Samsung Galaxy K Zoom: A Head-scratching Hybrid

Does the Galaxy K Zoom prove there’s still life in Samsung’s smartphone-camera niche? Not really.

Samsung conducted an experiment last year with the Galaxy S4 Zoom, which merged its flagship smartphone with a point-and-shoot digital camera. The results were perplexing. While the smartphone-camera combo did indeed provide the best of both worlds, it also gave the worst of both worlds, and ultimately failed to justify its own existence. So we were very interested to see if the latest iteration of this hybrid tech niche would be improved with the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom.

One of the main sticking points with the S4 Zoom was its bulk. The K Zoom is considerably lighter and thinner, measuring in at 127.5 x 70.8 x 16.6 millimeters and weighing 200 grams. It’s still chunky, but it actually looks more like a smartphone this time around. In terms of inner hardware, Samsung was wise not to associate the K Zoom with the S5 by name, since the phone has mid-range specs all around. The 4.8 inch screen has a clear but unimpressive 720p with 306 ppi pixel density. It has an Exynos 5260 chipset with a quad-core 1.3 Ghz A7, dual-core 1.7 GHz Cortex A15 CPU, and Mali T624 GPU, which provides a smooth and pretty standard Samsung performance.

While the K Zoom has a small internal memory of 8 GB, it can thankfully store up to 64 GB with an external micro SD card. The phone is also equipped with a 2430 mAh battery which we found to be inadequate in supporting the dual nature of the device. As a phone, the battery held up well, but using the camera and flash quickly depleted power.

As for the camera, the 20.7 MP lens allows for 10x optical zoom, and comes equipped with optical image stabilization and a powerful Xenon and LED flash (with a front facing 2 MP camera). The camera is, of course, the K Zoom’s selling point, and while it is impressive (the Xenon flash and 10x optical zoom are particular highlights), camera technology in competing smartphones, including Samsung’s own Galaxy S5, have improved so vastly of late that the K Zoom’s picture quality doesn’t stand out as a clear comparative advantage. It’s also disappointing that a camera with such a powerful lens doesn’t support 4K video recording.

In terms of software, the K Zoom has a very basic mid-range Samsung experience. It employs the latest TouchWiz UI used for the S5, and has many of the now-basic features of the interface. More S5-centric features, such as multi-window, air gestures, S Health, and fingerprint scanning did not, however, make it to the device. The camera software was very easy to use, drawing from the S5’s camera user interface, and presenting the photographer with a bevy of different modes to choose from. For seasoned photographers, however, the simple interface may feel limiting.

Ultimately, the K Zoom is still a middling smartphone attached to a middling digital camera. And although the initial idea of merging the devices into one was intriguing, the novelty has worn off quickly, due in no small part to the big leaps in competing smartphone cameras.