At some point, digital camera makers realized that megapixels aren’t everything; users would rather have features that make the photos, you know, look better. Thankfully, cell phone makers are catching on to this idea as well. The Motorola Motozine ZN5, a 5-megapixel camera phone, includes Kodak’s Perfect Touch technology, which enhances photos with the touch of a button. Moreover, the phone lets users upload to Kodak Gallery on the go. Unfortunately the camera’s so-so print quality, lack of 3G, and fairly high price give us pause.
The ZN5’s candy bar design is refreshingly simple. At just 4 ounces it feels light in the hand, and the rubberized bottom makes it easy to grip. The phone is gunmetal gray, with the exception of the shiny purple camera-launch button on the right side. The flat keyboard has tiny metal nubs, which provide good tactile feedback. Above them is a wheel-shaped navigation pad, flanked by answer and end buttons, soft keys, a photo-review button, and a backspace key.
In addition to the camera launch button, the right side of the phone also includes volume control keys as well as a toggle for locking the phone. On the left side is a mini-USB port, covered in rubber. The back of the phone houses the 5-megapixel camera’s lens, which remains covered when not in use, as well as a powerful Xenon flash (more on that later). You must slide open the lens manually whenever you launch the camera.
The layout of the lens and flash make it easy to snap pictures without accidentally obscuring them with your finger, which happens all the time with slider camera phones. One gripe: As beautiful and bright as the 2.4-inch screen is, it picks up fingerprints easily, especially when you’re taking photos.
Navigating the ZN5’s interface was a cinch. The on-screen menus are as lean as the phone itself: all of the main menu’s nine icons fit on one screen. We like how colorful they are, and when you highlight one it appears brighter while the rest appear in shadow. In an age when other phones’ complicated touchscreens or touch-sensitive touchpads make it easy to press the wrong icon, the ZN5 makes it easy to click what you want.
On the other hand, we would have liked to see more icons on the main menu. For instance, the Web-browsing icon is buried in the Fun & Apps category, which also includes the camera, video camera, FM radio, and games. From the welcome screen you can press the left soft key to access shortcuts, which includes the Bluetooth menu, alarm, browser, myFaves icons, Create Message, and Quick Connect, which searches for Wi-Fi networks and connects to ones you’ve already configured.
Thanks to Motorola’s ModeShift technology, entering camera mode presents purple icons in scattered areas of the keypad for sharing, deleting, and reviewing photos. This makes these high-level functions accessible without having to enter the Options menu using the left soft key.
Pressing up on the navigation pad brings up recent calls, and if you press down you’ll be prompted to add a contact to T-Mobile’s myFaves, which grants unlimited calling to five people of your choice. To scroll through or edit these contacts, which appear as bubbles on the phone’s welcome screen, press the right or left end of the navigational pad.
By the numbers, the ZN5’s 5-MP camera is the highest resolution from a U.S. carrier to date; however, unlocked 8-megapixel models, such as the Samsung iNNOV8 i8510, are available.
All our photos looked sharp, showing fine details, but occasionally photos didn’t look nearly as sharp on our PC as on the phone’s LCD. Although the colors were punchy, the Xenon flash sometimes overwhelmed our shots.
As for that 5-megapixel resolution, our Kodak-enhanced shots looked unacceptably blurry when we printed them out on 8 x 10 photo paper; textures such as a wool sweater and shiny hair looked flat and blotchy. When we downgraded to 4 x 6 paper, our prints looked sharper but still as if they were taken from a camera phone. Meanwhile, 5-MP photos taken with our Nikon Coolpix P6000 (at 5-MP resolution) looked much sharper.
Kodak Perfect Touch
What makes the ZN5 special is its incorporation of Kodak’s Perfect Touch Technology (KPT), a photo-enhancing tool pulled from Kodak’s point-and-shoot line. For each picture we took, we applied KPT (when you save an enhanced photo, the default option is to save a copy alongside the original shot). You must apply KPT after you take a shot, and you must elect to do it manually.
Depending on the shooting conditions, KPT made a subtler difference in some situations than others. When we shot a self-portrait, for instance, Kodak’s technology brightened our face slightly but wasn’t able to render finer details—such as our hair or a wool sweater. But when we took harshly backlit photos (the sun setting behind skyscrapers, for instance), KPT was useful in adjusting the exposure while drawing out shadow detail. Finally, we were able to use KPT to salvage—or at least improve—very dim low-light shots. (The trade-off here is that the resulting shots looked grainier, much as your digital camera’s photos do when you increase the ISO.)
Kodak Gallery Integration
The other component of Motorola’s partnership with Kodak is that users can upload their photos directly to their Kodak Gallery account. Assuming you’ve already created a free Gallery account, all you have to do is enter your e-mail address and password on the phone the first time you use the service. Then, just highlight the photo you want to upload, and click Select using a soft key; your photos will appear on the Web as soon as the upload finishes.
Even using EDGE, uploading was fairly quick. Sending a single 5-megapixel photo took 1 minute and 6 seconds. Once we connected to a Wi-Fi network, the transfer time dropped to 41 seconds. Moreover, we did not notice any significant difference between the upload time for a regular picture and one that was enhanced through Kodak Perfect Touch.
The wireless uploading worked like a charm, but we wish we could upload more than one photo at a time. (Update: As it turns out, you can send more than one photo at once. Instead write, “To upload multiple photos at once, go to Options > Select > Multiple.” ) Once you’re done uploading, the phone sends you back to the main menu so that you have to re-enter the Kodak Gallery app, which was a pain. Why not just ask the user if they want to upload more photos?
The ZN5 comes preloaded with a Web Kit open-source browser, which was easy to navigate but offered a bland, dumbed-down visual experience. When we connected via EDGE, we were able to load NYTimes.com, CNN.com, ESPN.com, and Laptopmag.com in 19, 52, 24, and 31 seconds, respectively. They fully loaded in 32 seconds, 1:25, 51 seconds, and 1:15.
When we switched to Wi-Fi however, these same sites took 4, 11, 5, and 5 seconds, respectively, to begin loading, and 14, 21, 16, and 29 to complete.
IM and E-mail
The ZN5 allows users to connect to their AIM, ICQ, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger accounts. Setting up our AIM account was easy, as was typing; once you enter a letter, the cursor is quick to move on (with some phones, the cursor pauses, so if you have to press the same button consecutively, you have to wait). Users also have the option of saving conversations.
You can configure e-mail accounts with the following providers: AOL, Comcast, CompuServe, EarthLink, Gmail, HotPOP, Juno, Mac, NetZero, SBC Yahoo, Verizon, and Yahoo Mail (oddly, MSN Hotmail is not listed as an option). You can opt to get new–e-mail notifications but that means remaining signed in.
We had no problem setting up our Gmail account. Unfortunately our inbox looked unusually ugly; gone were the grouped conversation threads, and in its place was a list of individual messages, à la Outlook or AOL. Text-messaging rates apply for reading and sending e-mails.
The ZN5 has an FM radio and ships with 3.5mm foam-covered earbuds (extra tips aren’t included). They felt comfortable and blocked ambient noise well. In fact, we were able to keep the volume at level 2 while listening. The music sounded clear, and while not the richest sound we’ve ever heard, the audio wasn’t too tinny.
The radio can automatically scan for stations, but we wish it were possible to seek stations simply by pressing left or right on the navigational pad. (As it is, if you press the navigation pad you’ll navigate up and down the spectrum notch by notch, only occasionally landing on a fully in-tune station.)
The phone also has a music player and video player. You can’t stream music—thanks to the lack of 3G—but you can store content on a microSD Card (up to 4GB). The music player has no playful ModeShift action, but the circular navigation pad controls all the multimedia playback (an on-screen illustration shows which end does what). As with the FM radio, the music sounded rich and pleasant when we listened from the speaker and included earbuds.
Our video had good sound but looked blurry on screen. (Update: To watch a video in landscape mode, press the center of the navigational pad.)
The ZN5’s stereo Bluetooth worked at up to 40 feet. Although we had no problem listening to MP3 tracks on a stereo Bluetooth headset, we were miffed that we couldn’t listen to the FM radio via Bluetooth.
The ZN5 has Motorola’s CrystalTalk technology, which canceled background noise effectively. Indoors and out, the volume was loud and comfortable on both ends of the call. When we made a call outdoors, our caller could understand everything we said and didn’t hear traffic rumbling by.
On the other hand, our voice to them sounded a bit scratchy, as if we were using a Bluetooth headset. Similarly, when we placed a call indoors, our voice wasn’t perfectly clear. Even sitting in a quiet room, our voice sounded slightly broken on the other end.
Range and Battery Life
The phone has a minimum rated talk time of 5.4 hours (Motorola claims it can be as long as 9.6 hours), which is pretty standard. We would predict longer battery life given that the phone lacks 3G and features such as video streaming, all of which tend to cut into a phone’s battery life. On our tests, we spent a business day doing plenty of Web surfing and uploading photos to Kodak Gallery, and the battery meter dropped 30 percent.
Thanks to Kodak’s Perfect Touch technology, which enhances photos with the click of a button, Motorola’s Motozine ZN5 is one of the more sophisticated camera phones we’ve seen. We also love its smooth integraton with Kodak Gallery, to which users can upload photos on the go. But it’s still not to the point where we’d recommend ditching your point-and-shoot, especially if you plan to print your photos. And while it has Wi-Fi, its lack of 3G means uploading photos can be painstakingly slow when you’re not near a hotspot. This camera phone is certainly one of the best at its price of $99, but we expected better-quality photos out of a Kodak-Motorola combo.