The man on the Metro kept staring at me as though I was a being from another planet. Perplexed, I kept talking to my friend on the phone. It wasn't much better when I stepped out on the streets . People still gave me funny looks. Then I realised it was my phone, rather my camera... whatever! Imagine going around the city with a point-and-shoot camera stuck to your face as if it were a phone. My lesson for the day: always use a Bluetooth headset if you want to use the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom as a phone in public. Is the Zoom a phone or is it a camera? The 10x optical zoom lens and the Xenon flash dominates one face of the device, and the only giveaway that it is a phone is the speaker by the side of the lens. On the other face, it is a dead ringer for the S4 Mini phone. The camera sports a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor, which may not be as big as the one found on a bridge camera, but is much bigger than those found on smartphones. The device offers a good grip for a camera and because of the presence of the zoom ring and the big physical shutter button, one tends to forget one is using a camera phone that uses Samsung's familiar TouchWiz interface. Twist the zoom ring and it launches a menu that lets you quickly select a photo mode from Auto, Night, Animated, Macro, Landscape and 'Beauty Face' - a mode which claims to perfect facial imperfections automatically. To select a mode you need to use the touchscreen. You can also launch the camera directly by pressing on the camera button, which helps if one needs to take those candid shots. Samsung offers a variety of options via the software for camera enthusiasts. This includes 12-effects mode under Auto mode, 24 under Smart mode and a 'My mode' setting to add your favourite modes. Under Expert mode one gets the P, M and C modes, and one is able to tune individual settings. Low-light results proved great and the Xenon flash, though not very bright, helped capture natural tones.
Even at 10x zoom, shots retained great accuracy and were full of detail. One word of advice: don't judge the shots based on how they look on the Super AMOLED playback screen. The photos on the screen appeared overly colourful, but transferring the photos and viewing on a computer monitor provided a more accurate picture. The device's optical image stabilisation works great during videos and the zoom feature works well. While videos can be captured in 1080p at 30 fps, we loved those captured in 720p at 60 fps. Being part of the S4 family, the Zoom also offers, like its elder sibling, the Cinemagram-like 'Animated photo' mode, an 'Eraser' mode to delete moving objects from five consecutive photos, and 'Drama shot' that takes multiple photos of a moving object and merges them all to denote action. It also has 'Smart mode suggest' option that chooses the best shooting mode for the user. The zoom ring also comes into play while one is using the Zoom as a phone. Twisting it during an ongoing call brings up an in-call photo share option. This basically means one can shoot a photo and send it to the person one is talking to via MMS. In terms of a phone, the Zoom is decent but lacks several bells and whistles of its elder sibling such as the 'Air gesture' feature. Also, it's bulky and clunky to hold and carry around. At more than 200 gm, it is a heavyweight. It costs Rs 30,590, so it is neither the most affordable point-and-shoot nor the best Android phone. But then again, it's not a bad device. If you're shutter-crazy and wouldn't mind using it as a device for communication, this Zoom might be just right.