If you regularly leave home laden with a phone and a camera, the Galaxy K Zoom demands your attention.
This mash-up of a smartphone and snapper combines the high-end specs and build quality of the Samsung Galaxy series with a retractable 10x optical zoom lens. In return though, it demands a lot more space in your pocket.
So is it the perfect phone for the photo-crazy, or just another example of convergence gone mad?
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THE BIG PICTURE
Your first impressions of the K Zoom will be dominated by its size. We're used to large screens, and the dimensions of the 4.8in display are no problem at all. It's the thickness of the phone that's striking.
With the lens fully retracted it's 20.2mm from front to back, which is about two and half times thicker than a Galaxy S5. While we were out and about taking some test photos a passer-by commented "Wow! Is that a phone?"
It's also heavy: 200g, compared to the 145g mass of an S5. The increase in size and weight is all down to the camera lens of course, and once you've seen how far it extends at full zoom, you'll end up impressed by how well it manages to squash back down into the main body.
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The good news is that the camera is impressive - for a phone. You could pick up a very capable, very small compact camera with a 10x optical zoom for under S$300, so we tested the Galaxy K Zoom's snapper directly against the Nikon Coolpix S6700. It turned out to be a very close contest. The Nikon sometimes found more detail where the Samsung was inclined to fill pixels with noise and smudges, but the Samsung was generally faster to focus and shoot. Then again, the Nikon was quicker to start up.
The dedicated controls of the Nikon make it a lot easier to use. Because of the touchscreen and Android softkeys on the Samsung, it's easy to accidentally turn it on, off, exit the camera app or launch some other app when all you want to do is shoot. At the risk of running out of hypothetical extremities, on the other hand, the Samsung's connected nature makes it incredibly easy to edit and share photos directly from the phone. So purely as a camera, the Nikon wins, but of course the Samsung is a lot more than just a camera.
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How many times is 10x?
That zoom is very useful, especially if you're taking pictures outdoors or at large events, or if you want more control over depth-of-field effects. The difference between what you can frame at the wideangle setting and at 10x zoom is major. Check out this side-by-side example to get an idea of how much closer it gets you.
Controlling the zoom is done either by an onscreen pinch or slider, which feels quite precarious when you're trying to frame a shot, or with the hardware volume controls on the side of the phone. This allows you to keep a firm grip, although the midpoint of the rocker switch isn't well defined, so it can be a little unresponsive. There's also a dedicated shutter button below your right index finger which can be used as an alternative to the onscreen icon.
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- OS: Android 4.4 KitKat
- CPU: Exynos 5 Hexa 8-core, 1.7GHz, 1.3GHz
- Display: 4.8in, 720x1280 IPS touchscreen
- Memory: 2GB + MicroSD up to 64GB
- Camera: 20.7MP rear, 2MP front, Xenon flash
- Video: 1080p @ 60fps
- Connectivity: 3.5mm headphone socket, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n 2.4 + 5GHz
- Size, weight: 138x71x20mm, 200g
The K Zoom's default camera app includes a range of filters and modes but the interface is confusing, requiring far too much guesswork regarding which bits of the display overlays are buttons and which are readouts. The result is a lot of tapping and bleeping, which is likely to see you returning to Auto mode most of the time.
You can get straight into the camera app from the lockscreen, and if you'd prefer to use an alternative app, that can easily be set up as a new default. The trouble with using alternative apps is that you're likely to kiss goodbye to the optical zoom. For example, it's supported by the Vine app, but ignored by Instagram and Fotor.
If video is your thing you might not take a shine to the Galaxy K Zoom. Detail levels are very good, and if you're holding the phone still, filming a reasonably static object, all will be well.
Once you start panning or zooming you'll highlight the shortcomings of the digital image stabilisation and object tracking, which results in footage that jerks and flits around slightly uncomfortably.
While the camera app will automatically select 1080p @ 30fps, we suggest you dig into the settings and switch to 1080p @ 60fps, which keeps things a bit steadier.
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There are better screens out there, but the 720x1280 display here looks rather lovely when you're in camera mode - way better than you'd expect to see on any compact camera monitor.
Colours are rich and there's enough brilliance to cut through the glare on a summer's day. The IPS technology used to create the pixels isn't to every eyeball's taste, though. It might be something you never notice, but once you have spotted the tiny honeycomb pattern in the background it can be hard to ignore. It's most apparent on large areas of white pixels and the edges of text.
ALL THAT AND IT'S A PHONE TOO?
As a phone, the K Zoom is close to the top of the tree, with a powerful 8-core processor running Android 4.4 KitKat. That's sufficient to crunch through the latest 3D games, occasionally peaking at a super-smooth 60fps in EA's Real Racing 3. Out of the box, it's rather cluttered, with just four homescreen pages populated by Samsung's own widgets and what-nots. It feels like moving into a new house full of someone else's furniture, but it's easy enough to clear out the junk and add homescreen panes for your own apps.
Battery life is surprisingly good, and even after an extended photo jaunt it still had plenty in the tank to see it though the night and the following day without a recharge. Video playback is very satisfying, with the IPS grid much less apparent in live action footage than sharply rendered game graphics, icons and text. Allied to a speaker that goes usefully loud, it makes for a decent YouTube player.
Samsung Galaxy K Zoom verdict
It's probably a long time since you owned a phone as chunky as this, so it will take a bit of getting used to. Because of its size, it feels like a step backwards in terms of design, but if it means you don't need to take a camera everywhere you go, perhaps that's not such a problem. We'd still be inclined to opt for a slimmer phone and a pocketable compact camera, but if you can put up with the extra girth you might have just found your next phone.
Review by Tony Horgan.