Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom Preview

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Introduction and Design
Introduction

Flanked by rumored efforts from Nokia and Sony to resurrect the cameraphone market niche in a modern mobile OS environment, Samsung, whose recent goals appear to be presence in each and every mobile segment, decided to beat them to market with the Galaxy S4 Zoom.

Despite the flagship branding, the S4 Zoom is first a camera, then a phone. It expands on the idea started with Samsung's Galaxy Camera – a 16MP Android-powered camera, which has cellular connectivity but for data only. S4 Zoom jibes very similar in design and has the same 16MP resolution and Xenon flash, toning the optical zoom down to 10x, instead of the 21x on the Galaxy Camera, in order to keep the size relatively in check. On paper we have the first phone with a 10x optical zoom, but did Samsung manage to make a cameraphone, or did it simply slap a phone on a camera? Read on to find out...

Design

In short, we get a Galaxy S4 Mini at the front, and a compact point-and-shoot Samsung camera on the back, and that's the best way to describe what you can expect with the Galaxy S4 Zoom.


This “phone” is rather bulky at 15.4mm, with a grip bulge and huge protruding lens with a zoom ring at the back, where the thickness goes up to 25mm. Apparently if you want 10x optical zoom, the sacrifice you have to make with your handset is that it will look and feel like a 7-ounce analog one from the dawn of mobile.


Working the screen with that giant lens protrusion on the back is not comfortable at all with one hand. Well, at least you've got a good grip while talking on the phone, resting your index finger just underneath. Speaking of one-handed operation, the grip bulge on the right should be helping when using it as a camera, with quickly framing the shot and taking it with just your palm. However, in reality it is too small to securely grip the phone, and the on-screen shutter key is too close to the edge, so you may have to grip with both hands. Granted, there is a two-stage physical shutter key, but it is also very close to the edge of the phone, and can't be pressed comfortably without the risk of dropping the handset. That same physical shutter button enters the camera app directly when pressed, bypassing the lock and home screens, but only when you turn the display on with the power/lock key on the right. There is no sleep-to-snap function like on some Xperias for example.



Thankfully the capacitive navigational keys below the display are turned off when you are in the camera app, so you don't worry about hitting the back and context menu keys when you take pictures.

Galaxy S4 Zoom sports a removable battery hidden under a lid on the side of the grip bulge, and released out by a sliding mechanism. That's where the microSIM card slot is as well, while the microSD one is covered with a protective flap on the left side of the phone/bottom of the camera, where the tripod mount is as well.



Display

There is a 4.3” 540x960 pixels Super AMOLED display on the phone, just like with the S4 Mini, so you can rest assured it has great viewing angles, deep blacks and pretty saturated colors. The display settings let you use the image mode, though – from Dynamic, through Standard and Movie, to the Professional Photo mode that allegedly represents directly a standardized color gamut.

Samsung has graced the display with the super-sensitive tech that allows you to operate it with gloves, so working the camera app on that ski trip won't be an issue.

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Interface and functionality

The TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0 from the S4 Mini is what's painted over Android 4.2.2 on the Zoom, with a bit of photography apps thrown in like Photo Suggest or a Video Editor, which will probably make it to the final edition too. There is not much else to this popular Samsung interface, so you can refer to our S4 Mini review for the nitty-gritty if you are unfamiliar with it, as the big changes are only in the camera app, which we will preview in a bit.


The only gripe we have with the UI is that a dedicated landscape mode isn't included, like on the recent Galaxy Mega 6.3, and a cameraphone that will be often used in a landscape position would really make a good use out of it.

Processor and memory

A 1.5 GHz dual-core Exynos 4212 processor with Mali-400 GPU is what's powering the Galaxy S4 Zoom, aided by 1.5 GB of RAM, and the phone also hosts 8 GB of internal memory, plus a microSD slot for expansion. This chipset is nothing to write home about in terms of benchmarking prowess, but does the job of running Jelly Bean, apps and the camera interface sufficiently quick with barely a perceivable lag.

Browser and connectivity

The TouchWiz browser is well-known to be a pretty fast renderer by now, and doesn't disappoint here as well, letting you sideload Adobe Flash if needed. The S4 Zoom has both LTE and HSPA+ versions, with the HSPA+ speeds hitting 21.1 Mbps, if your carrier can supply that. Other than these radios, we get Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS and NFC but no FM Radio. There is also an infrared sensor at the top of the phone, so you can control your TV, home stereo and the like with the phone's dedicated app.



Camera

The S4 Zoom sports a 16 MP camera with, you guessed it, optical zoom capabilities. These are up to 10x, and can be called with either the lens zoom ring or the volume rocker while in the camera app.


The zoom ring also serves another function called Camera Mode Shortcut – outside of the camera app you can just turn it a little in any direction, and a jog dial with the most used shooting modes appears, so you can quickly select the one suitable for the occasion and take a shot. The ring rotates pretty often while you are handling the phone with one hand, though, as there is just no easy way to place your fingers on the back without touching it even a little.

Samsung states that the CMOS sensor is 1.8x bigger than your typical smartphone sensor, and is backside-illuminated, and these should mean better photography with less light around in principle. To further aid low-light capabilities, Samsung graced the handset with a Xenon flash and an optical image stabilization mechanism. OIS compensates for your hands' movements by shifting the module in the opposite direction numerous times per second. This allows for the sensor to be much more stable, hence slower shutter speeds can be used in low-light conditions without the typical blur, just like on the Nokia Lumia flagships and the HTC One. The OIS system is also useful while zoomed in, where each little movement can throw the whole frame off the tracks.

The camera app offers four general shooting modes – automatic, manual, smart and My Mode – which can be accessed on the right in the interface. The manual mode, called Expert, lets you adjust every little aspect of your picture-taking – from up to 3200 ISO through shutter speeds up to 16s, to adjusting the color “sense” of the frame and numerous white balance settings. There are two aperture options – f/3.1 and f/8.8 - which is not as good as dedicated camera, but still more than other smartphones, where this aspect is fixed at one value.



The Smart regime has no less than 26 preset modes, ranging from the usual Rich Tone (HDR), Panorama and Best Face, to more exotic ones like Golf, Baby and Food. Golf takes a number of pics in quick succession to catch that perfect swing, Baby issues a funny sound pre-shot to attract your toddler's attention, and Food just makes for that perfect Instagram posting of your breakfast, you know you want it. Smart Suggest is also an interesting one here, as it offers you to choose the best suited presets when you half-press the shutter key or touch to focus.

My Mode you can populate with shortcuts to your preferred presets, or the phone picks for you from the ones you are using the most. A number of color effects evoked from the bottom round up the rich camera app functions.

We are supplying the pictures themselves for you below, but bear in mind that this is a pre-release version of the camera algorithms, so not everything is what's cracked up to be, and we'll judge in the retail unit. 

 

Video is recorded in 1080p with 30fps, with good detail and saturated colors at first blush, but again, we'll pass a verdict when the final software is on the phone. You can use the optical zoom while shooting video, but there is an option in the settings you have to check, so as the phone weeds out the zoom motor noise. Another option lets it cut the piercing wind noise that often invades the mics outside.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom Sample Video:

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Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom Night time Sample Video:

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Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom Indoor Sample Video:

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Multimedia

The gallery has the usual split-view layout and pinch-to-rearrange abilities, and it also sports a rich photo editing power built directly in the interface. It lets you resize, crop, paint, add text and effects over the photos, as well as enhance them automatically.

The music player is the tried stock TouchWiz one that offers a number of sound modes and equalizer presets built in. Despite the chunky phone body, the loudspeaker is a relatively wimpy affair of average quality, just like on your typical smartphone.



Video playback is spotless, with the phone running all popular formats, including DivX/Xvid and MKV, up to 1080p resolution.



Battery

Samsung doesn't give official talk times out of the 2330 mAh battery capacity in the S4 Zoom yet, but it doesn't seem to drain faster than usual for this screen and chipset with normal usage. If you are constantly shooting pics and video, as there's a good chance you will, better carry a spare unit in your wallet, though.

Expectations

As can be expected from such a niche device, with the Galaxy S4 Zoom Samsung seems to have done more of a compact camera with phone functions, rather than a cameraphone conceived from the ground up. It is quite bulky because of the 10x zoom lens, and rather uncomfortable to operate with one hand while shooting.

Still, apart from the convenience of having a Xenon flash and optical zoom, the handset is a pretty good Android midranger, too, so when your next vacation comes, and you gear up for a lot of pictures, you might want to take just that S4 Zoom with you, instead of carrying two separate devices.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom Video Preview:

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