June 30, 2008, 9:14 AM — Just after the Motorola MotoZine ZN5's global launch in China last week, I got my hands on the handset and took it for a spin around Beijing over the weekend. It's great as a camera, maybe not so much as a mobile communicator.
The sun didn't shine for a moment during the two days, which made it less than optimum to test the phone's photographic capabilities, which were developed in cooperation with Kodak. Making images was a key part of Motorola's push for the phone, which is designed to facilitate social media.
To have a device that is as much a camera as it is a mobile handset was a bit of a paradigm shift for me. Since 2001, my primary phone has never been anything but a smartphone, so to switch back to a handset without a qwerty keyboard, either physical or display-generated, meant a shift of gears.
The ZN5 is the first of Motorola's Zine line of devices, designed with today's social networker in mind. It's a candybar-shape phone weighing 114 grams. It's 16 millimeters thick at the lens, and is 118 mm long and 50.5 mm wide. One of its main features is a 5.0-megapixel camera. The device I received met the China specifications, which means that it does not have Wi-Fi, as the phone will in most other markets. China Mobile doesn't like its customers using hotspots to access data or make VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls via Wi-Fi, and therefore authorized local editions of most devices don't support it.
As a camera, I loved the ZN5. I liked the mechanics of it: sliding down the cover to expose both the lens and built-in flash, watching the camera functions come on while deactivating the phone capabilities (something Motorola likes to call ModeShift Technology). Turning the candybar-style phone on it side moves the dedicated shutter button into position at the top right. The switch that controls the volume in handset mode can then be used for the digital zoom which, although it displays with poor resolution in the phone's window, actually offered excellent results.
I didn't fall in love with the ZN5's text or online capabilities. Thumbing out text messages, even using predictive text, reminded me why I moved to smartphones years ago. Although the phone connected well to China Mobile's GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) 2.5G mobile Internet, having to thumb in my login information reduced e-mail to read-only.
Call quality seemed fine but not quite as clear as on other phones I've used. The phone ran for three days before needing a battery recharge, which was about right given the number of photos I took with it.
I tried to share a couple of photos in various ways. When sending the photo by e-mail, the phone rejected it, saying the file was too large to send as an attachment, but it had no problem sending the same photo as an MMS (multimedia messaging service), the first such messages I've ever sent. I didn't have a chance to use the ZN5's very cool panorama photographic mode, as I was never in a venue that lent itself to that kind of shooting. However, the results I saw in multiple demonstrations made me want to upgrade my technology so that I am not without it again.
Along with electronic methods of sharing, I could have taken the ZN5 to any Kodak store and printed photos directly from the MicroSD card. It can take any such micro card up to 4G bytes, the Motorola folks tell me.
I pondered to whom the ZN5 would appeal. I would think that anyone who needs to relay information from the field to colleagues or clients -- property agents leapt to mind immediately -- could use it to take good-quality photos and upload them. It is also a fun tool for younger users who could take photos at a party, concert or other event and then send them out right away.
One woman who saw the phone said she loved the styling and the "diamond" bevels that guide the user's thumb on the keypad, along with the rubberized grip on the bottom of the phone that improves dexterity both when dialing and snapping pictures. She was slightly turned off, however, by its weight, and said that would be an issue if choosing to purchase it.
As I popped the SIM card out, I thought to myself that I would miss the ZN5 as a camera but not so much as a phone. Since Motorola is a handset manufacturer and not a camera maker, perhaps the next step in the Zine line should be a device that can combine greater and easier connectivity with the strong photographic capabilities of the ZN5.