Should you get a camera or a new smartphone this holiday season? Considering some devices today produce images comparable to some older point-and-shoots, why not mash the two together? The Galaxy S4 Zoom was a curious device when it launched overseas earlier this year, one that didn’t quite fulfill its camera potential. Now that it’s available in the U.S., Samsung has promised that the experience is more fine tuned, and the images much better than what we saw previously. Naturally, we put those claims to the test.
For a quick refresher, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is basically a point-and-shoot with a smartphone fused to the back. In fact, it looks more like an offshoot of the company’s Galaxy Camera and less like an actual smartphone. That means that you get a great big touchscreen on the back and a 16-megapixel camera with 10x optical zoom on the front. There are compromises, however, such as the low resolution 4.3-inch display (960×540) and 1.5GHz dual-core processor. And at $199 with two-year contract, the benefits of such a device quickly diminish when you consider a handset like the Galaxy S4, which itself takes terrific photos, is the same price.
Of course, what you’re really paying for is the 10x optical zoom, which should, in theory, give consumers more flexibility when shooting photos. Personally, I’ve never once looked at my phone and wished it had better zoom capabilities—obviously I’m not the target demographic. But if you’re at a sporting event or vacationing somewhere and you just have to zoom in, the Galaxy S4 Zoom should perform much better.
The form factor, though, is really an issue in my eyes, and takes the portability and usability out of the whole experience. As part smartphone and part point-and-shoot, the design isn’t much suited to either experience; on the smartphone side, it’s awkward to hold and never feels quite right when you’re messaging or talking to someone on the phone. On the camera side, the actual act of zooming is equally as awkward, requiring you to either do so on the device’s screen or by turning a ring on the lens. Zooming is a bit slow, too, and sometimes doesn’t focus on what you’re aiming at.
Just like our other camera comparison, we’re going to let the images speak for themselves. With so many other flagship devices on the market, chances are you’re not running out to buy the Galaxy S4 Zoom, and if you are, I’d recommend you think twice. While the functionality is neat, you should really think about getting a dedicated point-and-shoot if better image quality is what you’re after. Like I said, a lot of today’s smartphones already take terrific pictures, and while the idea for the Zoom is admirable, the execution isn’t quite there.