Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom review: Updating To Android 4.4.2 KitKat

Reviews Damien McFerran 14:21, 17 Jul 2014

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is unlike any phone we’ve ever seen – and not in an entirely bad way either

Rating: 
3.5
Typical Price: 
£400.00
Pros: 
Amazing camera, decent battery life, plays games well
Cons: 
Large and heavy, dual-core CPU is outdated, Only 8GB of storage
Verdict: 
It’s not a cutting-edge device by any stretch of the imagination, but the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s excellent camera may cause you to overlook its other shortcomings

Several handsets and mobile solutions have appeared in recent months with the clear goal of filling the gap between the smartphone camera and far more capable full-blown and dedicated digital snappers - the logic is simple: why choose between devices when one can do it all?

Samsung's bid is the Galaxy S4 Zoom, a hybrid device which at first glance looks more camera than phone. Has the company got the right idea? Has it pulled off the merging of smartphone with enhanced camera optics? Damien McFerran aims to find out.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Design

The Current Samsung Galaxy Zoom

Viewed from the front, the Galaxy S4 Zoom looks like a typical member of Samsung’s mobile family. All the usual elements are in place - the familiar speaker grille, the ever-present home button, the spot-effect texture surrounding the 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen. However, flip the phone over and you’re faced with something totally alien - a massive camera lens next to a powerful Xenon flash and a pronounced “bump” to improve grip when taking photographs. 

The Galaxy S4 Zoom is part camera and part phone, but the emphasis feels like it has been placed more on the image capture side of things. These days, all mobile phones have cameras, but the one displayed here is in a different league. The motorised lens mechanism allows you to zoom effortlessly in on objects and snap them in perfect detail, while image stabilization ensures that even when your aim is shaky, the resultant photo isn’t.

The sides of the phone are taken up by elements such as the power and volume buttons, the camera shutter key and a MicroSD card slot. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom only comes with 8GB of internal storage, so investing in a card is a wise move if you intend to take lots of snaps. At the bottom of the device you’ll find a door panel that opens to reveal the 2330 mAh battery and the Micro SIM card slot.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Specifications

samsung-galaxy-s4-zoom-display

Although it proudly carries the Galaxy S4 name, the Zoom doesn’t come with the same muscular specifications as its big brother. The 1.5GHz dual-core CPU is the same as the one utilised in the Galaxy S4 Mini, and it goes without saying that it can’t match the performance of other modern Android phones. 1.5GB of RAM - around 500MB less than other leading handsets - doesn’t help performance much, either. As a result you’ll notice stutter and slowdown when there are a lot of things happening in tandem, but for the most part the internal tech is good enough to keep things ticking over without too many issues. 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Camera

samsung-galaxy-s4-zoom-camera-lens

This is undoubtedly the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s crowning glory, and the main reason you’d seriously consider trading in your super-thin Android blower for this beast of a handset. The quality of the shots is remarkable when compared to other mobile phones. We tested it alongside the likes of the Nexus 4 and our trusty iPod Touch 5th gen, and the gap in quality was striking. The Galaxy S4 Zoom can’t quite compete with dedicated point-and-shoot cameras in the same price bracket, but for a mobile phone, the results are amazing. Even the front-facing camera - which is clocked at 1.9 megapixels - is capable of taking decent shots. 

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Picture Quality

Video recording comes in 1080p and 720p HD formats; you can shoot at 60 fps in the latter, while the former is limited to 30 fps. The quality of the Samsung-made lens shines through again; video quality is fantastic, and the phone copes well with changes in lighting. The only issue is that the zooming mechanism is often picked up by the microphone during recording.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Software

With Android 4.2.2 running the show, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is already ahead of some rival phones in terms of software. As you might expect, Samsung’s TouchWiz interface is spread on top - which will be a blessing for some and a curse for others. The bright and breezy design of TouchWiz is something of an acquired taste, but the raft of unique features - such as gesture commands, Smart Stay screen control and S Voice - are sure to soften the blow. We also like Samsung’s power saving features, which are baked into the user interface itself. 

samsung-galaxy-s4-zoom-camera

Being an Android device, the Galaxy S4 Zoom has access to the thousands of apps available on the Google Play market. You can also sign into Samsung’s own app store, but you’ll need to register in order to do so. Having to use two different sign-ins on a single device feels a little backward, but if you’ve owned a Samsung phone previously then it shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience - you’ve probably already got an account. 

Update 17/07/2014:

Samsung has now started rolling out an Android 4.4.2 KitKat build to the Galaxy S4 Zoom. Expect the latest TouchWiz UI tweaks seen aboard other Galaxy phones, such as the Galaxy S5, meaning a different visual style and some streamlined features.

The update will also include the usual bugfixes and performance optimisations, while the latest version of Android also adds something quite handy for this monster cameraphone - wireless printing.

We don't yet know whether the update will include Samsung's camera UI tweaks seen aboard the recent Galaxy K Zoom successor model, but we think it's fairly likely.

You can check if the update has arrived over-the-air by going to Settings>About Phone>Software updates, but rollouts are usually gradual so you may have to check back a few times before it appears.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Screen 

The Galaxy S4 Zoom’s Super AMOLED screen is bright and punchy, but it has a sub-HD resolution of 540 x 960 pixels, which means that text doesn’t look quite as sharp as it does on rival phones like the HTC One and Nexus 4. The lower number of pixels actually helps the handset in some ways; with less data to push around, it runs games at an impressive speed considering the relatively humble nature of the CPU.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Battery

The 2,330 mAh battery is pretty spacious for a phone with a 4.3-inch screen, and during our first day of testing we were pleasantly surprised by its stamina - especially as we took a lot of photos, did a fair amount of web surfing, and generally put the phone through its paces as much as possible. We managed to go a full 24 hours before needing to charge it up again, which isn’t something that usually happens with the office Nexus 4. However, if you really go to town on the image and video capture then you can expect to see the real-world usage time drop considerably - that Xenon flash is a real beast when it comes to sucking power.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: Conclusion 

Although it looks like something of a bad joke when you initially pick it up, the Galaxy S4 Zoom really surprised us. After a few days of use we honestly forgot about how large and bulky it is, and learned to love the fact that we had a top-quality camera in our pocket at all times. Sure, you might look like you’re trying to talk to your point-and-shoot when you take a call in public, but for photography lovers, this is the ideal mobile companion.

To gain superior image capture, you have to be prepared to do without other creature comforts, such as cutting edge internal tech and a phone which is so slim you forget it’s in your pocket. Or, you could just wait and go for the Nokia Lumia 1020. 

Thanks to Mobile Fun for the handset!

Specifications

Length 125.5 mm
Width 63.5 mm
Thickness 15.4 mm
Weight 208g
Screen Size 16M
Screen Size 540 x 960 pixels Super AMOLED, 4.3 inches
Designer Lens 16 megapixel (rear) with 10x optical zoom, 1.9 megapixel (front facing)
Processor 1.5GHz dual core CPU
Operating System Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2
Additional Memory microSD (up to 64GB)

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