Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom review

Shortly after Samsung released the Android-powered Galaxy Camera, it revealed that it had more plans for snappers featuring Google's operating system. We'll be seeing some of those throughout 2013, but one has taken the idea one step further. As well as operate on Android, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is a fully-fledged phone.

In fact, for all intents and purposes it is a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, a mid-range handset with some but not all of the features as the flagship phone from which it borrows a name. But the main difference between the Zoom and the Mini is that the former has a whopping great big lens on the rear.

While it is a phone in operability, it should be seen as a compact camera more than a smartphone replacement. We can see where Samsung is coming from - market research supports the fact that people would rather just take one device to a wedding, picnic or other family event, but normal phone cameras don't quite cut it when zooming in or taking more-creative shots. And those people will no doubt be impressed by the Galaxy S4 Zoom.

In camera terms, it has a 10x optical zoom, 24mm wide angle f/3.1-6.3 zoom lens. The sensor is a 16-megapixel BIS CMOS one made by Samsung itself, which is 1.8 times larger than those carried by most smartphones, so can accept more light. Optical image stabilisation is on board, thanks to a floating optic in the lens. And the flash is of the Xenon variety rather than LED, like on most mobile devices.

The Zoom is also capable of 1080p 30fps video recording, so the lens can also benefit home movies. And it features auto and manual ISO, from 100-3200.

Pictures can be taken at four frames per second and there are 25 Smart Modes for creative shots. Smart Mode Suggest has been included, which will assess the scene and give you three of the 25 Smart Modes to choose from that should best suit the ambience. And Photo Suggest is on board, which will give you tips on what to shoot based on your location, thanks to a library of similar pics taken by photographers around the world. And there is Story Album, a feature that will sort pics automatically.

In operation, the camera element has a distinctly retro feel - at least, that's what we think based on our first-look hands-on session. You have to twist the lens to zoom in and out, while spinning it initially will automatically launch the camera application. There's also a shutter button.

As a phone, like we say, it is almost identical to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.

It comes with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean from the box, has a 4.3-inch 960 x 540 Super AMOLED touchscreen, and a front-facing 1.9-megapixel camera. However, the CPU is slightly less specified, being a 1.5GHz dual-core processor rather than 1.7GHz on the Mini.

It does have the same 1.5GB of RAM, NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 8GB of storage (upgradeable by up to an extra 64GB through microSD). Because of the camera side, the Zoom does come with a bigger battery: 2,330mAh.

As with most Samsung products, the Galaxy S4 Zoom will come with 50GB of Dropbox cloud storage for two years, which will come in handy considering the amount of photos we expect you to take with the camera.

Sadly, we couldn't take that many ourselves, given time constraints with our initial play. The pictures looked decent enough on the 4.3-inch screen, but we'd have to give it a good going over to see if they are truly up to scratch. We can say that it's a doddle to use though. The spinning ring is a nice feature and the body is much easier and more comfortable to hold than the Samsung Galaxy Camera, for example.

There's something rather cute about the Zoom in the flesh, even though it looks like a mad, Doctor Frankenstein-style experiment. It may well remind us of the camera-phone given to Bret by Jermaine in Flight of the Conchords, but our first impressions is that it will win many people over.



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