Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom review

August 12, 2013
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samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa design standing front

The Galaxy S4, S4 Mini, and S4 Active are here, and now the glorified camera of the dynasty has entered the fray — the Galaxy S4 Zoom. So just how well does this device perform, being a smartphone and camera? Find out in our review.

Design

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa design

Subtlety named the Galaxy S4 Zoom, this is obviously a smartphone geared towards photographers. That said, we’ll go through this review pretty quickly since the camera is the main story in the Galaxy S4 Zoom.

As far as design goes, there’s basically one way to describe the Galaxy S4 Zoom — a S4 Mini strapped to the back of a point-and-shoot camera. It’s an interesting form factor, making a camera that can take phone calls or a phone that has a beefed up camera.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa design in hand

Nonetheless, having a general size smaller than that of a 5-inch screen device is a great move for the Zoom. The entire screen that ultimately becomes the camera’s entire viewfinder is easy to handle in a single hand, making it easy to take great photos in the moment.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa design in hand from front

At the bottom of the screen is your classic Samsung button layout, and once you come around the back, it has a nice finger grip and larger lens unit of your typical point and shoot.

Being a glorified point-and-shoot camera, the lens unit actually pops out when you activate the camera. You also get a complete button layout on the right side — power, volume rocker, and a dedicated camera button. On the other side, we have a plug for the tripod mount, which is next to the microSD card slot.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa design on back

While it’s an overall nice smartphone, there’s something I really don’t like about this form factor. As a phone, you would often lay it on its back, but with the S4 Zoom, it gets a little weird with all of the extra girth. You could stand a camera on its bottom, but with the S4 Zoom, that won’t work out really well.

When it comes down to it, the Zoom is basically a much thicker S4 Mini, and even though all the new elements on the back might make it feel different, you can still get a pretty good grip on it. But as a camera, it gets a little weird.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa design back

The finger grip makes you think you can hold it like a small DSLR, but then you could easily trigger the button layout below the screen. If you need to use one hand, you might find the Zoom a little difficult. So, with the beefed up camera, you’d generally have to handle the S4 Zoom with two hands.

Display

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa display

The Galaxy S4 Zoom is more like the Galaxy S4 Mini in more ways than one. It has the same 4.3-inch Super AMOLED panel capable of 960 x 540 resolution, rated at 256ppi. It’s certainty not the sharpest display, but it’s fairly nice for a screen this small. Also, for previewing pictures you take with the camera, it’s better than most point-and-shoot screens.

Performance

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa performance

Under the hood of the Galaxy S4 Zoom powering all of this camera goodness is a 1.5GHz dual-core Cortex A9, backed by a Mali 400 GPU and 1.5GB of RAM. It really is an adequate package for a mid-range smartphone like this, and it’s more than enough to power the camera.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa performance antutu

Specs don’t say everything though. Putting the device through our usual benchmark tests ranks this handset lower than most of the competition. Lag is pretty minimal, and loading the car,era from within Android is pretty easy.

For what this phone is supposed to perform specifically, performance is pretty much where it should be, though it would’ve been mice if it was a bit more powerful like its brother, the Galaxy S4.

Hardware

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa hardware

Being the glorified camera of this Galaxy S4 dynasty, the camera in the Zoom is the biggest piece of hardware in this sectionand Samsung made that by design. The microSD card slot helps bolster the 8GB of storage, but after that, you don’t get as much as the other S4 variations were given. Many of the sensors were left out, but you do get a trusty IR Blaster for controlling TVs and related equipment.

Battery

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa battery

The way you put the battery into the Galaxy S4 was a little weirs, but this 2,300 mAh unit does perform very well. For a device that has to use a lot of juice, it did do a good job for me as my go-to device for a pretty long night out on the town. By the end of a night full of photography and taking calls, I, surprisingly only killed half the battery, but we’ll have more on that in a bit.

Software

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa software

I’ll take care of the software section before the camera, because you get what you expect here — TouchWiz, which makes it feel much like the S4 Mini. Without all the sensors, you get traditional navigation experience with just a few little enhancements.

I’ll take care of the software portion before the camera, because you get what you expect here. The all-too-familiar For the phone, it’s more of the same. For the camera, it’s just more layers on top of what you really need to get to.

Camera

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa camera

The Galaxy S4 Zoom is equipped with a 16-megapixel camera, which certainly packs a lot more power than most top tier smartphones these days. Having a larger lens unit means that the sensor is a lot bigger, allowing to flood in more light, data, and more detail. It also allows for a 10x zoom, activates by the ring or via the onscreen buttons.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa camera mode

While Samsung’s camera app in its top tier smart phones is already feature filled, the app has been given a plethora more of controls in the S4 Zoom. You get all of the usual functions – Drama modes, Eraser mode, Best modes, and scene modes made for specific situations, such as landscape or waterfall. Unfortunately, dual recording mode doesn’t make a return in the Galaxy S4 Zoom.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa camera manual controls

The Galaxy S4 Zoom is basically a glorified smartphone camera, but one of its main attractions is the addition of full manual, which helps photogrhers get the exact shot they want, though the controls can be a little cumbersome. As a photographer, I prefer my dials and real, physical buttons, but the average user of this device might just keep things on Auto, anyway.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa camera smart mode

There’s also been the addition of Smart Suggest, which finds the best three scene modes for what it perceives in the shot. It’s handy for when you’re unsure of what’s best.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa camera in hand front

As for camera quality, it performs really well, but it does have limitations, which we’ll get to in a minute. I took my usual bevy of photos for reviews and from those shots, it’s easy to see that the Galaxy S4 Zoom is a great performer on the picture side of things. There’s a great level of detail, And the 3.1 aperture helps give the photo that extra depth of field, which is something you don’t usually see in top tier smartphones.

samsung galaxy s4 aa camera full res (10) samsung galaxy s4 aa camera full res (9)

You can see all of that pretty well in this flower picture and in this picture of Dr. Oid. Unfortunately, even this souped up camera still has the same limitations that most other camera smartphones have to deal with — image stabilization leaves some to be desired, and ultimately the best way to get awesome pictures is to get it on a tripod somehow. Thankfully, one of the enhancements here is that tripod mount.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa camera on tripod

But that’s not all you see about the Zoom’s camera — you want to to know just how well it enhances the typical smartphone shutterbug. I thought of two instances that we already covered with those previous shots — in broad daylight and perhaps a touristy situation. And now, I have two more — a night out and the Instagramming foodie. Two very common situations. Luckily, I was in Vegas this past weekend, where you can get both done in one night (you can find a gallery below).

samsung galaxy s4 aa camera full res (1)

You can see that low light shots are decent, but a lack of lighting makes the stabilization issue I mentioned earlier much worse. Now it should be fairly obvious that night clubs are far from ideal photo ops. You take a picture without flash, you get a light show. You take a picture with flash, it looks like everyone is getting high. But in simple situations, the flash comes in handy and helps you get good pictures of your friends.

samsung galaxy s4 aa camera full res (5)

This camera definitely excels at the foodie pictures and you can see it here. Get the focus just right and you’ll have a stylized photo of your food.

samsung galaxy s4 aa camera full res (8)

Ultimately, having a camera like this on your phone does come in handy for getting better than average shots. Putting the two devices together can pose a bit of an issue for overall comfort, though – it just doesn’t feel as easy in the pocket like a flat phone. And then there’s the peculiar oversight of a camera strap. Make sure you get one for extra safety.

Now there’s the issue of getting to the camera fast enough. You can set up the phone to activate straight to the camera instead of the OS or just use the lockscreen widgets to swipe over. If this isn’t set, you have to unlock, find your camera icon, hit it, and then let it load. When you really need to snap a photo fast, those extra seconds can hurt. See below for all of the hi-res versions of the pictures taken with the Zoom.

 

Video review

Price

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa price

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom can be found for $500 at online retailers. That’s about $150 less than your average Galaxy S4. On the other hand, it’s unclear if this device will ever make it to carriers, at least in the U.S. Considering that a decent point and shoot can cost upwards of $300 and an unlocked S4 Mini $450, this is pretty great combo deal.

The Galaxy S4 Zoom is definitely a mashup, and thus it doesn’t really excel in either one of its functions, at least to me. The phone portion is as mid range as it gets and gets the job done, but not much more than that. As far as the camera goes, it’s a great performer… by camera phone standards.

Beginners and amateur photographers will enjoy having an enhanced camera phone, but I question whether it’s worth the extra girth and lowered phone specs if the user already has a top tier device with a matching built-in camera.

samsung galaxy s4 zoom aa conclusion

It’s likely that anyone in professional photography, or has it as a hobby, has a good camera that the S4 Zoom just can’t keep up with, especially in terms of quality and a variety of settings to get the perfect shot.

Put frankly, I wouldn’t use the S4 Zoom as a daily driver because of its somewhat awkward form and, of course, I’ve already got my own setup. If you truly want your daily smartphone photo adventures to get enhanced without losing the phone part, then that’s what this device can do. But somehow, I don’t think there are too many of you out there.

Brad Ward contributed to this review.

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