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Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Camera with a phone on the back

Sterling Keys (translation)
0

The Galaxy S4 Zoom is a strange device: a compact camera on the front, on the rear it doubles as a phone. Or vice versa, depending on what you were hoping to get out of it. In reality, it seems like it’s a little bit of compromise on both ends with the manufacturer touting it as a spectacular combination of smart phone and digital camera. Whether this device can actually live up to these high standards, let’s find out.

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Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom with tripod mount. More camera than phone? / © AndroidPIT

Design

The S4 Zoom, at first glance, looks like an ordinary compact camera. The wide ring around the lens dominates the front of the device, the corners are rounded and it has a nice high-gloss finish. As well, the subtle texture on the handle and on the frame around the display brings this device home to the S4 family.

If you turn it around to show the screen, it looks like a normal smart phone with the typical Samsung design. It is slightly larger than the S4 Mini. In addition to the normal hardware buttons on the right hand side (power, volume), the S4 Zoom also has a separate shutter trigger for taking photos.

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 © AndroidPIT

The Zoom ring around the camera lens is another type of “hardware” button. You can control some photo options by rotating the ring, such as sorting through your gallery. However, that’s about the extent of what it can do: scrolling through menu options and going through your contact list isn’t possible with this function.

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The Zoom rings dominates the camera side of the device. / © AndroidPIT

The housing shape with the rounded corners has one disadvantage: it is only stable if placed wit the display facing down. If you put it on the other side, it is wobbly and gets pushes up by the lens and zoom ring. We would have thought that a retractable lens would have made sense for a combination digital camera and smart phone, but I guess Samsung had different ideas.

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Really only one side that it can be placed securely: face down. / © AndroidPIT

Otherwise, the design is a little bit weird. If you want to use it for a phone, the lens and zoom ring often gets in the way. Vice-versa, you can easily hit something on the screen when you’re trying to use it as a camera, initiating an unwanted action. It definitely looks clean and polished, but takes some getting used to the way the device is designed.

Display

The display on the S4 Zoom is as big as the S4 Mini with 4.3-inches and offers a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels. As with most Samsung products, it comes with an AMOLED display that gives it rich colors and strong contrasts. However, since the Zoom will most likely be used on the go and outside, it would have probably made a bit more sense to have a LCD display, much like the S4 Active has.

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom comes with an AMOLED screen. / © AndroidPIT

While the display for most users might be a bit too small, it is still very generous for a compact camera. In photo mode, you have enough space on the screen to see your image as well as a bunch of other soft keys that enable other features. For better clarity, the numerous buttons can be hidden in the viewfinder when the shutter button is pressed halfway down.

Software – System and Camera

The S4 Zoom runs, at the time of writing, Android 4.2.2 which has been modified using Samsung’s Touchwiz interface. The functions are largely the same as other S4 models but have been supplemented by a few additional features specific to photography.

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Some options for the camera settings on the S4 Zoom, including a quick menu that is opened by turning the zoom ring. / © AndroidPIT

The camera, upon firing up the device, is loaded automatically. This can extend the process of turning on your phone. However, when it is loaded, you can just turn the zoom ring and important photo features are readily available.

The camera software is pretty extensive and many features can only be found by exploring around. In addition to all the automatic functions, there are a bunch of smart-modes (24 presets!) that are associated within five categories including portrait, landscape, close/interior, professional photo, and night mode.

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Smart modes vs. Expert modes. / © AndroidPIT

Especially useful is the expert mode in which various settings, such as ISO and shutter speed, can be customized. It does take some time to get familiar with the operation and adjustments of so many options, but once you do, the possibilities are literally endless. They’ve really ramped up their game when it comes to the camera aspect of the software.

A new option that has been presented, “Photo Suggestion”, presents somewhat of an augmented reality interface when looking through the viewfinder. This can provide you with interesting photos of nearby places from other people. While a neat feature, it definitely is a battery drain as it uses GPS constantly when being used.

Camera

The camera for the S4 Zoom is probably the best feature, without a doubt. The S4 Zoom is a camera first and a smart phone second. On the technical side of things, there is a Xenon flash, a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor, and an optical image stabilizer built in. This definitely out performs any other “smart phone” out there.

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The optical zoom built in is a big selling feature, combined with the image stabilizer. / © AndroidPIT

It takes about 2-3 seconds for the camera to fire up once you access it from the lock screen or by clicking on the app icon. Photos can then be taken without much delay and as with most smart phones, you can autofocus on objects by tapping on them in the display.

The quality of the photos is pretty standard, but the S4 Zoom does excel in, surprise surprise, scenarios where you need to zoom. Close-ups offer a high amount of sharpness and the extended zoom utilizes the image stabilizer to its full extent. When shooting in the automatic mode, the picture quality is fine but the camera tends to slightly over expose and results in a picture with a high saturation. In expert mode, you can easily correct this with the multitude of settings.

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In the macro range, the S4 Zoom definitely does deliver. / © AndroidPIT

Processor and power

Samsung uses its own chipset for the S4 Zoom, the Exynos 4210 duo-core that clocks in at 1.7GHz. Asides from a few micro stutters while scrolling fast through the menus, it ran smoothly and trouble free. The camera starts up pretty fast and reverts back to a “phone” pretty quickly. Apps themselves load quickly and without a delay.

Battery

When I took out the S4 Zoom out after a day of shooting with it, I was shocked: the battery was almost completely dead. This is only after having taken about 30 photos throughout the day and played around with the settings. No surfing the web or using the phone. The culprit however, was Google Maps. The service had sucked the battery dry by constantly monitoring my position and using the “Photo Suggestion” feature mentioned earlier.

After I turned off location services, the battery last longer. However, there is nothing outstanding about the 2330mAh battery. The double burden of having a camera and smartphone quickly sucks the life out of it, and combined with the possibility of using LTE networks to send photos, you may be without a charged battery sooner than you expect.

Specifications

The S4 Zoom sits in the middle pack between both of the things its trying to be. While the camera has a 16-megapixel sensor, this is pretty common now for a point and shoot camera on the market. The 4.3-inch display, 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, and LTE ability are nice, but nothing extraordinary when it comes to phones.

  SAMSUNG GALAXY S4 ZOOM
Display: 4.3-inches, 960 x 540 Pixel (256 ppi), Super AMOLED
Processor 1.5 GHz Dual-Core, Samsung Exynos 4210
Memory 1.5 GB
System: Android 4.2.2, TouchWiz
Camera: 16 MP rear camera, 1.9 MP front
Connectivy: WLAN, HSDPA, LTE, Bluetooth 4.0
Internal storage: 8GB, microSD expandable to 64 GB
Battery: 2330 mAh
Dimensions: 125.5 x 63.5 x 15.4 mm
Weight: 208 g
Price: No confirmed pricing for North America

Conclusion

Well, it’s not the best of both worlds, that’s for sure but it does do what it can. It’s definitely more of a camera with smartphone abilities as opposed to vice-versa. As a smartphone, it’s a little unwieldy and the operation is hampered by its design. The ability to use it as a phone and a camera was a nice touch that looked great on paper, but really isn’t that practical in a real world scenario. While it might attract a few with its ability to be a bit of two worlds, I’m not super enthusiastic about it. Maybe that will change as I play around with it a bit more?

Any thoughts on the S4 Zoom?