Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom review

Adding a camera to a phone seemed like an OK idea at the time. They started off taking horrible, low detail photos, but we kept at it and today we have comparatively outrageously high resolution sensors that are capable of taking outstanding photos.

With that said, a good point-and-shoot will still outperform most (if not all) phone cameras by offering you more control and better photographic hardware. So what happens when you essentially take a point-and-shoot, and let it do everything a phone can as well?

Do you get the best experience all-round, or does it turn into a horrible mishmash? The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom attempts to answer that question.

Design and build quality

The buttons and ports on the S4 Zoom have been shuffled slightly to accommodate the extra hardware. The power button, volume rocker, and 2 phase camera button can all be found on the right side.

On the left is a flap covering the microSD slot as well as a tripod mounting hole.

Unlike many (if not all) Samsung phones, the rear panel on the S4 Zoom is not removable. Instead, the bottom flips open to give access to the battery and SIM slot. The microUSB port can also be found on the bottom edge, while the top plays host to the 3.5mm jack and IR blaster.

Along the front are the three hardware buttons we’ve become familiar with on Samsung phones – Back, Home, and Menu.

At 125.5mm x 63.5mm x 15.4mm, the S4 Zoom is quite a bit thicker than what we’re used to, but that’s because of the comparatively massive lens on it.

The bottom back of the device has a noticeable bump to it, which makes for a great handhold when using it as a camera in landscape. However, between that same bump and the huge lens, the S4 Zoom is incredibly clunky to hold and use as a normal smartphone. There’s no obvious way to hold it comfortably, and we generally found it uncomfortable to use for those purposes.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

Internals and performance

Inside the S4 Zoom is a dual-core, 1.5GHz CPU with a Mali-400 GPU and 1.5GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. The latter can be expanded by up to an additional 64GB via microSD.

Connectivity-wise, the S4 Zoom has you covered. It supports HSPA+ (up to 21Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up), WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and it has an IR blaster. Depending on the model, it may also have LTE support, though we didn’t have the opportunity to test that.

AnTuTu gave the S4 Zoom an average score of 15064.6, coming in ahead of the Note 2, though just behind the S3 LTE (and well behind the S4, LG Optimus G Pro, and HTC One). In our use we found it to be relatively speedy, though it did stutter and slow down at times, making for a very inconsistent experience.

Screen

The S4 Zoom has a 4.3-inch qHD (960×540) Super AMOLED display.

It’s not the biggest – it actually felt a bit on the small side. Similarly, it’s not the highest resolution, which was definitely noticeable in comparison to the 1080p and even 720p displays that have become the norm.

As we’ve come to expect from Super AMOLED displays, colours tended to oversaturate – which isn’t the best quality to have in something that’s intended for photos. Brightness was fine even in direct sunlight.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

Sound and call quality

Sound was fine on either end on our test calls, though we did feel ridiculous to be talking on something that clearly looks like a camera.

The bundled headphones were okay, but not outstanding at all, and the speaker was tinny, but loud. Then again, sound isn’t meant to be the S4 Zoom’s forte.

Camera

Even a sidelong glance will leave you convinced that the camera is what the S4 Zoom is about. If everything else is bad, this is the part of the device that should be outstanding. It’s the biggest reason you would be buying this device.

Samsung haven’t messed around a lot here. Strapped to the back of the S4 Zoom is a 16 megapixel, 1/2.33-inch sensor, with a decent 10x optical zoom, and optical image stabilisation thrown in for good measure.

The software offers all the bells and whistles that you could expect from Samsung, including HDR and panorama modes. On top of that, you can switch to full manual mode, where you can select aperture, exposure time, ISO, and pretty much anything else you’d want.

Switching those settings can be cumbersome, though, as it’s all software controls in option menus as opposed to a hardware button or dial within easy reach as we’re used to with DSLRs. Still, it gives you that extra bit of freedom that you normally don’t have.

Considering the nice big sensor, we were a bit disappointed with the amount of noise in our photos, which of course meant less detail after noise reduction did it’s thing. Good light lessens the effect, but we still found it there.

We were quite impressed with the dynamic range and if we needed more, HDR was ready and waiting.

All in all, it’s a decent camera that can stand against the best, though we’re not convinced it’s head and shoulders above the rest.

A gallery of photos taken using the review unit below:

Battery life

We were slightly confused by the battery life on the S4 Zoom.

With a healthy 2330mAh battery, you’d expect it to go for a good long while. This was true while taking photos – we could take photos with it all day long without much trouble. But in more general use – browsing, chatting, gaming, etc. we were lucky to get a full work day out of it.

Software

The S4 Zoom comes with Android 4.2.2 along with Samsung’s skin on top of it. We’ve spoken about Samsung’s skin before and our opinion remains largely the same. There were also a ton of pre-installed apps.

  • There’s Kleek, which offers music streaming along with Flipboard, Dropbox, and TripAdvisor.
  • S Memo, S Planner, and S Voice are all there, along with S Translator which, oddly, requires you to be signed in to your Samsung account to use.
  • Samsung Apps, -Hub, and -Link are all there, along with Group Play, Story Album, Video Editor, and WatchON.
  • Just to confuse us, Samsung bundled three browsers – Opera Mini, Chrome, and their own Internet.
  • Paper Artist also makes an appearance, though it turned out to be a link to a screen that asked us to download it, but then couldn’t for an unknown reason.
  • Lastly is something that’s actually relevant to the S4 Zoom – Photo Suggest, which suggests places to photograph based on your nearby and/or favourite places.

One setting that we did like was one that opens the camera app automatically on the first unlock after booting up. Unfortunately, there’s no way to set that as the default behaviour for every unlock, which seems like a great idea for the S4 Zoom.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

Conclusion

The S4 Zoom ends up being confused as to what it’s really trying to accomplish. For the most part, it’s designed and optimised to be a point-and-shoot camera, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it adds on extra features that end up turning it into a hard to use, average performing, smartphone.

Consumers do want a great camera on their smartphone, but the S4 Zoom ends up asking too high a price for comparatively too little gain.

If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, we highly doubt the S4 Zoom is what you’re looking for.

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Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom review