Hands On: The Slightly Unnecessary But Gorgeous Kodak Ektra Phone

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LAS VEGAS—Kodak isn't making phones, but the new Kodak Ektra smartphone sure looks like a Kodak phone. With its big lens, dual-detent shutter button, side grip and gorgeous leather case, the Ektra—coming to the US in April for $549—proclaims its owner to be a photographer.

The Ektra is the latest creation from Bullitt, a chameleon-like British phone maker whose stock in trade is building phones that connect with famous brands. Bullitt is behind Caterpillar's CAT phones, most notably the CAT S60, a cult hit with a Flir infrared camera in it. It's also working with Land Rover.

The Ektra is designed to evoke the feel of a classic camera, said Charlie Henderson, Bullitt's head of lifestyle and peripherals. Thus, the really big lens enclosure on the back, which doesn't in fact hide spectacular hardware—just a nice piece of glass with OIS backed by a standard 21-megapixel smartphone sensor with 4K video recording. It uses phase detection autofocus and is f/2.0 aperture.

You hold this phone like a camera to take pictures. There's a bulge that orients itself into a grip for your right hand, and a dual-detent shutter button on the top which can lock in focus before you shoot. Maybe the Ektra doesn't have the spectaular sensor in the Google Pixel—we'll only know when we test it—but it feels like a camera.

Kodak and Bullitt spent a lot of time on the software. The custom camera app has a wheel interface that reminds you of turning the settings wheel on a traditional camera, and the phone is pre-loaded with a way to order prints from Kodak. There's an extensive manual mode with great shutter speed controls. The Snapseed photo-editing app is built in, and can be accessed right from the gallery screen.

I took some shots, and the Ektra focused quickly; I especially appreciated the shutter speed controls in the manual mode. You can fool with focus easily to create various effects, and as a phone with a camera focus, it hit the spot in my brief hands on.

The Ektra is an unlocked phone for AT&T and T-Mobile, and runs Mediatek's slightly exotic high-end Helio X20 processor at 2.3GHz. It's an Android Marshmallow phone, which is forgivable as it came out in Europe a few years ago; a Nougat update is in the works, but Bullitt is waiting for Mediatek on that. There's a 13-megapixel selfie camera, 32GB of storage, 3GB of RAM, a 3000mAh battery, and a MicroSD card slot.

Kodak Ektra leather case

The most striking feature, though, might be an accessory—a leather camera case (whose US price isn't set yet) that makes the Ektra look like a classic pocket camera on a neck strap. It's really gorgeous and only fits the Ektra.

The Kodak Ektra looks like a pretty good phone that will stand out in a crowd. Put it face down on a table, and people will want to talk about it. If you think of your phone as a statement of fashion and identity, that may strike a chord.

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