Introduction, design and MotoMods
Update: Our Moto Z review has been updated with final performance tests, camera samples and battery life benchmarks. Price and release date information has also been added.
The Moto Z is an Android phone with a new name that begins at the end of the alphabet, but is actually pioneering modular connectivity in a more robust way than its competitors.
It’s the world’s thinnest phone at 5.19mm in so-called “thickness,” and it feels incredibly thin to hold. This isn’t another meaningless marketing stat, yet you shouldn’t want it to stay so slim.
There are already four practical, modular accessories – more than we have seen with the add-on-deprived LG G5 – and they satisfyingly and securely attach to the back of this phone with magnets.
Moto Z’s “build out your smartphone” concept is fun and, importantly, its MotoMods are creative and well-designed. There’s everything from a predictable (but essential) battery back, to a more wild pico projector.
Shining your phone onto a wall is a awesome novelty and it’s completely hot swappable. No need to turn off the phone here. All accessories also work with the thicker, shatterproof Moto Z Force variant, too.
Motorola didn’t dial back the performance of the Moto Z to set new thinness records or to make way for magnetized accessories. Its specs are the same as its top competitors, including the ZTE Axon 7, HTC 10, LG G5, and Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge in the US.
It has the same processor, RAM and internal storage and even a microSD card slot (no modding needed). The 13MP camera on back and real-flash-included 5MP camera in front are solid, though you can’t miss that extreme camera bump in back. Somehow it’s still not the best in the world, just really good.
Three things will throw people about the Moto Z: its lack of a headphone jack in favor of audio through the USB-C port, its initially limited availability and its un-Moto-like price.
Moto Z is launching as a Verizon-exclusive in the US, and it’ll remain that way for the rest of the summer. Good news: it’s launch worldwide unlocked (including in the US) starting in September.
The price is higher than Motorola’s previous Moto X series. Moto Z costs $624 at full price, or $26 a month through Verizon’s payment plan over two years. There’s no UK or Australian pricing yet, but the straight conversion is £471 and AU$834.
Is the Moto Z worth that price bump? There’s a lot of potential behind the modular ecosystem that Motorola has created, enough to be a best phones contender in our next update. Let’s see how it does.
Moto Z is a smartphone that takes thinness to a new level with a flagship-worthy stainless steel frame that measures 153.3 x 75.3 x 5.19mm. It weighs just 139g and feels wafer-thin in one hand.
What’s uncanny about its dimensions is that Motorola introduced its thickness as 5.2 inches at Lenovo Tech World. When has a company ever rounded up on their smartphone thickness?
This may be why Motorola didn’t call it the Moto X 2016, even though that’s really what this is. The design drops the curved back for a flat and boxy shape that still feels good to hold.
All of this means that it’s so thin it doesn’t even include a normal 3.5mm headphone jack. Yes, Motorola beat Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus to dropping the headphone jack in favor of charging-audio output “solution.”
There’s nothing on the bottom except for a USB Type-C port. Included in the box is a 3.5mm jack to USB-C cable to convert your existing headphones, or you have the option of using Bluetooth. This seems like the future, like or not, and Motorola is going first.
The new connection that’s more revolutionary, and favorable for consumers, are the Pogo-style pins on the back of the Moto Z that enable modular accessories. The 16 gold-plated connectors feed data back and forth between the phone and MotoMods.
The entire back of the phone and all of the mods are magnetized so that the two click into place and, thankfully, no amount of shaking knocked them loose.
You won’t find the classic Moto dimple or a fingerprint sensor in the back. Instead, there’s a tiny fingerprint sensor on the front of the phone at the bottom. It’s right near the new “moto” lowercase logo (because that’s how everyone in tech does it these days).
On the front of the Moto Z is a fingerprint sensor. It’s at the bottom of the phone, along with the “moto” lowercase name (because that’s how everyone in Silicon Valley does it these days).
The non-clickable fingerprint sensor (that’s totally not a button, despite what your brain will say) is fast and accurate, although it takes up a bunch of otherwise dead room on the phone face.
It does have one standout feature: it not only wakes the phone with a finger press, but it also puts it back to sleep. No more reaching for that tiny sleep wake button on the side.
Fingerprints are more of a problem everywhere else on the Moto Z. This phone is a fingerprint and grease magnet – maybe to a world-record level, too. Both the front glass and the stainless steel back are consistently covered in smudges. It’s not very appealing or easy to wipe clean.
Both the black and gold Moto Z color options we tested were loaded with them. All the more reason to add modular accessories to this Android phone. That can include “Style Shells” (aka its thin back covers) that come in a variety of textures (wood, leather, plastic).
Moto Z modules
MotoMods are “world thinnest” destroying accessories that actually have us excited the about the Moto Z. They’re more plentiful and creative than what we’ve found from the LG G5.
The Moto Z Insta-Share projector is the more unconventional accessory: it’s a pico projector that shines your phone’s screen anywhere you’d like at a size of 70 inches before distortion kicks in.
True to its name, it instantly worked the first time we tried it, and we’ve been able to watch YouTube videos in a passable 480p resolution without having to lug around a heavy projector.
This projector fits in a pocket (though barely, at size close to 70mm) and has an embedded kickstand for tilting and automatic keytoning. Focus can be adjusted manually via a side dial.
The Insta-Share projector requires a dark or very dim room for its 50 lumens to be effective and, of course, it doesn’t come cheap: it costs US$299.
Motorola also partnered with JBL to pump up the volume with SoundBoost, which turns the back of the phone into a thick, powerful speaker. It’s loud (but not as loud as most Bluetooth speakers we have tested) and includes a handy kickstand. It also supplies 10 hours of battery life with its built-in 1,000mAh capacity.
If that’s not enough extra juice for you, there are several MotoMod packs that 2,200mAh of additional battery life in exchange for a few millimeters to the thickness. The Moto Z can afford this supplemental girth.
It comes in a variety of designs, including from designers like Kate Spade and luggage maker Tumi. It’s really trying to combine style and functionality, and it’s easier to clip on compared to a Mophie case.
You don’t have to buy a MotoMod right away to satisfyingly lock an accessory to the back of your new phone with magnetics. Moto Z comes with a Style Shield in the box.
Wood, leather and plastic options are going to be available in the future, giving you some degree of customization over your ever-important handset, just like the Moto X series.
Further out, there’s a lot of potential for MotoMods. Motorola is opening up its platform to one and all with a USD$125 developer kit.
Display, specs and performance
Moto Z is thin and focuses on modular capabilities, so at first we weren’t sure if it would fall behind when it came to its screen and internal specs. The good news is that is keeps up with today’s powerful displays and chipsets.
That means it has a Quad HD screen that’s every bit of AMOLED as Samsung’s world-class displays, with deep blacks and vibrant colors to match. Motorola has consistently excelled here, and it’s a wonder as to why the company hasn’t gotten into VR yet.
What’s even better than the richness of the display is the functionality. Returning with the Moto Z is the Moto Active display, which embed two proximity IR sensors into the face. These pick up hand gestures and other passing movements and light up a portion of the display.
In turn, the Moto Active displays shows notification icons and you press down on any of them to reveal a little more information. Flick the press-down icon up to open that app, or down to dismiss the alert. It’s a handy way to deal with notification and also see the time when the screen is otherwise off.
It’s powered by a Qualcomm-made Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM and an Adreno 530 GPU and USB Type-C connectivity and NFC and Android Pay supported.
Moto Z starts at 32GB of internal storage, but you can always spring for the 64GB configuration. Just know there’s a microSD slot and it can turn into a second SIM card slot, too.
All of this means it has the same basic guts as the LG G5, HTC 10, ZTE Axon 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7and S7 Edge (US versions). That’s a lot of sameness. So far, only the Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe has slightly newer Snapdragon 821 processor.
As you can see, more and more, there’s little that differentiates these phones, so there’s actually more reason to like the idea of modular accessories that change things up.
The Moto Z is one of the faster Android phones with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM we have tested, and its speedy performance proves just that.
There’s never any lag when we flipped between menus and the camera app boots up quickly, whether you’re pressing the normal camera button or shaking the phone twice to access the shortcut gesture to launch it.
Backing that up are benchmarks we ran using Geekbench 3 software. Moto Z managed an impressive multi-score of 5,425, which beats the HTC 10 (4,962) and the US version of the Samsung Galaxy S7 (5337) and S7 Edge (5398).
It only finished behind the Moto Z Force (5,472) and OnePlus 3 (5,425), the latter of which has 6GB of RAM. Of course, none of these phones touch the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge numbers that top 6,500 in the UK and elsewhere in the world.
Moto Z’s performance an impressive showing, and it may be due to its less weighty software. Motorola, while not under the Google umbrella anymore runs a nearly-stock version of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Samsung TouchWiz haters love this.
It doesn’t have multi-tasking like Samsung and LG phones, but the software should support that once Android Nougat launches this year. This phone is missing the 7.0 update by mere weeks. All hope isn’t lost. Motorola has always been good about updating its phones rather quickly.
Besides likable Moto-branded apps, there are a bunch of Verizon apps that fill the home screen and app draw is a sea of red. Most of them aren’t useful and cannot be uninstalled. Verizon has a solid messaging app, but it mainly people within the same network. Once Google flips the switch on its new Allo and Duo messaging apps, there’ll be a better alternative for the masses that isn’t Google Hangouts..
The Moto Z camera is 13MP with larger-sized 1.12um pixels, and includes a f/1.8 aperture with optical image stabilization and laser autofocus. It’s certainly a step up from the Moto X series.
The front-facing camera is 5MP and with an f/2.2 aperture and 1.4um big pixels for better low light and a real LED flash on the front. That’s becoming a bigger and bigger feature for selfie-craving phone owners.
We’re no longer wanting to take, re-take, and re-re-take photos before giving up – the Moto Z comes through with colorful shots in the daytime and above average low light photos, too.
OIS and zero shutter lag make this a fine smartphone camera during daylight hours, one that can compete with Samsung and LG, in fact. Well, if you’re not zooming in to nitpick.
Even with OIS and zero shutter lag here, however, photos like to blur with a modest amount of movement in dark situations. Stills require still subjects in low light.
The good news is that Motorola has overhauled its camera software. Gone is the awful dial that housed all of the controls and new to the app is a Pro mode for fine-tuning the ISO, white balance and aperture.
It’s still not as intuitive or robust as Samsung and LG’s feature-loaded default camera apps, and we hate the way you swipe from the edges to review photos (it leads to many error-filled back button presses). That said, it’s a step in the right direction and the photos taken don’t look bad in good light.
Front-facing camera samples
Moto Z battery life is where it falls short, and that slender size is to blame. It includes a 2,600 mAh battery capacity that just isn’t enough for modern phones.
It got us through the day with mixed use, but not to the 30 hours that Motorola had claimed. It died after 24 hours in most cases. The 3,500mAh battery of the Moto Z Force, however, carried us through the day and beyond, meeting its 40-hour promise.
Backing this up, we ran our standard battery life test, which includes an HD video loop for 90 minutes. When the video expired, the phone was down to 77% from a full battery. Contrast that with the Moto Z Force, which dropped to 86% in the same amount of time.
All of a sudden the Motomods battery case accessories make convincing arguments. There’s also reason to keep around the TurboCharger that’s supplied with the Moto Z. It provies fast charging for the phone with a USB-C cable on the end.
We found that the Moto Z regained 27% of battery life in just 15 minutes and that it was up to 100% by the end of 74 minutes. The only issue is that Motorola’s TurboCharger in the box is tethered to its power wall brick. It doesn’t separate with USB or USB-C on the wall end.
Moto Z takes the modular accessory idea we liked so much about the LG G5 and actually makes it work with better add-ons and an easier-to-use snap-on design.
It’s an Android phone that performs well right now and its future accessories hold a lot of promise down the road. Usually when we talk about mid-cycle upgrades, we’re strictly talking about new software. Moto Z could take on new form at any time.
MotoMods really make this smartphone something to desire. Right now, there are textured shells, fashionable battery cases, a powerful JBL speaker and a mini projector, and they’re all great ideas that take advantage of the magnetic back pins.
The design is already incredibly thin, so the extra thickness isn’t an impractical trade-off. The accessories are what make this phone stand out from the other half-dozen flagships with a Snapdragon 820 processor.
There is such a thing as being too thin in the smartphone world, and the Moto Z is at that point. Without a 3.5mm headphone jack, it requires a aux to USB cable that’s included, but a pain to remember to bring everywhere. Then there’s the less than stellar 2,600mAh battery capacity.
The phone design is likeable at the base level and its mods and shells give us some flair of your choosing, but it’s a fingerprint magnet no matter what. It’s fingerprint sensor and front logo also take up way too much space on the front of the chin of the device. While there’s no Verizon logo on there too, the carrier’s time-exclusivity and uninstallable app can’t be missed.
Moto Z isn’t the first or last modular phone, but it’s the first time we liked the idea on an Android device and see the potential behind building out our smartphone with new accessories. Options like a pico projector and attachable boom box are creative enough at launch that they could inspire a new way of thinking about how we use phones. They can be more than just solid bricks of glass and metal.
The LG G5 didn’t live up to that promise and Google’s Project Ara, while more ambitious, isn’t ready for mainstream consumers just yet. The Moto Z falls somewhere in between, and delivers on everyone’s standard smartphone needs too: a fast processor, enough memory and internal storage, and a solid performing camera. Its battery life and audio delivered via USB-C are major hurdles, but as long as you know about them going in, or find (or create) a future mod to correct the issue, there’s no reason to automatically bypass Motorola as an also-ran is your best phone decision.
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