Automatic all the way (almost)
If you thought that because the QX10 is a camera you might have more camera functionality than your smartphone offers, think again. The camera currently offers four shooting modes: Superior Auto, Intelligent Auto, Program Auto, and Movie Mode.
Sony's Intelligent Auto is a solid scene-recognition auto mode that picks the best settings according to subject and lighting conditions. Superior Auto builds off of that mode by adding some scene settings that help with hand shake, low-light conditions, and backlit subjects. Because these extra scenes require the camera to take several shots and combine them into one, you should avoid using Superior Auto with moving subjects.
Program Auto gives you control over white balance and exposure compensation, but that's it. If you were hoping for burst modes or ISO control or really anything else, it's not here. On the upside at least one app developer, Camera360 has said it will add support for the QX cameras to its app.
Once you've got the camera loaded up on screen, you can hit the shutter release on the camera to take a picture or there's one in the app you can tap. You can tap to focus on your subject, but otherwise the camera will try to figure out what you want to focus on.
Shooting with the camera can be extremely frustrating. There's always a slight lag between the camera and the screen. It gets worse when the camera isn't attached or very close to the phone. It also seemed to struggle whenever I was in an area with a lot of Wi-Fi networks.
While there wasn't much of a delay between hitting the shutter release and capture, there's definitely some downtime between shots as it stores your picture and gets ready to take another. Combine that with the delay between what the camera sees and what's displayed and hitting a moving target is pretty tough.
The camera defaults to giving you a preview of each shot that you either need to tap to clear to continue shooting or tap to share. You can, thankfully, change this to a 2-second preview so you don't need to keep tapping your screen after every shot.
If you're the type to repeatedly take out a camera, take a picture or two, shut down, and move on, this is not the device for you. Once you exit the app or shut down the camera, you lose your connection between the two. This means that when you're ready to take another picture or shoot some video, you'll have to do the whole pairing process again. Also, on several occasions, the live view would just freeze, forcing me to shut down the app.
Keep in mind, too, that leaving your screen on and the Wi-Fi constantly sending a live stream to it, will drain your smartphone's battery quickly. It also means that your phone is completely tied up while you're shooting.
But the pictures are better, right?
Most newer smartphones take pictures that are good enough for casual snapshots for online sharing. On tablet and phone screens, you're less likely to notice things like noise and blur and subjects look sharper. It's when you view them at larger sizes on a computer screen or enlarge and crop them that things usually take a turn for the worse, especially if you're shooting in low light. That's really where having the QX10 comes in handy.
For a point-and-shoot, it produces very good photos both indoors and out, but you'll still want to have as much light as possible. Perhaps the biggest plus to using the Sony over your smartphone's camera is its optical image stabilization. That, combined with its Superior Auto mode, allows you to get some very good low-light shots of still subjects.
Colors are pleasingly bright and vivid, but like many point-and-shoots, highlights have a tendency to blow out. The lens' center sharpness is very good, but the lens does get softer out to the sides and in the corners.
Video quality is good, but nothing special. The camera records MP4 files for easier playback, editing, and uploading on mobile devices. The resolution is 1,440x1,080p at 30 frames per second, so it's not technically "full HD." It is fine for online sharing and viewing on mobile devices and, as with pictures, video benefits from having the optical image stabilization. If recording in full HD matters to you, you'll have to get one of Sony's other Cyber-shots, but even then you'll be recording in AVCHD (MTS) and not MP4.
The Sony Cyber-shot QX10 makes a bit more sense that its linemate, the QX100. It's smaller, less expensive, and designed more for casual photographers who want some zoom range to supplement their smartphone photography. A regular point-and-shoot with built-in Wi-Fi is a better option, but if you're looking for something different than the standard pocket camera, it's worth at least trying one out.
That said, it's still a second device and if you're already not willing to carry around something in addition to your phone, don't bother.