Not all superstar partnerships turn out for the best. (See: Madonna/Guy Ritchie, Shaq/Kobe, Steve Jobs/John Scully, McCain/Palin, etc.) But Motorola, the inventor of the cell phone, and Kodak, the creator of the digital camera, can be credited with launching at least one successful team-up. Together, these manufacturers have paired to create the Motorola ZINE ZN5, which features the best digicam we’ve seen on a cell phone yet. Better still, the handset is priced at just $100. Keep in mind that you can hardly buy a decent digital camera for that, much less a 5MP one built into a feature-rich mobile device. Not everything in the ZN5 is popping flashbulbs, however – it’s only an EDGE phone and the device’s video recording and playback are less than cutting-edge. Nonetheless, we will say this: The gizmo’s imperfections are all but meaningless compared to its overall value, and especially the quality photos it produces.
Features and Design
There’s more to the candy bar-like ZN5 than a great, amateur shutterbug-friendly camera, however. First of all, you can easily upload photos to a blog or to the Kodak Gallery photo sharing site. Likewise, while the ZN5 is only an EDGE phone, Web connections can be sped up via WiFi connection, a rare option on such an inexpensive handset. Rather impressively, also included is a music player (you can even use one of your stored songs as a ringtone); a 3.5mm headphone-A/V out jack; an FM radio; a game player; text/instant messaging; and POP3 and IMAP email with preconfigured settings for the most popular email domains.
The ZN5 follows the general industrial design outlook of some other recent Motorola candy bar models such as the MotoROKR E8, which is to say that it’s rectangular with a wedge-shaped top and bottom. The phone’s face is divided into a top section and its 2.4-inch LCD display, and the bottom devoted to a dialpad input.
Mind you, the ZN5’s first minor drawback is (go figure) its menu navigation control array and dialpad. Instead of keys, you get pimples on a membrane – small raised dots to mark where each number or symbol is located. Pressing a number depresses the membrane, and while you do enjoy some tactile response when prodding the device, it’s not as much as you’d get from a physical, distinct button. Each key is brightly backlit in white and highly visible in any ambient light, however.
Above the dialpad is the familiar, if small, circular menu navigation array. Flanking this circular control are double-decked dash keys; the top two are soft menu keys, while the bottom row includes direct access to your photo gallery on the left and a “back” key on the right. On either side of these dash keys are the Send and End keys. Note that these keys are all tightly-packed, and may be difficult for folks with thick fingers to manipulate accurately.
On the ZN5’s right side are the up/down volume-cum-camera-zoom toggle, a lock switch and, toward the bottom, a bright purple camera shutter release button. On the top left side is a 3.5mm jack suitable for use with stereo headphones and A/V output, while on the bottom left lies a microUSB jack.
Kodak’s 5MP camera and Xenon flash are mounted on the rear, of course, with the lens assembly enclosed in a raised hump at the top end of the phone.
Ports & Connectors
As noted, the phone has two jacks: A 3.5mm headphone jack and a microUSB jack. You have to annoyingly remove the battery panel, including the camera, to access the microSD card slot.
Image Courtesy of Motorola
Can a phone serve as a workable PMP?
T-Mobile has yet to offer a real video service, and Motorola is not hyping any video playback capabilities other than the option to view whatever videos you shoot yourself. That said, the ZN5 can screen MPEG-4, H.263 and Real Video files that you load into the phone for occasional screenings.
As for audio options, Motorola, learning a lesson from its aborted association with Apple and its own ROKR music phones, has equipped the ZN5 with a music player that’s not exactly iPod-quality, but proves above-average and gets you where you need to go. On the downside, for instance, there are no external music-specific control keys, and no single external button that gets you straight to the player unless you create a shortcut to the Multimedia menu. Still, when you finally manage to drill down to the player, you simply hit “Shuffle Songs” to start random play. And, for that matter, can conveniently choose tracks from recently played options or your choice of All Songs, Playlists, Artists, Albums, Genres and Composers.
Music starts almost instantly when you choose a track. Displayed on-screen is all the usual song info, album art and a progress bar, with transport controls keyed to the circular navigation array. But the controls are a bit counter-intuitive. For example: Instead of the center Select key acting as the pause/play key, it instead pulls up full-screen album art. You have to press “up” on the circular array to pause/play and press “down” to stop the music altogether – a strange design choice.
That said, music will pleasingly continue to play as you switch to other applications. During picture taking, for instance, tunes keep bumping along until you hit the shutter release – you hear the click, then the music returns. Similarly, when shooting a video, the music cuts out for as long as you’re filming, then returns when you hit “stop.” On a negative note though, because there are no external music keys, you will have to cycle back to the music player from other applications.
In terms of additional options, in the setup menu, you have access to an equalizer, auto-repeat, spatial audio settings (off, 1-7) and bass boost. Unfortunately, the FM radio doesn’t get great reception except in close proximity to powerful local stations, and headphones have to be attached since their cable acts as an antenna.
Motorola has recently upped audio caliber with its Crystal Talk technology, which elevates conversation quality substantially over previous models. As a result, the ZN5 offers robust sound with plenty of volume, with only the usual amount of cell warble as one walks and talks. And while it won’t come through in stereo, sound produced from the slit rear-mounted speaker is also loud and clear with near clock radio-like room-filling resonance.
Although there are no clearly-delineated dialpad keys, numbers with their pimple indicators are widely-spaced enough to make dialing virtually mistake-free. However, navigation keys are small and tightly packed. We tried inputting contacts several times, but never got through. Each time we hit the Back key with our thumb, we somehow kept accidentally hitting the circular navigation array and backed out of the Contacts application entirely – doh! T-Mobile connections in Manhattan and surrounding environs were largely solid during testing, though; we experienced only one dropped call after several days of chatting.
Non-verbal communications were surprisingly robust as well. You get pre-configured settings for AIM, ICQ, Yahoo! Messenger and Windows Live Messenger instant messaging. For email, you’re provided preconfigured settings (meaning all that’s needed is your username and password) for services including AIM Mail, AOL, Yahoo! Mail and Gmail – more or less standard for phones with POP3/IMAP email functionality. But the ZN5 also goes further by including support for Comcast, Compuserve, Earthlink, HotPOP, Juno, Mac (dot Mac, now dot Me), NetZero, SBC Yahoo! and Verizon… but not Hotmail, curiously.
You can additionally choose to keep your email running in the background in push-mode, and set the phone to alert you when new email has come in. Suffice it to say that all of these options are highly unusual in a phone so inexpensive.
Shockingly, the video we shot with the ZN5 model that we tested was all out of focus. The subject appeared clear in the viewfinder until we hit the shutter release. Afterwards, when the video started recording, the picture went all fuzzy. We emphasize that these results are from a test model, however, because such performance can’t be typical of retail units (or so one would pray). In fact, to be fair, we spoke to a fellow reviewer, who reported no problem with video recording whatsoever.
Mobile Web connections (not full HTML) on T-Mobile’s EDGE network were surprisingly fast; while not exactly HSDPA speeds, mobile Web pages, depending on their graphic content, fully loaded in around 13 seconds. Oddly, however, CNN’s page refused to load anything but a blank white page. Regardless, we had no trouble with any other mobile news, sports, entertainment or weather pages surfed to. Using WiFi, of course, sped things up enormously; pages loaded in less than 10 seconds – not too shabby.
Included in the box are a travel charger; a microUSB-to-USB cable; stereo earbuds which need to be plugged in to use the FM radio; an 8mm-to-RCA A/V cable for outputting videos and photos from the ZN5 to a TV; and a microSD card adapter. A 1GB microSD card is pre-loaded into the phone.
OK, let’s be on the level. Forget everything else you’ve read thus far: Here’s the entire reason to consider buying this phone. Sliding up the small sliding lens cover activates the 5MP built-in camera, which is ready to shoot inside of five seconds. When the camera is activated, the dialpad turns off and only camera-specific keys remain lit.
Not only does the ZN5 take gorgeous pictures, but it behaves far more like a standalone digital camera than most cellcams we’ve used. At the top of this checklist of likenesses is the lightning shutter speed; hit the button and the picture snaps instantly, just like a standalone digital camera. Along the same lines, when the flash is activated, you half-press to get a red focus light… then the photo is snapped.
5MP is the ZN5’s default resolution setting; you can also step down to 4.4, 2.8 or 1.2MP if desired. Even though the ZN5 offers multimedia messaging, there’s no VGA resolution setting, however; presumably Motorola assumes you’ll send messages via one of the email accounts. And instead of the usual step-by-step digital zoom, you get a variable zoom just like on a standalone digital camera. In addition, you further get easy-to-access camera settings such as white balance, low light and varying focus options including macro. You’re also offered burst multi-shot and three-shot panoramic stitch modes.
The Xenon flash default setting is auto, but it’s easy to turn it off or leave it on for a fill flash; there’s also a red-eye mode. Objects in twilight-like light will appear sharper and more in focus if you leave the flash on all the time. That said, while the Xenon flash can brightly illuminate an object in total darkness, you won’t be able to see what you’re shooting on the ZN5’s screen.
Overall, pictures are a quantum leap forward compared to what you’d find in other cellcams, not only size and resolution-wise, but in terms of general quality as well. Focus is sharp, although the shutter release requires a firm press which can jar the phone and slightly blur images taken in lower ambient light. Regardless, colors, especially in sunlight, jump off the screen. Even better, indoor shots, aided by the Xenon flash, retain most of their huge and crispness, although you will pick up some grain.
Bear in mind as well: There is no vanity mirror, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker.
Image Courtesy of Motorola
Motorola rates the ZN5 at 5.5 hours talk time and up to 19 days standby, while T-Mobile rates it at 5 hours talk and 8 days standby. In our unscientific tests, we got a whopping 6.5 hours of talk time with Bluetooth and WiFi off. So, whichever way you choose to look at it, battery life is excellent.
Ultimately, the ZN5 comes correct in terms of the top four cell phone extras – digital camera, Web surfing capability, email access and music playback – and delivers them coupled with an excellent phone. While it would help if there were some dedicated keys for accessing certain features and we did experience some minor hiccups with the device, well… To be frank, it’s hard to argue with the sheer level of functionality, especially photo-wise, the ZN5 offers here for just a hundred bucks. If you’re in the market for an inexpensive, full-featured handset that can also double as a workable digital camera, don’t hesitate to give it a look.
• Outstanding 5MP camera
• WiFi connectivity
• Speedy Web surfing
• Multiple preconfigured IM and email options
• Excellent voice quality
• Above-average music player
• Video recording hiccups
• Low tactile response dialpad keys
• Tightly packed navigation, soft menu and function keys
• microSD card under battery cover
• No dedicated music control buttons