Smartphone cameras are now so good you may never again need to purchase a standalone compact point and shoot camera. The Galaxy S4 Zoom takes that argument even further: a 16Mp camera with a 10x optical zoom grafted on to the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini, the Zoom is both Android smartphone and advanced camera. It's like a bridge camera that lacks a great lens but has an Android phone tagged on. And not just any Android phone: one running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, with Samsung's TouchWiz interface.
As such it is a defiantly niche product, and we'll try to review it with that in mind. The Galaxy S4 Zoom is only for those smartphone users who are truly dedicated to photography, and prepared to sacrifice some of the their phone in order to have a superzoom camera to hand. It's neither the greatest camera nor the best Android phone: it's a compromise that will find only a small audience. Here's our Galaxy S4 Zoom review. See also: Group test: what's the best Android phone?
Galaxy S4 Zoom: build and design
The back of the Galaxy S4 Zoom is dominated by the lens - if we consider that the display is on the front.
From that back the S4 Zoom looks like the front of a standard compact digital camera. A circular silver lens case is surrounded by a chunky white plastic case. There's a flash at the tip to the left as you look, and even further left is a handle with 'Samsung' written on it in silver. The only clue to the Galaxy Zoom's phoney nature is the speakers just above the lens barrel housing.
Flip over the Galaxy S4 Zoom and you might imagine you are looking at the Galaxy S4 mini. The 4.3in AMOLED display dominates, with a chunky Home button at the bottom and Samsung logo at the top. Around the edges is the same chrome effect as has the Mini.
It really is two devices stuck together, as becomes apparent when you try to slip your hands around the Galaxy S4 Zoom. This cameraphone is chunky even before you get to the lens. The official specification of 63.5x125.5x15.4mm gives the width as just over 1.5cm. That, dear reader, refers only to the grip handle. The lens barrel just out around another centimetre, so in reality the Galaxy S4 Zoom is 2.5cm thick. That's very slim for a compact camera, but clownishly fat for a phone. You won't be able to slip it into your skinny jeans' pocket, but it will be better than lugging around a separate camera.
The overall feel then is of reasonable quality, solid build, and a certain clumsy ugliness. Its the best-looking megazoomcameraphone we've seen, though. But it does feel uncomfortably fat to use.
Galaxy S4 Zoom: specifications and performance
The Galaxy S4 Zoom sports a dual-core chip running at 1.5GHz. We've read of rumours that Samsung sets up its chips to cheat on synthetic benchmark tests. Well if that is the case it needs to make like Lance Armstrong and cheat better. In our GeekBench 2 speed benchmark the Galaxy S4 Zoom managed scores of 1056, 1213 and 1205, giving it an average score of 1158. That's no more than adequate for a modern mid-range smartphone (the HTC One mini averaged 1383 points, for instance). It's a solid score that represents the performance, in our view. We found the Galaxy S4 Zoom a reasonably snappy performer, without being noticably fast.
Things are not so good when we ran our GLBenchmark Egypt HD graphics test. The Galaxy S4 Zoom's score of 17fps puts it toward the back of the pack. There is nothing particular slow about the Galaxy S4 Zoom, but we wouldn't look to use it to view HD movies or play intensive games.
Battery life is decent, though. There is a sizable 2,330mAh battery stuffed inside and we found that when in use as a smartphone it lasted for more than a day. Obviously if you start firing off photos you'll drain the battery much more quickly.
Thee's 8GB of storage, which you can expand via Micro SD. That's good because photos and video take up a lot of space and in our review sample there was only 5GB free space when we started.
Galaxy S4 Zoom: Display
If you are playing spot the difference with some of Samsung's other phones, the Galaxy S4 Zoom's AMOLED display is one of the more obvious answers. This 4.3in display has a resolution of 540x960 pixels. That gives it a pixel density of 256ppi. That's in no way bad, but it can't compare with the Sony Xperia Z's pixel density of 441ppi, which matches that of the Samsung Galaxy S4. The HTC One is still the highest at 469ppi, of course.
What does this mean in reality? Well Apple claims that the human eye can't see the pixels in the iPhone 5's Retina Display at 326ppi. The Galaxy S4 Zoom's AMOLED display is more colourful than is the iPhone's - possibly overly so. And the resolution is sufficient without being outstanding. It's okay to look at, but you'll want to view your Zoom's photos on another display or on paper to feel the true quality of the camera.
Galaxy S4 Zoom: Camera
Which brings us to the crux of the matter. Just how good is the Galaxy S4 Zoom's rear-facing camera? (There is also a 1.9Mp front-facing camera for video calls.) The answer: really good.
The 16Mp rear-facing camera has a Xenon Flash and the focal length starts at a wide 24mm. More important is the zoom - a 10x optical zoom with an adjustable zoom ring. We found the zoom ring clunky to use, however, and tended to default to the onscreen zoom control buttons. The 16Mp CMOS sensor is a decent size: not like a full bridge camera but much bigger than is usually found in a smartphone. This should improve the amount of light you can capture. You can capture video up to 1080p.
There's a tripod mount and a physical shutter button. We liked using the latter and found the chunky hand grip fits nicely in to your right hand when taking shots. It's the nearest we've felt to using a proper camera when using a smartphone. And the results are the best we've seen from a phone. It's a great phone camera.
As you might expect with Samsung there are a lot of software extras for the camera. This includes 25 different scene modes. And with manual mode you're able to tune individual settings such as shutter speed and aperture.
But enough of the features, on with the test shots.
Galaxy S4 Zoom: Test shots
(Click to enlarge to 25% of the original file size).
An auto shot showing off the wide angle lens...
Here's a Macro shot
and the 10x zoom in action
See also: Group test: what's the best smartphone?