Review by Sunetra Chakravati,7/9/2014 4:41:47 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Superb camera with unrivalled zooming capability | Sharp and bright display | Removable battery | Expandable storage
Chunky compared to regular smartphones | More camera features than most will use | Lower screen resolution than others | Poor internal storage
The smartphone has claimed many scalps - the portable games console, the MP3 player, the satellite navigation system - but the point-and-shoot camera has clung to survival because a large, zooming lens doesn’t sit neatly with smartphone designers’ lust for thinness.
As manufacturers look to shave millimeters from their latest handsets there simply isn’t room for a moving lens, which means despite offering a dozen or more megapixels, optical image stabilisation and more software features than you can shake a selfie stick at, optical zooming is a feature completely missing from smartphones.
The Galaxy K Zoom looks to change all that.
Samsung’s second stab at mating a smartphone with a camera, the Galaxy K Zoom replaces the year-old Galaxy S4 Zoom. It looks like a Galaxy S5 from the front, but packs a massive 10x optical zoom lens on the back, causing the plastic body to measure in at a bulging 22mm, a full 14mm fatter than the Galaxy S5.
The K Zoom is a weighty handset too, tipping the scales at 200g, which is 55 more than the S5.
Samsung’s given it the same dimpled rear cover as the Galaxy S5, but here it’s harder and feels cheaper than it does on the company’s flagship. As with the S5, the Zoom’s rear cover can be removed to swap the battery, should you want to carry a spare.
Naturally, a phone with such a large lens will have its ergonomic drawbacks and make no mistake - the K Zoom is a handful. I found the lens would get in the way of my index fingers when holding the phone to type, forcing me to hold it lower than is comfortable. Otherwise, carrying and using the K Zoom isn’t such a burden - yes, it’s big and heavy, but you soon learn to live with it, and I reckon photography fans will be happy to trade a degree of portability and comfort for that lens.
But enough of how the Samsung K Zoom looks - let’s get to its party piece, that 10x zoom lens and 20.7-megapixel camera and optical image stabilisation.
The camera app can be opened quickly with a long press of the shutter button, and as soon as the lens extends from the body, accompanied by a near-silent whirr from the electric motor, you know this handset is much more camera than phone.
Auto mode is running by default - tap the shutter icon or press the two-stage shutter button to take a photo; pinch on the screen or press the volume buttons to zoom; tap to switch the flash on and off. Simple.
But dig deeper and there are more options here than you can possibly imagine. In all there are 27 different shooting modes to choose from, although less than half are shown by default - presumably to stop you feeling to awestruck the first time you dare to venture beyond Auto.
But when you pluck up the courage to go beyond Auto there’s an awful lot going on here. Beauty Face, Panorama, HDR, Night, Selfie Alarm, Kids Shot, Manual, Landscape, Dawn, Macros, Food, Indoors, Waterfall, Silhouette, Sunset, Fireworks, Light Trace...the Galaxy Z Zoom has a shooting mode for just about every type of photo you’d want to take.
Like an aircraft carrier on the Thames, the camera demands attention and dominates over everything around it
All these shooting modes look great in the store, but I wonder how many users will, when coming across a waterfall for example, remember the phone has a specific mode for shooting flowing water perfectly and not just leave it in Auto.
The K Zoom responds quickly and takes photos in a snap, but relying almost entirely on the touchscreen (save for the shutter and zoom buttons) means the experience isn’t as intuitive or ergonomic as it is with a proper point-and-shoot camera, where physical dials and buttons preside over swipes and screen taps.
But leave the K Zoom in Auto, snap away, and you’ll get some pretty good photos - and of course that 10x optical zoom blows every other smartphone out of the water. It’s all you really need for everyday photography and produces some great results . Noise caused by post-processing (laid on far too thick by the LG G3 and Sony Xperia Z2) is well-restrained.
The 20.7-megapixel sensor lets in plenty of light and all those pixels mean you can crop photos a fair amount before they lose quality.
Ulitmately, the camera is the soul reason for buying the K Zoom. Like an aircraft carrier on the Thames or a monster truck in a McDonald's drive-through, it standout and dominates over everything around it.
But how far can it zoom?
I took the first photo zoomed fully out...
I then zoomed in as far as the phone would let me to a blue plaque between two windows of the red brick building, just to the right of the nearest tree...
As you can see, the K Zoom's zooming ability is mighty impressive.
Don’t forget this is a phone as much as it is a camera - and as such the K Zoom has a 4.8-inch HD display with a resolution of 1280 x 720. It’s bright and bold and displays colours in that slightly too-bright-and-bold way Samsung handsets are known for, but while this is excusable, that resolution is some way behind the 1920 x 1280 of the Galaxy S5. The K Zoom still looks good, but it isn’t quite as sharp as Samsung’s flagship.
That said, the Zoom is impressively bright and still an excellent way of showing off photos you’ve taken with that massive lens and sensor. Viewing angles are generally very good, with colours fading only slightly when viewed off-centre; meanwhile, it can go bright enough to be useable outside on a sunny day - crucial, given there’s no viewfinder, so framing photos relies entirely on the screen.
The K Zoom runs Android 4.4 KitKat and Samsung’s latest TouchWiz user interface. This means a bright a colourful take on Google’s Android, and one which won’t sit well with everyone. That said, Samsung has worked hard to flatten and simplify things over the last year - as was first seen on the Galaxy S5, the K Zoom’s software is friendly and more intuitive than TouchWiz versions of old.
Compared to the Galaxy S%, Samsung’s fitness-tracking S Health app is among several apps missing here - and that’s no bad thing, as the focus (no pun intended) here is on the Zoom’s camera. The fewer extra ‘features’ Samsung bundles in the better. The company needed to learn how to restrain itself and I’m pleased to see this finally happening.
It may not have the grunt of the Galaxy S5, but it's not that far behind
Speedy performance is provided by a hexa-core processor which is made of a 1.3GHz quad-core chip sitting alongside a 1.7GHz dual-core. That way, the phone has quad-core power when it needs it, but can tick over on the dual-core chip to conserve battery life when you’re running less intensive apps.
The K Zoom may not have the outright grunt of the Galaxy S5, but in most real-world situations it isn’t far behind. Apps and games open quickly, multitasking between open apps is flawless and the 2GB of RAM is the same as most high-end handsets.
I was disappointed by finding just 8GB of storage, which - once the operating system and a few apps are taken into account - leaves around 4GB for your music, videos and photos. Thankfully there’s a microSD card slot to increase this by up to 64GB, but for a handset build for taking loads of high-resolution photos and video I’d have expected more as standard - especially for its £400 price tag.
Battery life when not using the camera is the same as most smartphones - one day is fine, two full days will be a bit touch-and-go by the second evening. But if you plan to stroll around a foreign city and use the K Zoom as your camera then battery life will tumble. The screen is always on when using the camera, the lens obviously requires power to move and all your phone tasks - Wi-Fi, 3G, push email etc - are still all going on in the background.
Owning a smartphone these days is all about compromise. There is no handset which ticks every box and fulfills every demand of every consumer, and few compromises are larger or more obvious than the size and weight of this phone.
The £400 Galaxy K Zoom is heavy and chunky compared to everything else on the market, but unlike any rival it has a proper zoom lens on its camera. Whether you should buy the K Zoom boils down to a simple question - is the excellent camera (and its ability to zoom specifically) good enough to make up for the extra bulk, smaller screen and slightly lower performance?
If yes, then go ahead - the K Zoom can easily replace a basic point-and-shoot; you’ll love the image quality and the vast shooting modes available. But if zooming isn’t high on your smartphone wishlist you should look elsewhere and buy a handset which is more of an all-rounded and less of a one-trick pony.