Motorola ZN5 mobile phone

Motorola has been pushing hard of late to try to make an impact with its mobile phones, trying to regain the glory days of the V3 Razr. Whilst the likes of Nokia, Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson have streaked away, can Motorola’s tie-in with Kodak bring some credibility back to Motorola’s camera phone offering? We look at the ZN5 to find out.

The ZN5 comes under the "Motozine" banner which apparently is the new Moto tag for things "optimised" for multimedia applications. Why this needs an extra layer of branding we aren’t sure, but that seems to be how Motorola operates. The ZN5’s headline feature, of course, is a partnership with Kodak to bring a 5-megapixel camera to fore, more of which later.

Instantly recognisable as a Motorola handset, the ZN5 has hints of the E8, a safe candybar style phone, safely placing the 2.4-inch screen above a ModeShift keypad. Whilst the E8 used backlighting to great effect to really emphasise the shift in key controls, the ZN5 looks like something of a bastard son, with the camera options still being visible even when not in use. The backlighting is not equal across the keypad either, so the effect is somewhat diluted.

The screen is not so bad - a 2.4-inch, 240 x 320, 262k, LCD which is bright and vibrant so long as you have something to show on it. This is perhaps evidenced by some great looking wallpapers, but the menu icons seem too soft and indistinct. The right-hand side of the phone features a volume control, which doubles as zoom for the camera, a hold slider and a dedicated shutter button.

Flip the ZN5 over and you can’t help wince when you see the bulbous camera "lump" sitting at the top. Cohesive design was obviously swept aside to slap on the camera. There is, thankfully, a lens slider and a dedicated Xenon flash to boost the camera offering.

Opening the slider launches you into the camera mode and the (then) zoom controls and shutter button fall naturally under the fingers so it is not such an alien experience. Frame your shot and depress the button and a shot is taken without too much of the shutter lag that often plagues camera phones. However, in a move that beggars belief, you cannot turn off the ridiculous "shutter" noise. Ok, you can pick something else, like an oh-so-funny boing noise (synonymous with photography, I know), but you can’t get rid of some sort of moronic noise altogether. Even with the phone on silent, you still get it. Imagine, the bride walking down the aisle, you whip out your diligently silenced ZN5 to grab that perfect shot, and "BOING!". That will scar blushing bride for life.

Putting that to one side, the camera can actually get some respectable shots. The 5-megapixel sensor suffers from the lack of a proper lens, so you’ll find that the shots can be rather soft, lacking sharpness. Given the right conditions, and enough light, then you’ll find it performs pretty well - some test shots are included in the image gallery. The auto focus works relatively well, and the flash means indoor shots are possible, with the caveat that the range is not very good and getting the balance without blowing out highlights can be tricky. Dark areas do also get very noisy around the flash so won’t stand much enlargement but should be fine for sharing online.

From the camera screen you get a menu option that is rather slow, but the central four-way controller gives you access to your camera settings, such as flash control, white balance, focus (macro/landscape/auto) and tagging. You also get Kodak’s Perfect Touch technology, allowing a little extra processing to boost colours and the like, which seems to work and means you can enhance the images before sharing them online. There are also editing functions, but they require you to dive deeper and deeper into menus before you get any result, so feels a little like an after-thought.

From the camera, a single button press brings up the image gallery, with nice little thumbnails across the bottom of the screen. Of course the tie-in with Kodak means you can set-up your Kodak Easy Share Gallery in the phone to upload your photos to. We found this was very easy to do, but uploading images does take some time.

You can also capture video although the offerings are rather lacklustre, with a "large" setting of 144 x 176, and again a stupid noise. The video really lacks any sort of refinement and once captured in landscape, then plays back in portrait, unless you then select "Slideshow" which plays back all your videos, so it seems as though there was a general lack of joined-up thinking.

Aside from these camera features you get a regular GSM/GPRS/EDGE quad-band phone, so despite the "multimedia" headline category, it lacks the HSDPA to give you that faster internet experience. You get the normal A2DP Bluetooth connection (which you can also use with some Kodak printers for printing) and you get Wi-Fi, which means you can use your wireless connection rather than using GPRS for your data, which is a smart move for those uploading a large number of images.

Storage gives you a reasonable 350MB on-board, with support for up to 4GB via a microSD slot that lives under the back cover. There is also a 3.5mm socket, which serves as a TV out, meaning you can easily hook the ZN5 up to your TV to show off your photos and videos with a slideshow. The cable is supplied in the box to do this, along with the Micro-USB cable and basic headset.

Verdict

Whilst we like some of the camera functions and the performance was better than we expected (given the right conditions) you can’t help feel that the ZN5 is still a bit half baked. For a phone that wants that "multimedia" tag suggested by the new Motozine branding, it seems to fall short on offering you a decent data connection or a video camera that produces acceptable results.

The ZN5 seems to suffer from a continuing trend in Motorola phones of trying to pigeon hole each device – E8 is music, Z10 for video, ZN5 for photos. The result is a phone that lacks the broad appeal of some competitors. Yes, the camera is good, but nothing else seems to be remarkable. The result is a device that makes you spend a lot of time in various menus searching the feature you want.

Credit is duly given for the camera, flash and Wi-Fi, but the confusing menus, poor build quality, poor video and other silly little things, ultimately lose it marks. At the end of the day, after the camera, there is little to really get excited about.