The S4 Zoom has lots of appeal & I could almost use one as my daily driver…
When it comes to mobile technology, it seems that Samsung are looking at creating their own Galaxy the way they are going with the number or products and the variations of each.
The S4 Zoom is the latest addition to the Galaxy range, but one that leads to some confusion on what it actually is and where it sits amongst other products.
The S series of devices have always been associated with smartphones, the S2, S3, S4 etc. whilst the name Galaxy Camera relates to a product released last year that does not have the phone functionality and focuses more on the camera aspect. The S4 Zoom is essentially the bridge between the two. It is a fully fledged smartphone with a decent camera bolted on to it.
However, the power of the S4 name leads you to believe it is something quite special, which it is. But, if we study the spec sheet the S4 Zoom is more of an S4 mini with a camera attached. I can only presume that the product name Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini Zoom would have been a bit much.
For justification of my point, compare the specs below:
- Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom – 1.5GHz Dual Core
- Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini – 1.7Ghz Dual Core
- Samsung Galaxy S4 – 1.9GHz Quad Core
- Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom – 8GB
- Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini – 8GB
- Samsung Galaxy S4 – 16GB
- Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom – 4.3” Super AMOLED
- Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini – 4.3” Super AMOLED
- Samsung Galaxy S4 – 4.99” Super AMOLED
I can’t quite help feel that the power of the S4 branding will help sell the S4 Zoom but result in some disappointment if one does not study the specs before hand. However, this early criticism will not necessarily affect my final verdict.
If you want to see what you get in the box and initial hands on impressions before the full review check out the following video:
If you would prefer to watch a hands on review, then jump to the bottom of the post for the video review.
The Galaxy Camera offered a bigger image sensor and did away with phone functionality, but encroached on the portability. It felt big and heavy but there was evidence that there was a desire for such a camera with enhanced connectivity options.
The S4 Zoom is smaller and lighter and more compact, but when you stick a 10x optical zoom lens on the front of a smartphone, there is no escaping the fact that the device will become bigger and heavier.
Front the front it looks like a compact camera, but from the back it looks like a smartphone. The two products have pretty much morphed to create the S4 Zoom.
Striking a balance was always going to be difficult and whether they have achieved it will be personal opinion. Some will despise the thought of holding this device to their head whilst others will not really mind.
With always on data connections, fewer of us are using a smartphone for calls but consuming more data and content through social networks and alternative communication platforms like WhatsApp, thus doing away with the issue of holding this to your head to a certain degree.
You can see a full list of the hardware specifications here, but the key features include the 16 megapixel camera, 4.3” display, microSD memory card slot, 8GB internal memory, 3G and removable battery.
I personally like the fact that Samsung have built in a grip for your hand on the right edge, when held in landscape orientation. It gives that more traditional camera feel as does the dedicated camera shutter button.
The position of the Xenon flash is compliant with most compact camera as is the positioning of the battery door and tripod mount.
Yes, the S4 Zoom has a removable battery and a screw for a tripod. So firstly should you run out of power you can swap out the battery and secondly you can use this a a more traditional camera and tripod mount it very easily.
There is too a microSD memory card slot that supports 64GB cards giving plenty of storage space for images as the internal 8GB of memory (of which approx. 5GB is available) is unlikely to be enough. The card can be easily swapped out without the need to remove the battery.
The addition of a cut out to attach a lanyard is also handy.
The microUSB port which is used for charging and connectivity to a computer is located on the curved grip style edge. It offers USB host and MHL connectivity, but the curvature does not suit most docks and cradles that are available for other Galaxy products.
This leads me to think that the range of accessories available for the S4 Zoom will be limited, in turn limiting the appeal as an everyday device.
Samsung have tried to reduce the number of rough edges but I would have likes some sort of lip I think to the device as when you turn it over to the smartphone side it sits flush to a flat surface and is inevitably going to scratch. The S4 Zoom does not sit on its side very comfortably. It can be sat in landscape mode but it uses the lens as a prop on the desktop.
I am not yet to be won over by the addition of plastic covering over the front lens. It stops dust and debris getting onto the camera lens itself but I feel in time this will scratch and potentially affect the final image result.
With Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2 installed out of the box there is plenty of power and scope for customisation with the Zoom. Of course Samsung have added their own customisation to the software so it is not a pure Android experience, but I personally come from the position that Samsung have made notable additions and whilst not all will be to the appeal of everyone, there are many features that do come to their own especially with the camera.
I could talk about the Android until I am blue in the face, but needless to say the experience is very similar on the S4 Zoom to any other Samsung, Sony or HTC in terms of what you get out the box.
The speed and fluidity of use is going to be affected by the hardware. With only a dual core processor intense mobile gaming is not going to be happening on the S4 Zoom, but usual everyday multi-tasking was working without glitches for me during my testing.
If you are one who likes to brag about your processing power then the S4 Zoom will not be for you, but what you can do with the S4 Zoom is instantly get files online quickly.
I am not saying this is the best case example for the Zoom, but some industries or professions rely on relaying back images and video in an almost live scenario and the connectivity options that are available on the S4 Zoom give you this flexibility.
Be it though Skype, WhatsApp, dedicated applications or just uploading images to Twitter, Google, Facebook etc., it is so great to be able to quickly do this (subject to connectivity) with images that show subjects with real clarity.
I completely see the argument for ditching the compact camera for your holiday photos and using this. Instantly get your photos online and backed up. No messing about when you get back home. Of course dedicated cameras are becoming more connected but few are as connected as this.
The biggest frustration on the software side of things for me is that when you switch it on, you are forced into portrait mode. Cameras are generally geared for use in landscape mode, but the home screens do not orient in landscape. You can use it but why Samsung did you just not allow for orientation of the home screens?!
You can get around this with a different launcher or Samsung could release an update. It is not insurmountable, but it feels like the basics have been forgotten about here. However most phones are used in portrait mode, so striking that balance will always be difficult, but it would be nice to have the option.
Aside from that there have been one or two notable additions to the S4 Zoom which include Photo Suggest, which as the name implies it uses your location to suggest potential places at which you may want to take a picture.
Within the settings there is an ‘Open Camera’ option which allows you to enable the camera app to be opened immediately upon switching the device on. This is great if the S4 Zoom is to be used more as a camera than a smartphone for you. It is nice to have the option to turn it on and off.
It should be noted that whilst the S4 Zoom has motions and gestures they are not as extensive as the S4 and are more in line with the S4 Mini, so no smart pause or answering the phone with a wave of the hand over the screen.
I am sure this has to do with the amount of memory these settings require as well as hardware and cost issues, but there is an element of feeling cheated in some respects. Software additions in the future may take place but who can be sure. Having said that some features offered on the actual S4 are not always as useful, reliable or practical as Samsung would suggest.
It is the stand out feature of this device and has to live up to the hype that surrounds it. Without being a spoiler I think it does just about do it.
With a 16 megapixel sensor, big images can be captured but we know it is not all about megapixels.
The S4 Zoom has 24-240mm 10x optical zoom, optical image stabilisation, and ISO of 100-3200 and a F.3.1-F6.3.
There are lots of pre-configured software settings within the camera that allows the more basic users to take a better picture, whilst offering manual controls, all be it on screen for the more advanced user.
The more advanced will probably be calling for greater F stops
I do not call myself an expert, but I like to try and play around with images and settings to get the best results I can and the Zoom allows me to do this, but it also gives me the option to very quickly point and shoot at times where I have not got time or want to fiddle with the settings. Whilst there are night options, fireworks and more, I often found myself sticking with the Auto mode as that is what many of us want, simplicity, point and shoot.
The dedicated camera button is a real bonus and gives the S4 Zoom that camera feel.
I generally found images were captured quickly on pressing of the camera button, but there was the occasional lag, but to be honest I could not find a reason for this. The majority were almost instant.
The other was annoyance was when I wanted to take a series of shouts in quick succession. You have to go into the continuous shooting mode to be able to capture up to 20 shots in quick succession. I would like to be able to do this from the Auto menu and just press and hold on the shutter button.
The optical zoom is a nice feature, giving better results when zoomed in. You can digitally zoom in after the image is captured. My natural instinct is to use the adjustable ring around the camera lens, but found the on screen + and – icons to be better in getting a smoother zoom. It took a bit of getting used to the ring zoom function and I often found my fingers creeping in front of the lens. Practice makes perfect as they say but just a word of warning.
The rear camera can record in full 1080p HD whilst the front facing camera records stills at 2 megapixels whilst video is 720p only, but that if more than enough for video calls and a few self portraits.
I am no expert when it comes to judging the image results, but then the S4 Zoom does not in my mind suit an expert, it suits the more enthusiastic smartphone photographer, I felt the images were better than most smartphones but the best results were only achieved in good light. Some of my sample shots were at dusk and there was an obvious grain in the image that left me feeling slightly disappointed.
A full range of sample images are available HERE, but a selection are shown below. Just click to enlarge.
The camera still feels like a glorified smartphone camera, which it is rather than a potential replacement for more expensive and dedicated camera solution. For the enthusiast photographer then the S4 Zoom probably will not cut it. However if you have already ditched a compact camera in preference for a smartphone or are considering doing so the S4 Zoom is quite possibly the answer.
This is such a subjective issue and one I always dislike commenting on because it is never realistic of an individuals personal usage, only mine at the time of testing.
I can’t tell you how long it will last if you take 5 calls for 10 minutes a day, do a bit of web browsing and play some music, there are too many influencing factors.
What I can say is that the S4 Zoom has impressed me. I haven’t been plagued with battery warnings in the middle of the day and I think this is thanks to the big 2330mAh battery and the smaller 4.3” display. Using an S4 as my daily driver, come late afternoon/early evening it is often screaming for a top up but I didn’t get that with the S4 Zoom.
I will not be putting the S4 Zoom through rigorous battery tests either, but I do think it is fair to say what I would consider the average user will get a good day out of the device. Like any smartphone that does take into consideration appropriate use of connectivity options.
For those who are going to be using more of the features and demanding more from the device, there is the power saving mode and the option to swap out the battery.
I have been a bit critical of the S4 Zoom throughout, but that is because there are so many good options out there that the S4 Zoom has to make itself stand out from the competition and be desired.
Personally for the last 7 months have been trying to capture more images to serve are memories and to recap what I have done. It is always easier to delete later than it is to capture after the event.
My S4 has been my main focus for this, but I do too often resort to a fairly basic digital SLR, that always delivers results far beyond that of the S4.
The S4 Zoom has lots of appeal & I could almost use one as my daily driver but there are 3 mains things that stop me.
1. The weight and bulk.
Whilst I like taking photos the improvements offered against the overall size in the Zoom are not enough to justify swapping.
2. The lack of accessories.
I don’t need many accessories, but the likes of car kits, desktop docks and possibly a case are things that I would more than likely want. The nature of the S4 Zoom will mean it is unlikely to become a mainstream product that everyone will adopt and it is therefore unlikely that compatible accessories will be available. We will be reliant on Samsung for that and with their track record, it could be some time before we see them.
3. Images do not compel me to ditch the SLR.
Already owning an SLR I wouldn’t want to get rid of it in preference for the Zoom as the results are better but there is an increased bulk with the SLR.
Having given these 3 points as reasons why I would not adopt, had I been in the market for a new phone and not already owned and desired the results from an SLR, I would give the S4 Zoom some considerable consideration.
I do honestly believe if you would normally have only a compact camera and do not require the benefits of an SLR then the S4 Zoom will make you stand out from the crowd whilst giving results that on the whole you will be happy with.