What is the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom? A camera? A smartphone? A plane? Superman? We had the same question when we reviewed this phone’s predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, and we’ll see at the end of this review if we can arrive at an answer. Because it’s hard to say.
It was especially hard to answer that question for the S4 Zoom, which was a good attempt by Samsung to get the public used to these kinds of phone-camera hybrids. However, its design was far from making it an attractive, easy-to-use day-to-day device, at least as a mobile telephone.
You might understand the public’s joy upon hearing that the Korean company has made an effort to change its design in the Galaxy K Zoom, which is much easier to use and infinitely more comfortable in your pocket than the previous model.
Even though the quality of the camera’s images (photos, but above all video) is beyond any doubt, the star here is its optic zoom, which distinguishes the device from any other smartphone on the market.
In this review of the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, we’ll proceed calmly and methodically, analyzing first its design and its camera and then its functionality as a standard smartphone. You should understand that we’re going to take a bit of license on the way, since we’re really analyzing two devices that, until now, always came separately.
Here are our conclusions after two weeks of use.
More smartphone and less camera. Such is the design of the new Galaxy K Zoom, where one of the most critical elements of the S4 Zoom—the “grip handle,” if you want to call it that—which also served as the device’s battery compartment, has disappeared.
Let’s not kid ourselves: even though it had its proponents, if we’re honest, the grip handle’s size and the fact that it made it hard to fit in a pants pocket was a real problem for the S4 Zoom.
Upstairs the previous Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. Below, the new Galaxy K Zoom.
This new K Zoom, in addition to being lighter and thinner, does away with the plasticky feel of the previous model in favor of a texture similar to the one we’ve seen on the Samsung Galaxy S5. It’s still plastic, but it’s not the same by a long shot.
The feel of using it is much more pleasant and, most importantly, it slips a lot less, which is essential for this sort of device considering we’ll be spending lots of time using this phone as a camera.
Getting into details, this Galaxy K Zoom is also different in design, depending on where you look at it. On the front it looks like any other Samsung smartphone, and if you’ve used any of the phones that this Korean brand has launched to the market in recent years, then this one will feel extremely familiar.
The large, 4.8-inch, Super AMOLED screen stands out compared to any compact cameras. The screen would figure much more greatly in the final analysis if it had Full HD resolution. Unfortunately, it’s still 720p, even though as a viewfinder it’s still fantastic. Still, seeing your photos after you’ve taken them will make you wish for better resolution.
The Home button is at the bottom, flanked by the menu and back buttons, which disappear when the phone is locked and are backlit when it is in use. Near the top are the front-facing camera and the speakerphone for calls.
From behind, the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom looks completely like a compact camera, with its lens and speaker similar to the aforementioned Galaxy S5, which we mentioned earlier.
On the sides are the volume and power buttons and the shutter button, this last feature a novelty among smartphones; on this type of gadget, it couldn’t be any other way. On the opposite side is a microSD card slot to expand the device’s memory. The microSIM card is inside the phone and next to the battery, whose removability will prove convenient, as we’ll see later.
At its thinnest point, the K Zoom measures 20 mm, so this is not the world’s thinnest smartphone. And at 200 grams, it’s not the lightest, either. To give you an idea, that’s 55 grams heavier than the Galaxy S5, which has a maximum thickness of 8.1 mm. But the K Zoom’s bulk is due to the fact that it’s not just a smartphone, and if a phone is all you want, this isn’t the gadget you need.
The camera and digital zoom
The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom’s camera is among the best we’ve seen on a smartphone—if you can call it that, since we haven’t yet answered the question of what the K Zoom is—right up there with Nokia’s flagship model, the lumia 1020. Above all else, it stands out for its 10x optical zoom and excellent—the best I’ve ever used—image stabilizer.
Let’s start with the basics: the K Zoom lacks a feature that we liked on its predecessor: the ease of zooming directly from the objective like a DSLR camera. Now you can only do it with the volume buttons or directly on the screen, and it takes more than three seconds for it to reach its maximum magnification (20x).
From what we understand, the K Zoom was made this way to reduce its width as much as possible. It’s not something to worry too much about since the phone isn’t made for quick snapshots but for photos in which focus, lighting and the desired effect are considered more carefully. There are better phones out there for snapshots. The K Zoom takes longer to process images, for example, than its top-range brother, the S5.
The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom has a 4.4—44 mm lens —which is like having a telephoto lens on your smartphone —and a 20.7-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor. It’s not the best resolution we’ve seen (here Nokia beats Samsung), but unless we need an image we can print on a banner that can cover Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, it’s more than enough for our purposes.
Another interesting detail, and more appropriate for a compact camera, is the xenon flash. It uses actual xenon, not the kind typically put in mobile devices. Any photography aficionado will know the difference between this kind of flash and the LED mounted on most smartphones.
1) Picture without Flash – 2) Picture with Xenon Flash
Let’s talk also about the image stabilizer we mentioned earlier. When I say it’s the best I’ve used, I’m obviously referring to stabilizers on smartphones. The stabilizer’s quality is especially noticeable when you use the optical zoom. Even when put on maximum, where the effect of a trembling hand on the photo would be most noticeable, the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom makes sure the photo doesn’t come out blurred.
This is also extremely noticeable when shooting video, which makes you especially thankful for this feature. At this point we should note that the K Zoom doesn’t record video in 2K or 4K or in slow motion like other smartphones. Its maximum resolution for shooting video is Full HD, but it produces sharp, colorful videos with great stabilization and without having to use a tripod. And at 60 fps, which is magnificent.
There’s also a shutter button, essential for this type of device.
The star of this phone is the 10x optical zoom, which reminds us of the importance of this feature: the difference between it and the digital zoom smartphones typically have is that the latter trims images when it magnifies them, which reduces the quality and megapixels of the final product. This doesn’t happen with optical zoom, in which the lens itself takes care of magnification.
Here are some images that, evidently, don’t give you a great idea of the photos’ final quality—we’ve converted them into GIFs and in the process a lot of the image’s information is lost—but do give you an impression of the reach of the digital and optic zoom of this phone and how far you can “see” with it.
Image without zoom, with 10x optical zoom and 15x (10x optical + 5x digital).
Image without zoom and 10x optical zoom.
Regarding camera modes, if you’re familiar with some of the latest Samsung smartphone models, they’ll all seem familiar to you. We’ll go over some of the most interesting ones.
Though not a mode in and of itself, we’ll start by mentioning the K Zoom’s ability to separate focus from exposure. That is, we can focus on one part of the screen and drag one of its corners to select another part of the image, which lets the camera adapt its exposure to the scene. In this way we can focus on dark objects and try to equalize the exposure by selecting another, more illuminated part of the picture.
Perhaps the flashiest mode is the Pro Suggest, which acts as a guide and suggests other modes depending on the picture we’re trying to take. The phone also has other programmed modes: Beauty Face, Panoramic, HDR, Night, Indoors, Flash, Continuous Shot, and many more.
Of course, you can add direct access to your preferred modes, which is really convenient for reducing the necessity of navigating tons of menus just to take the kind of photo you want.
The Night mode in particular is pleasantly surprising. Even though the Auto mode doesn’t produce great images of poorly lit scenes, Night mode does well in this regard and, along with the optical zoom, produces more-than-passable photos.
The Macro mode isn’t half bad either. The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom takes fantastic, detailed photos.
What disappointed us a little is the lack of configuration options in Manual mode. Specifically, even though you can vary the shutter speed to your liking, when it comes to the aperture you can only choose between two predetermined options. For more demanding photos, this isn’t enough.
Smartphone How to: Hardware, software, performance and battery
Let’s talk about the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom as a smartphone. At a hardware level, it depends on the Samsung Exynos 5260 which are really two processors, a quadcore 1.3 GHz and a dualcore 1.7 GHz. In total 6 nucleuses, although not used at the same time. The dualcore is there for when the terminal does not require a lot of power and to save on the battery.
Like we said, the screen of 4.8 inches is a super AMOLED with 1080×720 resolution and 16 million colors. It has 2 GB of RAM and 8GB of internal memory, with an expandable memory of up to 64 GB via microSD card.
Although we know about other smartphones with better hardware the truth is that the performance of the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom is very good. All the functions are very fluid and there are no problems running games that require more power without any lag.
These are the results for the Galaxy K Zoom in Antutu X. Like you can see, the power is better than the previous smartphones of the past year like the Samsung’s Galaxy S4, the HTC One, and the LG G2, but without reaching the heights of 2014’s stars. Still, it’s not that bad. As a matter of fact in comes very close to the famed Xiaomi MI3. (Read more: Best Camera Phone)
The battery presents a problem of not lasting long if you excessively use the camera. The battery will not last the entire day if you are accustomed to taking photos and recording video continually. Its 2.430 mAH are sufficient for a similar smartphones that doesn’t include this type of camera.
Of course, it’s normal not to take a photo every 10 minutes, which should not make it a huge problem. However, there exist two solutions if you need a day of intensive photography. The first is to activate the phones airplane mode. In this mode the battery will last all day even with intensive camera use. The second is to activate the power saving mode which will give you similar results.
At the software level there is little to tell beyond what we have described in our previous analysis of Samsung’s latest models. Without going too far, in the review of the Galaxy S5 we talked about the redesign of TouchWiz, Samsung’s customization layer that accompanied the Android KitKat 4.4.2.
The Galaxy K Zoom has a lot of applications that we can see in its high end brother, although it doesn’t have S Health or Download Booster, and the way to save energy is not the same as the S5.
An important detail that is appreciated in these devices is the ability to unlock the terminal to start the camera directly. Unfortunately, we have not managed to unlock the K Zoom clicking directly on the shutter button.
It works when we see the unlock screen, but not if the screen is off, forcing us to do at least two keystrokes to access the camera. Of course, it has a very useful shortcut from the lock screen itself.
We’re dealing with a very balanced device. As a smartphone, its performance is excellent, even better than that of other phones that dazzled us just a year ago. As a camera, its 10x optic zoon and its image stabilization have no equal in the world of mobile phones.
Now keep in mind that the whole idea of the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom is that it’s really two devices in one. But against this advantage we have a few drawbacks, the phone’s weight and dimensions being two of the most prominent ones.
Our verdict? If you’re looking for a hybrid device like this, there’s nothing better on the market. If you just want a compact camera, there are better, cheaper ones out there. And if you only want a good smartphone that takes good photos, perhaps you’d be interested in spending a bit more for a current top-of-the-line model like the Galaxy S5, which is hardly inferior to the K Zoom when it comes to photography.