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Samsung imaging boss: K Zoom will outstrip ‘imperfect’ S4 Zoom

Sun Hong Lim, senior vice president of Samsung's imaging business, says the new K Zoom is a "camera-specialized' smartphone."

Sung Hong Lim, Samsung's imaging chief. Aloysius Low/CNET

Samsung's latest K Zoom isn't exactly the follow-up to last year's S4 Zoom . While it may look similar to the Galaxy S5 , the K Zoom is part of a new product category altogether, says senior vice president and head of imaging Sung Hong Lim.

"The K Zoom is not just a camera. It's not just a smartphone. It's a camera-specialized smartphone and is a totally new category that you've never seen before," Lim says. "It's a world's first in the industry."

When asked about the S4 Zoom, Samsung's previous camera-oriented smartphone, Lim says that "the S4 Zoom wasn't the perfect device we were looking for, compared with the K series. We're constantly evolving our products to meet consumer needs."

The K Zoom that I held in my hands was a fundamentally different device, despite design similarities to the S5 (like the dimpled rear cover). While the S4 Zoom shared the Galaxy S branding, it was closer to the Android-powered Galaxy Camera than the S4.

Instead of the Galaxy Camera's bulging grip, the K Zoom is flat, apart from the protruding lens, and is much easier to hold as a result. As a phone, however, it's still thicker than most devices these days.

Lim explains that this is because the K Zoom was designed for consumers who were willing to compromise for better optical performance.

"We tried to find the optimal balance between portability as a smartphone and at the same time offer a high quality imaging product," he says.

He added that from the 36 percent of users who post more than four to five pictures per week to social media, fully half of those surveyed dislike their current products -- and this includes Samsung's own devices.

The launch of the K Zoom also means that Samsung is redefining its branding and product lineups. Where Samsung previously introduced a range of devices under its flagship S series, such as the S4 Zoom and S4 Active, this time around, the S5 appears to be a standalone product in the range (barring rumors of an S5 Mini, of course).

"There won't be an S5 Zoom," says Lim. "Under the Galaxy series, the K is another category, like the S and Note series."

Lim points out that the K range is an interesting niche for the company. Having created the phablet category, Samsung is now ambitiously trying to drum up demand for camera-specialized smartphones. Lim says it's also possible that the K Zoom can take away market share from the low-end consumer compacts.

"We have seen the conventional compact camera market is now shrinking, mostly thanks to the connectivity, portability and usability of smartphones," Lim says. "That's why there's more opportunity [in this segment] than conventional cameras, especially in the low-end compact camera category."