buttons below the screen for accessing the back, home, and app-switcher functions. These buttons work well.
The right edge is where all the action is. The largest and most obvious button is the dedicated camera key. It has a nice, raised profile and is easy to use. Both stages of the key (half-press to focus, full press to shoot) are well defined. The button is located on the far right side of the phone when it is held sideways as a camera. The screen lock / power button is placed approximately in the middle, and separate volume buttons are over to the left. All the buttons are a cinch to find and use. They offer good travel and feedback.
You'll find the headphone jack on the top, the USB-C port on the bottom, and the SIM card tray on the left edge (or bottom when held as a camera).
The real story here isn't the hardware. Instead, it's the software. Bullitt tasked an unnamed company that's not Kodak to create special camera software. The camera app itself includes retro and modern touches that both manage to improve usability. For example, the spinning mode selector dial mimics the analog controls you'd find on real cameras. Neat! It has bokeh, panorama, HDR, beauty mode, and more.
Rather than write a million words explaining it all, here's a video you can check out:
Last, Bullit Group is going for broke with the accessories. Notably, the brown leather case that resembles those that used to protect the cameras of yore. The quality of the leather is great, and I love the way it has a neck strap, and fold-over design that lets you use the camera. There's also a pair of leather slip-on cases, one black and one dark brown.
I like the Kodak Ektra, but I worry that it won't do well in the market. The phone has been for sale in Europe since last fall and won't reach the U.S. until April at the rather high price of $549. By that time, LG and Samsung will have kicked out their flagships for the year, which will be readily available from U.S. carriers. I like that Kodak is thinking ahead. It is already working on Nougat and promises to have the platform ready soon, but the phone will ship with Marshmallow — 7 months after Google released Nougat to phone makers.
There's no question the Ektra is a better phone than the Kodak-branded disaster Bullitt Group brought to the market last year. The Ektra is a quirky, but neat phone.
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