Samsung And Nokia Could Be Gearing Up For A Smartphone Camera War

So Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Mini and Galaxy S4 Active have officially made the leap from unimaginative rumors to unimaginative reality, which leaves only one oft-rumored version of the popular smartphone left unaccounted for — the curious S4 Zoom.

As the name sort of implies, this Galaxy variant is said to blur the line between smartphone and camera, and we may now be getting our first look at the thing. A set of images from both SamMobile and TechTastic purportedly show off the photo-centric S4 Zoom ahead of a big Samsung press event in London later this month.

It’s hard to judge from the unflattering angles, but these images depict a device seems to be more camera than phone. The thickish frame, protruding lens obscuring a 16-megapixel sensor, and rounded butt are all design choices that are more reminiscent of point-and-shoots than they are of any standard smartphone. Too bad then that the supposed spec sheet that’s been attached to the S4 Zoom seems wimpy in comparison — that hefty sensor will supposedly be accompanied by a 4.3-inch qHD AMOLED display and a 1.6GHz dual-core processor.

If the S4 Zoom is indeed the real deal — and at this point it just about seems like a lock — Samsung may find that it’s not alone in using smartphones as a platform to show off their camera prowess. Persistent rumors of a Nokia Windows Phone sporting one of the company’s mind-boggling PureView sensors have been floating around for over a year now, and a handful of spurious “leaked” images of one such device (codenamed “EOS “)have been circulating these past days. Hell, just earlier this morning we were treated to what may be the smoking gun — a purported recording of the EOS’ gigantic rear camera pod blinking at us.

In case you missed the PureView hullabaloo from last year, Nokia’s EOS isn’t expected to feature the comparatively puny sensors seen in the company’s recent Windows Phones. No no, rumor has it that it will instead sport the same 41-megapixel camera sensor that first graced the chubby 808 PureView back in 2012.

But I think there’s a bigger question here that hasn’t been adequately answered yet — who do these companies think we’ll buy these things? I suspect I may be in the minority on this one, but I’ve always though that the camera-first approach that some OEMs fiddle around with is just sort of silly. Yes, there’s definite value in being able to capture compelling shots on the run, but really: do people really care how good their photos look once quality inches past a certain threshold?

After all, the way we visually memorialize things has changed since the dawn of smartphone epoch — most images don’t wind up printed and tucked away in photo albums any more. They get hastily MMSed to friends. They get marred by fugly filters and splayed up on Instagram. And in some cases (I’m looking at you Snapchat), the real value of these photos is knowing that they’ll quickly be lost to the ages, a pointed rejection of the archaic permanence of images chemically etched on dead tree material. Camera quality ranks pretty low on my list of criteria when it comes time to buy a new phone, and leaning too heavily on one aspect of a device could be… problematic to say the least.

The closest thing Samsung has had to the S4 Zoom to date is the Galaxy Camera, and the company has never broken out Galaxy Camera sales for we hardware business dorks to dig into. Still, the device was hamstrung by carriers requiring customers to buy a data plan along with the thing (a Wi-Fi version was announced just two months ago). And while Nokia has kept its PureView numbers a closely guarded secret, enthusiasts have estimated that the Finnish phone company managed to sell over half a million as of Fall 2012.

That’s a very solid number considering all the 808’s potential sticking points, and Nokia’s moving a solid number of Lumia phones these days so Nokia must be hoping that PureView and Lumia are two great tastes that really do taste great together. Thankfully, we probably won’t have to wait much longer to see these two duke it out — while the S4 Zoom is expected to be outed this month, the EOS could see the light of day as early as July 9.