Motorola Mobility (that’s a different Motorola from Motorola Solutions, although they were together before the split in 2011) has been through some interesting changes. Since the aforementioned split, Motorola Mobility was purchased by Google in 2012 primarily for its array of patents as a part of a measure to protect the Android mobile OS and in 2013, the first true phone from that Google takeover came in the form of the Moto X, a phone that prioritized the experience over specs. After the Moto G and Moto E plus the 2014 Moto X, the company was sold to Lenovo, and things have been quite different since.
The first true result of that takeover came last year, in the form of the Moto Z, which replaces the Moto X as Motorola’s flagship (then branded as a “Moto” device under Lenovo). Unlike the X, the Z is a very different animal, focusing more on expandability and power. With its successor already coming soon in a future event, how does the first phone from this new line hold up for nearly a year since purchase?
Let’s find out.
We begin by focusing on the good points.
First of all, let me stress on the fit-and-finish of the Moto Z. While I am not a fan of thin phones at all, the fit-and-finish of the device is nothing short of great, which needs to be so when you have a proper flagship-class device. The buttons feel very clicky and the cool metal backplate really does give off a nice feel when held. I have to mention that mine is fitted with a DBrand Hyperblack skin.
Though quite honestly, the rather petite thinness does contribute to a lighter mass, and I feel that adding just a little bit of mass would add to that premium feel. Just a thought.
Oh yeah, it also comes with a plastic bumper in the box and a wooden Style Shell pictured in some of the shots above.
The display is also great. Motorola made a return to AMOLED after moving to IPS on the Moto X Pure Edition in 2015, and I am glad as the higher contrast makes stuff like the Moto Display much easier to see. The higher contrast also helps make content more enjoyable to watch and thankfully, Motorola has added toggles to adjust the display’s color gamut right in the display settings for either accuracy or vibrance.
Daylight visibility is good but falls a little short from sunlight busting champs like Samsung’s recent flagships and due to the technology, there are some concerns over burn-in. But overall, I’m very happy with this display, not for its QHD resolution or that its OLED but for how nice it is to look at and having the option to adjust the color gamut right in the display settings, which I feel every phone needs.
Then, we move onto software. Motorola has been sticking to its tradition of using near-stock Android while adding some Moto-touches since the Google takeover, and I’m happy to say that this tradition is still alive and well. The software that the Moto Z runs is still pretty much Google’s vision of Android, with Moto’s tweaks like the twisting gesture to fire up the camera and Moto Display, which I’ve gotten so used to, going to another phone makes me miss it.
I also like the feature where it reads your calls or texts to you while in a designated location or while driving, which makes it really easy to do a hands-free reply.
And I’m also happy to say that this device performs well still. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 paired with 4GB of LPDDR4 and 32/64GB of UFS 2 storage still performs in a spritely manner even in the age of the 835. Apps open quickly, while shuffling between them has never been much of an issue due to the device’s excellent memory management. Even with the lower clockspeed on the unlocked unit, the device still performs every bit as well as its Droid Edition counterpart (although in recent times, I did raise the clockspeed to Droid Edition levels thanks to a kernel).
Overall, the software and general user experience has been very good, although the phone does throttle a bit at times due to its thin profile (I could blame the kernel, but it also did so when stock, so I’m not sure). Daydream compatibility has also been a great bonus with the Nougat update, which arrived pretty quickly.
The camera is also pretty solid. While it isn’t going to be a supreme top-tier performer, this is one of the better Motorola phones in recent memory when it came to optical performance. The sensor is a 1/3″ Sony IMX214 with a 13MP resolution with 1.12 micron pixels, paired with an optically-stabilized f/1.8 lens and laser + contrast autofocus. Daylight performance is good, with solid saturation, dynamic range, and detail. Autofocus is a tad on the slow side and is prone to drifting at times despite having a laser-assisted autofocus module, however.
Indoor and low-light performance is a little mixed. In most situations, the phone’s included Night mode which kicks in automatically in low-light situations and OIS usually do a very good job of helping deal with noise, of which the IMX214 is very much prone to. However, at times, the exposure ramps up a bit higher than needed, and the lens is very prone to streaking and flaring at certain angles. Dynamic range also isn’t the greatest in low-light, so some exposure compensation with the slider is recommended. Overall, better than past Motorola phones, but still a ways to go.
Video performance is actually pretty darn good for the most part. Video quality is good, especially in UHD (even if butchered by compression), and the microphones capture excellent sound. The Z also has digital stabilization along with HDR while recording video, even in UHD, making it one of the few Android phones with both features for UHD video. The former does tend to be twitchy, though.
Samples found here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/BKuUwz4tMGnNs8vY2
Oh yeah, the front camera performs reasonably well too and there’s also a flash to help in some situations
The app is also much simpler to operate compared to past Motos, with clearer options defined for slow-motion and manual controls, for instance.
Fast-charging is a boon too. The included TurboPower unit charges the battery to 50% in a little over 30 minutes, and to full in slightly less than 1 and a half hours.
But you’d probably want to use that charger because the battery life is rather lean. Admittedly, the Z performed better than my expectations, once even getting 5 hours of on-screen time after 16 hours off the charger. But more commonly, I’d get 3.5 hours of SOT on that same period. Now, that’s not terrible, but it is pretty average, especially since some rivals got better battery life, mostly due to them packing larger batteries, while the Z had to make do with a mere 2600mAh power pack due to its thin profile.
Also, since the Lenovo takeover, software updates have been taking their own sweet time to arrive. While Motorola under Google was known for swift and prompt updates, under Lenovo, it’s taken on a far more “leisurely” pace. It’s worth noting that as of now, however, the device has begun receiving an Android 7.1.1 upgrade, making it one of the few Android devices which has received a version of Nougat that’s newer than 7.0, even though it look quite a long while. Well done, but let’s hope Android O doesn’t take too long to arrive, as the Moto X 2015 doesn’t seem to have a wide rollout of Nougat yet.
And that design. The white model’s chin still looks goofy, even after a year. The black model looks much better and ages better over time as well.
Oh yeah, the headphone jack? Nope, nada, zero. It was controversial when it launched and it still is a sore point for me. At least the included dongle is, well, included, and now lives attached to the cables of my headphones.
But wait, am I missing something? Ah, yes, I did, in fact. The Z on it’s own is just a standard Android smartphone with a lean build and a similarly lean battery. But its standout feature is simply on its back;
See those pins? Those were the biggest headline features of the Moto Z, and they interface with a punch of accessories called Moto Mods. At launch, they raised quite a lot of eyebrows due to their simplicity in operation and the company’s promise of more mods. Well, it’s been over a year since the Moto Mods made their debut, and I’ve been using them pretty regularly, I might add.
The mods I used are the Mophie Juice Pack battery and the JBL Soundboost.
The juice pack is still probably the best Motomod I’ve used. It adds 3150mAh of extra battery to the phone’s 2600mAh cell, and it turns the Z from a one-day max device to an up-to 3 day phone. It’s great, especially in Efficiency Mode, and the ability to see the battery level via LEDs and charging it off the phone are nice touches. It also has its own USB-C charging port so you can charge it while it’s off the phone. Neato.
Easily the crowd pleaser among the 2 is the JBL Soundboost. This was the first mod I got and boy, it’s a blast. It’s loud and punchy.
The Moto Mods are overall a great modular system that’s really easy to operate and Motorola kept their word on ensuring new mods work with older phones and older mods work with newer ones as the new Moto Mods that were launched with the Moto Z2 Play work just fine with the Moto Z and Z Force and the 2016 batch of Moto Mods will work just fine on the Z2 Play. Furthermore, we’ve seen some more mods alongside new pitches, which makes it an exciting ecosystem. Unfortunately, because they’re proprietary and made just for the Z line, they only work with those phones and don’t work on others. Given that these mods also aren’t the cheapest, by buying a big mod collection, you may have to upgrade to another Z to keep using those mods. Such are the hurdles of new technology and until an open standard comes, such teething pains will exist.
- Fingerprint sensor worked immensely well for the most part, with extremely good accuracy and lightning-fast recognition.
- Call quality was excellent with a clear side tone and loud earpiece and reception, as with the case for Motorola phones, is also excellent.
- The phone while naked is a fair bit slippery.
- The included wood back does make a difference in overall hand-feel
- Bluetooth performance was great as well, being able to maintain a connection with an in-dash head-unit and a smartwatch without dropping.
Using the Moto Z for almost a year has been a mix of upsides and downsides. This particular unit wasn’t faultless as 2 software updates rendered it inoperable as a mobile device, forcing me to learn device recovery in order to get it back online as the local service center wasn’t very helpful due to the device being an import unit (which also forced me to disable the OTA service to avoid it breaking, hence why I won’t go 7.1.1 and will wait for Android O). However, its upsides have been strong. The display is great, the performance is wonderful in most cases, the camera, while a bit of a mixed bag in low-light, is far more fun than previous Motorola phones, and the Moto Mods are a fun ecosystem.
However, questions still linger in my mind over its future. The Moto Z had to be thin so that the mods wouldn’t add a lot of bulk, but wouldn’t this affect battery life significantly to anyone not willing to buy the mods? Of course, the Moto Z Play was the option if battery life was a concern, as was the Verizon-exclusive Z Force Droid, but the successor to the former has gotten a trimming, losing 510mAh of precious battery in the process and rumor has it that the successor to the latter will be the same, albeit thicker than the current Moto Z. Furthermore, because the mods are designed for the phone, there’s very little Motorola can change to the design of the device in terms of its shape and Moto Mod pins. Support is also an issue to an extent. It would be interesting to see how it evolves.
With those concerns aside, the Moto Z has aged quite well in most areas. It still has great performance, a nice display, a software build that improves on what it could and leaves alone what it can’t alongside a modular accessory system that can work with new mods as well as its successors. The only thing that questions me is the weird chin and the inconsistent low-light camera performance in certain areas, something the new IMX362 on the new Moto phones should be able to solve.
In a way, “Hello Moto” is probably the best tagline for this.