Those who were big fans of the Moto X series of devices were understandably a little hesitant when leaks eventually lead to an announcement of the Moto Z. Sometimes a name is just a name, but in this instance, the Moto Z looked like the next step above the Moto X. The hesitance came from the plenty of people who felt that where the Moto X line was — high-end specs, mid-range price, and friendly and fun design — was perfect.
So let’s just get this out of the way right up front: the Moto Z is not the new Moto X. Cutting through the rumors and rhetoric, the Moto Z is not just an evolution of the Moto X. It feels like something that’s a cut above. Just as the Moto G and X feel similar, but distinctly different, so too does the Moto Z.
And that’s before we even consider how the device functions. The Moto Z and Moto Z Force are Moto’s idea of a modular smartphone. One that can be modded and customized with different backs that do more than just add a pop of color or texture. They add a projector, triple the battery life or throw in a couple high-end speakers.
On paper and in theory, the Moto Z is more than just an evolution of the Moto X, it’s an evolution of the smartphone itself. Let’s take a look at how it all comes together in practice.
The Moto Z and Z Force plus are pretty similarly spec’d, but there are some differences:
- 5.5-inch Quad HD 1440p display (Moto Z Force has a Moto ShatterShield display, as opposed to the Z’s Gorilla Glass 4)
- Android Marshmallow
- Snapdragon 820 with Adreno 530
- 4GB of RAM
- 32GB or 64GB of storage
- MicroSD expansion
- 2600mAh (Moto Z) or 3500mAh (Moto Z Force) battery with Turbo Charge
- Water repellent coating
- 13MP (Z) or 21MP (Z Force) f/1.8 rear camera
- 5MP front-facing camera
- Bluetooth 4.2LE
- Fingerprint reader
The only differences specs-wise between the two devices are the battery, camera and glass on the display. The only thing that makes a major difference in everyday use, however, is probably the battery — the performance of which we’ll touch on later — which makes the Moto Z Force considerably thicker. That’s almost funny to write, becuase at 5.19mm, it’s the thinnest premium smartphone out there.
Just talking about the raw hardware, it’s easy to summarize by saying it’s a high-end flagship through and through.
Design and Build Quality
We touched on this in our first impressions post on the Moto Z and Z Force, but it bears repeating and expansion. The Moto Z and Z Force are without a doubt the single most premium-feeling smartphones we have ever had the pleasure of holding.
While the Z Force is, again, slightly thicker, both devices share an incredibly slim all-metal body, flat black front with minimal branding, fingerprint sensor, pogo pins on the rear and stiff, satisfying volume and power buttons (the power button is ribbed, for everyone’s pleasure).
They’re kind of fingerprint magnets and the rear cameras really stick out on the back, but at least one of things isn’t necessarily bad. In the hunt for the ever-thinner phone, all cameras stick out these days. Motorola has at least given theirs some flair, as it now shares the same “flat tire” aesthetic as the Moto 360. It actually looks rather charming.
Lenovo imagines that at the very least, Moto Z users will have a style shell magnetically attached to the back, but boy do we like using the phone without one. We’ll touch more on Moto Mods later. The Moto Z and Z Force will come in a variety of colors, with a black and gray model, a gold and white one, and a black and rose gold combination.
This would probably be a good time to talk about the decision to use USB-C and leave out the 3.5mm headphone jack. Motorola does include an adapter for *ahem* legacy devices, but otherwise it’s one-port-fits-all. There are certainly benefits to this approach, like thinness without having to sacrifice battery, but it’s also a little scary. Out of the box, if you want to charge your phone and listen to music with wired headphones at the same time, good luck. The best we can say here is that Moto is only looking forward with the Z, as this is likely how it will be from here on out with most high-end phones. If you have a nice pair of Bluetooth headphones, there’s nothing to worry about.
Finally, two quick additional notes: Moto left the divot behind here — it wouldn’t really fit anyway — and the power button is below the volume buttons. After using so many phones with the exact opposite configuration, it just feels weird sometimes. But you get used to it.
The Moto Z is one of those phones where you simply have to try it. Holding it in your hands is something of an experience. It’s hard to convey just how slim and solid both phones feel. Lenovo really knocked it out of the park here.
This will be short and sweet, we promise. Both the Moto Z and Z Force feature a 5.5-inch Quad HD 1440p display. They’re both AMOLED, with the Z having Gorilla Glass 4 and the Z Force seeing the addition of a Moto ShatterShield.
Both screens look identical and fantastic. Thankfully, Moto has included a “standard” color mode, that makes colors more accurate and less like a cartoon. So you can choose without having to perform a hack or developer option run around. We like standard.
Viewing angles are good and text is impeccably clear. Smartphone displays don’t get much better. Of course, there will most likely be someone in the blogosphere with tools and equipment that will say otherwise, but when this is the only display you have in front of you, it’s hard to imagine there’s anything better.
Normally, the software on Moto phones is one of the biggest selling points. When you buy one unlocked, Moto throws in a couple custom apps for things like Moto Display, Actions and Voice, and that’s it. It’s fast, beautiful stock Android. As Droid Edition devices, the Moto Z and Z Force we have are only slightly different.
Verizon has included its messaging app, voicemail, navigator, blah, blah, and, as you might expect, blah. There’s also a custom launcher that adds little, if anything, to the experience. But thankfully, this is Android, which means everything can be swapped out. Download Google’s Messenger and Google Now Launcher and you’re all set.
Just a couple customizations later and really, there’s little difference between a Droid Edition Z and whatever comes later down the pipeline. Verizon is going to put their mark on everything they sell, so don’t let it deter you here.
Moto’s software enhancements are, like previous iterations, fantastic. Moto Voice lets you set up a custom wake line for interfacing with your phone; Moto Display is still better than Google’s native solution; and Moto Actions are fun and quick. It’s kind of hard to get used to flicking your wrist to turn on the camera, but it’s hard to go back after you get it down.
All in all, the Moto Z Force and Z Force Droid Edition get a positive mark for their software, but they are dangerously close to neutral becuase of the Verizon bloat. They’re still better than many alternatives, though.
With a Snapdragon 820 and Adreno 530, you’d expect the Z and Z Force to speed along no matter you throw at them, and you’d be absolutely correct.
The UI in incredibly fast and smooth, games loaded quickly, web pages loaded in an instant and switching between apps was seamless. There is zero lag when opening the camera and the fingerprint scanner is crazy fast. Call quality is also good, and the speakers sound good for a device so thin.
The unfortunate thing about reviewing a phone with such good performance is that it’s hard to find much to say. If we had a complaint, we could go on and on. But the performance is so good on the Moto Z and Z Force that it really gets out of the way and let you use the phone as intended. That’s all we can ask for.
Lenovo and Moto have been on a roll with their cameras, seeing success with phone after phone. We won’t say the Moto Z and Z Force buck this trend, but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t a little let down.
In good lighting, the cameras on the Moto Z and Z Force are very nice. Colors are bright and photos are sharp. But anywhere else, it’s just a big letdown for us.
First of all, the camera differences between the Z and Z Force don’t make a difference. They’re practically impossible to distinguish between. Second, for a phone with laser autofocus, optic image stabilization, zero shutter lag, color correlated temperature, and deep trench isolation (whatever all that means), good photos were legitimately hard to capture. Night mode makes things even worse in low lighting conditions, and professional mode with its ton of options didn’t help.
You can see the results for yourself in the gallery below, but compare these photos to even the ones we took with the recent Moto G4, and you’ll be hard-pressed to see a drastic difference. On social media and in apps like Instagram, there is no difference at all.
There are plenty of great reasons to buy a Moto Z, but the camera is not one of them.
The Droid Maxx was the first giant battery phone that made those with busy lifestyles fall in love with the Droid/Moto brand. It lasted two days between a charge and didn’t give up style to do it. And the Moto Z Force? It’s two thumbs up.
If you care about battery life, then the Moto Z Force might be just what you need. Not only does it last the advertised two days (~40 hours) on a single charge once broken in, it also comes with a Turbo Charge 30 which can seriously give you a day’s worth of juice in around 30 minutes. Pair all this with a battery pack Moto Mod and you can get through a three-day weekend without reaching for a charger. That’s incredible by any measure.
The Moto Z is not as good, but its battery will still go over a day if you need it. And that same battery pack Moto Mod works on the Z as well. The Moto Z also comes with its own Turbo Charger, a 15 model.
Color us wholly impressed with the battery life on these phones.
We finally get to perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Moto Z and Z Force: Moto Mods.
Motorola pioneered the customization of the modern smartphone with Moto Maker, allowing consumers to not just pick between two of three colors of phone, but completely customize everything from the color of the bezel to the material the back was made out of. Moto Mods kind of build on this.
The back of the Moto Z and Z Force have pogo pins and are magnetic. Motorola has provided us with three Mods that adhere very satisfyingly to the rear of either phone. We have a projector, Incipio battery shell and JBL speaker system, along with the wooden style shells that comes with the Moto Z.
First things first, these things will not accidentally come off. The magnetic connection is strong and works well. Almost too well in the case of style shells, which can be a pain to get off. We also have to add that each one comes with trade offs. They’re all fun and add some awesome functionality to boot, but they are big and bulky. No one is going to walk around with the projector on their phone unless they have to.
Quality-wise, they’re all great. We will bring you more on Moto Mods in the near future, but the battery pack adds a ton of juice (2220mAh to be exact), the projector works very well and looks relatively sleek and the JBL speakers are loud (if a little shrill at times), with a handy kickstand.
The best thing about Moto Mods perhaps is kind of ironic, in that you really don’t need them. They are an awesome, fun addition and you will probably want at least one, but if you skipped them altogether, you wouldn’t suffer at all.
Even without Moto Mods, the Moto Z is a fantastic phone, but Moto Mods elevate it to one of the best phones you can buy right now. Or next week, rather.
Another high score for another Moto phone. Should you be surprised? Not at all. It seems Lenovo knows what they’re doing with the brand. The Moto Z is a flagship device through and through. If the camera was a little better, we would struggle to find anything wrong with the device. As it is now though, we still have no problem recommending it to a wide variety of people.
As flagship phones, the Moto Z and Z Force do cost a little more than you may be used to with a Moto phone. The Z is $624 and the Z Force is $720, and both are launching July 28. But honestly, these phones really do fit the flagship bill.
As much as we’d love to see a new Moto X with all the fun and features of the Moto X Pure Edition but updated for 2016, we’re not disappointed with the Moto Z. There is more than enough room for both phones.