Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom brings camera oomph to smart phones

Anyone looking to pare down their daily electronics haul may be in luck, as Samsung will offer a hybrid camera-smart phone with 10x zoom and 16-megapixel snapshots.

Lee Jin-man/AP/File
Ads for Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S4 smart phone hang on display at a showroom of its headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. Rumors about the next generation Galaxy have been swirling around the Internet all week.

Every day, more than 4.5 million photos are uploaded to Flickr. But the staggering number of snapshots isn’t the surprising part of that statistic: the most popular cameras for Flickr users are smart phones.

Samsung is getting in on the smart phone photography craze by releasing the Galaxy S4 Zoom. The Zoom offers a high resolution and zoom lens on the back of the Samsung staple Galaxy phone, but the question remains: how does this camera-focused phone stand up to smart phone and fixed-lens camera competitors?

The highlight of the Galaxy S4 Zoom is in the name: the zoom is intense. The smart phone has a lens that takes up nearly half the camera’s rear side and offers 10 times optical zoom, with a 16-megapixel rear camera and 1.9-megapixel front facing camera. Though there are auto-focus options, users can spin a ring on the lens, giving more manual control over the focus and zoom. There are also 25 preset camera modes for various photo settings, but the photo-savvy can adjust white balance, exposure, and other manual settings. Combined with the capabilities of the smart phone, Zoom users can upload to a variety of social media outlets with the flick of a finger.

However, the Zoom serves two purposes, camera and smart phone, and the dual role can be a tough act to juggle. Pocket Lint, a tech blog, reviewed the Zoom and said overexposure was occasionally an issue, along with auto-focus. Plus, the giant camera attached to the back sometimes got in the way of picking up phone calls. Ultimately, however, reviewer Mike Lowe says if you’re looking for something that could cut down on your everyday gadgets this could do the trick.

“[The camera and phone] married together and the potential of both sides opens up: there's no need to switch between two products so no waste of precious bag or pocket space, while using apps, snapping shots and sharing on the go are just a few finger taps away,” he writes.

Aside from the extensive camera options, the Zoom offers the Samsung Galaxy phone Android users have come to expect. The smart phone runs on Android Jelly Bean over 4G LTE, with a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and 8GB internal storage.

Right now the Zoom will only be available on AT&T on Nov. 8, for a variety of pricing options. The smart phone retails for $199 with a two-year contract, or $25 per month on AT&T’s monthly installment program. Plus, any Zoom customers who purchases the phone on contract between now and January 9 will receive a Galaxy Tab 3, the Samsung tablet, for free.

The Zoom isn’t the only smart phone-turned-hybrid-camera. Nokia released the Lumia 1020 this summer, which boasted a 41-megapixel camera and full HD video. Remember the Flickr stat from above? The three most popular cameras for Flickr users are the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPhone 5.

But it does come on the heels of a decline in fixed-lens standalone cameras. According to the Camera and Image Processing Association, fixed-lens (also known as point-and-shoot) camera sales declined 28 percent from 2010 to 2012, as consumers shifted toward camera phones or higher-end interchangeable lens cameras.

Does the rise of smart phone/camera hybrids spell the end for point-and-shoots? It remains to be seen, but the stats from websites such as Flickr and releases from smart phone companies offer a tentative snapshot of the future.

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