Thursday, 12 September 2019
Motorola One Zoom
The One Range
This new Zoom from Motorola has to be compared here with the One Vision, Action and Moto Z3 Play (links go to my reviews). It feels like a bit of a hybrid of the three from which features and specifications have been pinched, merged or extended. The phone can be bought in the UK just now via Amazon, with whom they have done a near-identical deal as they did in the USA with their fork of the Moto Z4. I detest pre-installed software, so my primary job here was to see how much of the pre-installed apps and links to services could be uninstalled or killed. And more importantly, going forward, what impact that has on getting regular updates to Android and Security Updates. The phone can be bought direct from Lenovorola's website, incidentally, and would appear to be a 'clean' version without the Amazon stuff. I was impatient!
Useful Additions or Bloat?
Let's get that out of the way first then. The main thrust of the Amazon tie-in is getting users to switch to Alexa. By default, a double-press of the power button invokes this, but it can be switched to Google Assistant, nothing or Camera (though double-twist for camera would waste the button slightly). Incidentally, changing this away from Alexa doesn't survive a reboot, annoyingly. Alexa app can't be uninstalled, but can be disabled and force-stopped. I've developed an A-List and B-List for these pre-installed apps. The A-List are the apps that I would have installed anyway and use, the B-List, those which I don't want/use and might bug me in time that I can't uninstall them. So, the A-List is Amazon Music, Shopping, IMDb and Audible, the B-List, Alexa and Photos. IMBd can be uninstalled, but the rest need disabling for those they annoy. Nova Prime in place and they can be hidden, largely. If the same principle had been applied by Amazon as it does for Kindle Readers - that it's cheaper to buy with this stuff on - then it's swallowable (given how otherwise 'vanilla' the phone is) - but this is the same price as a 'clean' version from Motorola (on release). As it happens, this doesn't really bother me much as long as the apps don't waste system resources or bug me. I've already had a pop-up prompting me to use Amazon Photos. We shall see!
AndroidOne or Android
The benefits of using an AndroidOne phone is that two major updates of Android are guaranteed, along with three years of Security patches. The Zoom is not sure to get that - the same as the Z3 Play and G7 Plus. The One Vision and Action will qualify. Motorola have not been the fastest firm for pushing out updates, so we'll see what happens with this one. As we head towards Android 10, Project Mainline should be ironing out these inconsistencies and I'm assuming, regardless of the above, that at least Q (10) and R (11) will be pushed out for the Zoom. Watch this space! Out of the box the Zoom was running Android 9 Pie with July 2019 Google Security, which updated straight away to August (unlike the Z3 play). Going forward I guess we enter the usual 3-month pattern with non-AndroidOne devices until the above changes kick in.
As usual, the Moto Launcher is clean and very Vanilla following the Pie protocols, but without the Pixel's fixed-screen Glance/Search bars. The Google Cards to the left of Home can be switched on/off and layout made 4x5 or 5x5. Notification shade and App Drawer are Pixel-style, with the added bonus of swipe-up from anywhere for one and swipe-down from anywhere for the other. Google need to adopt this! Apart from the Motorola additions, which I'll come to, the Settings is equally untarnished, though dark mode is yet to make it across. Nova Launcher/Companion App can of course replace all this and fix it up, but it almost feels a bit of a shame to do so when it's all so close to what the average user will be happy to use.
So, what's the One Zoom's speciality amongst the family? Whilst the Vision has 21:9 for media, the Action, wide-angle action-cam for snowboarders and the like, the Zoom, unsurprisingly, provides a 3x Optical Zoom. Not quite the 5x of the current leaders, but let's not forget that this one is near-half the price of those! I'll come to the cameras later, as there are 4 of them, providing a distinctive 'cluster' in an oblong box on the back, which also houses a light-up Notification Motorola 'M' logo, Razer Phone style.
But first things first and the physical. The Zoom and Action are not quite as tall as the Vision, as their 19:9 screens are not 21:9 for cinema! The Zoom and Action actually, are very near the same size all round, save for a shave off the Action's thickness. The Zoom is the wider of the three, heading more towards the dimensions of the Z3 Play, though a tad taller - and fatter of course. Without a Mod on the back, the Z3 Play is super-thin. The Action and Vision have a corner Selfie 'hole' cut out of the front glass whereas with the Zoom, they've gone for a teardrop, central. On first holding the phone, I was surprised at how big it felt. From prior research I really thought it would 'feel' smaller than it does. I couldn't get my finger and thumb around the waist even without the supplied clear TPU in the box, which incidentally is of good quality and saves the user buying another. The phone feels chunky, weighty (at 190g) and substantial. It verges on being a two-handed phone, which is why Moto have supplied a software swipe-for-reducing the screen content this time.
Bezels around three sides are small but not invisible, providing a good balance between making the most of screen size and not forcing accidental touches and swipes. There's a slightly larger bezel as a chin, but I'm OK with that as it gives my big digits more space to be sure and hit Motorola's superb Long Pill Navigation control. On the right side are a volume rocker and Power button. The power button is knurled and both controls are metal, feeling sturdy and firm in use. The front glass is 'Panda King' 2.5D and back is Gorilla Glass 3, the same as the rest of the family but the 6000-series polished aluminium around the edge is where the the Vision and Action are left behind, being plastic. This is clearly a price-point thing and you can tell, when handling the Vision/Action's sides without a TPU in place - and accessing the SIM Card Tray, that the Zoom and indeed Z3 Play are a cut above on quality. The colour I have here is Cosmic Purple and like a lot phones these days, the back glass, which sweeps nicely round to meet the aluminium surround, kind of shimmers in different lights and has a soft-touch velvet look. Very attractive for those brave enough to use it without the TPU! The Zoom is splash and dust resistant IP5/2, with P2i nano-coating, apparently!
Very unusually these days, the single Mono speaker is at the top instead of bottom along with the SIM Card Tray, which will take two SIMs or one and a microSD Card on this variant - your region may vary so do check. On the left of the phone there's no controls and on the bottom, USB-C port and 3.5mm audio-out socket. On the rear is where the fun starts as we look at a huge camera-cluster, with 4 lenses and an LED flash to the side. The island sits proud, but becomes flush with the TPU in place - and has a stylish vertical-line pattern when viewed at certain angles. As mentioned above, there's a Notification Logo which lights up white. The behaviour of this can be assigned in Settings to be always-on when the phone is in use, for Notifications, Wireless emergency alerts and/or when charging. Any or all of these can be toggled as well as sub-controls for bypass when DND is active. It appears to slowly 'pulse' ongoingly until the item is dealt with, when set to Notifications. The colour can't be changed from white, Razer Phone style, but this is not a toy!
The Motorola One Zoom has a Snapdragon 675 under the bonnet whereas the Vision, due to some Samsung deal, had the Exynos 9609. As I said at the time, I had no slow-down with the Vision running that chipset like I did experience with the Samsung Galaxy A50 with the close 9610. Similarly I detect no slowdown with the Zoom here, whatever I throw at it and the good-enough-for-Pixel 4GB of RAM makes switching between apps just fine. I see no excessive shutdown in the background and really don't think (currently) Android Pie needs more, where a clean version of the OS is adopted. The 600-series SnapDragons seem to be very well optimised for performance and battery usage. I've never had any problems at all with the Z3 Play's 636. As we've come to expect with Motorola, the signal pickup and connectivity over Cellular, GPS and WiFi is second to none. I have areas which have proved to be dodgy where I can conduct these tests and it holds on very well above average.
The battery inside the Zoom is a 4000mAh unit, more than the 3500mAh of the Vision/Zoom and certainly up on the 3000mAh Z3 Play (onto which battery Mods of course can be added). I've experienced the best return on my 10% test of any phone I've tried for the last couple of years with this cell. Level playing field, same for all devices on test, general use, screen on, reading, scrolling, the odd video, podcast, adaptive brightness/battery - you get the idea - and I have reached 1hr 40mins for the 10% here. Staggeringly good performance - and a real-world (for me) in early test returns 2-days of average usage. There's no Qi charging here but with that kind of performance, it's not a great miss. Always better to have than not of course, but I guess something had to give on price. There's a TurboPower 18W Charger in the box if it's needed for quick fixes.
One of the key differences between the two pairs is screen tech for these 1080p units across the range. The Vision (6.3") and Action (6.3") have LCD screens whereas the Z3 Play (6") and Zoom (6.4") have flat Max Vision OLED panels (which I'm assuming are Samsung's but couldn't seem to track that data down). This, along with the Android/AndroidOne, seems to make the difference also between the level of support for Motorola's own software supplied for Peek and Approach, which I'll come to later. The colours are gloriously rich, blacks black and screen very bright, just like Motorola's other phones with OLED panels down the line. There's a basic switch in Settings for Colours between Natural, Boosted and Saturated. There's not much difference between the first two, but the Saturated pulls more vibrancy out of reds and greens. However we egg-it-up, LCD screens from the other models in the One range are nothing like the excellent OLED here. The screen is very responsive and swipes perfect. The central notch at the top is small and half of it is lost in the top bezel anyway, making a small semi-circle cut out. It almost looks like it could have been completely placed in the bezel, but no matter, as discussed before, until under-glass selfie-cams are routine, the brain gets used to it quickly.
This is one of the first shots Motorola has had at an under-glass optical fingerprint scanner instead of a capacitive unit in the chin, round the back or on the side. Coming from the Nokia 9 PureView, this scanner is a delight - and actually works properly! It's no capacitive scanner, but it really isn't that far behind. I'd say it's easily as quick as the OnePlus 7 Pro I tested recently and as Optical Scanners go, it's up with the best using the tech. Registration is certainly more fussy than, say, a Pixel, but once done, it works first time, every time, with nanoseconds delay whilst it processes the image. I have no complaints and am happy that it's on the front for desk/table/arm-chair use. There's also Moto's Face Unlock in the mix, which is a little fussy to set up (for us with full beards!) but seems to work fine in tandem with the aforementioned measures. It does need a swipe to execute, which for me, renders it less useful than, for example, Samsung's version.
This brings us nicely to the Moto add-ons which include the full-suite found on the Z3 Play instead of the cut-down versions applied to the Vision/Action. As I've said before, the Moto add-ons feel very much like enhancements to Android rather than bloat. We get the Moto Actions (twist for camera, chop-chop for torch, Long Pill Navigation (or 3-button), 3-finger (long) screenshot, various flip-for/pick up options for phone use, option to remap volume keys for media, Lift to unlock and shrink screen for one-handed use) and Moto Display (Peek, Approach, Attentive and DTTW). The approach is the most useful routinely, meaning that you just have to move your hand over the device to wake the screen - and Peek enables a high level of interaction with Notifications and Media. It's a great system and sorely missed by me with the Vision. The screen lights up, along with that 'M' on the back of the phone and lets you get on - or touch the fingerprint scanner target to open up fully. I can't emphasise enough how super the UX is, of the Motorola phones that have the full suite.
Yes, the first Motorola (certainly since before the Z) which works beautifully with HDMI-Out. I don't understand why this feature is not plugged by firms selling phones, but it wasn't documented anywhere I read. (I guess they assume nobody can be bothered with wires much anymore.) Discovered during my normal round of testing for reviews and yes, my eyes lit up! Well done Moto! Not so surprising is the USB-OTG and the Zoom passed my 2TB SSD Extreme Test with ease. Not quite as quick as Samsung flagships, but not far behind. Reads and writes more than fast enough. There's also microSD Card support of course and in keeping with 2019 Moto phones, 128GB built-in storage. Hurrah again! I'm beginning to find it hard to find fault with this phone! Maybe the single Mono Speaker will bring me back down to earth...
I've pitched the speaker up against the (loud but not best quality at full volume) Motorola One Vision and the (great quality but not so loud) Z3 Play. Guess what? It comes out as a merge of the two! The volume is louder than the Z3 Play and quality at least equal, if not better - but not as loud as the Vision, but certainly better quality. Bring down the volume of the Vision to match the maximum of the Zoom and the Zoom sounds better, richer and with more body and depth. As always, it depends what you listen to, but my yardstick here is consistent in testing phones against each other. In a nutshell then, it's a better all-round sound than either of the others but yes, the Vision can get louder. Perfectly good for my use and I'm really not bothered about stereo in phones. I have started to use Bluetooth speakers more these days and of course Bluetooth 5 is supplied here, working perfectly with various devices though without aptX support. Can I tell the difference? There. I convinced myself! Incidentally, I reckon that the speaker being up-top rather than down-bottom is better for me, particularly when listening to music and reading (in portrait). In this situation, with speaker at the foot, my hand is always covering it. This way up, it ain't! Certainly better also for any car-cradles.
There's a 3.5mm audio-out socket, as I mentioned earlier, but no fancy Quad DAC or higher-level output available, so a super-dongle is needed to boost sound for those feeling they need it. There's a pair of nasty-looking in-ear 'phones in the box which will stay nicely wrapped up as I test with my AKG K701 reference headset and Marshall Major Bluetooth set instead! When Google Play Music is used, the equaliser is routed to the 'Audio Effects' software, so not full Dolby, but actually it's very good and has many options which make a real enhancement to the sound. 3D Stereo, Cinema and Live as pre-sets and a Custom option with Treble, Vocal, Extreme Bass, Bass Punch amongst others and Surround settings for Live, Wide or Ambient. I can't seem to get to these controls via any other Music app, so it must be just locked to GPM - no system-wide audio here, sadly. I'm no audiophile but I think the effects certainly enhance the experience - and for 95% of users with headphones is good enough and loud enough. Plug in my Razer Phone USB-3.5mm DAC Dongle and of course it ups the stakes to a powerful output - but all those equaliser options still work. As you were probably expecting me to say, the Bluetooth performance, even with no aptX, sounds staggeringly good over the Marshall set (once the bass had been killed! No wonder rock musicians are all deaf!) to these ears. There's a recording FM Radio thrown in, much like the other One devices, but not Z-series. Seems to work well - and unusually, doesn't even insist on something being plugged into the 3.5mm to work should you be in a very strong signal area.
Now for the tricky bit, I thought. Having shared some basic photos with Steve Litchfield and getting his brief take on them, it seems that the approach to the camera by Moto has been largely similar to that on the One Vision, with the added bonus of the other lenses providing 3x optical zoom and a wide-angle option. Steve wasn't impressed with the photos from the Vision in The Phones Show 369 and concluded that it really needs software updates to make it anything close to special. Decent enough, but also filled with artefacts at the pixel level because of the processing. Shame then, should this be the same, given the unit's focus! So yes, there are 4 cameras. The main one is this getting-common 48MP-into-12MP (pixel binning) f1.7 unit with OIS which we've reported on all over the place during the last few months. Nothing special there. The second camera is an 8MP f2.4 one which provides for the 3x optical zoom, the third a 16MP f2.2 offering (117º) wide-angle shooting and lastly a supporting little 5MP f2.2 collecting depth data. Inside the camera app we have various modes and options including Night Vision, Auto Smile, Portrait, Smart Composition, Spirit Level, Spot Color, Cinemagraph, Active Photos, Cutout, Live Filter, Panorama and Timelapse with Hyperlapse, Slow Motion for video shooting. The front-facing Selfie is a 25MP-into-6.25MP f2 unit (or forced 25MP), same as the Vision, which offers almost as many modes and options as the rear-facing cameras, plus Group Selfie.
Real Life Camera
Leaving behind all the tech-spec and claims of the cameras, back in my hands I bring you my thoughts as they appear to me. I love the 3x zoom, especially when used for close-focus, which I remember enjoying very much with the Huawei P30 Pro. That 3x zoom just gets me closer and because it's optical, there's nothing lost. Excellent, if not true Macro, close-ups which I shall really enjoy exploiting. Likewise for getting closer in general use to any subject - much better to have than to not as an option! The wide-angle camera also transforms approaches to photography, opening up yet another avenue of creative opportunity, grabbling broad scenes and interiors of buildings with ease. The collection of options on display here represent to me (always the phone-camera critic comparing to 'proper' cameras) a step forward with a range of lenses doing different jobs, providing excellent flexibility at an affordable price-point. In addition to the hardware, I've enjoyed playing with Moto's software over the years, some unique offerings, some emulated from others, but lots to play with and nicely arranged for ease of use. The Portrait Mode works well as we live in the age-of-bokeh, it seems, and the Night Vision Mode does the trick to pull out otherwise impossible shots - with of course the usual digital paybacks of deteriorated images/noise. Still, better to have than not to have! The 3x optical zoom can be eeked out to produce a 10x Hybrid Zoom making use of the optics and software and again, in real world use I find this great to have as an option even though it's often difficult to keep the phone still enough to use (even with OIS) and image quality is always going to be a compromise for the pixel-peeper. For the rest of us, it's just great for everything we're likely to going to want to use the photos. Go have fun and play!
I know I always seem to enthuse about new phones, but this one really does feel a bit like the spiritual successor to the Z-range Mod-enabled range which now looks like coming to an end with a US-only release of the Z4. Apart from the Mods access, it does have many similarities in terms of size, build, materials, feel in the hand, full software suite, improved capabilities/support, AoD-approach-peek and smashing OLED screen. It feels that although part of the One-range, it's really standing apart as a more unique better quality model with more options. The sound from speaker is excellent, the cameras (if not technically perfect yet) great fun, extending options through flexibility, a bigger battery supported by efficient chipset and clean version of Android. Buy the non-Amazon unit and you won't even get their software, though, you might also want to consider how intrusive that is for you if you use Amazon services/apps anyway and are a Prime customer. It's currently £379 in the UK and I'd like to think that (at least the Amazon version) will drop in time. Having said that, it took a long time for the Z3 Play to come down. There's an awful lot of phone here for that price, beautifully made, with features some of which you'd pay double the price for elsewhere. Motorola are certainly pricing the One range aggressively. It's a fabulous phone which I'm really enjoying using and highly recommend. 90% of the features of flagships for half the price seems to be creeping up to 95%.
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