It's fair to say that Samsung is probably the leading Android smartphone manufacturer today, managing to somehow one-up their competitors whenever they announce a new handset. The Galaxy S4 Zoom is a slightly different type of device - Samsung claim that it is part of their new initiative to create a single device that can fulfil the role of both an industry-leading smartphone and a high-end compact camera.
Before I go diving into the review, let's quickly see what Samsung's S4 Zoom manages to pack inside its beast of a body:
- Dimensions: 125.5 x 63.5 x 15.4 mm
- Weight: 280g
- 4.3" qHD AMOLED (960x540) display
- 2330mAh battery
- 16- megapixel CMOS sensor
- 10x optical zoom
- 1.9- megapixel front facing camera
- 1.5GHz dual-core processor
- 1.5GB of RAM
- 8GB of internal memory
- WiFi 802. 11 a/b/g/n 2.4+5GHz
- NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS
Just like many of Samsung's other devices, the S4 Zoom is constructed out of plastic, although I personally have no problem with this - it just gives the Zoom a lighter feel. If it were made from metal like the HTC One, then it would be even more bulky and cumbersome than it already is. It is still a very large device to hold and keep in a trouser pocket, so you may want to think about carrying it in a bag instead!
Whilst I do find the S4 Zoom bulky, I actually think it's quite comfortable to hold in the hand, partly down to the raised area at the bottom of the device; and because it's rounded, it fits nicely into the palm of your hand. I'm also a fan of the way that you access the battery - you basically just pull open a flap that is located at the bottom of the Zoom, and then you'll be able to slide the battery out - this is also where the micro SIM is located. This is certainly a nod to it's camera cousins.
Looking around the Zoom, you'll catch glimpse of the 3.5mm headphone jack and noise-cancelling mic at the top, the volume rocker, on/off/lock button, the camera shutter key at the right side, a lanyard cut-out and micro SD card slot on the left side along with the charger cut-out and battery door at the bottom. I'm a big fan of the glossy silver paint that has been used around the sides of the device.
The feature that draws the most attention to the user has to be the Zoom's massive camera lens located at the back - it's huge! By just looking at the back, you'd think that the Zoom is just a basic compact camera, but when you look at the front, you'll notice that it's actually a bit of both - a smartphone and compact camera in one. I find the Galaxy Z4 Zoom is very reminiscent of Samsung's S4 Mini.
My first impressions of the Galaxy S4 Zoom were very good, until I caught glimpse of the display. Whilst the 4.3" size is large enough to surf the web in comfort, the 960x540 resolution is disappointing - I expected to see a better screen here! After all, this is supposed to be a device where you can take photos and images with its huge sensor and then be able to view and manipulate them on its display. I'm very disappointed with this, every image appears washed out and grainy. On the bright side, it's very responsive to touch.
Despite currently being an iPhone user myself, I've always liked Android as well - it's just more flexible when compared to iOS - and Samsung's TouchWiz overlay has always been my favourite when compared to other user interfaces such as HTC's Sense.
The S4 Zoom itself comes pre-loaded with Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2, along with the latest version of TouchWiz thrown into the mix. I have no problem with Samsung's TouchWiz, although it is fair to say that it can lag at times, but there's no major issues with it in my eyes.
I'm a huge fan of the Zoom's lockscreen - it's really colourful and funky, and it's easy to change it to a pattern or passcode security lock via the settings menu - which too has a great look to it!
The whole user interface is basically just like any other that I've seen on an Android device, but with Samsung's own twist on it. I found it very easy to use whilst testing the Galaxy S4 Zoom, and I really like the fact that it's super easy to change the device's background by just long holding the screen until a small box comes up allowing you also to add folders and widgets to your homescreen.
You're obviously not going to buy the S4 Zoom for just being a phone, you're going to want to invest in it because you're into your photography and taking photos! It's hard to imagine why you would choose the zoom if you weren't particularly interested in the camera functionality.
Overall, I'm very impressed with the picture and video quality. Colours always seem to look bold and vibrant - even photos and videos that you've taken in low light - plus you also get a lot of settings built-in to help you enhance your creations.
As for the camera's interface, I found it very easy to use. I really like the fact that you can easily switch from image-capture to video-capture because you get the buttons for direct access instead of using a toggle of some sort. I wasn't that keen on the camera's zoom ring - but the 10x optical zoom is pretty awesome and certainly a novelty for a phone device.
Phone calls and signal strength
The dial pad and contact interfaces on the Zoom are both straightforward and the call quality is excellent! I did experience one dropped call, but that was likely down to me accidentally pressing the end button with my ear - I usually manage to do stupid stuff like that. ;)
When I first learned that the S4 Zoom only had a dual-core processor, I was shocked - expecting to see a quad-core version! Unfortunately, due to the fact that Samsung has decided to go down this route, I have to say that I sometimes find it very slow - and on some occasions, I felt like throwing the device out of my window! And to top my feeling of disappointment off, you only get 8GB of internal memory (although it is expandable via microSD). The battery life isn't great either.
At the end of the day, when all is taken into account, I actually quite like the S4 Zoom. The disappointing screen, underwhelming battery life and slower than expected processor don't take away the fact that if you are a heavy photo user then the S4 Zoom is worth a look, particularly thanks to that optical zoom. High quality cameras on Android are rarer than they really should be and until we get cameras of the calibre of the Nokia 1020 together with Google's OS, devices like the Zoom are likely to be as good as it gets.