Summary: The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom is as close as you can get to a dedicated camera that can also serve as a functional Android smartphone. It’s neither the best camera nor the best smartphone; instead, it’s the best option in a very niche category that’s well worth considering if you’re in the market for the highest-performing smartphone camera you can get your hands on.
1. It looks like a phone from the front
It looks more smartphone than camera, especially when viewed from behind the lens. Apart from the looks, it’s sized and shaped accordingly, making it as portable as any regular smartphone.
2. It looks like a camera from the other side
Flip it over such that the lens faces you and it looks a lot more like a camera. The large, 10x optical zoom rear lens does make an extra bulge (adds 4mm sticking out), but it’s streamlined enough (15mm throughout most of the body) that you can drop it in your pocket without it getting stuck.
3. Construction is plastic
As we’ve come to reliably expect from Samsung, it’s all plastic. Despite that, it feels sturdy and looks nice, combining design elements lifted right out of Samsung’s last two flagship smartphones.
1. It’s a powerful “smartphone camera”
The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom is armed with a 20.7 megapixel 1/2.3-inch BSI sensor, along with a 35mm lens packing 10x optical zoom, a setup that’s on par with many lower-end point-and-shoots. That gives it a more powerful camera hardware than what you’ll normally find on phones, although not exactly the kind of camera a professional lensman will bring along during paid gigs.
2. It will shoot faraway objects better than any phone
With a focal length equivalent to 24-240mm in the 35mm standard, it lets you shoot faraway objects better than any mobile phone ever would using either the volume rocker or pinching gesture to zoom in and out. With that said, it does perform much better at wide angles than when you zoom all the way into a subject (images look way sharper), although it still performs very well regardless, with the image processing doing a great job of cleaning up much of the noise that zooming in inevitably produces.
3. It works in low light conditions better than any phone
It comes with optical image stabilization, which allows for good, quick low light shots, even with moving subjects — something you never really get to enjoy with typical smartphone cameras. Instead of the usual LED flash in phones, the K Zoom also packs a Xenon flash, giving the camera light a much wider coverage and better range.
4. Tweaking necessary
I always try to shoot with as little tweaking as necessary — I’m as lazy a photographer as you can ask for. On auto mode, the camera tends to produce sharp and clear images, although colors are slightly muted. A few small tweaks on the exposure and saturation, however, should do the trick. Your mileage, of course, may vary depending on personal tastes.
It also defaults to a 16:9 aspect ratio, which looks great when viewing photos on the display. Once you share them or view them on a computer, you’ll realize just how awkward that actually looks. It’s a minor annoyance, of course, but it’s one we’re betting almost everyone who uses the device will notice at one point or another.
5. Video is great with a couple of caveats
Video can also make excellent use of the optical zoom, with some seriously loud and clear audio pickup. I did find some problem with shakiness (I don’t know if I was just moving too much or the image stabilization isn’t kicking in) and audio going down whenever the lens moves, but, for the most part, it still performed admirably.
1. It runs like a smartphone
The software boots up to the homescreen, just like it would on any other Android smartphone. That means, you need a couple more taps before getting started snapping shots, rather than defaulting to a camera app like you’d expect from a dedicated Android-powered camera (but it doesn’t because it’s also more of a phone, I guess).
2. There are a lot more shooting modes than the Galaxy S5
We love the extra modes, including AF/AE (which lets you choose parts of the picture for exposure metering and focus points for greater creative control), an auto-filtering mode called Pro Suggest, and even one for selfies. Do note, a lot more modes means a lot more customizing for the menu on your part to get faster access to modes you’ll use more but that, more or less, has always come with the territory.
3. It’s the usual Samsung smartphone experience
It comes with both TouchWiz and the usual roster of Samsung apps, although they did restrain themselves from throwing in the lot. Basically, there’s less Samsung software here that you’ll never use compared to their other phones.
HARDWARE AND PERFORMANCE
1. Memory is just 8GB
When you’ve got a device whose main purpose is taking pictures, you’re going to use up a lot of space. Unfortunately, the K Zoom only comes with 8GB onboard. Fortunately, Samsung has made the SD card slot easily accessible from the right edge, allowing you to quickly swap memory cards (up to 128GB) to accommodate your trigger-happy shutter finger.
2. Display isn’t as nice as Samsung’s latest AMOLED panels
While it uses the same Super AMOLED display as Samsung’s high-end phones, it has a lower resolution (720p) with a little less color accuracy than the panel on the S5. It’s still bright, colorful, and crisp, however, apart from being a huge upgrade from the previous Galaxy S4 Zoom’s display.
3. Performance is solid
Running on Samsung’s Exynos 5 processor, the K Zoom is a fast phone. While it doesn’t touch the buttery smoothness of flagship handsets like the S5 and the HTC One M8, it does hold its own for the most part. You’ll run into occasional sluggishness with resource-heavy games and even the camera mode, but it’s mostly the tolerable sort.
4. Battery will be a problem
If you plan to use this like a regular smartphone, checking email, making calls and occasionally taking pictures throughout the day, it should last you the way a typical smartphone would. Problem is, this is aimed at people who want to do plenty of camera work and, sadly, that will gobble up a lot of the battery’s juice. Eight hours of vigorous photo and video activity is likely to be a stretch, so make sure to plan for recharging contingencies when deciding to take this outdoors for a photo session about town.
It’s easy to dismiss the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom. It’s in an oddball category that may or may not turn out to be a profitable niche down the line. There’s nothing here for mainstream audiences (definitely not for primetime), relegating it to those who are looking for just a little more camera prowess from the smartphones in their pocket. Does it shoot better photos than the rest of your smartphone options? Yes. Will that make it worth the €499 price tag, even if you are getting what’s, essentially, a less-than-top-of-the-line smartphone experience? That’s the question anyone considering buying will need to wrestle with.