“How do you make the smartphone interesting again?” That’s the question Motorola seems intent on answering with the new Moto Z and its more pragmatic sibling, the Z Force.
Our phones are our most important devices, but the market has reached something of a saturation point. In particular Buying expensive phones seems like overkill as budget phones increasingly offer solid designs with good-enough performance.
It sounds like the best of both words, but my experiences with modularity so far hav been disheartening. The first flagship to incorporate the concept, the LG G5, is a decent device, but largely failed to live up to its potential. Google’s Project Ara is still a ways off for consumers, and is a shadow of its initial all-modular concept.
That ambivalent outlook has changed in the week I’ve after my initial hands-on with both the Moto Z and Z Force (the Droid editions coming to Verizon July 28). They’ve given me hope that modular smartphones are the way of the future. Plus – some quirks aside – they’re just pretty darn good phones even if you never attach a module.
By the numbers
Here’s a basic rundown of the specs on the smaller and cheaper Moto Z ($624 full-price):
- Snapdragon 820 CPU, Adreno 530 GPU
- 4GB of RAM
- 32GB/64GB of storage (expandable via microSD)
- 5.5 inch QHD AMOLED screen
- 13 MP F1.8 camera with OIS, phase detection and laser-assisted autofocus
- 2,600 mAh battery
- Quick Charging (supposedly 15 hours of mixed use in 15 minutes)
- 5.2mm thick
- Water-repellent coating
- Fingeprint reader
- Always-on voice-control
The Z Force offers a few practical advantages at its higher price point ($720). Your extra 96 bucks (and a few millimeters around the waist) net you a much larger 3,500 mAh battery and Motorola’s incredible ShatterShield screen (it scratches but really is unbreakable – trust me, we tried). You also get 21 MP rear camera with deep-trench isolation for improved low light capture and all da pixels.
Of course, the main selling point of both devices are the expansion modules that snap on magnetically to the back of the device. These currently include non functional Style Mods, battery packs, a speaker, and a projector.
Business in the front, part in the back
The phone’s basic design is divisive, but I personally love (most) of the Moto Z’s business in the front, party in the back design. I also think it looks better in person than press renders make it out to be.
Business first: the Moto Z has way too large of a bottom bezel, which is a shame given Motorola has traditionally been one of the best about reducing its phones’ chins. The use of on-screen navigation is a bit of salt in the wound.
Up front you also have a very effective fingerprint sensor (which you will confuse for a home button even though it’s not), the front-facing camera (with flash!), and various sensors for Motorola’s gestures. I prefer the black model over the white, as it hides most of this clutter. The dual front-facing speakers are unfortunately gone from the Moto X though.
On a side note, while that ShatterShield screen is great for peace of mind, it does scratch more easily than the Gorilla Glass on the Z. Thankfully, the top layer is basically a fancy invisible screen protector, and is completely user-replaceable.
As for the posterior festivities, it’s a conspicuous mish-mash of patterns, with a huge camera hump and gold pins for interfacing with modules, a glossy top and bottom where the magnets are, and a subtle striped pattern on the rest of it. It’s also a fingerprint magnet.
Some people will hate the busyness of it all, but there’s something old-school nerdy about it that I appreciate.
Truth be told though, the above (and some of Motorola’s marketing) are somewhat misleading representations, given the phones come packed with a Style Mod (at least on Verizon in the uS). These mods only thicken the phones by two or three millimeters, add grip, and basically eliminate the camera bump. I expect most people will apply them immediately, as there’s little reason not to.
The “real wood” Style Mod my review units were packed with gained repeated compliments from friends and strangers. It’s also worth noting that even with the Style Mod, the Z Force only feels thick relative to its smaller sibling; it’s still about as thin as my HTC 10.
Oh, and this phone doesn’t have a headphone jack, so you’ll either need to use the included adapter, Bluetooth headphones, or one of those fancy new USB-C headphones. That compromise is somewhat reasonable on the smaller Moto Z, which is literally just too thin, but it’s a forced omission on the larger Z Force. You’ll just have to begrudgingly accept it and move on.
Finally, there’s no Verizon logo whatsoever – thank goodness. There’s just a bit of inconspicuous ‘Droid’ branding on the camera lens, which I can live with.