Photojournalists won't want to touch this shooter with a 10-foot pole, no matter how desperately they may want to own an LTE-connected cam.
With a full-fledged smartphone OS running things behind the scenes, software is clearly a focus for this camera/phone hybrid. The device ships with Android version 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), and includes the TouchWiz user interface. As you'd expect, many apps and software features that Samsung introduced with the Galaxy S 4 are present here as well. WatchON, Group Play, S Translator and Safety Assistance are all here, as is the SwiftKey-enabled swipe option for inputting text, though Smart Pause, Smart Scroll, Palm Motion, Air View, Air Gestures and an LED notification light are absent. For a detailed look at those features, check out our Galaxy S 4 review.
Without question, the Zoom is strictly a consumer device; photojournalists won't want to touch this shooter with a 10-foot pole, no matter how desperately they may want to own an LTE-connected cam. The good news is that there are quite a few native options for assistive shooting, all built into the app. The default mode is Auto, with adjustments limited to flash mode (auto, on and off) and other basics like resolution (16MP 4:3, 14MP 3:2, 12MP 16:9 and 10MP 3:2) and movie capture (1080p30, 720p60, 720p30 and VGA).
In Smart mode, you can select from Macro, Food, Indoor, Action Freeze, Rich Tone, Panorama, Waterfall, Animated Photo, Drama, Eraser, Sound & Shot, Silhouette, Sunset, Night, Fireworks, Light Trace, Smart Mode Suggest, Beauty Face, Best Photo, Continuous Shot, Best Face, Kids Shot, Landscape, Dawn and Snow presets -- 26 in all. We found Smart Mode Suggest to be the most useful, given that the camera can recommend several options based on the current scene. Suggest also cut down on screen taps -- without physical buttons and dials, you'll be spending far too much time navigating menus as it is, so in this case, automation is indeed welcome.
For more advanced photographers, there's an Expert option as well, which gives you access to Program, Color Wizard and Manual mode. That latter pick allows for the most control overall, as you're able to select both aperture and shutter speed, as well as ISO, white balance, metering and drive mode. Making tweaks to aperture and shutter speed between shots is moderately arduous -- you'll need to either jump back into the mode menu or tap the on-screen aperture, shutter speed or ISO readout and slide to adjust.
From there, there's really no limit to how you can use the Zoom. With a full-fledged version of Android running, you can download thousands of apps for editing and sharing images and videos. Generally, though, you'll want to do all of your capturing within the native camera app, as there's really no other match for the level of control you can access there. Take Instagram, for example. While the app loads and can be used for capturing images, there's no option to zoom or to use the hardware shutter release to snap a shot. To use those features, you need to capture your image using the native app, and then share it through Instagram, rather than shooting and sharing all at once. The same applies to countless other tools.
The Zoom doesn't stand a chance against purebred opponents like the Sony RX100 or Canon S110.
With the Zoom, image quality is just as important as the device's performance in other disciplines. We'll start by saying that we noticed some improvement over last year's Galaxy Camera, so if you were pleased with the shooting there, you'll probably be satisfied after capturing a handful of shots with the GS4. But with a sensor type that you'll often find in low-end point-and-shoots, and ordinary optics, the Zoom doesn't stand a chance against purebred opponents like the Sony RX100 or Canon S110 -- pricey dedicated shooters that pack tremendous imaging punch, but without the connected features offered here.
By default, the Zoom is configured to be a phone first, and then a camera. When you first power it on, you'll see the home screen, and the lens will remain retracted. Tapping the camera icon will activate the lens, however, and after a quick settings adjustment, you can jump directly into the camera app whenever you tap the power button from then on. In its default configuration, you can also activate the camera by turning the ring around the lens to select a mode, then pressing the shutter release once to extend the lens. Alternatively, you can turn the dial to select a mode, and then tap the screen to launch the shooting mode.
Like any other Android device with a lens, the Zoom can also shoot HD video. But despite its name, you're definitely not going to want to zoom as you capture footage. Zooming, both when shooting stills and motion clips, is quite clunky and inaccurate -- achieving a precise focal length can be difficult, and the motor is anything but smooth. If you happen to zoom while capturing video, the microphone will almost definitely pick up the motor noise, even if you have the camera set to lower the audio levels as you move the lens. Then, once you do reach a desired focal point, the lens often hunts as it struggles to achieve focus. Additionally, if you have the focus-assist light activated, it'll fire off when you tap the screen to make a correction. Video looked acceptable otherwise, but captures certainly weren't superior to what you'd achieve with a mid-range smartphone.
And how do the stills look? Not so great, unfortunately. Image quality is fairly inconsistent, even when shooting in bright daylight, with color balance and exposure shifting from shot to shot. Indoors, you'll want to stay away from higher sensitivity settings -- the camera can snap at up to ISO 3200, but you'll probably want to avoid venturing beyond 800. Let's take a look at some samples.