Samsung adds Android to compact lens cam, 10x zoom to Galaxy S4

Credit: Stewart Wolpin

Following on the heels of its Galaxy Camera point-and-shooter last year, Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy NX, the first interchangeable lens compact system camera with Android plus 3G/4G LTE connectivity.

And after its official announcement last week, we got our hands on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, an otherwise regular Galaxy S4 with a real 10x optical zoom lens stuck on the rear, the first such smushed camera phone since the Motorola/Kodak Motozine ZN5 five years ago.

Galaxy NX

First off, having played with the Galaxy Camera and Nikon's Coolpix S800c Android cameras, I'm still not sold on the idea of Android on a camera. And the idea of 3G/4G LTE plus Wi-Fi is certainly handy for getting snaps out to your peeps, but the necessity of a separate plan or paying $10 a month or so to add the camera to your mobile sharing plan seems like something only a pro photog would need.

Although, on the other hand, Samsung certainly would not have extended its Android camera family if its first born hadn't turned out to be a prodigy. Technologically speaking, Samsung makes a damn good CSC. Its previous NX-series CSCs have been well-received by critics and buyers.

What sets the Galaxy NX apart from its CSC competition is its near nudity. If you check out the pictures in the gallery, what you won't see on the Galaxy NX is the usual array of confusing buttons. You'll find all the photographic options you need laid out in the graphical menus on the same 4.8-inch touchscreen found on the other two Galaxy Camera models (3G/4G LTE+WiFi and Wi-Fi only).

Spec-wise, the Galaxy NX is endowed with the same 20.3 MP APS-C chip found in other NX models and most high-end CSCs and most DSLRs these days, and features Samsung's Advanced Hybrid Auto Focus, which means it focuses faster and more accurately. Samsung didn't mention how many focus points the Galaxy NX utilizes, but ya gotta figure it's around the 105 found on the latest NX300, which is on the high-side for CSCs and one of the NX-series hallmarks. You also get 8.6 frames per second burst mode, up to 1/6000th of second shutter speed, 30 scene Smart Modes and 16GB of internal storage.

Galaxy NX also is packed with a bunch of other Samsung "smart" gimmicks such as Multi Exposure, which merges two different shots to create one weird one, Animated Photo, which connects a series of continuous shots into an up-to five-second GIF, and Sound & Shot, which adds audio to your stills.

On the Android side, the Galaxy NX runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and all applicable Android apps, just like a smartphone. But trying to figure out how to grip the NX from the lens side to use Android like a smartphone is like groping a girl for the first time — no matter where you put your hands, it feels wrong. Unfortunately, no price or availability was announced for ANY of the stuff Samsung announced today.

Galaxy S4 Zoom

Adding real camera capabilities to a smartphone always sounded like a good idea to me, but the aforementioned Motorola-Kodak Motozine was a bit ahead of its time — it was before people accepted cellphones as acceptable digital camera substitutes. Motozine's lackluster acceptance may have dampened expansion of the idea by Motorola and others.

The S4 Zoom should find firmer footing in the market since everyone now understands the zooming and low-light limitations of even the best smartphone cameras. The S4 Zoom solves both these problems with its 10x zoom with optical image stabilization and Xenon flash. S4 Zoom also improves on the standard Galaxy S4's camera by including a 16-megapixel sensor rather than the Galaxy S4 smartphone's 13-megapixel sensor, making it a real camera.

What may help the S4 Zoom in this skinny-is-better world is its relative trim profile. With the lens is closed, Zoom is just .61 inches thick, hardly a pocket bulger in digital camera-ville, and weighs just 7.34 ounces, less than two ounces more than the regular Galaxy S4 smartphone.

However, the S4 Zoom makes for a better digital camera than most point-and-shoots because of its 4.3-inch touchscreen — most digital cameras top out at 3.5 inches — which makes scene framing much easier. And, of course, it's also a fully-featured Galaxy S4, so Zoom is truly an equal melding of two must-carry products.

Like the NX, no word on price or U.S. availability. Stay tuned.

(All photos by Stewart Wolpin for DVICE.)

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