Introduction, Design and Handling
Editor's note: Parts of this review are from our initial hands-on article where we talked about design, software, and handling. Also, this review will only be covering the camera aspect of the S4 Zoom and how it performs as a camera. If you're looking for our verdict, feel free to jump to page 2.
With smartphones displaying a certain uniform look nowadays, device manufacturers have turned to other aspects to differentiate their products. One of the best ways to do this is to improve the camera that comes with the phone, with so many demanding better quality images from their phone.
Not one to shy away from outlandish ideas and concepts, Samsung has tried its hand at quite a few ideas. Phablets, a smart watch, a now a camera that’s tacked onto their popular S4 smartphone (the S4 Mini to be exact), we take the S4 Zoom for a spin to decide if it is worth carrying around a phone that frankly, looks odd to hold up to your face when making a call. But before we begin, let's take a close look at how the S4 Zoom differs from the rest of the S4 smartphone family.
As you can see from the specs, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is basically the an S4 Mini smartphone with a 16-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor (compact camera-grade sensor), 10x optical zoom lens, a built-in Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS), Xenon flash and a slightly better hand grip to use it like a camera. Despite the heavy camera-centric functions, the S4 Zoom is listed in the mobility products rather than their imaging line-up. In actual use, it feels more like a camera, but more on design an handling in the next section. Oddly, the phone's processor is clocked slower than the S4 Mini when the S4 Zoom is expected to double up and perform even more functions. This is perhaps the oddest aspect of the camera's specifications. Other than that, to cater to the S4 Zoom's intended usage, it has a larger battery capacity than the phone-centric S4 Mini. As a result of this and the added compact-camera features mentioned earlier, its dimensions and weight are far more than the S4 Mini.
Design and Handling
Based on the S4 Mini, the S4 Zoom looks more like a camera than a smartphone. Handling it like a smartphone proved to be no challenge, though using it as a camera had its own set of challenges. The lack of a thumb rest made us press the press the back key of the phone or the on-screen menu button more often than we liked, disrupting our shooting. This won’t be a big issue if you’re very careful but if you’re in a hurry to capture a shot; this may prove to be a big design weakness. The good news is that entering camera mode is a simple affair; you can either tap the camera icon or turn the lens ring.
On the rear of the phone, you have the lens barrel, which protrudes out from the phone’s body a fair bit. Beside the lens barrel is the autofocus assist light and the xenon flash. There’s also a curved finger grip, though the surface is smooth so you might have trouble holding on if your hands are wet. When you’re holding the phone in the portrait orientation, on the left spine is the tripod mount socket and a microSD card slot. The right spine holds the power button, volume rocker and a dedicated shutter release button.
The S4 Zoom comes with Auto, Smart and Expert modes when shooting photos. Auto lets the camera/phone decide everything for you, while Smart mode gives you a list of pre-set modes to suit the particular shooting scene, like macro mode or for shooting food. Expert mode basically lets you adjust the aperture and shutter speed manually, which gives you more control over the type of shot you would like to achieve. When you enter Expert mode, a lens barrel appears on-screen. A list of adjustable settings like aperture, shutter speed and ISO run along the length of the barrel so you can tap and swipe to change the various settings.