Despite a 3x zoom probably being the best for keeping photo quality intact, it looks as though a 5x optical zoom will be supplanting it as the point-and-shoot norm. Nikon's doing its part to help that particular camera-specs ramp-up with the 12-megapixel Coolpix S640 (pictured) and S570.
Both cameras measure 20mm thick and feature a 5x f2.7-6.6 28-140mm-equivalent lens on front and a 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD on back (though the S640 has an 'antifouling and water-repellent layer'). Where the S640 pulls away from the S570 is in performance.
Nikon's claiming a start-up time of 0.7 seconds as well as shorter autofocus and shutter lag times. This would be superb for the company, since its cameras are typically average performers.
The S640 also gets you optical image stabilisation (the S570 is electronic only), subject tracking and sensor sensitivity up to ISO 6,400 at full resolution (not that you'd want a 40x50cm print of something shot at that ISO).
The S640 comes in colours with the usual
preposterous evocative names -- calm black, velour red,
precious pink and pearl white -- while the colours of the S570 are more
economical: black, red, blue and pink.
The Coolpix S640 and S570 are out in September for £250 and £200 respectively -- incidentally the same price as in America, although our Yankee chums will pay that many dollars. Click through for a pic of the S570.