GalaxyZoom11-001

Featured Review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, Camera or Smartphone?

November 8, 2013 - Written By Tom Dawson

Samsung tried bringing Android and the digital camera together once before with the Galaxy Camera. While that attempt didn’t work out, Samsung isn’t a company to give up. In fact, 2013 has been a year of “Let’s try this” for Samsung in a number of ways. The Galaxy NX offers an almost dSLR feel with Android, the Galaxy S4 Zoom however, is more about offering the best of both worlds. It’s a good idea but, is it any more than just a Galaxy S4 Mini with a camera on the other side? Read on to see!

Design and Hardware

GalaxyZoom19-001

When looking at it from the front, the Galaxy S4 Zoom looks just like a Galaxy S4 Mini. Turn the device around however, and you quickly realize that you’re dealing with a very different beast. Simply put, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is more digital camera than it is smartphone, at least when look at its form factor. It’s thick – like a camera. It has a grip – like a camera. And has a big-ass lens sticking out – just like a camera.

Compared to pretty much any other Android smartphone out there and the S4 Zoom will look like a short and stumpy house brick. However, I did enjoy the smaller display and it’s difficult but, you can get used to the size of it.

Overall though, it’s a shame that Samsung has ultimately been quite lazy with the Galaxy S4 Zoom. As a camera, it has all the bases covered – there’s even a tripod mount! However, as a smartphone, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is perhaps too much to handle. No matter how much time you spend with the S4 Zoom, it continues to feel more like a typical digital camera with a phone stuck to it, and vice-versa. Samsung needed to make this more of its own device.

Smart design choices like a cover for the lens, a tripod mount, wrist-strap hooks and an easily accessible microSD card slot are all very welcome. However, the positioning of the shutter release and the back button is pretty annoying to say the least. While shooting, you’ll probably find yourself You can take a look at the Galaxy S4 Zoom in the gallery below, as well as see it compared to the HTC One X.

Display

GalaxyZoom18-001

The 4.3-inch Super AMOLED qHD (960 x 540) display is adequate if nothing else. Certainly, it doesn’t hold a candle to larger displays with higher resolutions but, it’s more than good enough. The punchy colors are a good way to show off photos and the deep blacks make reading text a little easier on the eye. However, if you’re looking for a realistic display to playback your photos on, this isn’t that.

Despite the lower resolution, text is perfectly readable and the smaller size is quite nice for texting and such. Once you get used to the overall thickness of the device itself, that is. It’s a decent enough display in sunlight, too. However, this is only on account of it being such a bright display. Which can lead to lighter colors simply getting lost in bright sunlight.

We would have like to have seen a higher resolution display of 1280 x 720, like on the HTC One Mini, especially when you’re taking such large and detailed images. However, this isn’t a bad display, Samsung just could have done better. Overall though, this feels like an older Super AMOLED display that Samsung had lying around on a shelf. It’s got the same sort of display modes as the Galaxy S4 which are certainly nice to have but, we would have liked to have seen Samsung try a little harder with the display. Fans of Super AMOLED though, will have no problem with this punchy and bright display.

The Camera

GalaxyZoom01-001

Here we are with the “meat” of the review, the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s camera. We’re not photographers here at Android Headlines but, this Editor spends a lot of his time taking photos for personal use and as such, he knows a thing or two about cameras. So, is that big honking zoom lens on the back of this guy any good? Let’s take a look shall we?

First thing you’re going to notice when starting up the camera is that it’s not all that quick. To do so, you have to have the phone unlocked, after that you can either just press and hold the shutter release or, launch the app like you would any other. Another annoyance is that you have to wait for each file to save before you can leave the camera app and return the phone to your pocket. We can’t really blame Samsung here, 16-megapixel images are big files but, a speed boost would be nice. There are, however, a myriad of helpful shooting modes available and even the ability to use the Galaxy S4 Zoom like a fully manual camera, changing whatever setting you like. Images are apparently worth a thousand words, so let’s take a look at some, shall we? These images haven’t been touch in any way, all that’s happened is that they’ve been renamed and scaled to fit the site. Also, all of the images were shot with either the Auto mode. We did this to show off the performance of the camera “as is”.

GalaxyS4Zoom_26

In everyday sort of landscape shots, the camera does a decent job and for the most part, things look pretty impressive. Photos from the Galaxy S4 Zoom are without doubt better than your average smartphone but, then again, you’d expect them to be. Colors are well-represented if not a little “mute” but they’re certainly accurate.

GalaxyS4Zoom_37

Just as you might expect, the 10x optical zoom allows you get a lot closer to your subject, without having to resort to magnification, as with most smartphones.

GalaxyS4Zoom_36

Upon closer inspection, you can see how soft things are from the optics, nothing is really pin-sharp but, for everyday snaps and landscapes, the Galaxy S4 Zoom does an excellent job. For all its shortcomings, the general performance of the camera is good, when you think of it as a phone. Now, if we were talking about this as a camera we wouldn’t be so kind but, the fact is, you can take this anywhere and get much better results compared to any other camera. You can take a look at some more samples in the gallery below:

 

Finally, Macro Mode in a Smartphone, Sort Of

GalaxyS4Zoom_16

One area in which the Galaxy S4 Zoom really excels in is with its macro mode. Sure, there’s the usual myriad of modes that are available on any other Samsung camera here but, decent optics leads to a pretty decent macro mode. Something normal smartphones just cannot manage. For instance, the macro mode on the Galaxy S4 Zoom allows you to be that little bit more creative and it actually works. Which is something that most point-and-shoot cameras can’t even say. It might seem like a gimmick but, it is useful for getting sharp images of text and of course, the smaller objects of your life. Macro mode is one of those things that you can’t really appreciate until you can use it like this. Let me tell you, it’s much easier to take detailed shots of smartphones with a proper macro mode.

GalaxyS4Zoom_10

It’s pretty cool to be able to take images like this using a phone, after all there was a time when this sort of thing required a full-size camera and some expensive optics. Now though, you can just buy a Galaxy S4 Zoom and enjoy the best of both worlds.

Battery Life

2013-10-20 01.11.11

While using the S4 Zoom as my own personal device, how I use a smartphone, I was mightily impressed with the battery life. The 2,330 mAh cell is removable so you can carry a stack of them with you. Overall, the battery life is quite impressive, which is probably down to the dual-core CPU inside that doesn’t swallow up battery life.

Even when using the camera, the battery life is more than solid and as mentioned above, you can easily bring more than one with you. If you’re looking for an all-day sort of device, the S4 Zoom is more than adequate and will work perfectly well.

Of course, in the end it all comes down to how you’re going to use the device. If you use the Galaxy S4 Zoom a whole lot, then you’re going to end up running the battery life down but, for the most part, the majority of users will get a day plus out of the battery.

Storage

2013-10-21 20.32.46

The Galaxy S4 Zoom comes with 8GB as standard but, there’s the usual MicroSD card slot. Which is something that you should consider filling right away. You don’t get much free space with the device out of the box, at all. Somewhere in the region of 2.00GB if that. However, the MicroSD card slot is super-easy to get to and a 16GB card is hardly expensive so, this shortcoming is an easy fix. However, Samsung would have been better off including 16GB as standard. After all, with the 16 Megapixel camera, you’re going to be taking 4.0MB or so pictures. Also, let’s not forget that the whole point of this is to take a whole lot of pictures but, seeing as this is a camera of sorts, you can simply and easily throw in expandable storage.

GalaxyZoom06-001

Performance

As you might imagine, the dual-core CPU and 1.5GB of RAM aren’t going to net you anything shocking or earth shattering in the performance department. And they don’t however, the general experience is fine. The camera takes a few seconds to initialize and there are often one-to-two second waits on certain tasks but, other than that you won’t need to task what’s under the hood. Gaming is awkward due to the device’s size and, the performance isn’t that great, either. However, the device is more about taking pictures than it is frame rates and the performance here is more than adequate for such a task.

You’re not going to jump for joy at how fast the Galaxy S4 Zoom is but, you’re not going to be cursing it all the time, either. It is what it is, which is pretty good for a device with a dual-core CPU in this age of 2.0 Ghz and up quad-core CPUs.

Call Quality

The Galaxy S4 Zoom is going to look like you’re talking into your camera but, if that doesn’t bother you – and like me, you actually still make phone calls – then you’re not going to be disappointed with the call quality. Voices from the other end were clear, with a slightly warm tone that felt just a little bassy to me. As for people on the other end, they said that I sounded pretty good, too. A lot of this will depend on your network coverage of course but, where I was I had a pretty strong signal. Bottom line when it comes to call quality is that Samsung knows how to make a phone and while there’s not much to write home about the Zoom when it comes to smartphones but it is pretty good.

The Final Word

GalaxyZoom02-001

When I first approached the Galaxy S4 Zoom, I was struggling to figure out just who Samsung was aiming this phone at. Then it hit me. The Galaxy S4 Zoom is the type of phone for those that are constantly travelling or those that simply take photos all the time. It’s not a device for everyone and it’s certainly not a device for the casual photographer. You see, aiming the Zoom at those that know what they’re doing behind a lens is one of its biggest problems. The optics here aren’t anything special, with a pretty disappointing aperture – sure, there’s a 10x optical zoom here but, the lens just isn’t that impressive. As for the device’s sensor, it isn’t magically going to deliver noise free results to save you from your smartphone as it’s just a typical point-and-shoot affair on offer here. If you’re fed up of taking hundreds of photos every week with your smartphone to find them all pretty poor, then the Galaxy S4 Zoom is a great offering from Samsung.

The question is though, is the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s camera enough to put up with a fairly middling smartphone and a pretty sizable one at that? No, not really. If it were me, I would very much rather take my Fuji X10 and a smartphone out on the road but, I’m pretty oldschool in that regard. However, most users would be better off taking their camera and their smartphone with them when taking photos. Sure, it’s great being able to share much better photos to Instagram and Google+ but, it’s not that much better. If Samsung had tried to make this more of its own device, rather than some bizarre marriage of camera and smartphone, we might be having a different conversation. Right now though, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is a niche product resulting in a great idea with a not-so-great implementation. In the title, we posed a question – is this a camera or a smartphone? The answer to that is a somewhat blurry “neither”. Neither is the Galaxy S4 Zoom a camera or a smartphone, it’s an ineffective mix of the two. If Samsung spent a lot more time making this its own device, it would come of more favorably but, like we say for those looking for a smartphone with a genuinely good camera experience, you could do worse than the Galaxy S4 Zoom.