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Phone or camera? Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom put to test!

Last updated on: September 05, 2013 15:30 IST

Smartphone review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

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An offshoot of the flagship Galaxy S4 that released recently, the Zoom flaunts a lot of the features present in that device -- but does it make for a worthwhile camera?

Cameras on smartphones are nothing new, but the trend these days seems more reversed, namely, incorporating smartphones into cameras.

It started with the Nokia 808 PureView that introduced an amazing -- for a phone, at least -- 41 megapixel sensor which captured immense levels of detail. The technology has now been incorporated into the Nokia Lumia 1020 and improved further, thus making it the best possible camera phone currently available in the market.

Of course, Samsung decided to go in a somewhat different direction; they introduced the Galaxy Camera last year, which aimed to provide TouchWiz functionality, an Android operating system and connectivity to a point-and-shoot consumer camera.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, on the other hand, is a smartphone in its own right. It also has a large camera sensor on the back, similar to most point-and-shoot cameras. Of course, because it’s an offshoot of the flagship Galaxy S4 that released recently, it flaunts a lot of the features present in that device -- but does it make for a worthwhile camera?




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Smartphone review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

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Design

On viewing the Galaxy S4 Zoom from the front, it comes off as a normal, Samsung-style smartphone. You have the big Home button, two capacitative buttons, curved corners and a plastic build.

It bears a strong resemblance to the Galaxy S4 Mini in that respect, but flip the device over (or to the side) and you'll encounter the large sensor on the back. The corners are curved outward near the sensor, no doubt allowing for easier gripping, in contrast to flat handles. However, this makes positioning the device on a flat surface pretty much impossible if you want to take any hands-free or group shots.

The Zoom measures 0.60 inches thick, making it nearly twice as thick as the Galaxy S4, and weighs roughly 208 gm. Overall it's not too bad, and you'll be able to carry the device around comfortably without any problems. Corning Gorilla Glass 3 covers the display, thus protecting it from scratches and dings.

However, the body of the camera is still fairly vulnerable. Despite being much lighter than, say, the Nikon Coolpix A, it won't be competing with that device's ruggedness anytime soon.




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Smartphone review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

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Interface

Android 4.2.2 Jellybean is on board here, and the interface is fully touch-based. Samsung also included its own TouchWiz custom UI and features such as S Translator, which functions decently as a language translator, and Group Play, that turns the device into a separate speaker channel when multiple Galaxy S4s are present.

From a photography standpoint however, you'll be relying totally on the touch interface to adjust settings. Dials will manifest in the camera app itself, but you'll need to navigate several menus to come across the features you want.

You can adjust ISO and white balance, and choose from 26 presets such as Macro, Indoor, Silhouette, Beauty Face and perhaps best of all, Smart Mode Suggest. When shooting in Smart Mode Suggest, you’re presented with different options for shooting a scene. It’s useful for those who want to take pictures but don’t want to bother too much with tinkering.

For those who don’t fear the tinkering though, Manual Mode allows you to change just about anything. Thanks to the Android connection, you can also opt to share photos through various apps and image editing software, thus adding another range of filters and effects.




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Smartphone review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

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Specs and Image Quality

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom features a 16 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor with a Xenon flash. It features 24-240 mm lens with an aperture of f/3.1-6.3 with 10X optical zoom. The lens itself is 1/2.33 inch in size and has a maximum ISO rating of 3200. Meanwhile, on the smartphone front, a 4.3 inch, 960x540 Super AMOLED display acts as a viewfinder.

A dual core Exynos 4 4212 acts as the primary processor, and it features a Cortex A9 clocked at 1.5 GHz with 1.5 GB of RAM and a Mali-400 GPU. Internal storage is 8 GB but a microSDXC slot allows for 64 GB more space. NFC, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth along with 2G and 3G capability are all present.

Image quality leaves a lot to be desired. The zoom doesn't seem to function properly, ironic as it sounds, and altering it on the fly is not recommended. Shooting at the maximum ISO range sees a lot of noise when pictures are zoomed in, and the flash just doesn't illuminate pictures well enough.

Daylight pictures come across as overexposed at times, while nighttime pictures are underexposed. The device supports full HD recording at 30 frames per second, but the quality is underwhelming yet again when compared to most commercial point-and-shoot cameras, forget DSLRs in the same range.

It doesn't help that the hardware isn't as powerful as the Galaxy S4. This means lots of shutter lag, more time in opening the camera app and extra processing time when capturing images.

Battery life is also controlled by a 2330 mAh cell, which lasts a good few hours if you're shooting constantly and sharing images online. Don't count on being able to use the camera when the device is dying, as the device automatically blocks the camera function when battery life is low.




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Smartphone review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

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Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is in an awkward place. Unlike the Nokia Lumia 1020, it doesn't function as a competent smartphone or camera phone.

It doesn't measure up to typical point and shoot devices, and when it does, it comes off as far more expensive and less reliable. You could easily pick up a decent DSLR like the Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR that features better zoom, image quality, video recording, build -- you name it.

In trying to please just about everyone, Samsung has come up short in every single department.

With the lowered price of the Samsung Galaxy S4, it's wiser to invest in the flagship device if you want a smartphone that takes halfway decent pics and still functions great.

Otherwise, stick with Fujifilm, Nikon and Canon for your advanced photography needs.




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