Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
17th Jul 2013 | 08:48
Is it a phone? Is it a camera? Do you care?
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is an unusual beast. In some ways it seems like a great idea, smartphone cameras have always paled in comparison to their compact counterparts, so why not stick a compact quality snapper on a phone, rather than forcing photo fans to lug both around?
Of course on the other hand sticking a massive lens on the back of a smartphone isn't the most ergonomic of design decisions.
Samsung has also muddied the waters a little as the S4 Zoom has very little in common with the Galaxy S4 and rather more in common with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, albeit it with a camera stuck to the back.
Likewise that camera isn't a high end compact - it certainly can't compete with something like the Fuji X20 for example - but because the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is both a phone and a camera it commands a premium price tag of roughly £440 (around $660, AU$720) SIM free, despite not being a premium example of either.
That said it's far from bad. Its 1.5GHz dual-core processor ensures that it's reasonably snappy, though some way short of the 1.9GHz quad-core Galaxy S4 and a little worse off than the 1.7GHz dual-core Galaxy S4 Mini. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom also has 1.5GB of RAM- which is a match for the S4 Mini.
There's a disappointingly small 8GB of built in storage, but there's also a micro SD card slot, so you can boost that by up to 64GB more if you invest in a card.
At first sight the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is a rather off-putting device as it looks more camera than phone. It's hard to imagine using it to text or browse the net, let alone putting it up to your ear to use for calls. But in reality it's not actually too bad.
Yes you might get a few stares when you start talking into what looks for all the world like a camera, but it's not uncomfortable to hold either in landscape or portrait as your fingers can comfortably wrap around the camera lens and the protruding edge at the other side, so it's no more awkward to use than any other phone.
Carrying it around in your pocket is slightly more of a problem, as thanks to the camera lens on the back it's pretty bulky, coming in at 125.5 x 63.5 x 15.4mm.
The length and width aren't much greater than the similarly specced Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, but the Mini is only 8.9mm thick. If you've got big pockets it's not a problem, but skinny jeans might be a no-go.
Similarly the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is quite weighty at 208g (around 7oz). That's nearly double the weight of the Galaxy S4 Mini and quite a bit more than even the monstrous Samsung Galaxy Note 2 - which comes in at 183g.
It's a noticeable weight too and not totally balanced as the side of the phone with the camera lens is disproportionately heavy, though not by much as the other side holds the battery. It's not uncomfortable and nor is it heavy enough to weigh you down, but it is more than we've come to expect smartphones to weigh.
Aside from the fact that the Galaxy S4 Zoom doesn't look much like a phone it's a reasonably good looking device. The back of the phone is mostly glossy white plastic, with a large metallic 16 megapixel camera lens at one side featuring 10x optical zoom and optical image stabilisation. It can also shoot 1080p video at 30fps.
There's a protruding edge at the other side adorned with Samsung's logo and jutting out as it does gives you something to grip, making it easy to get a firm hold of the handset. Between the lens and the edge there's the Xenon flash, while at the far side of the lens there's a speaker.
One issue with having the raised lens and grip on the back is that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is slightly unstable when screen up on a surface.
It's not going to go anywhere but it does sit at an angle and will rock up and down if you try and use it. On the plus side that sloped angle does give you a better view of the screen than if it were totally horizontal.
The front of the phone looks an awful lot like the front of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini. It has a 4.3 inch 540 x 960 Super AMOLED display with a pixel density of 256 pixels per inch, which is identical to the display on the S4 Mini. Unfortunately it's also not all that impressive, coming in at a sub full-HD resolution.
The screen is encircled by a white border. Above the screen there's a Samsung logo, while above that you'll find the earpiece alongside a proximity and light sensor and the 1.9MP front facing camera.
Below the screen there's a home button as well as a soft touch, light up button at either side of it- menu to the left and back to the right, but these can only be seen or used when the screen is on.
The top of the handset (when held in portrait) has a 3.5mm headphone port at the right, a tiny microphone near the middle and an infrared port to the left.
There's also a metallic rim that runs around the edge of the handset, making each edge half metallic and half glossy white plastic. It's a nice contrast and gives the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom a premium look.
The bottom edge has a micro USB port in the centre - used for charging the phone or connecting it to a computer. It also has another little microphone to the right.
You can also peel away a cover on the bottom edge to reveal the 2330mAh battery, which is removable, and the micro SIM card slot. It's a neat and discreet location for both of those things, as it negates the need to remove the whole back cover while still making the battery accessible. The cover is easy to open too, but feels securely locked in place when closed.
The left edge of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom features a little plastic cover at the bottom edge, which can be opened to reveal a microSD card slot with support for cards of up to 64GB. That's something which is much needed given the paltry 8GB of built in storage.
The right edge of the handset features a dedicated camera button at the bottom. Having a dedicated camera button is no surprise given how much of a focus the camera is on this handset but it's still much appreciated given that most Android handsets don't have one.
It's in the optimal position too, as it's where you'd expect to find one on a camera and doesn't get in the way of either the screen or the lens when in use.
There's a volume rocker near the middle and a power button- which also sleeps and wakes the handset, near the top. These buttons are all done up in the same silvery metallic style as the rim that runs around the phone, leaving them looking high quality.
All in all it's a well built, solid handset that isn't as awkward or uncomfortable to use as we'd expected. We'd go so far as to say that it actually looks pretty good - though we'd still take a conventional smartphone design over it from an aesthetic perspective.
By smartphone standards the camera is in a whole other league, but it still can't match up to most decent compacts and the other specs aren't much to write home about either, leaving the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom slightly compromised for a device with a £440 (around $660, AU$720) price tag.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom runs the latest version of Android- specifically Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2. That's a pretty big deal in itself as many handsets are still stuck on older versions of Android.
When you turn on the handset you're greeted with the lockscreen. Assuming you don't have any security set up that will just show your wallpaper and at the top you can see the time, day and date along with your next alarm in white writing.
Swiping the screen in any direction will clear it. However you can also set up security options such as a pin code or facial unlock, in which case there'll be a little more on the screen and you will have to do a little more than just swiping it to unlock it.
However you set it up, once you unlock the phone you'll land on your homescreens. These should be immediately familiar to anyone who's used a Samsung Android device, well, ever and shouldn't take too long to familiarise yourself with even if you haven't.
Your homescreens aren't the blank slate that some phones like the Google Nexus 4 give you. Instead they're positively littered with apps and widgets.
We'll cover the apps in the apps section of the review, but on the widget front you get stories from Flipboard, information on holiday destinations from 'S Travel' (which is basically just TripAdvisor) and a day planner.
There are also big screen filling icons for Samsung Hub - which is Samsung's own app store, and 'Story Album'- which lets you create photo albums based on photos with specific tags, be it a time, date, location or the people in the photos.
It might all seem a bit overwhelming but by long pressing on any of the widgets you can move or delete them, so none of it has to be permanent.
Some of it is quite useful though, for example the planner (called 'Briefing') pulls information from your calendar and Facebook, showing you any new events or updates. You can even get it to show news stories.
Apps can be moved around or deleted from your homescreens in exactly the same way as widgets- just long press them, then drag them where you want to move them to (other apps and widgets will move around them to make space), or drag them up to the dustbin icon that appears at the top of the screen to delete them.
In the case of apps you can also make folders, which can be done by dragging an app up to the create folder icon which appears next to the dustbin when an app is being long pressed. You can then pick a name for the folder and just drag and drop any other apps into it.
Alternatively folders can also be created by long pressing empty space on a homescreen. In which case you get options to either add a folder, add apps and widgets, set your wallpaper or add more homescreens up to a limit of seven.
You can move between homescreens by swiping left and right or by tapping on the little homescreen icons near the bottom of the screen.
At the very bottom of each screen there's a dock with four apps in it. These four apps are a permanent resident of all your homescreens, so you'll never be far from them. The apps given pride of place down here are 'phone', 'contacts', 'messaging' and 'internet', but you can swap them for other apps if you'd prefer.
As well as four apps there's also a permanent icon which takes you to your App drawer. From here you can view and open any and all of your apps, or long press them to delete them or place them on a homescreen.
There's also an icon along the top of the app drawer which lets you view all of your available widgets and place any of them with a long press. There are a lot of widgets already littering the homescreens but there are far more available here, from Dropbox folders to music controls and more.
Back on your homescreens you'll find a notifications shade at the top. Like on other Android phones this will take the form of a narrow bar along the top showing you the time, your battery level, any active connections and little icons for any new emails, texts or missed calls.
Sliding it down will give you the whole shade, which shows you full details of missed calls, texts and emails and lets you tap on them to action them as appropriate.
It also gives you a bunch of quick toggles for things like Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth, alongside a brightness slider.
At the very top you can see the time and date and there's a cog icon which will take you to the main settings screen and an icon with three little boxes which will display additional quick toggles (though you can see these anyway from the main shade if you slide your finger horizontally across the visible toggles).
If you'd rather be taken straight to this second screen then opening the notification shade with two fingers rather than one will achieve that.
Aside from tapping and swiping the screen there are three main buttons which you can use to interact with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. There's a home button, a back button and a menu button and they all lie right below the screen.
The menu button is on the left and tapping it brings up a context sensitive menu with a bunch of options. For example if you tap it when on a homescreen it lets you add apps and widgets, create folders, set the wallpaper, change the primary homescreen, search the web, access the main settings screen or access a help screen which talks you through using your homescreens.
Tapping the menu button when elsewhere will bring up a different set of options. It also has a secondary function, as if you long press it Google Now will launch.
Google Now is essentially Google's answer to Siri, but it's a lot more text based, showing you information tailored to your needs. So for example in the morning it will tell you if there's any traffic on the way to work and give you an estimated journey time, or when you reach a station it might give you train times.
It's a good service and if it ever doesn't give you the information you need you can also type or speak a query.
Moving on, the home button is to the right of the menu button. This is the only physical button of the three - the other two are soft touch, light up buttons. Tapping the home button will take you back to your primary homescreen, while long pressing it will bring up a display of recently used apps.
You can then tap on one to switch back to it or swipe it to close it. There is also a button below the list which launches Google Now and another which will close all running apps.
Then to the right of the home button there's the back button which just cycles back through menu screens.
The last thing to go over here is the settings screen. This largely covers the same ground as other Android settings screens, with toggles and setup for network connections, options for brightness and screen timeout delay and other things along those lines.
However there are a few other options which are more unique to Samsung handsets. You can for example choose which quick toggles you want to have available on the notifications shade.
You can also set the phone to launch the camera rather than your homescreens when the device is first turned on - which would be handy if you plan to use the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom as a camera first and a phone second.
There are also a couple of smart screen settings, which when activated will ensure your phone display stays on while you're looking at it and that the screen will rotate according to the orientation of your face.
Smart Scroll from the Samsung Galaxy S4 seems to be absent, but the two smart settings that you do get work well enough and can be genuinely useful.
Then there's an option to toggle 'Easy Mode' on your homescreens, which gives them bigger icons and simplified controls - for example you can't long press icons, there are no folders and there's no dock.
It's designed for those new to smartphones and we can imagine it would work well as it's certainly a lot less to take in. Unfortunately it's also buried in the settings screen, so new users may well not even find it until they've got to grips with things.
Actually operating the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is easy enough. It might not be anywhere near as powerful as the full fat Samsung Galaxy S4 but it's generally got enough grunt to glide around homescreen's and menus seamlessly.
There were a few occasions when we had to tap something several times before it would respond, but otherwise it was quite smooth to use.
We wish the screen was slightly better. At 540 x 960 and 256 pixels per inch it's not too bad and in fact it matches the screen on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, but if you've been spoilt by high end phones it will definitely comes as a disappointment, particularly considering it carries a high end price tag. On a more positive note at 4.3 inches it's a decent size and it's impressively bright.
While operating the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is mostly quite intuitive, particularly if you've come from other Android phones, there are a few things that might not be immediately obvious to new users, such as the fact that you can long press icons and buttons.
The wealth of options and widgets can also be a bit overwhelming. Thankfully there is a help screen and an 'Easy Mode', but neither of these are exactly front and centre, so they could take some finding.
Coming from other Samsung Android handsets it should be a near seamless transition and anyone who's used another smartphone or even just considers themselves tech savvy won't likely struggle either, but you might want to think twice before getting a Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom for your gran.
Contacts and calling
It will probably be no surprise to hear that contacts on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom live in the 'Contacts' app.
They're laid out in an alphabetical list which you can swipe through or jump to a specific letter of the alphabet by tapping on it. Alternatively there's a search box that you can use to bring up a specific contact.
As well as their name, each contact in the list can also have a picture associated with them, which you can either add yourself or just sync your contacts with Facebook to get their profile pictures.
Tapping a contacts picture will display a pop-up menu with options to call, video call or text them. While tapping a contacts name will bring up their contact card, which also lets you call or text them, but additionally shows any other information that you have on them, be it an email, an address or whatever else.
You can also add new information to a contact from here, as well as changing their ringtone or adding them to your favourites.
If you tap the menu button from this screen you can see their call and message history, edit them, delete them, add them to a reject list if you want to block their calls, add a shortcut for them to your homescreen, share their details, join them with duplicate contacts or edit them - which will let you add additional phone numbers, notes, nicknames, addresses and more.
Back on the main screen if you long press a contacts name rather than tapping it you'll get a similar set of options.
If you want to quickly call or text a contact without having to make more than one tap or gesture you can swipe left or right over them.
Swiping right will call them while swiping left will launch your text message app. It's a great way to speed things up and a feature that's sorely missing from most non-Samsung handsets.
Tapping the menu button from the main contacts screen will give you a slightly different set of options, such as being able to import or export contacts, merge accounts, choose which contacts to display, sort contacts by first or last name, add contacts to speed dial or access a help screen.
If you want to add a new contact there's a button at the top right of the screen for that. After you tap on it you can pick whether to save the contact to your phone, your SIM card or your Google account.
Then you just fill out their name and number and add any other details you want and then tap the save button.
The contacts screen puts a wealth of options and information at your fingertips but it's all fairly easy to navigate.
As well as the contacts screen itself there are tabs running along the top for 'favourites', 'groups' and 'phone'. Favourites just gives you quick access to your favourite contacts and you have the same options here for them as on the main screen - so you can tap them to open their contact card or call them or swipe them to instantly call or text them.
The groups screen automatically creates a number of groups- such as friends, family and co-workers and even automatically puts contacts in some of them. Beyond that you can create new groups with a tap of the menu button or add contacts to a group by opening the group and tapping the plus button.
Finally there's the 'phone' tab which takes you to your dial pad. From here you can obviously type out phone numbers, but it also supports smart dialling so once you start typing a number it will bring up suggestions from your contacts. It will also do the same if you type out a name instead of a number.
Rather than accessing the dial pad from the contacts screen you can also go directly to it from the 'phone' icon on the homescreen.
From the dial pad you'll find that an additional icon has appeared along the top - this time for call logs. Tapping on it will show you your call history and let you easily call anyone back.
When a call comes through you can choose to answer or decline it, but once actually on a call there are a few more options than most phones give you.
You can activate the speaker phone, mute the call, bring up the keypad and put the person on hold - all of which is fairly standard. However you can also press a button to take photos while on the call and have them sent in a text message straight to the person you're talking to while you're still on the call.
It works well, though we can't imagine that many occasions when you'd feel the need to take and send a picture then and there.
There's also a button to access a call sounds equaliser which lets you change voice sounds to 'soft' or 'clear' or adapt the sound left or right. In practice the differences seemed fairly subtle but they can be noticeable and they can make all the difference, particularly if you're somewhere noisy.
On that note, the main settings screen also gives you the option to run through a sound setup where it tries to find the best overall call sound for you, alongside an option to increase the volume of the ringtone whenever the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is in a pocket or bag.
With or without tweaking the equaliser settings call quality is generally good. In poor signal areas it sometimes became a little distorted but we didn't have any dropped calls.
Text messaging on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is handled by the messaging app. A quick tap on that will take you to your inbox which lists all of your conversations, sorted by most recent first.
You can see the name and contact picture for the person you're talking to in each conversation along with a snapshot of the last message and a time stamp for when it was sent or received.
Tapping on a contact picture here gives the same options as doing so from the contacts screen- specifically it lets you call or text them (or email them if you have an email address for them).
Long pressing their name will let you view their contact card, delete the thread or add them to spam numbers - which will also prevent the person from messaging you in future.
Hitting the menu button from the text message inbox will let you search for a specific message, delete threads, view spam or scheduled messages or go to the messaging settings screen. From that screen you can change the maximum number of messages per conversation, turn delivery reports on and off and more.
Back on the main settings screen you can send a new message by tapping the icon at the top right. After which you enter a recipient's name or number, tap out a message and tap the send button.
If you want to message someone that you've messaged previously just tap their conversation thread on the main screen. You can then scroll back up through the conversation with them or tap the text box at the bottom to send them a message.
You can also add an attachment by tapping the paperclip, delete individual messages or the whole thread by tapping the dustbin at the top right or call the person by tapping the phone icon.
It's all fairly straightforward and intuitive, but having extra features like being able to block specific numbers is very useful in this age of endless PPI calls.
The other form of messaging on offer is email, which as with many other Android phones is handled by two different apps. There's a Gmail app for Gmail accounts and an email app for everything else.
The two apps look slightly different but have similar features, making it easy to read, compose and delete emails. They're easy to get setup as well - and in fact the Gmail app will automatically connect to your Gmail account when you first setup your phone.
On the social network front the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom comes with Google Talk and Samsung's ChatOn instant messenger preinstalled.
There's no Facebook, but you can get an app for that from Google Play. Unfortunately none of the social network options are integrated into the main messaging or contacts screens, so you can only use them from their specific apps rather than having a combined inbox or anything of that nature.
You can also get replacement email apps and even replacement text message apps from Google Play if you don't get on with the built in ones, so like other Android phones it's very flexible.
The final piece of the puzzle for messaging is the keyboard and that's a bit of a mixed bag on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. It's reasonably accurate but can feel a bit cramped in portrait mode.
Switching it to landscape gives you more breathing room but it also causes the camera lens to get slightly in the way when typing.
Aside from that it's solid enough. It does a reasonable job of predicting the next word, you can use voice input which works as well here as anywhere else, it's got haptic feedback and it also supports sliding your finger over letters to type rather than tapping on them.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom comes with two different web browsers pre-installed. There's Chrome and another just labelled 'Internet'. The 'Internet' one is obviously the focus however, as it's given a place on the dock, while Chrome is hidden away in the app drawer.
Both browsers are fairly accomplished. 'Internet' wisely allows web pages to take up most of the screen, with just a small bar along the top where you can enter a web address or a search, go forwards or backwards a page, refresh the page, switch windows or open your bookmarks.
Everything else is handled by a tap of the menu button, which brings up a more exhaustive set of options such as adding a bookmark or a shortcut, saving the page, opening a new window, sharing the page, entering incognito mode, changing the brightness, viewing your history, switching to a desktop version of the page or accessing the browser settings screen.
There are a lot of options but they're all very quick and easy to navigate. The bookmarks and windows screens look decent, using thumbnail images rather than just boring text.
The browser works as you'd expect - you double tap or pinch to zoom, pages tend to neatly fit the screen and scrolling is generally fast and smooth.
It's even fast to load pages, taking just two seconds to load mobile sites over Wi-Fi and around six seconds to load desktop sites. 3G is slower but not painfully so, usually only adding three to five seconds on to load times.
Chrome seems ever so slightly slower, but not by much, and the general layout and options are fairly similar. As with so many things on Android there are alternative browsers available to download anyway if you have issues with either of the pre-installed ones.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom has a good sized screen for web browsing, rarely feeling too cramped. It would be nice if it was a bit higher resolution but really it's still plenty good enough for web browsing as text is easily readable.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is really in a league of its own when it comes to photo taking capabilities. It has a 16MP camera which beats out even the 13MP Samsung Galaxy S4.
But it does a whole lot more than just boost the megapixels as it also has a large lens, Xenon flash, optical image stabilisation and can do up to 10x optical zoom.
Optical zoom is almost unheard of on a smartphone camera so that really is a big deal and puts it more in line with compacts than any of its smartphone brethren.
It also has a dedicated camera button, which is rare for Android handsets, but not surprising given what a priority photo taking is for this phone.
The button is well positioned on the top right corner of the handset (when held in landscape). It doesn't get in the way and it's not at all stiff, so it's easy to press without causing any camera shake. Somewhat surprisingly though you can't use the camera button to launch the camera.
There are still a couple of ways to launch the camera though. Either tap on the camera app or just twist the zoom ring. Doing the latter brings up a little menu with various options such as scene modes like landscape or auto and a shortcut to the gallery.
You can pick an option either by tapping it or twisting the zoom ring further round. It's a great way to launch the camera from any screen on your phone- and give you a few shooting options at the same time.
Once you launch the camera - whichever way you choose to do it - the lens extends ready for use. There's no view finder so you have to use the screen, which is a shame as the screen can sometimes be hard to see properly in bright light.
The screen itself is jammed full of options to get to grips with. In the bottom left corner of the screen (assuming you're holding it horizontally) there's a little thumbnail of the last photo you took and tapping on it will take you to it in the gallery.
In the bottom middle there's a little arrow which you can tap on to bring up a list of effects, such as 'cartoon' or 'vintage'. Tapping on any one of them will apply it to the next photo you take.
Back on the left hand side of the screen there are plus and minus arrows up the side, which let you zoom in and out with up to 10x optical zoom - though you can also do this by twisting the zoom lens. At the very top left there's an icon that lets you switch to the 1.9MP front facing camera.
To the right of that there's another little arrow which gives you access to options such as turning flash on and off, turning the microphone on and off and adding a location tag.
Along the right edge of the screen is where you'll find the scene modes. There's an icon labelled 'mode' which brings up four options- 'auto', 'smart', 'expert' and 'my mode'.
Expert lets you change things like the shutter speed, contrast and saturation, auto mode automatically selects the appropriate mode and settings and 'my mode' lets you choose a subset of scene modes that you want quick access to and then displays them on a single screen for you.
Smart mode is where you'll find every scene mode and there are a lot of them, from macro and landscape, to HDR and panorama.
There are also some more unusual options such as 'best photo' which takes a series of eight photos then lets you pick the best one to save, or 'kid shot' which plays a sound to get a baby's attention so that you can take a photo of them.
Then there's 'Animated photo', which records several seconds of motion and then loops it much like a GIF - though before saving it you can choose which sections you want to be animated and which should stay static.
Modes such as this one and panorama can take quite a while to process and on a few occasions the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom took a couple of seconds to respond even when switching scene modes. It's times like this when you really wish it had the grunt of the proper Samsung Galaxy S4.
If you're ever not sure which mode will work best then you can select 'Smart Mode Suggest' which analyses lighting conditions and the objects in the frame to make a suggestion.
Whatever mode you choose you can then hit the camera button to take a picture. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom blows away most of the competition when it comes to photo quality, outshining even the likes of the Nokia Lumia 925.
While it struggles in some areas photos are generally very crisp and clear and the addition of a 10x optical zoom and all the shooting modes on offer really help it stand out too. However while it rules the roost in smartphone land its images pale in comparison to many compacts.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom doesn't give you the same wealth of video options as it does photo options, but it's still a more than capable little shooter.
It can shoot in 1080p at 30fps, but if you'd prefer you can drop the quality down to 720p (or lower) and have it shoot in 60fps.
There are also a couple of sound options such as quiet zoom and windcut, both of which go some way to removing background sounds. You can also mute the microphone altogether if you'd rather shoot a silent video.
To start or stop shooting you just tap the camcorder icon on the screen, at which point it's mostly point and shoot- though you can zoom in and out while shooting or pause the video.
We found close ups with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom worked ok. Get too close though and it really struggles, but things a bit further out (though still close) aren't bad at all.
Landscapes come out impressively well, with the foreground in particular looking good. Detail does start to fade further into the background though and it can also do a decent job of capturing fast moving objects. There's minimal motion blur even when shooting high speed traffic.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom scores some points as a media player. It's got a variety of media apps and a reasonably large screen, though a lack of built in storage hampers it a little.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom supports MP3, WAV, eAAC+, AC3 and FLAC music files and there are two main music players to choose from - Google's 'Play Music' and Samsung's 'Music'.
'Music' is a fairly feature rich player. It will sort your songs alphabetically, or let you view albums or artists. You can display albums and artists as either a list or thumbnails of album artwork.
You can also create and save playlists. Once you're playing a song you can access music controls (to pause or skip track) from the lock screen and notifications shade, so it's still easy to control if you leave the music player app or turn your screen off.
On top of all that tapping the menu button from the player and then selecting 'settings' will give you a bunch of options.
You can change the play speed, set the music to turn off after a set period of time and activate 'Smart Volume', which automatically adjusts each track's volume to an equal level.
There's also a 'SoundAlive' setting, which is basically an equaliser with a bunch of presets such as 'pop', 'rock' and 'bass boost'. Plus there's a custom option if you'd rather manually adjust the levels.
Finally the player also features 'Music square', which lets you automatically create playlists that fit certain moods such as joyful or calm. As with most such things the results are variable, but it's a handy way to get new playlists on the fly.
All in all it's a very accomplished app with loads of features and options.
Play Music is available for all Android phones, but it's just as impressive in its own way. The core player is similar albeit slightly more basic- there's no built in equaliser for example, but you can still make playlists and 'Instant Mixes' let you automatically create new playlists based on a specific band or song.
The real killer feature of Play Music is its cloud storage - letting you store up to 20,000 of your own songs or an unlimited amount purchased from Google on the cloud. You can then stream them or download them on any Android device or PC.
Beyond the two players there is also 'Group Play', which can stream music to multiple Samsung handsets- assuming they're all in close proximity.
The idea being that you can boost the sound by playing it through multiple speakers. The problem is that they're still all phone speakers, so it does nothing for the quality.
To get new music on your Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom you can either copy it across from a computer or download it straight to the handset either from Google Play or Samsung Hub.
Both have a decent selection of music available and prices tend to be fairly comparable too, with songs generally coming in at 99p each and albums available for £7 or £8.
With such good players and two built in stores the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is pretty good for music. However as it only has 8GB of built in storage a micro SD card is all but essential and the phones speakers aren't really up to much.
There are a few video apps on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom too. For watching videos there's a choice of Samsung's 'Video' app and Google's 'Play Movies' app.
'Video' is mostly a fairly standard video app- you can see thumbnails of all your videos, tap to play them and then have the option to stretch them to fit the screen, pause them, jump ahead or skip to the next video.
However there are a few other options too. Tapping menu while in a video will let you turn subtitles on when applicable, view chapter previews, change the brightness and play speed or change the sound settings to give priority to voice or music.
The most interesting option in the player is the ability to pop the video out and bring it up in a small window over whatever else you're doing on the phone.
You can drag the window around or change its size so it's not in the way and can still then be watching a video while doing other things. It's definitely a handy feature, but it does mean that you'll be using at most a third of the screen to watch a video on, so it's pretty tiny.
The other video player, 'Play Movies', is a lot more basic as it just gives you standard video controls.
As with music you can get movies from either Google Play or Samsung Hub and both stores offer rentals and purchases.
There's also a Video editor app on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, or rather there's an icon for it, but when you open it a message tells you that it's not installed.
Still, if you do go ahead and download all 100MB of it then you'll have less free space on your phone, but you'll also be able to add music and sound effects to videos and splice them together. It's pretty basic stuff but not bad for a phone effort.
Then there's a built in YouTube app, which gives you easy access to free streaming videos.
The final built in video app is 'WatchON', which makes use of the phones infrared port to control your TV. It's quick and easy to set up and works surprisingly well, even offering suggestions of shows that it thinks you might like.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom supports MP4, DivX, XviD, WMV, H.264 and H.263 files but as with music, video on the handset suffers from a lack of built in storage and we'd also love a full HD screen. Still, at 4.3 inches it's a decent size and it comes with some good players.
Books and Magazines
While books and magazines are hardly a priority for the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom we thought they were worth a mention as both 'Play Books' and 'Play Magazines' are included.
They're an e-reader and a magazine reader respectively and they both work quite well, though magazines are a little too cramped to bother with.
New titles can be purchased from Google Play or if you prefer there are also other e-readers available for download, such as a Kindle app.
Viewing photos on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is done through the 'Gallery' app. You can sort photos by album, location, people, time or favourites and it will also show photos from social networks.
As well as viewing photos you can share them online or in a picture message and there are a few editing tools built in as well, letting you crop and rotate photos, add colours and effects or add stickers and frames.
Aside from the gallery app you'll also find 'Paper Artist' and 'Story Album' apps listed on your phone, though neither of these are actually installed. Paper Artist gives you additional photo editing tools, letting you add effects and borders to images.
Story Album lets you create digital photo albums. You can choose the photos to go in them, along with a theme, title and cover image. They're then saved on your phone, sort of like an album in the gallery, except they look more like a book and potentially have more than one photo per screen.
There's a good selection of apps on board for making the most of your photos and while the screen could be better it's still good enough to view photos on.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom fares pretty well as an overall media player too. It's got a fairly large screen for watching videos on and it's quite comfortable to hold for long periods.
It's got loads of different apps for music, video and photos, two different stores to get music and video content from, a built in equaliser, innovative features like pop-out videos and many of the players support DLNA streaming.
Only having 8GB of storage hurts it but it's not a huge problem since there's a micro SD card slot. It's also a shame that the screen and speakers aren't higher quality, but they're not that bad either.
Battery life and connectivity
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom has a 2330mAh battery. That's a pretty decent size and it's a lot bigger than the 1900mAh battery packed into the similarly specced Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.
The battery is also removable, so if it ever wears out, or you just fancy keeping a spare with you, you can easily change it.
While your mileage may vary we were pretty impressed with the battery in the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. Under heavy mixed use it lasted over a day - and that was under the rigours of being reviewed. We reckon that with moderate use it could probably stretch to two days.
The biggest drain appeared to be web browsing, followed by using the camera and then by watching videos. Actually making calls seemed to cause very little drain and listening to music didn't cause much either, presumably because the screen wasn't in use much.
Obviously with the camera being such a major feature you're likely to want to use that a lot, but when using the camera heavily for about an hour, taking both photos and videos, the battery dropped less than 20 per cent, so you should be able to use it quite a bit without killing your battery.
We also ran our standard battery test on the phone, where we turn the screen up to full brightness, put Wi-Fi on, set emails and social networks to push notifications and run a 90 minute video from a fully charged battery.
At the end of the video the battery had dropped to 82 per cent which is pretty good. Samsung handsets tend to have strong battery life and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is no exception.
If you do find yourself running low on battery there's a built in power saver option which can limit the amount of CPU use, turn haptic feedback off and set the screen to a low brightness level.
It can also be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot and has an infrared port allowing you to control your TV with it. Setting most of these things up is fairly simple, as they can be found on the first settings screen and in some cases even on the notifications shade.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom also has 'S Beam' mode, which lets you use NFC and Wi-Fi direct to share files with another device, just by holding them close together.
There's even a screen mirroring mode which lets you share your handsets screen with another nearby compatible device.
The easiest way to get content on and off your phone is probably just to plug it into a computer using the included USB cable. It then mounts itself as a drive and you can just copy and paste files to and from the handset.
Alternatively you can also use Samsung's 'Kies' software. This works a bit like iTunes does for Apple devices letting you sync, backup and restore the phone and do firmware updates as well as moving content on and off it.
However while it requires computer software to work, plugging the phone in didn't prompt its install. Instead we had to manually find it on Samsung's site. Thankfully you're not missing much if you choose not to bother with it.
Maps and apps
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom comes with the standard Android mapping apps, specifically 'Maps' and 'Navigation'.
The former is Google Maps while the latter, as you probably guessed, is a sat nav. We won't go into detail on these as they're the same on every Android phone, but both lock onto a GPS signal quickly and work brilliantly well, particularly considering they're free.
The handset also comes with 'Local' which uses Google Maps to show you nearby restaurants, cafes, pubs and attractions.
The only Samsung offering that's loosely related to mapping is 'Photo Suggest'. This brings up a map of the area you're in and litters it with user uploaded photos of nearby places, letting you discover interesting sites and attractions by viewing photos of them.
It's a nice idea and as most of the photos are of scenic views and walks it doesn't really overlap with 'Local'.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom comes with a whole host of apps preinstalled. There are the basics like a calculator and clock- which can be used to set alarms, timers, activate a stopwatch and view the time in different cities across the world.
Then there's 'S Memo', which is a notepad app. You can send notes via email or back them up to Dropbox and you can also handwrite notes with your finger if you want, rather than using the keyboard.
Next up there's 'S Planner', which is a calendar. It will automatically sync with your Gmail calendar and it can also link up to Facebook or other email accounts to add events from them to it.
There's also 'My Files' which lets you dive into the folders on your Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom and move things around. It works quite well but there are more feature rich alternatives available to download from Google Play.
A Dropbox app comes preinstalled, letting you easily link that up to the phone and share files between Dropbox and your handset.
There's also a Flipboard app installed, so if you use Flipboard you can access all of your feeds from that and there's a TripAdvisor app making it easy to hunt for holiday ideas and nearby attractions from your phone. Of course these are all things that are available from Google Play anyway.
Among the things that aren't available from Google Play is 'S Voice', which is a voice based personal assistant very much like Apple's Siri. It lets you do things such as launch apps, play music, call or text contacts and more all with your voice
It works pretty well, there's a fair bit of overlap between it and Google Now, but we'd say that for voice commands 'S Voice' actually works better.
'S Translator' is another Samsung app. This one lets you translate words and sentences either by speaking into the phone or typing out what you want to translate. It's a useful travel tool with support for a number of languages.
Most of these apps can be used as widgets, making it even easier to access their functions and features. Getting new apps on the phone is primarily handled by Google Play, which is the standard Android app store and it has hundreds of thousands of apps available.
However Samsung also has its own app store, called 'Samsung Apps'. There's a lot of overlap between the stores and the Samsung store has far fewer apps overall, but it does have a handful of Samsung specific ones.
In a lot of ways we're quite fond of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. It's not as unwieldy as we'd expected, it's got one of the best cameras available on a smartphone, solid battery life and a lot of features and apps.
The problem is that as a phone it's decidedly mid-range, with average specs and an average screen, while as a camera (as opposed to a phone camera) it's quite low end.
The main selling point is presumably that it removes the need to carry around both a phone and a compact, except that it doesn't, because if you care about photos enough to carry a compact around with you anyway then this is likely to be a downgrade and while it's fine as a mid range phone it carries a premium price tag of around £440 SIM free.
The camera, by smartphone standards, is absolutely superb. Pictures are detailed, low light performance is solid (though seemingly worse than on the Nokia Lumia 925) and the addition of a 10x optical zoom and Xenon flash really take it up to another level.
The battery life is pretty good too, despite being clad in plastic it looks quite nice, internet performance is fast and there are loads of useful built in apps and features such as 'S Translate' and pop-out videos.
While the camera is great by smartphone standards it's still pretty poor compared to most standalone cameras. Aside from the camera the Samsung Galaxy S4 also seems a little over priced for what it is as the screen isn't full HD and it only has a dual-core processor, which noticeably led to slow down on a few occasions, particularly when launching apps or changing modes on the camera.
There's also only 8GB of built in storage which really is a paltry amount and while it isn't as bulky or awkward as we thought it might be the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is still far from slim or light.
We really want to like the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom but we're just not sure there's a gap in the market for it. If the camera or phone part was better or the price tag was lower then it would make sense, but right now it's a poor compact married to a mid-range phone at a high end price tag.
Anyone looking to spend that sort of money on a phone would likely want more from it, or they could get the mostly quite similar Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini for a fair bit less.
It might appeal to camera fans, but they could get a much better compact for the money. Combining a compact camera and a phone into a single device is a nice idea, but when both are worse than stand alone models it seems like an awkward compromise.
On the other hand there's nothing inherently wrong with it. As a phone camera it's great, aside from adding bulkiness and weight to the handset. The phone bit isn't bad either, but for not much more you could get an HTC One or a Samsung Galaxy S4, both of which are a lot better as all round smartphones.
So ultimately the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is quite good, and given the quality of the camera attached to it it's not necessarily overpriced as such, we're just not sure it actually fills the small gap in the market that it seems to be aiming for.