Motorola has done a fantastic job of creating several smartphone features that have made their way to other platforms. Wireless voice controls, camera twist gestures, and always-on displays all started in the original Moto X. With the Moto Z, Motorola is taking smartphone innovation a step further. In fact, the level of innovation with the Moto Z is so unique, I think it’s fair to say Motorola just leapfrogged the competition. The Moto Z is the world’s first truly modular smartphone, and that’s a great thing. Keep reading to read our Moto Z review, plus have a chance to win your own!
Moto Z Overview
When I first tried the Moto Z back in the summer, I was impressed that Moto had fit so much into the world’s thinnest premium smartphone. Not only did Moto pack top specs into this phone, but also built it in the unique modular way that the phone can adapt over time to suit whatever I need it to be. The Moto Z accomplishes this feat through the spectacular engineering of Moto’s team in Chicago.
At an insane 5.2mm thin, the Moto Z is the world’s thinnest premium smartphone, and it shows! Having this device in my pocket feels like a folded up piece of paper. For the screen, Moto has built-in a perfectly-sized 5.5″ AMOLED display, and a top of the line Snapdragon 820 processor. What this means is that any black pixels showing on the screen are actually powered-down pixels, using virtually no battery. Motorola moved away from AMOLED screens in their last generation Moto X Pure, and I’m excited to see them return to AMOLED in the Moto Z. The screen looks beautiful in daylight, but really shines at night, where the Moto Z’s always-on display allows notifications to pulse in and out without lighting up the whole room. It’s one of my favourite features of the Moto Z. Surrounding the screen are motion sensors, that allows a user to wave their hand over the display to view notifications when the phone is resting on a table. I also found myself using the feature quite often over the month I’ve been using the Moto Z as my main phone.
Camera-wise, the Moto Z features a 13MP camera designed to perform well in low light, including a much-improved front-facing camera with selfie flash (it’s a thing!). I found the rear camera to work well in all conditions, and have taken some incredible pictures with it in varying degrees of daylight. Before photos or videos are taken, the camera tends to slow down it’s framerate, and becomes sluggish, though this is limited to the viewfinder. Once a video or photo is taken, the camera kicks into high gear and takes beautiful shots. Unfortunately, because Snapchat on Android records photos and videos by capturing the camera’s viewfinder, this leads to very sluggish video in low light on Snapchat. Using the built-in camera app to record video avoids this problem. On the software end, Motorola updated their camera app with the Moto Z, making it much easier to use, while also adding a professional mode with a bunch of manual controls for those interested.
The Moto Z is also Moto’s first premium smartphone with a fingerprint sensor. Featured on the front bottom of the phone, the fingerprint sensor works extremely fast, but I take issue with the design, that looks like a home button but does not act as one. It’s a strange design choice as I’d have preferred the reader have some functionality beyond just reading my fingerprint. Moto couldn’t put this on the back of the phone as the Moto Mods would cover it. The other design that could be better in the Moto Z is the speaker system. Moto was known for their incredible dual front-facing speakers in the Moto X line, but with the Moto Z, they’ve opted for one loudspeaker on the front of the device. This leads to noticeable decreases is both sound quality and volume versus the Moto X Pure. However, compared to phone like the Samsung Galaxy S7 or the iPhone with bottom-facing speakers, the Moto Z wins by far.
The unique part about the Moto Z hardware comes in the 16 magic dots on the back of the device. These dots enable the modular functionality of the device, acting as a means to transfer data and power between the Mod and the phone, as well as magnetically hold all Mods on the device. This is where Moto’s true innovation shows itself, breaking the mould and showing that smartphone innovation can go beyond software. With Moto mods, your phone can be whatever you want it to be (almost).
The main differentiator of the Moto Z versus every other phone on the market is the functionality to snap on Moto Mods to add new features to the phone. Currently, Moto offers battery pack mods, style mods, a JBL speaker mod, and a car mount mod. In a recent interview, it was revealed that Moto plans to release 3 Mods per quarter in 2017, which is an exciting prospect. For this review, I’m going to focus on the four Mods I found most interesting.
Incipio OffGrid Power Pack
The Incipio OffGrid Power Pack mod is likely the least creative, but most useful of all the Moto Mods. This is an external battery that snaps onto the back of the Moto Z with ease. Because the Moto Z is so thin, I always take the Power Pack Mod with me for any days I’m going to be away from a power outlet for more than 10 hours. Moto claims that the Incipio OffGrid Power Pack adds a whopping 22 hours of battery life to the Moto Z, and I find that pretty accurate. When I have this battery mod attached, my battery anxiety instantly disappears. Best of all, because the battery is made for the Moto Z, the edges of the battery flow perfectly from the sides of the Moto Z, making it look like a natural extension of the phone. This Mod is a must-have for any Moto Z owner.
JBL SoundBoost Speaker
The JBL SoundBoost speaker adds powerful stereo sound to the Moto Z, along with a useful kickstand. The SoundBoost speaker also has a built-in charging port, allowing you to charge the integrated speaker battery using USB-C separate from the phone if you choose. While the speaker is made by a great brand and makes the Moto Z look like a mini boombox, I was disappointed in the quality. At loud volumes, the speaker outputs sound at a much louder rate than the Moto Z’s built in speakers, but I find the quality a bit distorted. I didn’t notice this on other reviews online about the speakers, so it’s definitely possible I had a defective unit. The best part about the JBL SoundBoost Speaker Mod is that because it has a built-in battery, you can listen to music guilt-free for 10 hours without draining any battery from the Moto Z itself. So cool.
Moto Insta-Share Projector
The Moto Insta-Share Projector is by far the most talked about Mod on the market. This ultra-thin mod transforms your phone into a projector in just a snap. This mod is by far the most impressive in the currently lineup. In a device no bigger than your typical smartphone, you can project videos and photos onto the wall at up to 70″ (larger than most TVs). Plus, the Mod’s battery allows for 1 hour of screen time without using the Moto Z’s internal battery. With an integrated adjustable kickstand, the Projector Mod adjusts to project on any flat surface, whether the ceiling or a hanging bedsheet. I found this Mod particularly useful during a power outage I experienced, where I could stream YouTube on my phone using data and project onto my apartment wall. I can’t get over how fun it is to use. Imagine having this as a kid. Sleepovers would be taken up a notch.lscreen”>
I had so much fun playing with the Moto Z Insta-Share Projector. I had the screen projecting at 82″ and though you could see the pixels, it was fine for my standards. The image was adjusted to fit my wall and the brightness lowered to match my mood lighting. The Mod even auto-hides notifications on your phone so that your movie-watching experience is uninterrupted. My only complaint is that when using the Projector Mod with the Moto Z’s built-in speakers, sound is pretty quiet. For the best experience, you’ll want to connect your phone to a Bluetooth/Cast-enabled speaker or headphones. Still – this Mod definitely deserves the hype, and when I’m not using it, I store it in the include drawstring carrying case.
Hasselblad True Zoom
The most creative Mod that Moto has released so far has to be the Hasselblad True Zoom camera. This $300 Mod is made by the most respected camera company in the world, and adds an incredible 10x optical zoom and a real Xenon flash onto the back of the Moto Z. If I could bring a backup mod with me everywhere I go, it would be this one. The photos I took with the Hasselblad mod allowed me to zoom in so close that you’d think I took them with a high-end SLR zoom lens. The 12MP camera mod can also shoot in RAW format, if you’re really looking to get granular in your editing. I found the picture quality of the Hasselblad mod to be mediocre compared to the build in Moto Z camera, which is already great. If you’re going to need a zoom lens of a powerful flash for indoor low light shots, this Mod is for you.
As a big Moto fan, I’m happy that Moto took such a big risk with Moto Mods. I think their bet is paying off. If you’re worried about investing in Mods that won’t work with next year’s phone, worry not! Moto has committed to make mods compatible with at least two generations of Moto Z phones. This means that my Mod collection will continue to work even on next year’s Moto Z. With so many phones featuring flashy gimmicks, I think the Moto Z and Moto Mods stand out as truly useful innovation that phone owners will love. I’ve genuinely enjoyed my time with the device over the past year, and am excited to see where Moto takes Mods next!
In Canada, the Moto Z is available through all major carriers. The Moto Z Play, which features a larger battery and more budget-friendly specs is available as well at select carriers. See links for details.
In the United States, Motorola sells the Moto Z, Moto Z Play, as well as the shatterproof screen version Moto Z Force. Some models are available in GSM unlocked variants, while other are exclusively available through Verizon. The various Moto Z devices can be compared here.
Now, the part you’ve all been waiting for! The awesome people at Moto Canada have provided a brand new Moto Z Play that one lucky reader will win. Fill out the Gleam form below for your chance! Full terms and conditions are below.