Hands on: Motorola One Zoom Review

The Motorola One Zoom is the latest rival to the Pixel 3a. It hopes to claim a spot as one of 2019's best mid-range smartphones by offering buyers a clean Android install and nifty quad-sensor rear camera setup of the type traditionally seen on more expensive handsets.

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £379
  • Quad camera: 48-megapixel main, 8-megapixel telephoto, 5-megapixel ultra-wide 117-degree
  • 25-megapixel front camera dew-drop notch
  • 6.4-inch FHD OLED screen
  • 4000mAh battery with 15W Turbocharger
  • 128GB storage
  • Integrated fingerprint reader under screen
  • Snapdragon 675 CPU, 4GB RAM

The Motorola One Zoom is the iconic phone maker’s latest stab at delivering the ultimate mid-range camera phone.

It follows the legacy set by the original Motorola One Vision and aims to offer a top-end, quad-camera setup of the type you’d traditionally only find on a premium, £600-plus flagship such as the Huawei P30, but with a significantly more wallet-friendly price tag.

If this sounds like a familiar strategy, it should. Xiaomi has attempted to do much the same with the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 and its incoming wave of 108-megapixel camera phones.

But, despite not being the most original pitch, having had some hands-on time with the Zoom, I’ve found plenty to like about the new Motorola blower. As such, I can see it earning a place as one of 2019’s best mid-range smartphones – and the first valid rival to Google’s ruling Pixel 3a.

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Motorola One Zoom – Release date and price

The Motorola One Zoom will retail for a €429 (roughly £386) and is available now. The purple version of the device is an Amazon exclusive.

Motorola One Zoom camera – A top-end, quad-sensor snapper

From a distance, the One Zoom looks more like a flagship than arch-rival, the Pixel 3a, thanks to its glass rear; the latter sports a plastic one. This, plus the dinky bezel and dew-drop front-camera notch make for a handset that’s more like a tweaked Huawei P30 than a sub-£400 unit.

Peer round the back and its key selling point is immediately obvious: its quad camera. The camera sits in a square housing and distinct Motorola LED logo, which doubles as a notifications alert.

The camera setup appears to offer a serious step up on most similarly priced handsets. It pairs the main 48-megapixel Sony sensor seen on the OnePlus 7 and ZenFone 6 with an 8-megapixel telephoto, 5-megapixel depth and 117-degree ultra-wide sensor. For the non-techies out there, this means the device has the capability to deliver everything from bokeh-enhanced portrait shots, to low-light shooting and wide panoramas.

But from evaluation of other single-sensor devices such as the Pixel 3a – alongside units with lots of megapixels –  a higher number of sensors doesn’t necessarily mean great picture quality. It’s all about how the camera is set up and the processing techniques behind the scenes.

Which is the reason Motorola has made a big song and dance about the One Zoom’s AI enhanced features. As well as undisclosed “improvements” to the processing, Motorola has also added a nifty “AI shot optimisation” feature. This aims to let the phone detect the type of photo you’re trying to take and optimise the settings for that scenario. Unlike made AI camera modes, though, it isn’t automatic. Instead, it will inform you when it thinks it can help through a pop-up suggestion in the camera app. The changes will only be made if you tap the alert.

I only had the opportunity to snap a few photos on the busy, very brightly lit demo room, but the feature seemed to work fairly well. Putting the phone under a table, the camera suggested I switch on the Zoom’s Night mode, which aims to improve low-light performance.

Related: Best camera phone 2019

Until I get a chance to test the camera more thoroughly, and see how captured images look on a larger screen, I can’t sensibly comment on picture quality. But from what I saw the camera works fairly well. The app makes it easy to switch between sensors, and appeared to take decent portrait shots with a nice, soft bokeh effect around the intended subject. My only minor quibble is that, like all phones, the Beauty mode is a little extreme and on occasion the app could chug for a millisecond longer than I’d like.

This was only when I went full-on keyboard cat with the camera settings. Being fair to Motorola, this is something I’ve experienced on most phones with a Qualcomm 6-series CPU – the Zoom runs using a Snapdragon 645 and 4GB of RAM.

Elsewhere, the Motorola One Zoom has many of the modern trimmings of a flagship, including an in-display fingerprint scanner and a 6.4-inch FHD OLED screen, which, during testing, was wonderfully bright and featured reasonably clean-looking colours. I couldn’t put battery life through its paces, but past experience suggests the sizeable 4000mAh battery should easily last a day.

One final criticism: despite having the One branding, the Motorola One isn’t part of Google’s Android One initiative. This isn’t too big of a deal, though, since it still has stock Android installed and is blissfully free of bloatware. It just means the phone doesn’t come with the same software update guarantees as other Android One handsets.

Android One guarantees a phone will be updated to at least two new versions of Google’s OS and will receive security patches for at least three.

This is a rare promise in the mid-range market. A Motorola spokesperson said the company cut Android One in a bid to keep the phone’s price down, and that it “should” still get upgraded to Android Q when the OS arrives later this year.

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Motorola One Zoom  – Early verdict

On paper, the Motorola One Zoom is a seriously compelling mid-range phone. Featuring a clean Android install, impressive quad-camera setup and pleasingly premium design, it ticks all the right boxes to take on the Pixel 3a. Hopefully, we’ll see that it delivers on its opening promise when we get to test the device more thoroughly soon.

A ’hands on review’ is our first impression of a product only - it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it’s like to use. We call these ‘hands on reviews’ to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don’t give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

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