The Korean electronics giant that brought the Galaxy brand name to the world – and made it extremely successful – is trying to fill every single niche in the smartphone market and slap the Galaxy name on it. Samsung realised with the Galaxy S4 Zoom that it took the shine from its flagship device, so completely renamed it this year.
What would have been the Galaxy S5 Zoom has become the Galaxy K Zoom and it is ready to take on any cameraphone on the market. It is equipped with a 10x optical zoom and OIS and if you were to see only its back, you would hardly recognize you are staring at an Android smartphone with a 4.8-inch Super AMOLED screen on the other side.
Before we find out, check out some of the key features of the G3:
- 20.7MP camera – 1/2.3″ sensor, 10x optical zoom (24-240mm), optical image stabilization, xenon flash
- 1080p video camera, 30fps and 60fps modes
- 4.8″ Super AMOLED, 720 x 1,280px, 306ppi; Gorilla Glass 3 with ambient light sensor
- Android OS v4.4.2 KitKat
- Exynos 5260 chipset with dual-core 1.7GHz Cortex-A15 and quad-core 1.3GHz quad-core Cortex-A7 CPU; 2GB RAM
- 8GB of built-in storage, expandable via the microSD card slot
- 2,430mAh battery
The original Galaxy Camera was too bulky and didn’t offer enough functionality, the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s specs were too low end (therefore the decision to drop it from the Galaxy S range), and at first the Galaxy K Zoom seems like a much better fit for this niche market. It tries to offer the best of both worlds – an Android smartphone and a great camera. Let’s find out if the sacrifice in bulk is worth the camera experience.
Hardware and Software
The front half of the phone looks just like that – a phone. It looks very much like the Galaxy S5, but when looking at some curves it actually reminds us more of the Galaxy S4.
Turning it around shows you what this device is all about – the massive lens housing that sticks out and alters the weighting of the phone substantially. It is a 10x optical zoom lens, offering the kind of focal range you would expect from a top of the line point and shoot camera.
While we appreciate the effort gone into engineering this device to keep it as small as possible, it remains seriously chunky by current standards. It’s 20mm thick by its lens, and 16.6mm thick across most of its middle. It is also extremely heavy, about 30% heavier than current flagships for example. While you can get used to it, regular use is a bit awkward and cumbersome.
As well as being a lot chunkier than Samsung’s other phones, the K Zoom misses out on several hardware extras you get elsewhere. There’s no waterproofing, and no fingerprint sensor, both of which feature in the Galaxy S5. We don’t miss the finger scanner, but a bit of waterproofing would come in handy when out shooting some pics on a rainy day.
It does have a welcome addition though, the hardware shutter key. It would be way too unwieldy without it.
The material on the back is grippy and the panel itself is actually thicker than it could have been as it is curved at the back. It was intentionally included to even out the difference between the camera module and the rest of the phone, which was a real nuisance with the Galaxy S4 Zoom.
The screen also won’t knock your socks off. It already feels antiquated by modern standards, and it definitely is. It looks like they used leftover panels from the Galaxy S3 – it has the exact same 4.8-inch 720p AMOLED display, with 360 ppi.
So, as a smartphone screen it’s not that exciting and you will notice the drop in detail whilst reading fine text for watching videos. But we know AMOLED displays are a great choice for camera screens. The spectacular contrast and vivid colours are a boon for sure, but Samsung screens usually boast great sunlight legibility too and the Galaxy K zoom screen is no exception.
Viewing angles are great and so are the colours if you don’t mind the slight oversaturation, but it won’t bother photographers who don’t need a top-notch spec-sheet for their phone.
As expected the UI comes straight from the Galaxy S line. It is running Android 4.4.2 KitKat with the same heavy TouchWiz customisations we have seen many times before. It is the exact same experience as we saw on the Galaxy S5, so check out the User Interface section in the review here.
In short, Samsung said that they have “simplified” TouchWiz, but are still to put their money where their mouths are. There are still 27 options in the camera menu. The settings menu has over 60 items to choose from – that’s right, 60!
This may seem silly to most, but when a manufacturer makes bold promises, about software no less, it can really make me (and my colleagues) mad enough to chew nails when they don’t deliver. Samsung has often been criticised about TouchWiz, and we were so excited to see their “new” TouchWiz which would “benefit every user.” This was the promise made months before the launch of the new TouchWiz was released with this device.
As a homage to Samsung’s setting menu, let’s enjoy the cascade below.
Once again, it isn’t the experience we were hoping for.
Performance and Battery Life
The Samsung Galaxy K zoom packs a 2,430mAh battery, which doesn’t sound that large, especially when you expect people to be taking a lot of photographs with this device. With normal use, we found that the battery drained down within the day.
That’s pretty standard, but we feel it is a necessity to include longer battery life. The lower specs make it last a bit longer than it would have otherwise, but if you snap a lot of photos it will drain very quickly – especially if you turn the shutter on and off a lot.
Call quality is also disappointing. Once again, we can understand that people won’t want to be making too many phone calls on this device, but it is an essential part of s smartphone. We were told we sound muffled most of the time, sometimes contrasting to an echo. Sound quality on our side was without problems, though.
Performance from a mid-range device is as you would expect. You will definitely experience some slow-down and lag from the software, as we have come to expect from TouchWiz. It isn’t particularly good at multitasking and don’t try to play 3D games on it too often. With every day, mundane tasks it perform quite admirably.
As this smartphone is all about the camera, what is it like to use? To be clear, they have done a great job at fitting this camera in a phone, but it is no replacement for a good compact camera or DSLR. Dedicated cameras can breathe easy, they aren’t dying out anytime soon.
The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom has a 20.7-megapixel main sensor that’s 1/2.3-inch in size, which is actually the same you’ll find on Sony’s flagship Xperia Z range these days. They aren’t the same sensor, but quite similar. The difference comes in with the lens, of course.
The Galaxy K Zoom has a 24-240mm equivalent lens with maximum aperture of f/3.1-6.3. As you would expect, you have all the same manual option as you would find on a dedicated camera, but we have the feeling that this device isn’t really aimed at the tinkerers out there.
Using the camera is simple, and more importantly, fun. Where you controlled the zoom with a wheel sitting around the lens in the Galaxy S4 Zoom, here it’s done either through the app or using the volume rocker. It’s a very sensible way to operate the zoom, and it’s an intuitive way of making the device a bit smaller. Unfortunately, it is a bit slow at times.
In terms of image quality, the Samsung Galaxy K zoom camera is good by smartphone standards but not perfect. The colours are more accurate than on the Galaxy S5 with a near perfect white balance.
It’s great to have optical zoom on a smartphone camera, but it does come at a price. Zooming in slightly reduces some of the corner softness and the optical distortion, so you shouldn’t be afraid to use it. It works brilliantly.
The optical image stabilisation on this camera is great, it will cancel out most vibrations and shaky hands without issues.
In low light conditions it doesn’t really shine, though. This is a problem with almost all Samsung smartphones, which we can’t really understand. In these situations, the Xenon flash isn’t really that useful. The photo below was taken in broad daylight with the curtains pulled.
It can also have some focussing issues with lower-light conditions.
That being said, we are nit-picking a bit here. We did expect the camera to be the best low-light shooter out there, but it just isn’t. This camera is mostly for people who want to use zoom to great effect, not in low light.
The K Zoom makes sense for someone who wants to get a bit more serious about photography – with zoom settings and ISO control (mostly in well-lit environments).
But in fact, it is a strange middle-ground phone. It doesn’t have every latest feature under the sun, but makes sacrifices in design that mean people may assume it does.
It is actually all about that optical zoom. At wide angles, the Galaxy S5 probably shoots better pics. You wouldn’t have to spend much money at your local camera shop to get a device that could take better pictures than the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, so it’s up to you whether you want a bulky mobile or the inconvenience of having to take two devices in the upcoming summer season.
It is one compromise too many for us, and we can’t recommend this device to anyone who doesn’t need an optical zoom camera that can make phone calls (and how many of those people are out there?).
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