Would Samsung really strap a 10X optical zoom and 16MP sensor to the back of a mid-range smartphone?
With the Galaxy S4 launch now mostly over and done with, Samsung rumormongers have turned their attention to the company's summer and fall product line-up. The most intriguing of these is a device rumored to go by the name 'Galaxy S4 Zoom.' Originally broken by SamMobile, initial reports suggested the 'Zoom' would be a mid-range handset with a 4.3-inch qHD SuperAMOLED screen on the front and a 16-megapixel camera strapped to the back. But that's not even the craziest part.
The plot has thickened in recent days with reports from Russian site Hi-Tech claiming the Galaxy S4 Zoom will include a 10X optical zoom lens, of the kind found on point-and-shoot cameras. A retail release, it's reported, is scheduled for June or July. A Bluetooth SIG listing for a Samsung 'SM-C1010' has given weight to the rumors, with the device being described as a "Samsung Mobile Phone."
So where might this tie into Samsung's overall mobile strategy? A 16-megapixel sensor backed up by respectable optical zoom capabilities means the Galaxy S4 Zoom could check many of the same boxes as the Galaxy Camera -- which makes it curious to see it combined with a comparatively low-end display. However, it's possible that Samsung's looking to take what it learned from the Galaxy Camera and apply it to a device with broader mass-market appeal. Creating an affordable mid-range camera/phone hybrid like this might empower it to release a significantly upgraded Galaxy Camera 2 at the high end, with a much-needed improvement in sensor size and optics aimed at the "prosumer" crowd. The Galaxy S4 Zoom, on the other hand, could become the pocket-friendly, budget-friendly device that the original Galaxy Camera never was.
Camera-centric phones (cameraphones, if you will) are nothing new, but they haven't been particularly common since the featurephone days, when manufacturers like Sony Ericsson would bolt bulky, novelty 3MP shooters onto the back of handsets. The trend seems to be returning, though, with recent examples including the Symbian-powered Nokia 808 PureView, which packs a 41-megapixel camera. This year, high-end imaging capabilities are being touted as a point of differentiation at the high end, as other smartphone specs become increasingly homogenous. HTC has its Ultrapixel sensor. Sony is rumored to be working on a new handset with a 20MP sensor backed up by Cybershot optics and software. Even Google wants to make its Nexus devices "insanely awesome cameras." It's natural that Samsung would also want to explore unique camera capabilities as a point of differentiation. Sticking an optical zoom lens on the back of a smartphone would certainly achieve that, assuming it could be done without making the phone excessively girthy.
We wouldn't read too much into the 'Galaxy S4' part of the name. Samsung was pretty liberal in its use of the Galaxy S3 name, giving it to devices like the Galaxy S3 Mini which were far removed from the flagship in hardware terms. Samsung likely wants to benefit from the halo effect of the high-profile Galaxy S4 launch, as the 'Galaxy' name on its now applies to a wide range of different Android products. So we're not expecting Galaxy S4-class internals in the Galaxy S4 Zoom, despite the name.
Time will tell whether the Galaxy S4 Zoom will prove to be a mid-range hit, or whether it'll suffer the same fate as other quirky Samsung phones, like the pico-projecting Galaxy Beam. Let us know which way you think things will go down in the comments.