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Hands on with Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and Galaxy S4 Zoom

The Galaxy S 4 family is complete - or so said Samsung to the audience at Earls Court on Thursday evening. We've already seen several carrier models of the Samsung Galaxy S4. Now Samsung is showing off the Galaxy S4 Mini (above), Active, and Zoom, and we got hands-on time with two of them. The Zoom is weird and fascinating, but it probably won't sell many units. The Mini is mundane, but will likely be a best seller.

Galaxy S4 Zoom

Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom is designed to be halfway between the existing Galaxy Camera and a more traditional smartphone. I had a Galaxy Camera right there to compare, and the S4 Zoom has a similar shape with a bump along the right side for your hand to grip, but the device is considerably slimmer. The whole thing is also made of glossy white plastic rather than the textured rubbery material on the side of the Galaxy Camera.

Yes, it's a phone first, and it's not impossible to hold up to your head at 4.94 by 2.5 by 0.61in. Mostly, it's heavy at 207g. Still, though, it fits within the world of "things you'd hold up to your head" unlike the much thicker, even heavier Galaxy Camera. The Android 4.2.2 OS zips along on the 1.5-GHz dual-core processor, although I didn't stress it much.

Turn the oddly loose-feeling chromed plastic ring around the camera lens and the camera app opens. Here, I was definitely feeling the early pre-production firmware - when trying to change settings or modes, the camera froze and hiccupped several times. There's an insane number of special modes, which default to a carousel view; there's even a special mode to pick the best special mode. I preferred the manual focus and aperture settings, which have the same ring UI as the Galaxy Camera.

Further turning the silvery Zoom ring activated the optical Zoom, which increased smoothly up to 10x. Focus came quickly, and shots taken at 10x zoom (a record on a smartphone according to Samsung tonight) were sharp. I wasn't completely thrilled by the camera's ability to meter a face in front of a bright background, but that problem went away when I zoomed enough for the background to be less of the image.

The shutter responded quickly, and shot-to-shot time felt shorter than your usual cameraphone. There's a 1.9-megapixel secondary camera, too, and the camera records 1080p videos up to 25 minutes long. The Galaxy S4 Zoom comes with relatively little built-in storage at 5.6GB user-accessible, but it accepted my 64GB SanDisk memory card without a problem.

The biggest problem about the S4 Zoom? It's a real tweener, with neither quite the quality of a true point-and-shoot camera nor the portability of a cutting-edge smartphone. Camera/phones in this form factor have been tried before, and they haven't taken off. I don't think you can discount the Galaxy Camera as an attempt here as well, and it hasn't taken off either.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini

So that brings us to the little Galaxy S4 Mini, which doesn't have that much to recommend it to true tech geeks but will probably be a blockbuster.

This device is just a well-done, smooth midrange Android phone. You've seen it all before: 4.3in, 960 x 540 screen, 8-megapixel camera, and a plastic body with a slightly dizzying silver and black pattern on the back. The screen is Super AMOLED, so the colours are super saturated, especially offset against the black plastic body.

The 1.7-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor is current, if not barn-burning, and there's only 5.6GB of available user storage, but there's also a memory card slot and removable battery.

There's something pleasantly effortless about the S4 Mini. It isn't terribly interesting to someone who's reviewed 800 cell phones, but it looked like it was very easy to slip into my pocket, run my favourite apps, and talk on. Of course, it has all of the Galaxy S 4's camera modes and software extensions, including Samsung's WatchOn and Peel Remote TV apps thanks to a built-in IR blaster.

This is a midrange Android phone for people who just want to have some fun and communicate, not show off. It's going up against products like the Motorola Droid Razr M and LG Spectrum 2 on Verizon, the LG Optimus L9 on T-Mobile and the HTC First on AT&T. The Razr M has better build quality, and the Spectrum 2 has a higher-resolution screen, but they don't have the IR blaster or Samsung's camera modes, for example. And the S4 Mini has better specs overall than the Optimus L9 and the HTC First.