CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Motorola Zine ZN5 (T-Mobile) review: Motorola Zine ZN5 (T-Mobile)

Motorola Zine ZN5 (T-Mobile)

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
10 min read


Motorola Zine ZN5 (T-Mobile)

The Good

The Motorola ZN5 offers a fantastic camera with a wide range of options and excellent photo quality. The plentiful feature set includes stereo Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the design is sleek and sturdy, and call quality is more than respectable.

The Bad

The Motorola ZN5's memory card is located behind the battery cover. The menus can be pokey at times and the camera interface could use a refinement. Also, the ZN5 lacks video editing features and the photo uploading process had a couple of hiccups.

The Bottom Line

The Motorola ZN5 is the best camera phone we've seen so far. But it doesn't stop there, as it's a good phone, too.

Ever since the ZN5 was announced in June and then cleared the FCC the next month, we've been waiting with bated breath to get our hands on the fancy camera phone. Monday, November 3, it finally lands at T-Mobile. Designed in partnership with Kodak (yes, that Kodak), the ZN5 is hardly the first camera phone we've seen, but it's certainly stands at the top of the list. Camera options are top-notch, the photo quality is excellent, and the integrated Wi-Fi makes getting photos off the phone a breeze. Of course, it is a phone too; and on that front it succeeds by offering good call quality. Other features were generous and it's all wrapped up in a sleek and sturdy design. At times, the phone could be a little pokey, but the ZN5 is an appealing device that successfully blends "camera" and "phone." You can get it for $99 with service.

On the outside, the ZN5 is an attractive device with a sleek profile and an understated style. Though you might think it's related to the Motorola Krave ZN4, the two devices couldn't be more different. While the ZN4 has a touch screen, the ZN5 has a standard candy-bar design with a full set of physical controls. The dark gray color scheme is nicely offset with a couple touches of purple. The handset feels great in the hand--both sturdy and comfortable without being excessively hefty (5.65 inches tall by 1.98 inches wide by 0.47 inch deep; weighing 4.02 ounces).

The gorgeous 2.4-inch display (320x240 pixels) takes up almost half of the phone's front. With support for 262,000 colors, graphics were sharp and colors were vibrant. Menus are straightforward, as the ZN5 has the same simple, but easy-to-use interface that we saw on the Motorola Rokr E8. You can change the brightness and the backlighting time. The text size is not adjustable, but it should be big enough for most users. The display is easier to see in direct light than on many other cell phones

The navigation toggle and central OK button are raised above the surface of the phone, which gives it a nice tactile feel, even if it is just a bit on the small side. In contrast, the remaining navigation controls--two soft keys, a photo gallery shortcut, a back button, and the Talk and End/power keys--are flush with the surface of the phone, but they have a spacious arrangement. Also, tiny silver bumps like those on the Rokr E8 assist in dialing by feel. The toggle doubles as a shortcut control to four user-defined features.

The backlighting on the ZN5's keypad changes when the phone is in camera mode.

The keypad is spacious as well. We could dial and text quickly, and the bright backlighting should help in dim situations. The alphanumeric keys also have tiny silver bumps to give them some tactile definition. And the keypad holds another surprise: like the ModeShift keypad on the Rokr E8, the backlighting on the ZN5's keypad changes when you're in camera mode. When snapping photos, you can access the photo gallery via a control between the "5" and "6" keys. What's more, when you're browsing the photo gallery, other controls appear for deleting a photo, going back to the camera mode, or accessing the photo share feature. In both environments, it's a nice touch.

From behind, the ZN5 somewhat resembles a standalone camera.

On the left side of the ZN5 are a volume rocker, a handset-locking switch, and a camera shutter key, which is purple. On the left spine, there are a 3.5mm headset jack (nice) and a micro USB port, which is used for both the USB cable and the charger. Turn the ZN5 over and you'll find the bright flash and the sliding camera lens cover. Opening the cover starts the camera automatically. There's no self-portrait mirror, which we'd complain about normally, but few standalone cameras have them either. Unfortunately, the ZN5's microSD-card slot is located in an inconvenient location--you must remove the battery cover and the battery to access it.

The ZN5 is all about photography, so we'll start there. Kodak had a hand in the inner camera workings, though both Moto and Kodak declined to state specifics. As we said earlier, the camera starts automatically when you open the ZN5's lens cover. You can shoot photos in four resolutions, from 5 megapixels down to 1.2 megapixels. As you'd expect, editing options are more than plentiful. The camera offers an autotimer, a low light setting, three focus settings (auto, landscape, and macro), five white balance settings (daylight, cloudy, tungsten, auto, and fluorescent), a multishot mode, and six shutter sounds, plus a silent option. The flash is full Xenon, so it's quite effective under almost all conditions. It has four settings: on, red-eye reduction, auto, or off. Our only complaint was that the "auto" setting appeared to be rather sensitive. It fired even when we were indoors under strong lighting, which caused our subjects to be washed out. We recommend you play around with it when shooting.

Though many camera phones--and many standalone cameras for the matter--suffer from a noticeable shutter lag, the ZN5 has a click-to-capture duration of .02 seconds. The camera is always in auto mode, so you can't set the aperture or shutter speed manually. But depending on the lighting conditions, the camera will choose an aperture of f/2.8 to f/5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/60 to 1/1,000 seconds. The ZN5's focal length is 5.56mm.

The ZN5 has a bright Xenon flash and sliding lens cover.

Taking pictures is an enjoyable and intuitive experience. The menus are easy to use, with one small exception--while the pop-up menus work only in landscape mode, the detailed submenus work only in portrait mode. It would be better if they had the same orientation. On the upside, the camera's controls are comfortably placed.

We're big fans of the nifty panorama mode. After you take the first shot for your three-shot panorama, the phone will vibrate until you move it to the correct position for the next shot. Once you're there, the camera will snap the next image automatically. Also, a border will direct you as you pan. Just keep in mind that you must move from left to right. It's definitely easy to use and similar to the panorama mode on the Samsung Innov8.

When finished with your shots you can choose from a number of editing options. You can crop, resize and rotate photos, choose one of six color tones, produce a mirrored image, add a tag, adjust the brightness and contrast, and alter the sharpness or blur. In the Add Elements menu you can add a graphic, a timestamp, and one of seven image borders. Furthermore, Kodak's Perfect Touch is integrated on the phone. It will detect and reduce red eye, reduce shadows, add richer detail, and make colors more vibrant. You even can change the default naming convention.

The video camera takes clips in two resolutions (176x144 and 128x96) with sound. To our surprise, editing options are nonexistent, but you can select a video length. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 10 seconds, but you can shoot for longer in normal mode. The ZN5 offers a healthy 128MB of user-accessible shared memory, but we recommend using a memory card just the same. The phone comes with a 1GB card in the box, but it can accommodate cards up to 4GB.

The ZN5 offers fantastic photo quality.

Photo quality on the ZN5 was the best we've seen on a camera phone (so far). Colors were bright and natural, and objects were sharp. There also was no blurriness or image noise, except in very dimly lit environments. As mentioned earlier, the flash is a bit sensitive so it is easy to get photos that are blown out. But even so, this is one camera phone with fantastic image quality. Videos weren't quite as sharp, but they were better than on most camera phones.

Motorola and Kodak make it very easy to get photos off the phone. As for the old-fashioned methods, you can transfer them to a PC or photo printer using a USB cable, a memory card, and Bluetooth, or you can send them in a multimedia message. When we connected the ZN5 to a PC it recognized our phone instantly and we moved our shots over without a hitch. A copy of the Moto Tools PC syncing software comes in the box, but to don't need to install it to sync the phone. You also can upload shots to a blog and save them to your online T-Mobile album.

The Kodak partnership also opens a new way to manage your photos through a wireless connection to the Kodak Photo Gallery online service (formerly Ofoto). Then you can share photos with friends, use the Gallery's simple editing tools, and order prints for home delivery. The integrated Wi-Fi will provide the fastest connection, but you also can use T-Mobile's GPRS cellular network.

We set up a connection using an existing Photo Gallery account. You can access your existing account or even create a new one right on the phone, so there's no need to visit the Web site first. We uploaded photos using Wi-Fi and GPRS. Interestingly, a Wi-Fi upload isn't significantly quicker than over GPRS, but you won't be subject to any additional data fees from T-Mobile. In either case, however, the photos appeared right in our online Photo Gallery account in a folder. It was a simple process, even if we had a few gripes. First off, when using GPRS, we experienced a couple connection errors that prevented our photos from being uploaded. We didn't have such problems over Wi-Fi, so we recommend sticking with that. Secondly, you can't designate the online folder in which you'd like to drop your shots. Granted, it's not a huge deal, but you will have to do some organizing on the online end. All photos taken in a particular month, even if they're uploaded at different times, will drop into a folder designed "mobile" and that month's name. On the upside, however, the "simple share" feature will default to whichever upload method you prefer, whether it is Bluetooth, the T-Mobile album or the Kodak Photo Gallery.

The slide show option will flash your photos in succession right on the phone's display. It's not as cool as the slide show tool on the Sony Ericsson C902, but it does the job. You can designate how long you'd like each photo to appear. You also can show off your photos on a TV, monitor, or projector using the included audiovisual cables. That's a nice touch.

Now, it's time for the boring stuff. The ZN5's phone book has room in each contact for five phone numbers, a nickname, three street addresses, a birthday (with a zodiac sign), an assistant's name, a manager's name, a company and job title, spouse and children names, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts). You can save callers to groups, pair them with a photo and one of 50 polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a speakerphone, a calculator, a calendar, a world clock, a task list, and a notepad. On the higher end, the ZN5 offers a file manager, full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, USB mass storage, PC syncing, a voice recorder, instant messaging, and Web-based POP3 e-mail.

For music, the ZN5 has a generic Moto media player for WMA and MP3 files. Features are slim beyond playlists and shuffle modes. The player is compatible with Windows Media Player 11, so you can drag tunes to the phone from a PC using a USB cable.

You can personalize the ZN5 with a selection of screen savers, themes, wallpapers, and alert tones. You can download more options, and additional ringtones from T-Mobile's t-zones service using the full HTML browser. The ZN5 comes with the demo versions of two games--Midnight Pool 3D and Tetris--you'll have to buy the full versions for extended play.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) Motorola ZN5 world phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. We were pleased to find that the ZN5 does more than take good pictures; it also excels at its primary job. Call quality was very satisfactory overall. The audio was clear, the signal was free of static and interference, and the audio was loud. The ZN5 uses Moto's CrystalTalk technology, which helped to account for the great audio.

Callers said we sounded great on their end. They also commented on the voice clarity, even when we were calling form a noisy location. Some of our friends couldn't even tell we were using a cell phone. Speakerphone calls were quite good--the volume was loud and the audio was only slightly muffled. Automated-calling systems could understand us. Bluetooth headset calls were decent as well.

There were times where the menu interface could be just a bit pokey, particularly in the camera menus. It's not a huge problem, but it was noticeable.

The ZN5 has a rated battery life of up to 9.5 hours talk time and up to 22.87 days standby time. Actual battery life will vary depending on how you use the phone. For example, heavy camera use will drain more power than just making calls. For talk times though, our tests showed a talk time of 5 hours and 11 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the ZN5 has a digital SAR rating of 1.59 watts per kilogram, which is quite high.


Motorola Zine ZN5 (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8