- Big, high-quality display
- Great performance
- Respectable camera in good light
- Terrible battery life
- No headphone jack
- Disappointing low-light photos
- 5.5in Quad HD display
- 5.19mm thick (sort of)
- Modular Moto Mods
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB storage (with microSD expansion)
- Android 6.0.1
- 13MP rear, 5MP front cameras
- 2,600mAh battery
- Manufacturer: Motorola
- Review Price: £499.00/$748.50
WHAT IS THE MOTO Z?
At one point, it appeared as if modular smartphones were going to be all the rage. While they perhaps haven’t become as prevalent as many had expected (RIP Project Ara), it hasn’t stopped phones such as the LG G5 having a go at optional add-ons, with the forthcoming Lenovo smartphones pulling the same trick too.
Coincidentally, this brings us to the Moto Z – technically another of Lenovo’s smartphones, thanks to its acquisition of Motorola. This 5.5-inch phablet’s capabilities can be augmented by attaching add-ons via magnets located on the rear of the device. Think cameras, projectors, speakers and the like.
The Moto Z also happens to be incredibly thin – allegedly the thinnest smartphone ever – but that comes with both a caveat, and some serious shortcomings when it comes to battery life. In the famous words of Jeff Goldblum, “Motorola was so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”. At least that’s how I think the quote went.
MOTO Z – DESIGN
At 5.19mm, there’s no doubting this is an incredibly thin phone. But that caveat I just mentioned? You really won’t want to use a phone that’s this thin. The rear is glossy and picks up fingerprints aplenty, and with so little phone to actually grab, the Moto Z feels incredibly precarious in the hand – like trying to hold a jellied eel.
Then there’s the fact that the camera bump is particularly pronounced, so much so that the Moto Z will rest on it when placed down on a surface. In addition, the magnetic pogo pins used for attachments are exposed in a rather ugly way.
In fairness, Motorola doesn’t really want you to use the phone in this form anyway. A rear cover is included in the box, which attaches to the back with magnets in the same way as the optional Moto Mods. This brings the Moto Z’s thickness up to distinctly more standard territory, deals with the slippery back, and makes the rear camera sit flush.
So, in fact, calling the Moto Z the “razor-thin future of smartphones” feels rather disingenuous when no-one is likely to ever use it in that form. The covers – technically part of the Moto Mods range – are called Moto Style Shells and are available in a variety of materials and textures. My review model came with a charcoal grey shell with an almost denim-like texture to it. It feels nice in the hand and provides plenty of grip.
Other Moto Mods can attach to the rear, such as the Hasselblad camera add-on, or a pair of JBL speakers. While I haven’t tested any of the add-ons thoroughly to offer any real opinion on them, I can at least say the magnetic attachment is reassuringly strong. There’s no worry that a Moto Mod might become detached unintentionally at any point. The modular approach here is far more elegant than LG’s.
A fingerprint sensor can be found on the front of the phone, rather than on the back, which is my preference. It means I can unlock the phone when it’s lying on a table. The sensor sits below the screen and can be used to both unlock and lock the phone. For the first few days of testing the Moto Z, I instinctively kept pressing the sensor as if it were a home button, resulting in accidentally locking the screen.
Considering there’s so much space below the display, I wish that Motorola had actually made the fingerprint sensor the home button, with capacitive Android menu buttons on either side – similar to Samsung’s approach to Android phones.
Still, I did eventually train myself to not keep touching it, and I found that locking the phone from the sensor is far more convenient than reaching for the power button on the side.
The fingerprint sensor is pretty responsive, only failing to register my fingerprints when my digits were covered in water, liquid chalk and peanut butter. Yes, all three were tested.
Viewing from the front, the Moto Z design doesn’t radically depart from the style of Motorola’s previous phones – the Moto X, for example.
Look to the bottom of the Moto Z and things are a little different, though. You’ll find only a USB Type-C port. Check the top and you’ll discover only the SIM tray. There’s no 3.5mm headphone jack anywhere to be seen, just like the Apple iPhone 7.
A USB Type-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter is included in the box to mitigate the lack of a port, but the missing jack feels like a greater omission here. At least with the iPhone 7, Lightning headphones might become more popular. Whether or not we’ll see USB Type-C headphones take off is another matter, so you had better not lose that adapter.
I went to use the Moto Z as my music source during a car journey and rued the fact I had left the adapter connected to my wired headphones at home. The lack of the headphone jack is likely to prove a pain.
MOTO Z – DISPLAY
The 5.5-inch display is one of the Moto Z’s stronger features. It has a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, which amounts to a tack-sharp 535 pixels per inch. It’s big, bold and vibrant, and makes viewing photos a particularly pleasant experience. Viewing angles are also very good.
I found the auto-brightness adjustment a little over-aggressive, with the display changing brightness when ambient light hadn’t fluctuated. I ended up just turning it off.
The speakers lack any real low-frequency presence, sounding particularly tinny. However, they’re able to reach a pretty respectable volume.
A special mention goes to the haptic feedback, which is particularly satisfying in the fingerprint sensor and on-screen Android menu buttons. The vibrations also work with certain games, too.
MOTO Z – SOFTWARE
The Moto Z runs on Android 6.0.1 and, thankfully, little has been done to the operating system in terms of customisation. The only additions are some familiar Motorola gestures, and these are actually very welcome.
If you wave your hand over the proximity sensors on the front of the handset, the lockscreen displays your notifications in a monochrome low-power mode. You can then touch the icons to display a notification in full, or swipe it to dismiss. Other physical gestures make a return, such as a double karate chop to turn on the torch, or a quick flick rotation to change to the selfie camera.
There’s also a one-handed mode that essentially shrinks the screen down. If anything, the result is too small to use comfortably. Aside from these functional additions, Motorola has left Android well alone. Such restraint is more than welcome.
Motorola has been good about quick Android updates in the past, so hopefully it won’t be too long until we see a Nougat release. But for the time being, it’s not here.
MOTO Z – PERFORMANCE
Inside the Moto Z sits a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and a generous 4GB of RAM. There’s 32GB of storage as standard, but this is expandable with a microSD card and it supports adoptable storage, too.
Day-to-day performance was really very good. I didn’t encounter any slow-down or jitteriness. Apps fired up swiftly and web pages loaded with aplomb. I used the Moto Z with GoPro’s Quik app fairly frequently and it churned out edits without a hitch. I really had no complaints using the Moto Z as my daily phone.
Its AnTuTu score of 130,550 certainly measured up with how swift it felt in use. This is fractionally better than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
The Moto Z’s Geekbench scores were rather disappointing, though, at 1,508 in the single-core test and just 2,879 set in the multi-core. This is quite a bit off the pace of the Galaxy S7 Edge.
The 3DMark Sling Shot score of 2,121 was excellent, however. In the end, performance from the Moto Z shouldn’t leave you wanting.
MOTO Z – CAMERA
The Moto Z has a 13-megapixel rear camera with a f/1.8 aperture lens. The sensor has 1.12um size pixels and it’s bolstered by both optical image stabilisation and laser autofocus, as well as a colour-correlated temperature flash with dual LEDs.
Camera performance in good lighting was very pleasing. There’s rich vibrancy to the colours and plenty of sharpness. The autofocus is quick and there’s no shutter lag when taking photos.
A Professional mode offers granular control over exposure and metering. The on-screen menu is approachable and easy to use. You can also shoot in 4K video or slow-motion modes.
Lots of details and accurate colours in this autumnal scene
Still lots of detail in the shadows
Nice and sharp
Unfortunately, the Moto Z’s camera can struggle to focus in lower light conditions, hunting for long periods before it can find a lock – and there’s a lot more noise. Resulting photos are still acceptable, but this isn’t the best low-light performance we’ve seen. Both the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Google Pixel certainly beat the Moto Z for photographic prowess.
Night photos can become a little soft with lots of noise
For the selfie-inclined, there’s a 5-megapixel front-facing camera using an f/2.2 aperture lens. This is a pretty average performer – and again, you’ll want to try to use it mainly in good lighting conditions.
Moto Z – Battery Life
Unfortunately, battery life is where things all fall apart for the Moto Z. Inside this 5.5in smartphone is a teeny-tiny 2,600mAh battery – that’s a smaller battery than you’ll find powering most 5-inch smartphones.
So in the pursuit of thinness, Motorola has left you with a diminutive battery powering a large, high-resolution screen and a powerful processor. The results when it comes to stamina, as you might expect, are not good.
I’m a pretty heavy user, with lots of Spotify streaming during my commute, compulsive Twitter checking, and frequent pairing with devices such as fitness trackers and action cameras (it’s my job after all).
Even then, I’ve not experienced this level of battery paranoia in a long time. And that’s because on more than one occasion during testing, I’ve had a dead battery by 7pm. On one occasion, I left the office around 6pm with a fully charged battery and arrived home with it almost dead.
The battery appears to drain rapidly in standby, too. I left the Moto Z overnight at 50% and woke up to find it dead.
I tested an hour of Netflix streaming at 60% screen brightness and saw the battery drop by 24%. That’s laughably bad. To rub salt in the wound, one of the Moto Mods is an additional battery. In creating a thin phone, Motorola offers one of the worst battery performers I’ve seen in a long time.
There is, at least, the availability of TurboPower Charging through an included USB Type-C wall charger. The USB-C cable is moulded into the plug, though. This tops up the battery in about an hour. Get used to using it a lot.
SHOULD I BUY THE MOTO Z?
If it weren’t for the absolutely horrendous battery life, I actually rather like the Moto Z. Even if it isn’t really as thin as its billing, it feels nice in the hand with its Style Shell attached. The display is big and of high quality and the performance is top-notch. The camera is even pretty good. Then there’s the potential for the Moto Mods.
But there’s no getting away from that 2,600mAh battery. It lets the Moto Z down tremendously.
While some might argue that Motorola created a super-thin phone in light of the fact that adding attachments will contribute to the thickness, a few millimetres is inconsequential once you’ve attached a thick Hasselblad camera or JBL speaker.
In fact, I’d rather have had a thicker phone with a better battery. The lack of a headphone jack is another annoyance, but one that pales in comparison to the battery. Did I mention the terrible battery?
The Moto Z had the potential to be a great flagship phone but ultimately it’s let down by truly dire battery life.