Samsung has always had variety when it comes to its phone portfolio. So much so, that it tends to release mini versions of its flagship phones. With the Galaxy S3, we only saw the Galaxy S3 Mini, but with the S4, Samsung announced two mini versions - the Galaxy S4 Mini and Galaxy S4 Zoom. While the former is just a stripped down version of the original S4, the latter is a different beast altogether. You could easily mistake the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom as a regular point and shoot camera if you were to see it from the non-display side. So what is it really? A camera or a phone?
Design and Build
On first glance, the S4 Zoom looks like a little brother of the Samsung Galaxy Camera. Only the front face reminds you that this is a phone. At a thickness of around 15mm, this is certainly not going to win any awards for slimness. The rectangular button with rounded edges is the only physical button on the front face surrounded by two touch-sensitive buttons.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom looks exactly like a regular point and shoot camera
On the right hand side, you have a power/standby button and a volume rocker and lower down there is the dedicated circular shutter button. The volume rocker and power buttons are a bit too recessed for our liking.
The lens barrel is activated every time you enter the camera mode
The top of the phone just has the 3.5mm audio jack and an IR blaster. On the left hand side of the phone you have the microSD card slot on the lower edge and a screw threading for mounting the S4 Zoom on a tripod. On the bottom of the phone you have the microUSB port for charging and transferring files. Just around this port, you have a plastic flap, opening which reveals the microSIM slot and the battery section. Thanks to the camera elements on the rear side of the S4 Zoom, you cannot really open up the back cover, hence this work around. We find it a much better implementation than having to insert the microSIM from the top or sides.
On the right hand side of the phone you have the power button, volume rocker and shutter release buttons
The lower half of the S4 Zoom has quite a heft when seen from the rear side, which acts as a grip for the camera. However, the smooth glossy finish of the rear plastic does not give as much of a grip as we would expect. Samsung could have certainly added in a small rubber element in the curve of the heft for added grip.
There is the Xenon flash along with the AF light meter on the top edge of the rear side. The silver-coloured Samsung lens has a smooth lens control ring surrounding it which is quite reminiscent of the ones around Sony RX100 or Olympus XZ-2 cameras. By default, it adjusts the zoom function and you can just rotate the ring from anywhere on the phone to get a carousel of the various options - tapping on which leads you into the camera.
On the left hand side you have a provision for mounting the S4 Zoom on a tripod
The build quality of the device is very good but at the same time it is hefty. It occupies sufficient space when placed in the pocket. As for the ergonomics, well, the circular lens elements puts you in a dilemma - should you grip the phone with almost all fingers under the lens or just go for the complete grab? Both these positions provides its own set of problems. If you grip the phone in a way that, barring your index finger, the rest of your fingers are under the lens element then you will find it difficult to reach the top half of the screen without stretching your thumb in an awkward manner. The same goes for accessing the lower half of the screen when you have your fingers around the lens element. The only way out is to use the phone with both hands. This issue is unique to this phone due to the bulge of the lens element. Also you will need to use both your hands while using the camera.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom at 10x optical zoom
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom has comparatively moderate innards as compared to the flagship S4. For starters the S4 Zoom houses a Pega-Dual +XMM6262 chipset with a 1.5GHz dual core Cortex A9 CPU and Mali 400 graphics. It sports a 4.3-inch qHD Super AMOLED display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Thanks to the Super AMOLED screen, things look a bit too saturated for our liking, but black levels are top notch. Also when compared side-by-side with other screens, the S4 Zoom appeared to have a comparatively warmer colour tone.
There is 1.5GB of RAM onboard and it comes with 8GB of memory of which 5.33 GB is available to the user. Its main USP is its camera which we will come to in a while. On the connectivity front, it has all boxes checked - 2G/3G, 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, WiFi Direct, WiFi hotspot, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, IR blaster and so on.
We ran the standard benchmarks on the S4 Zoom whose results can be seen in the charts below. The response of the phone was quick and we did not find it laggy while swiping through menus or scrolling web pages. It comes with the standard Samsung TouchWiz UI and the usual boatload of apps.
Benchmarks from left: Quadrant - 4608, 3D Mark - 2370 and AnTuTu - 15023
The default video player plays most of the video formats but there are some issues with formats such as MKV (no video), FLV (no video) and some AVI videos (no audio). But this issue can be easily resolved using a third party video player such as MX Player or VLC media player.
Call quality was good and the receiver is decently loud. We did not experience any dropped calls mid-conversation. The keypad may seem cramped when you are using both your thumbs while typing in the vertical orientation, but install Swype or other third party keypad app and you can use it just fine with one thumb. Legibility under bright sunlight is good.
Starting from top: Filters on the camera screen, Four modes, Quick shooting options
This is the most important feature of this phone that needs elaboration. Samsung has bundled a 16MP 1/2.33-inch sensor on the rear camera and slapped on a Samsung lens, which can go from 24mm to 240mm (equivalent) giving an effective optical zoom ratio of 10x. The lens element protrudes out of the camera body and the S4 Zoom is the only phone of its kind to have a 10x optical zoom on a phone camera. It comes with optical image stabilisation allowing you to capture steady handheld shots. The camera specs are comparable to any dedicated point and shoot camera. The dedicated shutter button and provision for attaching the phone to a tripod ensures that this is more camera than phone.
From top left: Various modes under Smart camera, Carousel layout, Manual mode, Program mode with adjustment rings
The camera interface is quite intuitive and Samsung has included a mechanism whereby you can just rotate the lens control ring on any screen on the phone and it will bring up the camera modes. These include auto, portrait, landscape, macro, video, night mode and sharing. Even while talking on the phone, you can rotate the lens ring click a picture and transfer it to the person on call. Although a good feature, we really wonder who would break a conversation to click a photograph and send the picture across while keeping the person on the other side waiting. That’s kind of rude don’t you think?
The zoom function can work either by rotating the lens ring or by pressing the soft keys with the + and - sign to zoom in and out respectively. We preferred the zooming using the ring over soft keys. Even in the preview mode, you can rotate the lens to zoom in and out of an image. On the right hand side (when you hold the phone in the landscape orientation) you have the mode dial. The Mode button opens up to show modes based on your level of expertise with the camera - Auto, Smart, Expert, My Mode. The Smart mode is further divided into 25 modes including Macro, Night mode, Drama, Best face and so on. The Expert mode is further divided into Manual and Program modes wherein the Manual mode offers control over shutter speeds, ISO, Metering and so on. Long story short - the camera of the S4 Zoom is packed with features that can put many dedicated point and shoot cameras to shame.
It can shoot full HD movies at 30 fps. Video quality outdoors in well lit conditions is good although we could not cancel out the wind noise despite keeping the Windcut option On. You can hear the zoom motor noise while zooming in and out while shooting a video.
Before we start off with the sample images a word on focus. The focus is in the centre by default and you can touch to focus anywhere on the screen. Under well lit conditions, the focus is quick. But in low light specially at full zoom, we noticed a slight delay in locking the focus. In the manual mode, aperture has only two options f/3.3 and f/8.1. Let us take a look at some photographs shot with the S4 Zoom.
Please note these images have been resized. To check these out and more full res sample images from the S4 Zoom, please visit our Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom set on Flickr.
Daylight shots were well balanced
Despite being in the shadow region, the details on the blue board are readable
The Central Railways HQ shot at the widest angle
The shot above at 10x zoom. We were quite impressed with the details maintained although it does hunt a bit for the focus
The richtone HDR mode tends to make the greens more vivid
Shota at dusk were decent for mobile sharing, but at 100 percent crop you will notice patchy areas
The S4 Zoom houses a 2330 mAh battery which can easily last for a day
For the battery life testing we ran the phone through our standard loop involving a two hour call, two hour audio test, two hour video test and two hours of video streaming and surfing the web, to simulate an 8-hour work day. After this test we still had around 39 percent battery left on the phone which is quite good. While using the camera, the battery gets drained comparatively sooner. But on a regular basis, the S4 Zoom will easily last you around a day. Please be aware that using the video camera or the Smart Camera settings tends to heat up the rear side of the phone.
Verdict and Price in India
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is clearly meant for those looking at a camera with a calling functionality. That seems like the only way to put it thanks to the phone’s form factor and heft. The camera performance is impressive and with a 10x optical zoom, the S4 Zoom is the only phone of its kind with that offering. So if you are into photography, and are waiting for huge optical zooms in cameras and don’t mind the hefty phone-camera, go for the S4 Zoom. However, don't expect a low light wonder here as it performs like any other dedicated mid-range point and shoot where low light and high ISO increases noise in images. While such images can be shared online, making prints is not really the best idea. However, if you are willing to spend time with the camera and explore its various smart modes, then this is a decent camera phone for you.
For a regular user who will never bother going beyond the Auto mode on their phone’s camera, there are much better options available under Rs 29,000 such as the Xperia ZR, LG Nexus 4 or even Samsung’s own Galaxy S3. Agreed these aren’t head-to-head with the S4 Zoom in terms of camera quality, but from a purely value for money perspective, they make more sense for a regular buyer.
The pricing is a bit of a bother also because at Rs 29,390 (or a market price Rs 26,700) you can get an advanced point and shoot cameras which are certainly better in terms of manual controls and performance than that offered by the S4 Zoom. If you look at the phone side of things, it is a dual-core with a qHD resolution screen. So even though it does work well as a phone, you still cannot justify spending close to 30k on a phone with these specs. We just wish the pricing is lowered, now that the festival season is upon us.
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