Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom Review: the camera with a phone
The biggest question we were trying to answer since day-one with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is whether we are using a phone with a zoom-lens enabled camera, or a camera with a phone attached. Needless to say people were shocked, curious, and intrigued, to see us taking and placing calls on it.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is the last Samsung device announced at the Premiere 2013 London event that we’re reviewing. Check out our Samsung Galaxy S4 Active and Samsung Galaxy S4 mini reviews, to learn all about the other two Android phones announced in the UK.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, provided to us by our friends at Clove.co.uk, arrived on July 15, meaning we’ve used it exclusively as our daily driver over the course of 10 days. Just enough time to answer the phone-camera dilemma. However, we instantly concluded that, aside from the name, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom has nothing to do with the Samsung Galaxy S 4. It’s a Galaxy Camera-Galaxy S4 mini crossover.
Would you carry one? Most importantly, is it worth getting one? Does it live up to the hype with its S 4-like name and physical zoom lens? Find out that, and much more, in our Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom review below!
Videos · Specs/Hardware · UI · Camera · Performance
Specs & Hardware
What we said with the occasion of our Samsung Galaxy S4 mini review also applies here: “The “Galaxy S 4″ moniker does not reflect in the hardware and specifications department“. Aside from Samsung riding the popularity wave and buzz generated by its flagship, there’s nothing S 4-like in the S4 Zoom. Of course, the general design guidelines and materials used are similar, but they’re also similar with devices like the Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy Note II, the entire tablet line-up of 2013, and some other numerous Galaxy devices over the past two years.
Furthermore, the company wants you to think of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom in this context: it’s a Samsung Galaxy S 4 with a zoom lens. No, Samsung, it’s not! We need to make that clear from the very beginning so that there is no misunderstanding. If we really want to be fair, we’d say that the GS4 Zoom is a Galaxy S 4 mini with a zoom lens.
Behind the Gorilla Glass 3 and the hyperglazed polycarbonate there’s a dual-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz. It is slow by today’s standards, on paper, but it gets the job done! The processor is also helped by one-and-a-half gigs of RAM, which comes in really handy when multitasking. Despite what you’d expect from a camera — where the manufacturer expects you to shoot a ton of stills and video — the GS4 Zoom doesn’t have a huge amount of space available for your apps, documents, pictures, and videos. It comes with 8GB of internal storage, out of which the user is left with around 5GB for their perusal. Luckily there’s a microSD card slot which can be used to expand the storage of the device with a memory card of up to 64GB.
The usual suspects, in the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom’s case, are WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, IR blaster, GPS, and, 3G as well as LTE capabilities for the radio.
The ace up the GS4 Zoom’s sleeve is at the back: a zoom lens which extends upon launching the camera, capable of ten-times optical zoom — with Optical Image Stabilization — focus-assist light, Xenon flash, and a 16-megapixel sensor inside. There’s also a 1.9-megapixel webcam on the front which performs really well!
The front of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is almost identical to the Galaxy S4 mini (and yes, why not, the Samsung Galaxy S 4). There’s an earpiece up top, above the Samsung branding, with the webcam on its left, and the proximity and ambient light sensors to its right. On the bottom you’ll find the classic Samsung home button with the back and menu capacitive buttons flanking it. In-between, and under the Gorilla Glass 3, you’ll see the 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen which has a resolution of 540 x 960. Yes, that’s qHD. The resolution could have been higher. Just like in the S4 mini’s case, we wish it was 720p. Instead, Samsung opted for a qHD screen, with a resolution of 540×960, and a resulting PPI rating of 256.
Super AMOLED is the technology used, and, just like in the case of any other Super AMOLED display from Samsung, it delivers deep blacks, saturated colors, and poor outdoor visibility. This is, by no means, a flaw of the device; it just comes in the package with Super AMOLED screen-powered Samsung phones, regardless if we’re talking Galaxy S 4, S4 mini, or Note II.
Everything else aside from the front looks and feels like a camera. There’s even a tripod mount in the left side, covered with a small plastic. Towards the bottom, on the same side, there’s a microSD card slot for expanding the small amount of built-in storage available, and a lanyard hole enables you to wear a wrist-strap, but there’s none included.
You insert the 2,330mAh battery (8.85Wh) in the device by sliding it in on the bottom, after opening the flap, which also grants you access to the microSIM card slot. There’s also a micro USB port for synching and charging, and the top holds the 3.5mm headphone jack, an IR blaster, as well as a secondary microphone.
The left edge looks like any other Samsung phone with the power button and volume rockers. What reminds you, again, that this is a camera, or doubles as a camera, is the huge, two-stage, shutter button. We’ll take this opportunity to complain about the fact that long-pressing the shutter button does not wake the device from stand-by and does not launch the camera. It will, however, jump to the camera upon long-pressing the shutter button while the phone is unlocked (one-second press needed). There’s also an option to wake the device up directly in camera mode (from the settings) but that’s a hit or miss. It works sometimes, most of the times not.
Going to the back of the device you’ll see a large part being taken up by Samsung’s own zoom lens, which extends quite a bit when the camera application is launched. It offers ten-times optical zoom and a xenon flash fires when needed. A focus assist lamp helps the camera achieve great shots. There’s also a speaker grill on the back, alongside a camera grip construction, which really reminds us, once again, that this is a camera.
As far as software is concerned, everything’s similar to the Galaxy S4 mini, which is similar to the Galaxy S 4. If you want to know about the details, make sure to check out those reviews. We’ll now focus on the differences, and new, camera-oriented additions. The overall looks, feel, functionality, and user experience is, as mentioned, identical.
Probably the most talked-about feature of the S4 Zoom is its camera ring. While in camera mode, you can use the ring to zoom in or out but, while you’re anywhere else, twisting it brings up a special screen with some camera modes you can choose from. Use the ring to navigate the modes and jump straight into the camera app in order to shoot using that particular mode.
While in a phone call, twist the zoom ring to enter the In-Call Photo Share feature which enables you to quickly snap a shot, and send it to your contact, the one you’re on a call with. There are specific, photo and camera-oriented apps bundled, like Photo Suggest (places you on a map and shows you other pictures shot in your vicinity), and Story Album (which unfortunately crashed on our review unit upon launch, but should enable you to create slideshows and show off your stills).
Probably the most important, and different, part of the software is the camera application. You can launch it by holding down the shutter button, but unfortunately only when the phone is unlocked. No Windows Phone-like quick picture taking here.
Launch the Camera and the lens will extend on the back. From there, you have to make a choice: shoot in Auto mode, Smart mode, or one of the three expert modes. Auto mode lets the camera decide how to shoot under the current conditions. Smart mode allows you to choose one of 25 existing shooting modes but advanced photographers will want to use one of the three expert modes: Program mode (adjusts the exposure by setting the shutter speed and aperture values), Manual mode (for manually setting the previous values), or Color wizard (for setting the color by manually changing brightness, color saturation, contrast and sharpness). There are a ton of setting you can play with!
Samsung’s latest TouchWiz user interface runs on top of Android 4.2.2, whether you like it or not. It is, however, snappy! Even in the software department, the S4 zoom looks and acts like an S4, give or take a couple of things, like the missing LED notification settings (since there’s no LED light on the device), AirView, and AirGesture. You won’t find S-Health either, and the keyboard, just like on the S4 mini, is a four-row input panel instead of the five-row keyboard on the S4. There rest is the same. We strongly encourage you to check out both our Galaxy S4 and S4 mini reviews for more details.
If you’re using a backside illuminated sensor for improved low-light performance, in combination with a zoom lens that offers 10x optical zoom, you have to have some sort of Optical Image Stabilization. Luckily, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom comes with OIS, and it does a great job.
To say that the Galaxy S4 Zoom is the best camera we have ever used on a phone is an overstatement and it will definitely raise heated discussions and debates. It is, however, right there in the top. You can’t go wrong with its pictures, and, with heavy advanced customizations and shooting modes, you can also unleash your creativity.
Thanks to the physical optical zoom lens, Samsung didn’t need to go with Nokia’s, or a similar approach, in terms of huge megapixel sensors. 16-megapixels is more than enough for the images generated and the lens, zoomed in or not, give you great quality, clarity, saturation, and sharpness.
Enough with the text, let the samples below do the talking!
We’d be lying if we told you that we didn’t wish, once or twice, for a faster processor. The phone … err, camera, performs well in daily tasks. It’s the occasional stutters and more time needed to finalize a task that made us wish it had at least the same processor as the one on the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini.
We’re not saying that the phone is slow, or that there is constant lag, frame drops, or stutter. Not at all! Those are occasional, and usually happen after a full-day of use. Performing regular tasks doesn’t raise any problems, nor does switching between several apps open. You won’t notice that it takes a hair longer to launch apps unless you have a high-end device, like the S4, or the HTC One, to compare the S4 Zoom with.
For the benchmark lovers among you, here’s how the S4 Zoom scored: Smartbench: 3174, Quadrant Standard: 4685, Geekbench 2: 1248, AnTuTu: 10291.
Battery life was a pleasant surprise. With our regular usage we got more than a day’s worth of battery life out of the 2,330mAh pack that’s powering the phone (or camera). We’re talking about phone calls, text messages, social media on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, taking pictures, browsing the web, instant messaging, Google Maps, YouTube videos, Spotify music, and even workout tracking. You will definitely get at least one day’s worth of action on the S 4 Zoom. That is, if you’re not too heavy on the camera. Those zoom lens and the Xenon flash really drain your battery if you’re abusing the shutter button.
Voice and data performance doesn’t disappoint either. We experienced no problems at all; earpiece and speakerphone performance was good, and we sounded good over the microphone.
+ optical zoom lens
+ good battery life
+ solid camera performance
+ microSD expansion
- no LED notification light
- qHD resolution
- 8GB internal storage (only 5GB accessible)
- processor could have been faster
- too bulky for some
- shutter button won’t wake the device
- same old Samsung design and materials
Pricing and Availability
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom we reviewed was supplied to us by our friends over at Clove.co.uk from where you can buy it/import it from. It will set you back £369.00 (£442.80 with VAT), which translates to about $565 (add 20% VAT, if applicable), for the SIM-free, unlocked device, with no contract.
It’s time to draw our conclusion: regardless of how much Samsung would like you to believe otherwise, we think that the Galaxy S4 Zoom is a camera with a phone slapped on it, rather than a Galaxy S 4 (with which it has nothing in common) with a zoom lens.
This is definitely a device you want to get if you are into a gadget that delivers everything phone and camera. There are, of course, other solutions out there. The big brother, the Galaxy S 4, the main competitor, the HTC One, are also great camera solutions, not to mention Windows Phone with its Lumia 1020. If you decide to go with the GS4 Zoom, you won’t be disappointed.