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Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Good value convergence device

The Bad

  • High gloss finish
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Don’t let the name fool you – the Galaxy S4 Zoom isn’t a match for the Samsung’s flagship handset, but it does bring something unique to the table: a x10 optical zoom lens which could well render your dedicated point-and-shoot compact camera useless.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Design

In terms of cosmetic design, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom shares a lot of similarities with other members of the steadily-expanding S4 stable. The 4.3-inch AMOLED display dominates front of the device, and there’s the Samsung trademark, a physical “Home” button.

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Turn the phone around though and you’re greeted by a different type of device altogether – a 10x optical zoom camera. To reiterate, this looks more camera than phone when flipped over, ergonomic camera grip ‘bump’ and all.

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Sticking high-quality optics onto the back of a smartphone naturally results in drastically increased girth. The Galaxy S4 Zoom measures a whopping 15.4mm at its thickest point, so expect an unsightly bulge in your jean pocket if that’s where you intend on stowing yours.

Like the vast majority of Samsung’s phones, it’s fashioned from plastic, feels a touch cheap and sadly loses the premium feel that last year’s Galaxy Camera did. Considering there’s a 10x glass zoom lens hidden inside that camera mount, it’s impressive engineering – we just wish the finish was more refined.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Screen

The 4.3-inch capacitive touchscreen has a qHD resolution of 540×940, which is slightly disappointing when you consider that the standard Galaxy S4 is packing a pin-sharp 1080×1920 pixel display. 

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Still, the AMOLED panel is bright and performs well in direct sunlight, which is handy when you’re snapping images outdoors.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Operating system & performance

With the latest widely available version of Android on board, 4.2.2, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is off to a very good start. 

As well as offering all the usual benefits of Android – such as Google Now, a well-stocked app store and robust multi-tasking capability – the S4 Zoom is supported by Samsung’s own selection of exclusive features.

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Some of these are little more than party tricks – for example, Smart Stay uses the front-facing camera to see if you’re looking at the screen, but it’s disappointingly inaccurate, uses battery and you’ll switch it off within minutes. 

However, other innovations – such as the ability to use the phone as a remote for your TV thanks to the preinstalled WatchON app and the S4 Zoom’s IR transmitter – are more welcome.

Unlike the original S4, the Zoom doesn’t have a 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chipset under the bonnet. Instead, you have to make do with dual-core tech clocked at 1.5GHz.

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Because the handset is having to push less pixels the reduced power isn’t all that noticeable when you’re playing 3D games or scrolling around the web, but opening up a new application often takes several seconds. 

For example, opening the gallery and jumping into a folder has on occasion taken as long as thirty seconds, a pretty inexcusable drawback for a phone that puts so much emphasis on imaging.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Camera

This is most definitely the area where the Galaxy S4 Zoom truly shines. The camera on this phone is capable of taking some amazing shots, and the x10 optical zoom allows you to pick out detail on objects which appear to be way off in the distance. You can control this feature using either the on-screen buttons or the “zoom wheel” which surrounds the lens itself.

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As you can see from the sample images, the Galaxy S4 Zoom captures colour and detail admirably. It’s also quick to focus and sports a powerful Xenon flash which is capable of illuminating even darkly-lit environments. What’s particularly impressive is how the S4 Zoom handles swift, impromptu shots when compared to a standard camera phone, hitting the mark eight times out of ten.

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Of course, quality with cameras is all relative. The S4 Zoom can’t compete with the very best compact snappers on the market right now, but when compared directly with its mobile phone rivals, it’s hard not to come away impressed by the standard of the shots it produces.

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Samsung’s custom camera software boasts a wide range of shooting modes, such as Beauty Face, Continuous Shot, Best Face, Drama, HDR and Sports. You can even shoot animated images “image and sound” compositions. 

Even if you ignore all these features though, you’ll still get an incredibly strong result for a phone.

In terms of video, the S4 Zoom can record HD footage at both 1080 and 720p. It’s also possible to use the zoom during recording, but as is evidenced in the video sample we’ve taken, there are issues with the camera’s motor – it’s picked up by the camera’s microphone.

In addition to the rear-facing snapper, the S4 Zoom also comes with a front-facing 1.9 megapixel camera, which is mainly intended for video calling with applications like Google Hangouts and Skype.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Multimedia & storage

Samsung has pre-loaded the S4 Zoom with its own media-centric applications, which include WatchON (for TV and movie downloads) and its dedicated music and video playback software. These all perform well enough, but with this being an Android device they all feel a little pointless – Google’s own services are much better and offer a wider range of choice. Using Google’s media channels means that you don’t have to create a Samsung user account and endure the annoyance of having to insert your credit card details a second time, too.

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There’s 8GB of internal flash memory on the S4 Zoom, of which you have access to around 5GB. Mercifully, you can add space cheaply using Micro SD cards, with 64GB being the maximum capacity the phone can accept.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Connections & battery

With Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi, DLNA and an IR sensor, not to mention LTE, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is a well-stocked device when it comes to connectivity. Its 2,330 mAh battery also offers acceptable battery stamina.

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If using the S4 Zoom as a primary camera and a primary phone, it could spend as much time in your hands as in your pocket – draining by around 7pm. On the plus side, as a phone alone, it will last a full day, and with a removable battery, you can carry a spare incase you run dry.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Conclusion

The Galaxy S4 Zoom may garner curious and puzzled glances when you use it as a phone in public, but on one level, it’s a mobile imaging win on Samsung’s part.

Being able to take high-quality photos and share them instantly no matter where you are is a real boon; traditional mobile phone cameras are great for basic imaging but it’s hard to go back after using this handset.

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Impressive photo capture – for a phone, at least – comes at a cost, though. 

The Galaxy S4 Zoom is bulky, only really making sense if you’re looking to ditch your point-and-shoot and carry a single device in your pocket. 

If you’re willing to make the sacrifice – and don’t mind having a slightly under-powered, unwieldy mobile – then this could well be the phone for you. If not, the Nokia Lumia 925 is currently the next best camera phone on offer.

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