Samsung launched its new camera-focused Galaxy phone, the Galaxy S4 Zoom, last week and we had the chance to go hands-on at an exclusive preview event. This mobile reminds us of Samsung’s dedicated Android Galaxy phone in design and rocks many of the same features, but the surprisingly bulky design might be off-putting to all but the most hardcore Samsung fans.
This 4.3-inch 4G LTE mobile has trimmed-down specs from the full Galaxy S 4, with a 1.5GHz dual-core processor instead of quad-core, and the same features set as the Galaxy S 4 Mini. In exchange, the camera has been given a significant boost with a 10x optical zoom and some brand new tools, plus a high-density 16 megapixel sensor. It’s a 24mm wide-angle lens so you can fit more into each shot and built-in Optical Image Stabilisation cancels out any hand movement to prevent blurry photos. There’s a Xenon flash too for better low-light performance without washing out your subject.
Manual zooming is performed by spinning the lens, and you can also twist it to quickly launch the camera app, even from the lock screen, so you’re less likely to miss an impromptu action shot. Smart Mode 2.0 gives you 25 camera modes to play with if you have the patience, including night, panorama, beauty and so on.
That’s a lot to cope with when you’re simply trying to snap your family in front of some touristy landmark, so thankfully Samsung has included ‘Smart Mode Suggest’ which is basically an auto mode that works out the correct settings for your shot. Smart Mode Suggest will narrow down your choice of modes based on environmental factors – for instance, it can detect if it’s night time and gives you a choice between night and fireworks modes depending on the scene you’re planning to shoot.
A neat new feature called In-Call Photo Share allows you to snap and share photos while chatting on the phone. When in a call you simply have to twist the lens again, and when you take a shot you have the option to text it to whoever you’re speaking with, without breaking up the call. You also get Story Album mode, something we’ve already seen in the Galaxy S 4.
You only get 5GB of usable storage space, so you’ll want to buy a Micro SD card (up to 64GB) to bulk up the number of photos and videos you can take. A removable 2330mAh battery should keep you going through hundreds of snaps.
We had a quick play with that mighty zoom function and were suitably impressed at its stalkerish abilities. You can take close-ups of unsuspecting victims from across the room, and we can't wait to get out and give it a proper testing on London's streets. The camera certainly seems strong enough to use on holiday for snapping landmarks and vistas.
Our main concern with the Galaxy S4 Zoom is its bulk. While we’d love to have a capable manual zoom on our smartphone camera, we’re not sure we’d be happy lugging something this size and weight around every day, especially considering how often we’d realistically need that level of control - after all, a standard five or eight megapixel camera is more than good enough to capture a mugshot of your mates. The lens really does add a lot of girth, as does the hand grip on the left edge (which admittedly makes holding the S4 Zoom in camera mode quite comfortable).
Expect our full review soon.