Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom Review
Hands on video review of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
Written by Charlotte Kertrestel
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, in terms of judgement, poses a real problem when put under the microscope. Whether it’s a camera or a smartphone is a question that kept cropping up the entire time that I was road testing the device, and pleasing users on both counts is a difficult task that Samsung is aiming to achieve.
But is the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom doomed to fail? Or can it tick all the boxes in both the camera and smartphone categories?
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, to put it simply, looks just like a camera. Thought of as a smartphone, its chrome ‘zoom’ lens is nothing short of bulky and makes the device feel quite heavy and cumbersome as a result. However, considered as a digital camera, the S4 Zoom is pretty average, and comes in a nice ergonomic shape, perfect for gripping onto with one hand to capture quick shots.
The S4 Zoom is slightly smaller than the original S4 with a screen size of just 4.3-inches. Although this is a slight comedown compared with the S4’s 5-inch display, a screen any bigger would make the device completely unmanageable.
Talking of size, the Zoom weighs in at 208g, which, understandably is quite a deal heavier than the S4’s 130 grams. And while the Zoom wouldn’t make your arm drop off if you carried it around all day, it does look slightly ridiculous holding it against your ear to take a phone call.
In terms of design, the S4 Zoom looks much like any other Samsung Galaxy smartphone from the front, with its shiny plastic casing and physical button on the phone’s fascia. There’s the usual lock and volume buttons as well as a physical camera shutter button on the side of the handset which makes it easier to take photos like you would with a traditional camera.
Phone Set Up
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom resembles any S4 device with the usual Samsung features, interface and Android OS that we’re all familiar with.
The device runs the latest Jelly Bean version of Android and is powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz processor. While on paper this looks fairly decent, I did find that the phone froze on me a number of times, and once (while poised ready to take a quick snap of a passing Parisian cruise) the Zoom became completely unresponsive, displaying the lock screen but not actually allowing me to unlock it.
One thing that is a nice touch on the S4 Zoom is the device’s continuous scroll on the app screens. Rather than having to scroll through apps that you’ve just looked at to get to a specific program, the S4 Zoom allows you to continuously scroll through all of your app pages until you find the right one.
As you would expect, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom shares most of the same features as the original Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Mega devices including S Travel, S Translator and Story Album, as covered in our Samsung Galaxy S4 review.
The Zoom also features Group Play, allowing you to turn various Galaxy devices into a de facto stereo speaker, though it doesn’t offer the Smart Pause and Smart Scroll features that I enjoyed on the S4.
Camera & Video
Unsurprisingly, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is all about the camera. And boy did I put it to the test during a weekend trip to Paris last week! Although the device is a fully functioning S4 smartphone, you soon forget that fact and start treating the Zoom as though it’s any ordinary camera.
The Zoom has a 16MP lens and a 10x optical zoom, which really impressed me, as both a smartphone and a standalone camera.
Because the device has a very obvious lens attached to the rear casing, measuring around 1cm thick, the phone’s zoom is operated by twisting the dial as you would a traditional camera. Although I found that this was easier to operate than most smartphones’ zooms, which require you to pinch the screen, I did find that it was a bit slow to zoom in, meaning I often zoomed in far too much whilst waiting for the phone to catch up.
That said, there’s no denying that the photographs taken with the device were of the best quality I’ve seen yet from a smartphone- or camera?- as you can see from the gallery on the left.
|Maximum zoom quality|
The majority of the time I just used the camera’s Auto mode when taking obligatory snaps of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, which I found worked well enough for my untrained photographer’s eye, though from time to time I did experiment with the Zoom’s array of additional camera features.
Similarly to the Samsung Galaxy S4, the S4 Zoom offers various ‘Smart’ modes including Light Trace, Beauty Face, Continuous Shot, Animated, Drama, Eraser and Sound and Shot. I found that capturing the Eiffel Tower against the setting sun was best shot using the Sunset mode, for example, and getting a decent photo of the Sacre Coeur after dark was again best captured using the phone's Night Mode.
|Auto Mode||Night Mode|
For the more experienced photographers of you, the S4 Zoom also offers ‘Expert’ Mode, which allows you to change the shutter speed, brightness, ISO and aperture, along with the colour, sharpness and contrast of your photos. However, I didn’t find that using these modes always achieved the expected results, and when I increased the aperture in order to make the object sharp and the background slightly blurry (in an attempt to be creative) I found that the camera automatically increased the ISO, clouding the photo with a white haze.
One feature that I really like about the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, if you think of it as a camera rather than a smartphone, is the fact that you can edit your photos using coloured and artistic filters, as with most other smartphones, which balances the smartphone and camera equation perfectly. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom also enables you to take some really great ‘selfies’ using the 1.9MP front-facing camera lens, which is helpful when you're on your own.
Another thing that I was keen to look into when road-testing the S4 Zoom- after the camera of course- was the device’s battery. Taking photos using a smartphone can often be one of the biggest drains on its battery, which is bad news when a phone is all about its camera like the S4 Zoom.
However, the Zoom went far beyond my expectations when it came to battery life, and from full, I used the camera extensively (whipping it out every other second while walking the streets of Paris) for six days with charging it for a brief period only once.
Obviously operating the camera as extensively as I did alongside using the device’s normal smartphone features (I didn’t want to accrue roaming charges after all!) would probably drain its battery a little faster, the S4 Zoom would still outlive most ordinary smartphones when it comes to juice.