Holidays will never be the same: Samsung’s first true camera-phone reviewed

The inclusion of a dual-core processor has no doubt had an impact on the battery life, and you can find between one day and a day and a half of life.

We’d suggest charging nightly, but generally we found that if you don’t use you phone and camera often — regular work day with web surfing, streaming music, email, social networking, phone calls, messages, etc — you’ll get a day and a half, and if you use the camera-phone like a dedicated camera while still making calls and doing that whole mobile life thing, the life is closer to a day.

That said, a day to a day and a half isn’t bad for a phone, especially one with a dedicated camera inside, so we were quite surprised here.

There some downsides to Samsung’s first real camera-phone, however, and these generally come from the sacrifices Samsung has made to keep this device small, as well as the obvious one that you’ll find from using a real cameraphone.

That obvious issue is that when you’re using the phone as a phone, everyone else will just see you holding a camera up to your head and talking into it.

This has the potential to make you look a little strange because, well, you’re talking into a camera, and that’s all people can see. If the opinions of complete strangers doesn’t matter to you, no need to worry, but if you’re a little concerned about what you look like in day-to-day life, that’s just something you’ll have to keep in mind.

At least it’s better than publicly talking into a shoe, though we’re sure Maxwell Smart will disagree there.

Another problem with the design extends from the fact that, yes, this is a camera with a phone in it, and that’s the overall chunk and heft the S4 zoom carries with it.

Make no mistake, this is not a small phone, and as we discovered testing it in different jeans, pockets just aren’t too fond of the heft, especially if the owner of the pants likes to wear those skinny jeans.

With a thickness of 15.4mm, the Galaxy S4 Zoom isn’t exactly in line to win awards for how much of a diet it’s been able to go on, especially with a weight of 208 grams.

Remember that the S4 Zoom is technically a camera with a small phone installed at the back, similar to last year’s Galaxy Camera, except with the phone part of the device actually enabled.

Because of this whole “phone-in-a-camera” design, you’re getting a slimmed down camera with a phone in it, and that means dealing with the thickness and weight of a camera, rather than that of a phone, with much of that thickness coming from the optical zoom, because unlike every other smartphone out there, the S4 Zoom isn’t reliant on the pixelated uselessness that is digital zoom.

The remaining issues with the S4 Zoom come from Samsung installing a small phone into the camera, and we need to get this out of the way early on: just because this is called the “S4 Zoom” doesn’t mean you’re getting an S4 inside a zoomable camera. Far from it, in fact.

The specs are different, the screen is different, the performance is different, and about the only things that the S4 Zoom shares in common with the other S4 models is the design and colour choice of the phone section, and some of the connectivity options.

Move past this, and the S4 Zoom shares more in common with the S3, with a similar style of processor (Cortex-A9) with less cores activated, resulting in lower performance that you can really see.

Hit the camera button and the camera doesn’t always activate. Apps take a little longer to switch to, and there may be times that you just get a little tired of waiting for the program you’ve selected to switch on.

It can be a little like that in the S4 Zoom, and the benchmarks more or less tell you that this device performs under what last year’s Galaxy S3 could do, which is something we expected from the dual-core chip against the S3’s quad-core variant. Overall, this just isn’t a fast device.

The screen quality also leaves something to be desired, and definitely doesn’t mesh with the S4’s Full HD image quality, dropping to well below it with a quarter-HD resolution of 960×540 on a 4.3 inch screen.

We don’t expect Full HD on a 4.3 inch display, and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but high definition would be nice, and while the 256 pixels per inch screen is nice and relatively clear (albeit 70 pixels below the quality of the iPhone 5S), it’s still not quite up to the 440 pixels per inch in the Galaxy S4.

There is another thing that links the S4 Zoom to the other models in the S4 line, though, and it’s not a positive thing: the bugs.

Yes, those pesky shortcut dock and gallery bugs are present here, at least in our Australian review model. It might be something that other countries don’t have, but Australians definitely see it in the local edition of Samsung TouchWiz, and that includes the inability to run the gallery without it crashing — useful on a camera-phone, no doubt — and the fact that you can’t change a single icon or shortcut in the dock.

We’ve noted in the past that it’s best to download a different gallery app to get around the gallery failures of Samsung’s TouchWiz issues for Australians, and as for the shortcut dock, you’ll need a different launcher. We skipped the different launcher in our review, but downloaded Gallery ICS to complete our review, mostly because Samsung’s own gallery app just refused to work, and crashed frequently, just like it did on the S4 and Galaxy Note 3.

A fix would be appreciated for these issues, Samsung. The S4 has been out since April, and it’s December now. Surely that’s enough time to work out what’s going on here.

Image shot on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.

Conclusion

It’s easily one of the more unique concepts we’ve seen to come out of a company’s R&D labs, and is really the first time we’ve seen a phone make the camera the true priority. So does it work?

The answer is yes, though be prepared for the massive chunk that the camera-phone leaves in your pocket.

That said, using it garnered more attention than we expected, with many people intrigued by the combination of a camera with 10x optical and a smartphone. And that’s kind of what it is: a mediocre phone with a decent camera inside.

If you’re someone who wants a camera first with a phone in it, and if you take a lot of pictures on the go, the S4 Zoom is a great choice, but make sure you have the pockets for it.

Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
Reader Rating0 Votes
Battery is removable; 4G speeds are excellent; Battery isn't bad at all; Includes a tripod mount; Camera has a lot of modes to choose from; Infrared port included, effectively turning this into a cameraphone that doubles as a remote;
You'll look a little... odd... holding a camera to your head when you want to call someone; Not a very fast phone performance-wise; Very chunky and not made for all pants; Low res screen is pretty well under what has been used in the S4 name before; Still exhibits regular Australian TouchWiz problems with shortcut dock and gallery;
3.8