We’ve come to the point in this startling 21st century economic downturn where everyone, it seems, has been touched in some way by financial stress. Pull up a bar stool, brother, tell me your recession story over $2 drafts and I’ll tell you mine. 2009 hasn’t been easy for anybody, even camera and cell phone companies, despite last year’s predictions that they’d be recession-proof because Americans consider their mobile devices a necessity.
Personal tech devices have remained a must-have, but Americans aren’t slapping down $500 for some status-y smartphone anymore. They still want high-quality networked devices with plenty of apps, but they’re looking to spend less than $100 for all that, and the thin silver lining of these lean times is that tech companies are going to give it to them.
A shiny little example of such affordable convergence is Motorola’s advanced new camera-phone hybrid, the "Zine" ZN5, carried by T-Mobile and available right now at $99 with a service contract. This is by far the most advanced camera we’ve seen yet on a premium cell phone, and it’s worth noting even if you don’t have a working relationship with T-Mobile because it’s raised the standard for what reasonably-priced devices can pull off.
To start, this phone takes excellent pictures. Really. We’re talking 5-megapixels, rich colors, automatic white balance, red-eye reduction, the whole point-and-shoot smash from a cellphone smaller than a Hershey bar. It even looks like a camera from the back, with a gleaming purple shutter button and a lens cover that slides open to reveal a full Xenon flash.
Holding the ZN5 horizontally, you shoot exactly as you would a digicam, pausing to let the autofocus lock in. Right after you get your shot, playback menus let you crop, rotate, sharpen, and adjust the tone and brightness of your image. There’s
even a panorama mode, the best I’ve encountered on any camera, save for Sony’s cool new "sweep panorama" app on it’s latest ultra-zoom, the HX1.
Motorola teamed up with Kodak while developing the ZN5, and their partnership has led to innovations in getting your photos off the phone, always a challenge. The designers decided to give us a bevy of options this time, including direct uploading via Wi-Fi to either T-Mobile or Kodak photo-sharing sites.
I’m a memory card girl myself, and I love that the ZN5 has a spot for a removable big-gig SD card (the phone accommodates up to a 4GB card). Unfortunately, that card slot happens to be deep inside the phone, actually under the battery. Very inconvenient. I hope they’ll consider an easy-access side card slot in the future generations.
The ZN5 has video capture on board too, a choice of 176×144 or 128×96 resolutions. If you’re able to keep your movie under 10 seconds, you can actually send it as a video message (your kids’ll show you how).
Motorola’s new "CrystalTalk" technology, essentially a noise-cancellation feature, gives the ZN5 cred as an actual phone. The days of us having to repeatedly ask "Can you hear me now?" seem to be waning, happily replaced by "Hang on, I’m send you video of the baby walking right now!"
$99 with service contract
Size: 2.0 x 4.6 x .5 inches
5 megapixel camera
Wi-Fi and Stereo Bluetooth
1 GB SD Card included