Updated: January 18, 2019
The end of an era. The start of a new one. I strongly believe that Windows Phone will go down into the annals of history as the most beautiful, ergonomically pleasing touch interface ever designed. But the phone support is no more (just remember the hysteria around making the desktop like this, all in vain), and I require a new mobile device. Any good story starts with a conflict.
Roughly two months ago, I began me hunt for a successor phone for the Lumia 950. My requirements weren't that stringent, but they were also quite peculiar. In the end, after a good few days of online research, reading and then some more reading, I bought a Motorola One Zoom. Now, let me share the details. And if you're wondering, yes, this is a proper, long smartphone review, with a dose of dramatic prose. After me.
I've never really cared that much about phones. They serve a purpose, but I don't consider them a replacement for a full mouse-and-keyboard computing experience in any way. Instead, phones are useful for opportunistic needs, like an occasional call, some navigation in foreign lands, and maybe a quick glance at a webpage or two while bored. This means that the whole religion around smartphones escapes me.
But I do like quality products. And if a phone has a camera, then it ought to be decent. Over the years, I owned a few really nice devices. Back in 2011, I got myself a Nokia E6, which still works just fine and manages over two weeks of juice on its original battery, complete with touch, full keyboard, dual-band Wireless, and a camera that was better than more expensive and more powerful smartphones a good few years younger. But it too was a part of a dying ecosystem that couldn't be sustained in any meaningful way.
So I started exploring the next logical step in the equation - Nokia's Windows Phone. I bought myself a nifty little Lumia 520 (still works fine). This was a cheap device, and its main purpose was to get a feel of what the new platform could do. In parallel, I tested iPhone 6, which has pretty good optics, but everything else was severely restricted for my needs.
In late 2016, when I saw a 50% discount on Lumia 950, I decided to go for the bargain, fully aware that Windows Phone was a dying ecosystem at this point, with continuously reduced availability of applications in the Store. But for my needs, the excellent camera, the superb ergonomics, and the occasional piece of software or two that I wanted and needed (including fully offline maps) were more than enough.
Three years later feels too early to be ditching a perfectly solid phone, but it really is the end of the platform. And while you can easily breeze with unsupported software on the desktop, like Windows 7, this is not possible on the phone. One, the Windows 7 market share is massive. Two, software actually works even when disconnected from the mothership. Yup, that's one of the perils of the modern, online world, where the user doesn't have full control of the software.
I had already anticipated the inevitability of this move a while back, which is why I had purchased myself an Android phone, a rather cool Moto G6, in addition to already having heavily tested Moto G4 and BQ Aquaris, in order to get acquainted with the ecosystem to the tiniest level. This also meant tweaking and changing the defaults so there would be no noise, no distractions, no low-IQ stuff. The effort eventually culminated in a peaceful, toned-down Android, with Firefox plus adblocker as the primary browser, and almost every tracking or profiling setting that's conceivably accessible turned off, without compromising on practicality and usability. You can read more about this in my fairly lengthy Android privacy guide. There.
But the end result is - I was pleased. Android has improved significantly over the years. True, the interface is overwhelming when it comes to configuration, and you can easily get lost in the tons of menus and sub-menus that you need to go through to tame the system. Still, it is doable. And once you're done, you have a slick, fast, robust operating system and a bazillion apps for every need (not that you need).
At the same time, having spend some more time testing and playing with iPhone 6S, I decided that I wouldn't go with iOS. First, I find the devices prohibitively expensive. It would be like buying a supercar for the grocery run. Second, while iOS has improved a lot over the years, too, it still mandates being part of the Apple Store, and that's not something that I want or need. Even a simple thing like loading a bunch of MP3 songs onto the phone isn't a trivial thing. So Android it is.
At this point, you may be thinking, Moto G6? Well, I could have just chosen the G6 as my primary phone, but the camera wasn't good enough. So I decided to look for a different device, with higher-quality optics.
I've always had a soft spot for Nokia, and now that the company offers Android phones, I began exploring the new 7/8/9 line. I found the Nokia 9 PureView fascinating, with its penta-camera setup, but the phone didn't have a 3.5mm audio jack, so I decided not to buy it. Yes, in the end, a 5-dollar thing decided a 500-dollar purchase. This one tiny thing turned away a potential (loyal) customer. That's life.
Nokia 7.2 looked a bit meager. Nokia 8.1 seemed like my kind of phone, but it's a 2018 device, and I couldn't find a new one to buy. At this point, I realized that I would not be having a new Nokia phone. So I turned my attention to Motorola, which has surprised me greatly and served quite well these past few years.
After a bit of mulling, I zoned in on One Zoom. It looked like the perfect choice for my needs; reasonable price, quad camera setup for a total of 48 MP plus 3x optical zoom (hence the name I guess). Modern hardware AND 3.5mm audio jack. Dual SIM. Sounds good. Click, buy, the adventure begins.
Let's dwell some more on the actual device. There's a lot here, so bear with me.
Motorola One Zoom is a big phone, with a 6.4-inch screen composed of 1080x2340 pixels at 403 ppi density, framed in aluminium, and weighing a solid, dependable 190 grams - like in Snatch when Boris the Blade says: heavy is good, heavy is reliable. My model comes with a dual SIM tray, including one nano and one micro doubling as an SD card slot.
The internals comprise an octa-core processor, with two Kryo 460 Gold cores clocked at 2.0 GHz and six Kryo 460 Silver cores, running at a slightly lower 1.7 GHz. The GPU is Adreno 612, and by default you get Android Pie, nigh vanilla as it gets, with a promise of a future upgrade to whatever version 10 will be called. You also get 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of internal storage. The aforementioned SD card slot can accommodate a wafer with max capacity of 512 GB.
The sensors package is impressive. Four rear cameras with 48 MP resolution, one front lens with 25 MP resolution. We shall talk in much greater detail about this later. You get dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, 3.5mm audio jack, optical fingerprint sensor, and a reversible type-C USB connector for data transfer and turbo-charging. The battery is huge, 4000 mAh, and the one downside is that it cannot be removed.
Looks like a lot of bang for buck, or rather about 450 bucks, although I guess the price will vary from one region to another. All in all, roughly twice the cost of the Moto G6, and more or less the cost of a new Lumia back in the day. This makes for an interesting comparison, especially since the G6 also has an octa-core processor. Could it be the camera package? I wonder what the delta brings you. Time to test then ...
A pretty bad start
As it turns out, I almost destroyed the phone right away! I inserted the SIM tray the WRONG way around and had it jammed. At this point, you're free to use the noun idiot, but let me enlighten you with some details. The thing is, on my Moto G6, the SIM tray has the following orientation: SIM card goes face up and the pin hole for ejecting it is located on the right side of the tray, i.e. outward. Now, we have another phone from the same manufacturer, you'd expect things to be the same, no? No! On One Zoom, the pin hole is placed inward, and the SIM card needs to be positioned facing down, the exact reverse of what I did with the G6. So on instinct, I put the tray back, and oops.
I spent about 20 minutes trying to pry it out with a pair of tweezers, gently scratching the case as well as my own fingers. After some blood was shed and lots of swear words ejected into the ether, I managed to pull the tray out, without causing any major damage to the phone's internals. Once I had it inserted the right way in, everything was fine. I double-checked that it works fine with an extra few SIM card insertion exercises. So the damage is mostly mental, some cuts on me fingers, some scratches on the top of the phone, nary an hour into its lifetime. But I was so close to just using a hammer to retrieve the SIM card, and buy a new phone. Luckily, that venue of nonsense and lifetime regrets was averted.
Then I turned the phone on and went about my setup. Which had two stages:
- Porting my data from Lumia 950 onto my One Zoom.
- Taming the phone. Inline with my Android privacy guide, I spent a few hours going through EVERY SINGLE OPTION in the menu, reducing low-IQ noise.
The bad things didn't end with just bloodied fingers.
My goal was to import as many settings as I could from the Windows Phone into the Android, but mostly, I wanted the contacts. The call history, the chats and all that are less important, but still. So first, I went about the Internet, looking for guides on how to move your stuff from one realm to the other, and I found myself swimming in bullshit. So many guides, so much wrong. Not one of them offered anything remotely accurate. As I expected, the very reason why I started Dedoimedo in 2006 was that I needed to make my own tutorials.
I tried first by configuring my Live account on the Android phone and vice versa, adding my new Android account to the Lumia. Hopefully, somewhere in this process, there would be data sync. But no. That didn't happen. Neither on the old phone nor on the new one was there any simple button that let me actually grab my data. I tried with Live, Exchange and 365 account options, because supposedly there are differences in how these work, and what type of data sync you get. Well, email, contacts, calendar, nothing.
I then tried by logging into the Windows account through a browser on the phone, to se whether there'd be some import or export option there. Nope. But now, here's the funny thing. On the DESKTOP, when you log in, you get a much richer interface, and you CAN actually export your contacts as a csv file. I then tried to load this file onto my Android. The actual copy over USB went fine. I opened the Android Contacts application, but it only supports SIM card and vcf import. Not a bulk csv file thingie.
Now, here's ANOTHER funny thing. I logged with my new Android (gmail) account on the DESKTOP, and lo and behold, I was able to import the contacts using the csv file. And now, finally, I had my contacts on the phone. So, despite all this supposedly "modern" progress and "cloud" nonsense, it took a USB cable, desktop, and a text file to do a trivial thing. The mobile interfaces for these online accounts are lacking in functionality, and you can't really do this on the phone. That's 2019 (2020) progress for you.
But it doesn't end there.
One other app that I wanted to sync - WhatsApp. It's not a big deal, just some casual bullshit with a few nonexistent friends and such. But hey, hey, WhatsApp on Windows Mobile is kaput, so why not. And looking through the settings, it said that everything was backed up and all. However, when I authenticated on the new phone, not a single chat had been imported or synced. My contacts were there, fine, and my application configuration had been migrated, great. But no chats.
I spent some more time reading inaccurate information online on how to achieve this, and it turns out, it's not really possible. Different database formats, for the same application (on different platforms). What makes things worse is that once you move your number from one phone to the other, the old application gets "signed out" or whatever, so you can't really troubleshoot. And if you re-authenticate the old device, then the verification time windows you're allowed to use goes up from 1 minute to 8 hours, so suck it Gilliam. I wonder what would happen if I plugged a brand new and unassociated SIM card into the Windows Phone, and whether my contacts would see my credentials change. Then again, I am using the old number on Android, and things work fine there. So what happens then?
Eventually, I did it 1993 style. I went into each and every WhatsApp contact, tapped contact info, and then manually emailed myself a text version of the chat. Thus goeth the so-called encryption into the bin. To make everything worse, Outlook on Lumia wouldn't email with the Live account - I had to configure the new gmail account to be able to send myself the chats. And then we have the manual export of media files, too.
Two or three hours later, my new phone was ... new. I only had the contacts from the old device, but everything else was as though the Windows Phone never existed. If I had known this, I might as well have gotten a new random number and started fresh. All those cloud backups, a "wonderful" thing if, and only if, you're using the technology from the SAME vendor and stay in the safety and comfort of a closed ecosystem. Once you step out of it, stuff breaks. The whole protocol and data format redundancy that existed in 2009 still exists in 2019, and nothing has changed. Well, except you now work with stupidly simplified interfaces designed for simian touch.
Thus ended part one of my tribulation.
Taming the shrew
Things started improving once I got my hands deep into the candy. Almost everything that I outlined in my privacy guide holds. But then, not quite. Even though both phones come from Motorola, even through both run Android Pie, there were some differences. For instance, the bootloader sequence. Moto G6 has an early-boot password check. The One Zoom doesn't do that, and you're only asked to unlock the screen. Both use encryption, so I guess it has to do with how this is actually realized on the devices. Certificates and whatnot.
The Moto G6 had about 70 apps preinstalled, including a lot of Microsoft Office stuff. The One Zoom comes with about 40, and they are all Android and one or two Moto apps. This probably has to do with the stock vanilla thingie. More curiously, some system settings are different, things like Smart Lock, actions, suggestions, etc. Even though I did the exact same thing as before, I had to triple check my work, to make sure I didn't miss anything. Some options are more visible and easier to manage. Some are more obscure and/or better hidden.
Google Play did ask me to configure additional search engines and browsers, akin to the Windows setup back in mid-late 2000s. I guess it was called Windows N, part of some EU anti-trust or such. Well, you get the same thing on Android now. I did of course configure Firefox, because that's my favorite (or the less unfavorite) browser, and you can have add-ons, including adblocking, which means a quieter, saner, cleaner browsing experience, faster site loading and less battery juice drain. Then I also installed Here WeGo and VLC. And that's pretty much that. One or two extra apps, just to see how the phone behaves.
Silence of the apps
There were still annoyances, of course. Slowly, carefully, methodically, I turned notifications down, including the screenshot popup, weather alert, disabled additional noise settings in various applications, and ended up with a tight, lean Android configuration, just as it should be. You must have the deep commitment to do all this, but it's possible.
There are also some nice touches. For example, you can use Spotify or YouTube for your alarm. But you can then also configure custom sounds (or songs). Then, you have (reasonably) effective adaptive display brightness, color and font tuning. I don't necessarily like how Android looks, but I sure appreciate the ability to change and tweak the system look and behavior.
Now, this is going to be complex. Well, it has to be, given the monstrosity that One Zoom packs on the backcover. Since it's hard forcing the laws of physics to do more than is possible from small, thin optical elements that represent smartphone cameras, vendors have turned to a new solution to the old conundrum. MOAR cameras!
Motorola One Zoom comes with a rather unusual setup - four lenses on the back. The multitude of sensors is designed to offer better picture depth and color resolution, and allows for some neat tricks like zoom and ultra-wide shots. Indeed, One Zoom features three distinct photo modes.
The main camera comes with f/1.7 aperture and image stabilization, and it offers standard 1x zoom shots. By default, it takes 48 MP of information and compresses that into a single 12MP image. You then have a 3x zoom f/2.4 8MP telephoto unit, which makes it pretty unique on the market. Next, you can also make ultra-wide shots. This camera does 0.5x zoom for a 117-degree FoV, at 16 MP and 2.2 focal ratio. Lastly, the fourth camera is basically a 5MP depth sensor, designed to make pictures slightly less two-dimensional.
On the front, there's a 25MP sensor, which compresses mugshots into 6.25MP images. OK, selfies, yawn.
Sounds quite complicated, and I expected the camera interface to be crowded. Curiously, it wasn't. You have a button you can tap to switch modes (or use pinch zoom for a more fine-grained setting). By default, the camera app uses 1x zoom, then there's 3x telephoto and then 0.5x ultra-wide. You can also enhance photos with all sorts of AI tricks and HDR. Naturally, I disabled all these right away.
Now, does it work?
Yes. I have to say. Quite well, in fact. The standard camera is nothing too spectacular, but it does produce reasonably true colors, and there's even a modest degree of depth to images. The telephoto camera is really nice, and it creates sharp, clear images. The ultra-wide one is a bit weird. The colors are washed out, and the perspective is a bit wonky, so unless you really need it, you probably shouldn't be using it.
And then, my staring-into-bright-light example (Lumia on the left). Almost no halo, excellent background separation, bright and true colors. So I do have to say I'm quite pleased, because I have found a device that offers me the camera functionality that I need. The Lumia is no slouch, and it's a dear thing, if one can or ought to attach emotions to bricks of metal and plastic and glass, but this successor is worthy of the Dedo throne, and I shall enjoy taking photos with it.
Finally, a side-by-side comparison with the Moto G6 device (right):
Now, I can't really compare the telephoto functionality, but it does a pretty reasonable job. About 10 cm distance from the object, you get vibrant colors, good focus, all the shebang to feel like you know what you're doing. This is THE camera. If possible, step back a little and use it, because it delivers the best results.
How's the experience?
Good. I do have to say I am pleased with the phone and the operating system, and this is not just my brain justifying a non-trivial purchase. The performance is excellent. Everything responds instantly. Smooth, clean, no stutters. The screen detail quality is good. The sound is pretty rich and resonant, and there's no tinniness when you play music at high volume. Other improvements: Wireless scan-and-connect is FAST, not like what I experienced with the G6 after the upgrade to Pie. The quick-access icons in the overlay screen are more easily configurable than what I remember from the Moto. Could be small yet important operating system upgrades, but hey, I'm not complaining!
But then, my bad luck stream continued. I dropped the phone from about 1.5 meter height onto concrete, and then it bounced and landed in some bird poo. Luckily, the rugged custom cover I bought for the device (SCL) protected it from any damage, and equally luckily, the camera lenses weren't smudged with any droppings.
There were some software problems as well. GPS wouldn't work, even though it was turned on. A one-time glitch I guess. The old turn off/turn on trick (wax on, wax off) worked and fixed the issue. In the end, the phone was tame, fast and elegant, the scars invisible.
The Photo app is annoying though, because the buttons there don't have labels, so you kind of have to "accidentally" click them to figure out what they do. The crop function is odd, and I hate the AI suggestions in burst photos. I didn't find a way to disable it, plus it's awfully inaccurate and wrong, all the time.
Now, the biggest issue is ... the phone is big. Massive and heavy. It's not very comfortable in the hand, and you can feel the strain after using it for a while - comparing to say the Lumia or the G6. If you want to hold it slightly more comfortably, you'll end up with your fingers touching the lenses on the back. The camera element also protrudes a fair deal, so without a cover, you will likely end up scratching the lenses whenever you put the phone down. On the plus side, One Zoom is big and sturdy enough to wield as a weapon should you ever require it.
I found this to be one of the best parts of my journey. True, Motorola One Zoom packs a massive battery at 4000mAh, but it gives you a lot of usage time in return. Of course, I am by no means representative, and my usage patterns don't reflect in any shape or form the typical simian. That said, with light utilization, combined with ad-less browsing, some music playback in VLC, roughly 200 photos taken (no Flash), some video chatting plus an odd phone call, the device managed a full week without a need to recharge. I had the Wireless, mobile data and location turned on at all times. And remember, the system has been calmed down, with lots of extras turned off or disabled. Practically, this means you will need to replenish the ions once every three days or so with some moderate usage of the browser and media apps. Excellent.
Here we go. I've had the Motorola One Zoom for about a month now, and I have to say it's a good phone. In fact, let's do it systematically. Pros: excellent camera, good sounds, fast performance, splendid battery time, configurable operating system that is steadily improving. Cons: the phone is super heavy and cumbersome to hold, you need a lot of patience getting everything configured and tweaked, especially if you care about privacy.
But did I accomplish my mission? Yes I did. I have found a worthy successor to my Lumia. One Zoom matches and even supersedes some of the aspects of my previous phone, which makes me happy, as my degrees of freedom and my sense of nerdy control have not changed (for the worse). I really disliked Android many years ago, but it has evolved into a pretty solid system, and even someone like me, with almost zero interest in the mobile nonsense, can appreciate the improvements and advancements. You have the tools to change anything you like, and while the defaults are silly and lax, you can make Android work as you please.
Now, Android will most likely never be as clean and elegant as Windows Phone. But the super-rich app ecosystem does compensate for that. At the end of the day, it is a small compromise, here and there, but overall, 95% of things are just as good as they were, or even better. I'd say that qualifies as a pleasant and successful transition from one platform to another. It was a little bit traumatic due to the SIM card mistake and the manual data transfer, but I might even say that I'm cautiously, mildly enjoying it.
So there we are. An end of an era, and a start of a new one. Motorola One Zoom seems like a really nifty mid-range phone. I do wonder what high-end devices offer, but that's a story for another time. Meanwhile, if you want a capable, fast phone with lots of juice and a splendid camera with a real optical zoom, this is a really clever choice. I'm happy with my decision. 9.5/10. Bye Lumia, welcome One.