Motorola Moto Z review
Announced back in June 2016, the Moto Z was launched alongside the Moto Z Force, a phone with a screen that - just like the Moto X Force - is ‘unbreakable’. Motorola has no plans to launch the Z Force in the UK, but the Moto Z is now here, along with the Moto Z Play, which we've reviewed separately. See 29 best new phones coming soon
Also see: Best Black Friday Phone Deals
Update 23 November: In a blog post, Motorola has announcd that the Android 7.0 update is rolling out this week to the Moto Z (and also Moto Z Force, which is only available in the US). This is obviously good news, but there's a second big benefit, the Moto Z is now Daydream ready, so you can pop it into a Daydream View headset and get a great VR experience. Read our Daydream View review to find out more.
Moto Z review: Price
Motorola originally announced a price of £529.99, but the Moto Z now starts at £499 from Motorola's website. It's undeniably expensive, especially when compared to the £370 Moto Z Play, but it's cheaper than plenty of other flagship phones and the Moto Z is every inch a flagship phone, including the Galaxy S7, Google Pixel XL and iPhone 7.
However, to keep things in context it’s £50 more than the Huawei P9 and £70 more than its modular rival, the LG G5.
If you buy through Motorola's site you can use the Moto Maker tool, but you can't personalise the Moto Z like some of Motorola's other phones. There's a basic choice of black and white models, and internal storage is fixed at 32GB. All you can really do is to add Mods (see below) but you can buy these separately anyway.
Moto Z review: Features and design
Modular is the name of the game with the Moto Z. It’s a new family of 5.5in phones which has a special 16-pin connector on the rear for accessories that attach with super-strong magnets. We’ll get to those later.
Pinch and hold the Moto Z between two fingers and it feels both amazingly thin and light. It weighs only 136g, so it is exceptionally light for a 5.5in phone, yet feels strong thanks to the aircraft-grade aluminium frame.
Adding to its flagship credentials is a Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM and well specified front- and rear cameras.
So what gives? Two things in the main: there isn’t room for a headphone jack, so there isn’t one. Motorola beat Apple in this particular race to the future. In the box is a short USB-C cable which ends in the 3.5mm minijack you’ll need to use any standard headphones. Or, you could just hook up some decent Bluetooth headphones if you have money burning a hole in your pocket.
The other trade-off is a small battery. At 2600mAh, it will (read, might) get you through a day, but certainly not the two days that’s promised with the Moto Z Play. For many, having a really thin phone won't be a sensible trade-off for limited battery life.
No corners are cut on the screen, which is a 5.5in super AMOLED with a resolution of 2560x1440. It’s just as good as the Galaxy S7’s, although there are no curved screen edges here.
There’s no always-on option, either. But Motorola has installed IR sensors which bring up the date and time (plus notifications and the ability to interact with them) when you wave your hand over the screen. It's a great feature.
Like the Moto Z Play, there’s a square fingerprint reader at the bottom of the screen. It’s instinctive to press it like a home button, but a button this is not. It does work as a way to wake the phone, though, which is handy as the three equally-spaced power and volume buttons are easy to confuse with one another.
On the rear the camera protrudes quite a bit, but a black Style Shell is supplied in the box which – like all other Moto Mods – uses magnets to attach. This brings everything flush and hides the connector from view.
But even without this rear cover (shown below, far right), the Moto Z has a pretty attractive rear thanks to subtle horizontal lines in the metal (these are more visible on the white model than the black model shown here). However, both phones are prone to showing marks and fingerprints due to their smooth surfaces. And that connector is pretty darned ugly.
If there's one missing feature - no, not the headphone jack - it's water resistance. The Moto Z has a water-repellent nano coating, provided by P2i, but this means it's really no different from any other phone that can't survive being submerged in water. But, if you do want a waterproof phone with similar specs, you'll have to spend a lot more.
Moto Z review: Moto Mods
It’s all very well having the thinnest phone in the world (or, at least, one of them) but this is rather negated once you snap on a PowerPack. And you will from time to time as the Moto Z really needs that extra battery life.
There are various Power Packs available, including the Incipio offGRID and others. They cost around £60, and can double the phone’s battery life. You'll want to carry one around at all times.
Much more interesting is the Hasselblad True Zoom. This costs £199.99 and was developed by Motorola and Hassleblad to counter the three ‘pain points’ of phone photography. The first is, of course, a zoom. It manages to pack in a 10x zoom (25-250mm 35mm equivalent) in a package just 15.1mm thick, and weighing 145g (note that this is more than the Moto Z!).
Second is the ability to shoot in RAW, or RAW+JPEG if you prefer. You can then process images in Adobe Lightroom or any other application which supports the RAW files.
Third is low-light performance. Although we're not going to do an in-depth review on the True Zoom here, it significantly outperformed the Moto Z’s built-in camera in low light, producing sharp-looking, almost grain-free images. We did notice that some images were a little soft towards the edges, and when we reviewed images actual detail levels were on a par with the best smartphone cameras, rather than rivalling a DSLR.
The Samsung Galaxy camera was the first phone to have a built-in zoom lens, but here you can remove the camera when you don’t need it and use a different accessory.
When attached, though, the camera and phone work seamlessly together as one. We like the dual-stage shutter button with a zoom rocker in front of it, and the fact that it has a proper Xenon flash.
The bad news is that, although there’s optical stabilisation, only electronic is used when shooting video. And that video is limited to just 1080p at 30fps – disappointing when the 12Mp sensor is plenty for 4K, and the Moto Z (and Z Play) can both shoot 4K using their built-in cameras.
However, the key point here is that you can have a surprisingly portable 10x optical zoom on your phone and - for some people - this will make the Moto Z (or Z Play) a very tempting phone indeed.
Another fun Moto Mod is the Insta-Share projector (£249.99). Again, it lives up to its name by instantly attaching and projecting whatever is on your phone’s screen. It has a built-in battery and stand, plus auto keystone correction to give you a square (well, rectangular) image no matter what angle you hold or place the phone. All you need to adjust is focus.
We tried the projector in a fairly well-lit room and found that if you limit the size to around 30in, it’s possible to see bright content without too many problems. Trying to watch a night scene in a video or a dark photo proved near impossible so, as with most pico projectors, it’s best used in the dark.
The JBL SoundBoost certainly adds volume compared to the Moto Z’s built-in speaker but it’s not as good as the best portable Bluetooth speakers you can buy. Still, you won’t have any problems with stuttering or going out of range as this isn’t a wireless connection of course. It's particularly good for podcasts, but is also good for games, videos and even a the occasional bit of music.