Gadling gear review – Motorola Motozine ZN5 mobile phone

It isn’t often that we’ll cover a mobile phone here on Gadling – it takes a special kind of phone to stand out amongst the 100’s of phones released every month.

The Motorola ZN5 is such a phone – on the outside, this phone may look fairly basic (and very Motorola-like), but it is the hardware on the inside that makes this phone special.

The basics of the phone are fairly standard – it is a quadband GSM phone with a single 2.4″ high resolution screen. The phone also features an FM radio, stereo Bluetooth audio and voice dialing.

So far, still a pretty normal phone. But once you turn the phone over, you’ll notice it has a larger than normal bulge for its camera – the reason for this is that the Motorola ZN5 offers a 5 megapixel auto-focus camera with a real flash.
Motorola teamed up with Kodak to offer the optics in ZN5, and the result is actually quite stunning. In addition to this, the phone has built in WiFi and the necessary software to take advantage of this.

So – how well does this all perform? The ZN5 suffers from the same issues as most Motorola devices; a fairly boring and unintuitive interface. It isn’t a bad interface, it just feels like it is in serious need of an update. Menus are at least fairly well laid out, and most portions can be customized.

One of the neatest parts of the interface on the ZN5 is its “ModeShift keypad”. This technology is unique to Motorola, and allows the keypad to change when you slide the lens cover open. As soon as you open the cover, the phone switches to camera mode, and the keypad changes to a camera keypad. This sounds a little more complicated than it is, in essence, it means the backlight on the keypad lights up only the camera portions you need when you are making photos.

That keypad itself is surprisingly good – it is made out of a single piece of plastic, with raised portions at the numbers. The round “D-pad” control is sadly not a scrolling wheel, which does seem rather odd.

The camera is of course the biggest selling point on the ZN5, and I have included several examples of photos made with the ZN5 in the gallery attached below. Images don’t look bad – but they are not exactly on par with what you’d expect from a “real” 5 Megapixel digital camera.

Once you have made photos, you can send them as an MMS message (picture message), an email, or through the Kodak GalleryLink feature directly to an online Kodak photo gallery. This upload system works flawlessly. If you’d rather send your photos somewhere else, you can configure the Shozu photo sharing application.

In addition to wireless sharing, the ZN5 also comes with a special version of the Kodak EasyShare software, which lets you transfer photos from the camera to your computer. Photos can even be viewed on a TV using the included AV output cable.

And finally, the camera is compatible with the Kodak line of all-in-one printers (if they have Bluetooth added).

This means this mobile phone has 6 different ways to offload or share photos. Photos can be shot using a variety of image filters: panorama, grayscale, sepia, negative, reddish, greenish and blueish.

The big question is of course who the target audience is for this device – I’d say it is primarily for people not interested in the latest and greatest smartphone. Don’t forget that most smartphones on the market at the moment still lack anything remotely close to a good camera. Even the super popular Apple iPhone is stuck with a horrible 2 megapixel camera with no flash and no auto-focus.

Thankfully (for Motorola), there are still plenty of people who are looking for just a phone. The phone is incredibly easy to use, and despite its dated interface, it still excels at being just a phone.

The basics are all there, but users who need a quite a big more than the basics won’t be disappointed. The ZN5 stores a MicroSD memory card, and can be expanded to 4GB (this is the limit Motorola mentions, I was able to use an 8GB card without any problems).

The phone has an integrated email client, web/wap browser, media player (with stereo Bluetooth support), alarm, calculator, calendar, world clock, file manager and several games.

On the outside of the ZN5 is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a MicroUSB connector for charging and PC connectivity, which is quickly becoming the new standard on many mobile phones.

Battery life is what you’d expect from a non-smartphone; very good. The manufacturer states 5 hours talk time and 8 days standby. Of course, using the camera a lot will quickly drain the battery, but even after a bunch of photos, the ZN5 kept going for several days.

The Motorola ZN5 can be purchased in 2 ways – the cheapest way is through T-Mobile. This mobile operator sells the phone for $0 – but only when you sign up for a 2 year qualifying voice contract.

If you’d rather not sign a contract, then you can purchase one directly from Motorola for just $279, an insanely low price for such a well equipped phone.

My conclusion is simple – this is a very well performing phone. It lacks 3G, but makes up for that by including WiFi. At $0 on T-Mobile, it is one of their best budget friendly phones. The camera performs better than any cameraphone in this price category. The hardware is well designed and despite the boring interface, it is easy to use and is equipped with a ton of handy features.

(In the gallery, click the “hi-res” button to see the full size version of these photos.