Ever since the first camera-equipped mobiles hit the market over a decade ago they've offered a convenient way to snap pictures, but they've never realistically challenged the best dedicated image capture devices out there.

With manufacturers pushing towards ever-thinner phones, it has simply not been possible to include truly spectacular optics - until now, that is.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is a hybrid device which attempts to offer a top-of-the-line smartphone experience with exceptional photographic power - enough to seriously make you consider ditching your dedicated point-and-shoot camera forever.

Despite sharing its moniker with Samsung's flagship Galaxy S4, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is actually closer in specification to the Galaxy S4 Mini. Inside there's a 1.5GHz dual-core CPU aided by just 1.5GB of RAM, and the 4.3-inch AMOLED screen isn't HD standard.

Balancing this out is the fantastic 24-240mm lens with 10x optical zoom, autofocus, and image stabilisation. It's capable of snapping 16-megapixel shots and is almost certain to blow away the camera on your current handset.

Design / Features

With the Galaxy S4 Zoom held to your ear during a call, it looks as though you've lost your mind and confused your blower with your camera. From the back, the phone doesn't resemble a phone at all, and this could earn you some rather puzzled glances from passers-by.

The rear is dominated by the camera lens, which houses a Samsung-made BSI CMOS sensor. The lens is surrounded by what Samsung is calling the "Zoom Wheel", which allows you to grab detailed close-up shots even when you're not standing right next to your subject.

The lens shutter is protected by a pane of Gorilla Glass which ensures that you don't get any finger marks on the lens itself.

Next to the camera mechanism you'll find a surprisingly powerful speaker and a Xenon flash, which does an excellent job of illuminating most low-light or indoor shots.

When it's laid face-down on a table you'd be forgiven for assuming this product could do nothing beyond take photos, but spin it around a full 180 degrees and there's no doubting the Galaxy S4 Zoom's status as an Android device.

From the front, it shares many signature design elements with the rest of Samsung's Galaxy line. The Gorilla Glass 3-clad touchscreen is surrounded by a metallic-look bezel (it's actually plastic) and below the screen you'll find the familiar Home button - Samsung continues to ignore Google's protestations that manufacturers should drop physical inputs in favour of on-screen commands.

The left-hand side of the Galaxy S4 Zoom showcases the microSD card slot and a screw port for securing the device to a tripod - another indication of just how serious Samsung is treating the image capture prowess of this handset. On the opposite side sit the 'power' button and volume rocker, which are both quite thin and sometimes hard to locate with your thumb.

The base of the phone features a door that opens to reveal a space for the 2330 mAh battery and micro-SIM slot. Alongside this is the standard charging and data port.

Camera

The Galaxy S4 Zoom's camera is quite simply one of the best we've ever seen on a mobile phone - but it probably should be, given how much it impacts on the handset's design.

Samsung has included its usual range of shooting modes, allowing you to manually adapt the camera to suit each scene. You can also select an automatic mode and let the phone itself decide which is best to use.

For those of you who like to be a little more hands-on, there's a manual option - dubbed "Expert" - which permits you to control elements such as EV, ISO, metering, white balance, shutter speed, and aperture. Budding photographers will find that even this feature is slightly limited compared to what an entry-level DSLR offers, but for casual snappers the Galaxy S4 Zoom is unlikely to disappoint.

From a cold start the Galaxy S4 Zoom can take an image in a matter of seconds, but it's not quite as swift as many point-and-shoot digital cameras.

By default, the phone is configured to turn on in phone mode, but you can have it boot-up as a camera if you so wish. Again, the waiting time is pretty painful when compared to a dedicated photographic device, and it's not a feature we can see many people using.

The Galaxy S4 Zoom is also capable of recording HD video at 30fps (1080p or 720p) and 60fps (720p). In both cases, the footage is fantastic - although top-of-the-line digital cameras may provide superior results, when placed alongside its smartphone brethren, the Galaxy S4 Zoom comes out on top.

Gaming

The Zoom's bulky frame and 4.3-inch display mean that it's not ideal as a gaming device - certainly when compared to thinner handsets with larger screens. The 1.5GHz dual-core CPU is also a limiting factor, and means that the Galaxy S4 Zoom struggles to render some of the more intense gaming experiences currently available on the Google Play market.

3DMark's Ice Storm benchmark returns results of 3151 (standard) and 2372 (extreme setting) - hardly the kind of 3D performance that will get your pulse racing. Geekbench 2 clocks the Zoom at 1197, while the phone's AnTuTu score of 10,480 also places it behind the leading lights of the Android world.

The fact that the Galaxy S4 Zoom doesn't have an HD display works in its favour, as these benchmark scores would surely be worse if it were having to push more pixels.

As it stands the phone isn't a total washout when it comes to performance, but when you consider that this is being sold at roughly the same price as more capable devices, you may need to ask yourself just how badly you want a decent camera on your phone.

The Good

The obvious selling point of the Galaxy S4 Zoom is that the camera - in mobile terms, at least - is absolutely fantastic. Granted, you could purchase a far superior point-and-shoot device for the same money, but having this kind of functionality tied into a truly wireless device feels like the future.

Instead of shooting an image and then having to wait until you return home to process and upload it to the web, you can publish your snaps the very moment they are taken - either by email or by uploading them to a social network such as Google+, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Although many of these apps don't allow you to use the full range of the Galaxy S4 Zoom's camera options (you often need to take the photo with the standard camera app and then share it with another app, rather than using each app's built-in camera software), it's still a much easier way of sharing high-quality images that you'd normally take with a totally disconnected device.

Another bonus here is that the Galaxy S4 Zoom is running the very latest version of Android, version 4.2.2. It has Samsung's TouchWiz UI pasted over the top of it, but the inclusion of several innovative exclusive features - such as S Translator and a multitude of gesture and motion controls - help soften the blow of not having a "stock" Android experience, like you do on the Nexus 4.

The bad

There's no escaping the fact that the Galaxy S4 Zoom is a massive phone. It's 15.4mm at its thickest point, and is sure to stretch your pocket if you opt to shove it in your jeans. It makes more sense carried in a bag or holdall like a proper camera, but phones are most useful when they're secreted on your person.

Another issue is lag, which occurs when navigating the UI and when taking snaps. The lack of processing power leads to some uncomfortable pauses when moving between apps, and when there's a lot of background processing going on you notice that things start to stutter.

When you're in the photo application and you wish to review the last image you've taken, you're forced to endure a second or two wait for the gallery app to fire up. Had Samsung bundled a quad-core CPU with 2GB of RAM then this issue may never have existed.

Finally, there's the question of storage space. 8GB comes as standard, of which you have access to around 5GB. The microSD card slot means you can potentially upgrade to 72GB (64GB cards are the maximum it will accept) but that of course means additional outlay.

16GB would have been a more agreeable amount of space - especially when you consider the large number of photos and videos you'll want to capture using that lovely lens.

Summary

The Galaxy S4 Zoom feels like Samsung's attempt to corner every single niche in the market, but there's a genuinely useful product here.

If you don't mind a bit of added bulk in your pocket and can deal with not having the very latest quad-core tech then it's certainly worth considering whether this device can fulfil that dream of convergence we were all promised when the very first camera phones hit store shelves all those years ago.

Being able to confidently snap a photo with your phone and not have to worry about ropey quality or blurry, over-compressed results is liberating, and it also means that you don't have to lug around two devices to make calls and grab stunning snaps.

The trade-off is that the Galaxy S4 Zoom feels a little awkward as a phone - the large lens makes it quite heavy, and although there's plenty to grip onto it never feels all that comfy in the palm.

It sounds like a cliché, but this is certainly one of those situations where you need to go hands-on to really get a feel for whether or not this phone is for you. Despite the Marmite reaction the Galaxy S4 Zoom is likely to engender, there's certainly a place for such a hybrid in today's marketplace.

Review handset provided by www.mobilefun.co.uk.