Review: Motorola Motozine ZN5

[Editor’s note: The ZN5 we review here was a prototype version. When Motorola sends us a fully baked model to play with, we’ll update the review accordingly. Thanks for reading, G-Labbers!]

Oh snap! There’s a new cameraphone on the block — and this skinny, pixel-packin’ newcomer’s got Nokia and Sony Ericsson squarely in its sights.

As the unlikely lovechild of a sweaty fling between Motorola’s engineers and Kodak’s imaging wizards, the ZN5 aims to give cameraphone mainstays like the N82 and the K850i a serious run for their money.

And on the hardware front, this 5-megapixel pocket shooter does just that. Not only does the unit feel velvety smooth in the hand — thanks to a slightly concave back that gently cradles your index finger — but it’s made to weather the inevitable phone fumblings with grace and style, too. Featuring a rubberized base and a smokin’ dark grey metal body, the ZN5 flat out runs circles around the plastic-y competition.

Combine that with relatively artifact-free images, a high-res 2.4-inch screen plus the ability to save pictures with TIFF lossless compression (instead of JPEG), and you have yourself a solid first entry in the cameraphone arena.

Unfortunately, once you get past the handset’s formidable design jujitsu, the ZN5 does little to raise the cameraphone bar. While photos were clear and natural, we found they were considerably dimmer than those produced by our cameraphone fav, the Nokia N82 — even after using Kodak’s PerfectTouch tech.

There are also plenty of rough edges Motorola and Kodak need to smooth out if they want to give Nokia and Sony Ericsson anything to worry about. In particular, our review unit was plagued by an overzealous xenon flash, which, when used in close proximity to a subject, tended to wash out faces (and even parts of the background) in a sea of blinding white light.
Turning off the flash doesn’t help matters, either. The cameraphone’s low light performance (sans flash) was abysmal. And despite optimized settings for precisely these kinds of conditions, nighttime shots were noisier than a My Bloody Valentine show.

Equally, disappointing is the ZN5’s video implementation. While the handset flaunts a TV out and lets you shoot in two resolutions (176 x 144 and 128 x 96) at 15 fps, the footage we shot made YouTube videos look like the pinnacle of high-def splendor.

A fairly bare bones photo editor rounds out the phone’s feature set, allowing ZN5 users to apply basic effects to saved photos, including image rotation, mirroring, cutting and resizing. Essentially, there’s nary a feature here you can’t find on similarly equipped cameraphones.

Don’t get us wrong: None of these quirks are necessarily deal breakers. But hopefully in the finished version, we’ll find some some big brains to accompany the ZN5’s banging body. In the end, Motorola didn’t need to shoot the moon, but it did need something a step above other cameraphones that have been on the market for a year or more now. Unfortunately, the ZN5 is not quite that phone…yet.

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