Samsung first gave the Android powered point-and-shoot concept a go with their Galaxy Camera – a weird mix of a power hungry AMOLED screen and a monster 21x optical zoom. But the hybrid device never quite lived up to the hype with inconsistent photo quality and dreadful battery life. The more recently announced Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, on the other hand, dials down the insanity of the technical specs and offers a much more practical mix of features. Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is smaller, thinner, and has a bigger battery pack. But it’s still got that big camera sensor on the back, so surely Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom should make mince meat out of every other cameraphone? Well let’s find out.
Design and Build
The Galaxy S4 Zoom is basically a Galaxy S4 Mini with a point and shoot stuck on its back. Thanks to that camera module, the phone has a 15.4mm waistline and weighs over 200 grams. While that’s positively bulky by smartphone standards, once you take into account the fact that this smartphone has a 10x optical zoom lens at the back, that figure makes a lot more sense. Other than that, it’s business as usual.
The build is largely plastic, so the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom device has absolutely no premium feel. There’s a metallic strip that runs along the sides of the device that breaks up the monotony of the design a little bit, but over all, we’re inclined to say that this is an ungainly design. It’s not offensive, but Samsung haven’t bothered with making it look stylish. But for all that criticism, this remains a pocketable device. You’ll feel it’s there, but it’s not exactly cumbersome either. And if the camera performance is up to scratch, you’re actually saving space by not carrying a separate camera.
The old Galaxy Camera had a 4.8-inch display that was a battery-drainer. And thanks to the tiny battery in that device, battery life took a major hit just because of the display. The S4 Zoom however, has a smaller 4.3-inch AMOLED display that promises to go easier on the battery. It is a qHD display however, with a PenTile matrix so this isn’t the sharpest of screens. Users accustomed to WVGA screens won’t find any nags with the screens but if you’re moving from even a 720p screen, the difference will be notable. But other than that, the screen possesses the usual AMOLED traits – brilliant colors and deep blacks with wide viewing angles.
Samsung are strictly keeping this an imaging-focus device, and looks like most of the money’s gone into that big lens on the back. Because on the inside, the Galaxy S4 Zoom has old hardware. It actually has an Exynos 4212 dual-core chip that’s based on the old Cortex-A9 architecture. There’s 1.5 gigabytes of RAM to accompany the processor, but thanks to the feature-heavy UI on top of Android, the experience is a bit choppy. You could fix this problem by flashing a clean stock Android ROM but then you’d be missing out on many camera specific features and especially that S4 Zoom-only camera app.
The Galaxy S4 Zoom’s main attraction is of course, that zoom lens on the back. Given the S4 Zoom’s price, we’d have thought that the lens on the back was going to special. Unfortunately, it’s not. The sensor is a 1/2.33-inch, 16 mega-pixel BSI CMOS unit. That’s pretty respectable for a smartphone, but when it comes to cameras, it’s on the absolute low end. So comparisons point-and-shoot greats like the Canon S110 are immediately redundant. But we’re interested to see if the S4 Zoom can make a case for itself when stacked up against the greatest of smartphone cameras.
The camera is operated by the special S4 Zoom-only camera app included. It features extended camera settings that allow enthusiasts to extract the last bit of performance from the sensor by adjusting aperture, white balance, exposure compensation and so on. There’s even a faux-wheel like those found on prosumer point-and-shoots that allow users to switch between shooting modes.
The camera performance of the S4 Zoom is on par with many of Android’s best. It’s only overshadowed by that miracle sensor found in the Nokia 808 Pureview. Otherwise, the resolved quality in the shots is very well indeed, and the 10x optical zoom performs well as well, with a good amount of detail captured at the full 240mm. Colors of the photos are very neutral, neither oversaturated neither too dull. The S4 Zoom’s camera makes a strong case for itself, and the zoom makes this smartphone a versatile imaging gadget as well.
The Galaxy S4 Zoom has a 2330mAh battery, which coupled with that frugal screen should account for good battery life. With average use, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom phone lasts a little over 1.5 days.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom might not be the prettiest smartphone on the market right now, but it is a practical solution for those looking to ditch their trusty point-and-shoot in favor of a smartphone camera. The S4 Zoom packs a very capable sensor along with that versatile 24-240mm focal range. But there’s a little bit of a dilemma surrounding this device. If you’re serious about the quality of your shots, you’d be better off with a prosumer digital camera. And if you want the best of both worlds, the new Nokia 1020 gives a much more compact solution while still offering decent image quality.