Look and feel
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom looks like a camera rather than a smartphone. It’s comfortable to wield as a camera, but as a mobile it’s a chunky, heavy device that will only fit in sizeable handbags and baggy pockets.
Ease of Use
That jutting lens makes the Galaxy S4 Zoom tricky to use one-handed, while the chunkiness and weight don’t exactly help. It’s much more friendly when turned horizontal and used to shoot photos.
The 16-megapixel camera is one of the best around, with a great 10x optical zoom and plenty of cool modes and bonus features. You get a good range of other Samsung tools too, although the likes of S Health has been cut.
A dual-core 1.5GHz processor may be cut-down from the original Galaxy S4’s quad-core powerhouse but the Galaxy S4 Zoom can still cope with everyday use, including apps, games, and HD media.
One of the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s strengths is its impressive battery life – you can snap photos for a couple of days on a single charge, or stream media for an eyebrow-raising nine hours straight.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,8/12/2013 11:46:36 AM
Ease of use
Feature-packed camera with optical zoom;
Incredible battery life;
The qHD screen is colourful and bright
No 4G support;
No Full HD screen
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is one of the first smartphones to boast a powerful 10x optical zoom lens, making this a formidable camera phone that also boasts Samsung’s full range of mobile features. Unfortunately that impressive camera is also the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s main problem, while the smartphone isn't as enticing as its namesake the Galaxy S4...
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Design
Everyone’s thinking it, so we’ll just come out and say it: the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is more of a camera with smartphone functionality than a smartphone with an excellent built-in camera. That 208g body is even heftier than the mighty Nokia Lumia 920, and believe us, you’ll feel every ounce when it’s sat in your pocket or handbag.
It’s also cumbersome to use as a phone, as the jutting lens is always in the way of your hands. We tried clutching the Galaxy S4 Zoom near the bottom, but that proved just as uncomfortable thanks to the protruding grip. Basically, there’s no true comfortable way to operate this phone, especially one-handed. It’s a real shame, especially as rivals such as the Nokia Lumia 1020 are much more slender and portable. Fair enough, other cameraphones don’t have the optical zoom, but how often will you really make use of it, and is it worth the extra baggage?
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Camera
Thankfully the Galaxy S4 Zoom is a lot more comfortable to hold horizontal and use as a camera. You can launch the camera app by twisting the lens ring or holding down the shutter button, then it’s simply a case of point and shoot if you’re in Auto mode. The camera is a 16-megapixel lens with built-in Optical Image Stabilisation, which helps to counter any shaky-hand action and prevent blurry photos (although in low light conditions we still encountered some blurring as the shutter’s open for longer). There’s also a flash for night shots.
You predictably get dozens of different camera modes for all occasions, including Dawn, Macro, Snow, Panorama, Sunset, and even Food (if you can’t even eat a sandwich without posting a Facebook photo first). At first the selection is quite intimidating, but we found we quickly learned each mode’s strengths and there are clear descriptions and instructions throughout. Samsung has also included Smart Mode Suggest, which assesses the conditions and gives you a choice of three modes it thinks suits the situation best. But for some reason, our review model constantly suggested Night, Macro and Landscape modes, regardless of where we were stood.
Thankfully you can just say stuff it and go with Auto mode, which often produces sharp and vibrant photos. Our standard landscape shots came out beautifully, perfectly capturing the day’s conditions and bringing out the richness of natural colours. Macro shots impressed too, packed with minutiae detail. But the star of the show is definitely that 10x optical zoom, which is ideal when shooting intricate architecture and other bits on holiday. You can get really up-close to your subject without any sacrifice in quality, something that’s unavoidable with digital zoom.
This is a street shot without using optical zoom (note the white van in the distance)...
...and this is the same scene with 10x optical zoom. You can clearly read the writing on the van, an impressive feat for a smartphone camera
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Other camera features
Samsung has included some neat extra features such as In-call Photo Share, which allows you to take and send a photo to someone while you’re calling them. Admittedly we had to invent a reason to test it out, but it could be useful for sharing a cool moment with a friend. You never know when you’ll be walking down the street, nattering with a buddy, and just happen to bump into Gary Oldman (yes, this did indeed happen to us).
You can also shoot HD video, and snap photos at the same time with an on-screen button. Our movie clips came out well, with crisp visuals and clear voices. Sadly the meagre 5GB of built-in storage space will be quickly filled by photos and video, so you’ll want to invest in a memory card for a bit of a breathing space – thankfully they’re cheap as chips these days if you buy online. You can also buy yourself a tripod if you're serious about sharp night shots - there's a port on the bottom where an offical 'pod can be screwed in.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Screen
As you’d expect from Samsung, the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s screen is bright, colourful and produces images that are very pleasing to the eye. It’s only a qHD screen instead of a full HD panel like the Samsung Galaxy S4’s, so high definition images sadly aren’t quite as crisp, but we still enjoyed catching up with TV shows on the commute. And that jutting camera lens actually comes in handy as a stand, to prop the phone up.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Apps and features
A dual-core SnapDragon processor powers the Galaxy S4 Zoom. It’s a drop down from the original Galaxy S4’s quad-core powerhouse, but for everyday use it copes admirably. We tried out some games downloaded fresh from the Google Play store, which looked great and played with perfectly smooth frame rates, and once again Samsung has crammed lots of its own apps. The likes of S Planner and Story Album, which allows you to neatly present your photos in a digital book, make a return from the Galaxy S4. However, some such as S Health are conspicuous by their absence.
You also get an excellent range of Samsung features, including Smart Stay (which can tell if you’re glancing at the screen and prevents the phone from hibernating) and S Beam (which shares files via NFC with other NFC-enabled smartphones). Sadly one feature you don’t get is 4G support – you’re stuck with 3G networking, despite UK operators finally rolling out the technology across the country. This limits the lifespan of the Galaxy S4 Zoom, especially as quickly uploading photos and video is a major positive of 4G.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Battery life
Battery life is an important consideration with mobile phones in general, but even more important when the main feature is an energy-sucking device such as a camera. The Galaxy S4 Zoom would be next to useless if it died after taking just a few dozen shots, but thankfully that isn’t an issue. In fact, the Galaxy S4 Zoom will happily keep going for a couple of days of photography between charges. You can even stream video for around nine hours on a single charge, one of the best results we’ve seen in a very long time.
The battery is removable via a side-slot, just like standard cameras, so you can swap on the go if needed.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: The verdict
If you’re regularly on the move, the Galaxy S4 Zoom will be a reliable portable pal – even if the bulky build isn’t exactly easy to slip inside a pocket. The combination of long battery life and impressive camera make it a great travel companion, providing you’re happy to throw it in a bag, and the qHD screen is a decent effort even if it can’t match the standard Galaxy S4’s Full HD display. Sadly the chunky build and lack of 4G make the Galaxy S4 Zoom difficult to recommend as a full-time handset, especially when rivals such as the Nokia Lumia 1020 are much more slender.