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Two face

Is it a camera? Or is it a phone? Well, in most cases, a look isall it takes to figure that out. In the case of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, it really depends on what part of the device you are looking at. Clap eyes at it from the front and you see a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display, with the standard oval-ish home button at the bottom, flanked by two touch buttons for back and menu, and a speaker at the top,with a front-facing camera and sensors. In short, it looks like a regular member of the Samsung Galaxy S family.

Flip it around, however, and you see a complete metamorphosis -- you see a proper metallic camera lens with 10X zoom, a Xenon flash on the side and a grip to hold the camera firmly. The sides, however, hint at the split personality of the device -- one houses a slot for a tripod and a microSD card slot, while the other has the volume rocker, the power and display on/off button, and the camera shutter.

No, it is not the prettiest device we have seen-- at about 15.4 mm thick, it is not as svelte as some of the handsets and point and shooters that we have seen, but it certainly is one of the most thorough attempts made to blend a decent camera with a handset. For, make no mistake, unlike Samsung’s previous Android camera effort, the Galaxy Camera, the S4 Zoom comes not just with data connectivity, but also the ability to make and receive calls. Basically, you have a phone on one side, and a camera on the other. And what makes the camera on the S4 Zoom different from those seen on other smartphones is -- the name gives it away -- the optical zoom. The 16.0-megapixel shooter comes with a 10X optical zoom, giving the device an edge over just about every other megapixel camera toting smartphone out there.

And it is as a camera that the S4 Zoom really shines. We would not call the images we took with it as the greatest we have seen from a point and shoot camera but they are streets ahead of what we have got from other camera phones,with the exception of Nokia’s 41.0-megapixel twosome (the 808 PureView and Lumia1020). Close ups are especially outstanding and that Xenon flash ensures that low light photographs are well-lit. Samsung have thrown in some very decent touchscreen controls, including the option to tweak settings and multiple shooting modes. And of course, data connectivity means you can share your images within seconds of taking them, bandwidth permitting. Colours and detail could have been better -- we recommend checking image quality on a LCD display rather than the device’s own AMOLED one, which tends to over saturate colours -- butpurely as a smart camera, the S4 Zoom ticks off more boxes than the Galaxy Camera and also feels more comfortable to handle.

Where it trips up is as a phone. Yes, the specs are respectable (AMOLED display, dual core processor, 1.5 GB RAM, 8 GB onboard storage, Android 4.2, Wi-Fi, GPS, 3G, et al) but the design makes holding the device as a phone feel uncomfortable -- your fingers keep ending up over the protruding lens at the back. And when we were trying to take pictures, our palm often brushed the touch sensitive keys, triggering off actions (the back touch key is just below the shutter). Yes, the S4 Zoom behaves decently enough as an Android phone when it comes to tasks like browsing (we would have liked a higher resolution display, to be honest), mail and social networks, but put it to your ears, and you will feel the lens and the grip jutting into your palm. They make their presence felt in your trouser pocket too. And we would advise not straying too far from a charging point if you are taking lots of pictures and using the device as your primary phone as well -- that battery can drain fast.

In sum, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is really a tale of two devices. As a smart camera it delivers very good performance when compared to other smartphones, but as a phone, it is distinctly difficult to use. It is a great option for someone looking for a smart camera that can also make the occasional call, but is definitely not the best choice for someone looking to use the device mainly as a smartphone. And at its current price, it is definitely an expensive proposition -- you can get a decent smartphone and a digital camera for as much. This one is for the convergence crowd, really.

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