Live from Singapore, Giz AU goes hands-on with Samsung's newest smartphone-camera, the K Zoom: it's an interesting gadget. It's not quite the ideal smartphone, and it's not quite the ideal camera — but as two of these devices put together, it does a pretty good job.
In the hand, the K Zoom actually feels quite like the Galaxy S3 with a chunky protective case — it's around the same size, and despite being significantly thicker, you don't notice that when you're holding it. The curved back of the K Zoom, using the same dimpled faux-leatherette plastic finish as the Galaxy S5, sits really well in your hand when you're holding it like a regular phone. I really like the size of the Galaxy S5, but I'd be happy using the K Zoom as an everyday phone too.
The camera hump — in roughly the same location as the small lens and sensor on the Galaxy S5, and almost every other smartphone — measures an extra 5mm out of the back of the K Zoomand the smoothly chamfered bezel means that it isn't as obvious at it looks. It's surprising to see a 10x zoom lens hidden away in such a (relatively) thin device.
The lens has a novel glass setup — as the zoom retracts into the camera's body, the rear elements shift sideways. This allows the lens to collapse completely, fitting into the K Zoom's 20.2mm profile. You can long-press the volume up button and the phone's dedicated camera shutter button to quick-start in Camera mode, or you can navigate using the touchscreen.
The K Zoom's 4.8-inch, 720p Super AMOLED display is reasonably crisp (although 1080p would have been nicer) and bright enough to make the camera possible to use in bright light. The screen is very reflective, though, so you might struggle to navigate the K Zoom's shooting modes unless you know its control scheme intimately.
More than just hardware, the Samsung K Zoom is going to live or die on the quality of its software. The operating system is Samsung-flavoured Android 4.4 KitKat, and in general use, it's effectively the same phone as the Galaxy S5 — it's a little less technically apt, but you don't notice that in normal usage.
The camera app — just called 'Camera', the same as any other Android phone — is where the K Zoom sets itself apart from competitors. There's a much higher degree of control over various manual camera settings in the Program mode — you can fiddle with shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and white balance — but there's also the usual suite of Samsung features like Rich Tone (HDR) and
The Selfie Alarm is probably the most novel feature of the K Zoom. Select Selfie Alarm mode (I'm already sick of the name), select the activation area using an on-screen box, and turn the rear 20.7-megapixel camera to face you. When you're in the right area on-screen, a countdown will sound, and the K Zoom will snap three photos in quick succession for you to choose from. We can see this getting use from a very specific niche of users, but most others might find it a little superfluous.
I haven't had more than a few minutes to try out the camera of the K Zoom, and no chance to capture any photos to share straight away, but anecdotally, the device's camera is pretty good.
It's not the best point-and-shoot camera, being hampered by the relatively low maximum ISO of 3200 and the relatively slow f/3.1-6.3 minimum aperture of the 10x lens, but it's a lot more versatile and powerful than a regular smartphone camera. Low ISO photos are clean, high ISO photos have significant grain and chrominance noise — just about what you'd expect from a point-and-shoot strapped to a smartphone.
The burst mode — snapping three photos a second, with autofocus in between — is also not bad. There are smartphones with faster capture speeds, but they don't have a proper optical zoom lens to work with. I tried a few burst shots and I'd say I had about a 90 per cent success rate tracking a moving person in a dimly lit room — a pretty good result.
The K Zoom is, on first impressions, roughly on par with a modern mid-range point-and-shoot camera, although it's a long way behind even the cheapest mirrorless interchangeable lens model available. It's also a perfectly capable mid-range smartphone — no Galaxy S5 world-beater, but more than enough for the everyday user.
There isn't any confirmation of what telcos the Samsung K Zoom will be sold through, or how much it will cost (either on a plan or outright). Samsung says it's working hard to lock all that in, and you'll know as soon as they do.
Campbell Simpson travelled to Singapore as a guest of Samsung