• Full Review
  • Specifications

Full Review

The best way to think of the Galaxy S4 Zoom is as if someone has released a new model of camera, and given it the features of a smartphone.

There’s an excellent 10x optical zoom lens on the Samsung Galaxy S4, one of the first we’ve seen, along with an impressive range of Samsung mobile features. So, as a major plus there’s a powerful camera. And also as a major minus, there’s a powerful camera. The thing is, there’s just not enough of the smartphone to make this as attractive as the Galaxy S4.


Design issue


It isn’t just the masses of impressive camera features on this phone that make us feel that this is a camera you can use to make calls on. There’s just more camera functionality than phone features. Heavier than the Nokia Lumia 920 at 208g this phone weighs your pocket down.
 

Galaxy S4 Zoom Hands-On

In the hand it feels bulky and awkward. The lens sticks out, and this doesn’t make it comfortable to grip. Holding the phone near the bottom is also cumbersome as the grip protrudes. It just isn’t easy to use one handed. A definite black mark against the phone compared to competitors like the slimmer, easier to carry, Nokia Lumia 1020. It is hard to see what you gain with the optical lens (which the other phones don’t have) when as a phone it is hard to hold and heavy.  


Snappy


Holding this handset to use as a phone might be awkward, but it is very comfortable to hold horizontally when used as a camera. A twist of the lens ring, or press and hold down the shutter button, activates the camera. This is a 16-megapixel lens. Any shakiness on the part of your hands is countered by the Optical Image Stabilisation. There was still some blurring in low light settings though. A flash is available for shots in dim lighting or darkness.

Galaxy S4 Zoom Sample Photo

There’s lots of camera modes available, from Macro and Panorama, to Dawn, Snow and Sunset. Facebook fans might be interested in the Food mode. The choice does feel overwhelming, but it didn’t take us long to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of each modes through use, and the well explained instructions. There’s also Samsung’s Smart Mode Suggest. This feature offers you three suggestions for modes, based on the situation. We couldn’t test this though as for some reason, no matter what the conditions, we got the same three choices of Night, Macro, and Landscape.

Galaxy S4 Zoom Sample Photo 2

Luckily, sticking with Auto Mode gives you crisp, vivid photos anyway. We were really pleased with the landscape photos, which were realistic with rich, natural colours. The macro is excellent, with particularly fine detail. However, the most impressive feature on the camera by far is that 10x optical lens. The results were much better than expected when shooting intricate architecture on our holiday, for example. Taking a shot with the lens extended to its full for a really up-close shot, is possible without losing image quality. A digital zoom just can’t do that.


More camera features


There’s a stack more features for the camera as well. Photo Share lets you take a photo and send it to the person you’re talking to. We’re not exactly sure when you’d really need to use this feature, other than because you can.

You can take photos while you are filming in HD via the on-screen button. Video taken on the camera is sharp, with clean audio. However, there’s only 5GB of storage in the phone, and this will quickly fill up. A memory card will be a good investment. You might want to think about getting a tripod too – the phone has a slot to fit an official tripod.


Display


The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom’s display is vivid, with rich colours, and extremely pleasing images. It isn’t the full HD panel you’ll get on the Galaxy S4. It is gHD, so high definition isn’t displayed as sharply. Still it was pleasant to watch TV programs on, and we found another use for the camera lens that juts out of the camera’s body. It works well as a stand to prop up the phone.


Apps power


The Galaxy S4 Zoom isn’t as powerful as the Galaxy S4. Instead of a quad-core, there’s a dual-core SnapDragon processor powering the S4 Zoom. Still, the less powerful processor isn’t really noticeable when using the phone for everyday use. It works well enough. We tested it using some new games from the Google Play store. The games worked well, with no stuttering and smooth frame rates, and they looked good on the display. As is usual with Samsung, there’s loads of proprietary apps pre-installed. Such as S Planner and Story Album, for placing photos in a digital book. Oddly, there are others we would expect to see, that are missing, like S Health.

Alongside the apps are all our favourite Samsung features, such as Smart Stay. This notes if you are looking at the screen, so the phone doesn’t go into hibernation while you’re in the middle of something. S Beam, which uses NFC to share files with other phones supporting NFC. But, there’s no 4G support, which is a glaring omission as the networks are extending the service across the country. It seems even odder when you think how much faster it would be to upload photos and videos if you were using 4G.


Battery power


How long the battery lasts on a smartphone is an important factor in deciding which model to buy. If you are out for lengthy periods of time then you need to make sure your phone will last through your working day, at the very least. This is more the case with features like digital cameras, which can take a lot of energy. The Galaxy S4 Zoom wouldn’t be much of a phone if taking photos drained the battery too quickly. In use though the opposite is the case. Actually, the Galaxy S4 Zoom kept going in our tests for a couple of days while continuously taking photos. We managed to get nine hours of video streaming too before needing to recharge. This is an excellent result for a phone in this class, one of the longest battery lives we’ve seen for ages.


As you’d get in an actual camera, the battery pops out on the side. So with a spare battery to hand you can easily swap for a fresh one while out and about.


Our conclusion


What the Galaxy S4 Zoom does really well is as a mobile companion when you’re out and about. This is down to the lengthy battery life, well above average in its class, and the excellent camera. It is bulky and heavy though and won’t fit easily in a pocket. You will need to take this phone about with you in your bag. The gHD does well enough, although we’ll always prefer the full HD screen you get on the standard Galaxy S4. We wanted to like this phone a lot, but the bulky build, the difficulties in holding it one-handed, and without 4G, means it doesn’t do as well as competitors such as the Nokia Lumia 1020, which is also slimmer.

Specifications

Specifications

Dimensions 125.5 x 63.5 x 15.4 mm

Weight: 208 g

Screen size: 4.3 inch

Screen Resolution: 540 x 960 pixels

Screen Type: Super AMOLED

Pixels Per Inch (PPI) : 344 PPI

Processor: Dual-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A9

RAM: 1.5GB

Battery capacity : 2330 mAh

Onboard Memory: 8GB (microSD support)

Camera:  16MP BSI CMOS w/ Flash

Camera Features: 1/2.33'' sensor size , face and smile detection, 10x optical zoom (24-240mm), optical image stabilization, HDR, panorama

Secondary Camera : 1.9 mega-pixel (front-facing)

Operating system: Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean

Ultrafast / 3G / 4G LTE : Yes / Yes / No

Bluetooth / NFC : Yes / Yes

Colours : White

Launch Date: Out now

Price : £400 (TBC)

Checkout the full Sony Xperia Z Ultra specification here.

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