Moto Z/Moto Z Force Review (and Moto Mods too!)

Modularity done right, sorta...

In the past few years, Motorola has become one of our favorite smartphone manufacturers, thanks in large part to the fantastic Moto X series. The first two generations of that device were great, and 2015’s 3rd generation didn’t disappoint either. Shortly before the release of that 3rd generation, however, something big happened. Motorola was acquired by Lenovo. While Lenovo’s influence wasn’t seen on the Moto X Pure Edition, we can see it as bright as day with the Moto Z.

This new smartphone, which apparently doesn’t replace the Moto X, swaps out the gentle curves and beautiful design of the Moto X for a more industrial design full of premium materials. There’s a lot new with this device as well. This is Motorola/Lenovo’s first shot at modularity.

With higher price tags, a new focus, and plenty of other major changes are either of Motorola’s new smartphones worth your hard-earned money? Let’s take a closer look.

Note: The majority of this review will focus on the standard Moto Z with specific portions explaining differences on the Moto Z Force. Both units are the Verizon-exclusive “DROID Editions.”



Specs

  • 5.5” 2560×1440 AMOLED Display
  • Android 6.0.1
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32GB/64GB Storage, microSD card slot available
  • USB C
  • 5MP Front Camera
  • 13MP Rear Camera (Moto Z)
  • 21MP Rear Camera (Moto Z Force)
  • 2,600 mAh Battery (Moto Z)
  • 3,500 mAh Battery (Moto Z Force)
  • Fingerprint Sensor

Hardware & Design

Let’s start things off with the design. The Moto Z is a very unique looking device. At first glance, it almost looks unfinished, and that’s kind of the point. The Moto Z isn’t meant to be a gorgeous smartphone, on it’s own. Rather, Lenovo expects you to slap on some form of Moto Mod, one of which is even included in the box.

Once you’ve done so, some of the Moto Z’s more unseemly design elements are hidden, including the fingerprint-magnet aluminum/glass back and that insanely huge camera bump.

We’ll break out Moto Mods into their own section later on, but this brings me to another point; the Moto Z is thin, really thin. At just 5.2mm this is the thinnest flagship smartphone on the market, and it’s jarring. The first time you pick up this device, you’ll be shocked at just how thin it really is, but for the first time, this is a good thing.

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I have always hated thin phones. There’s never been a reason for it except to say “hey look, it’s thin!”. In exchange for being able to say that, you can also say goodbye to a decent sized battery, a tradeoff that is just not worth it.

That said, the Moto Z makes thin make sense. This device is thin, for a reason. It’s all about the mods. Add on a Style Mod, the Moto Z is just as thick as anything else. Throw on something else, perhaps a power pack, it gets a lot thicker. If the Moto Z were as thick as, let’s say an iPhone 6S, you might feel that it’s just too thick. On the other hand, the Moto Z Force adds back that thickness and still feels fine, so it just depends on your preferences.

The hardware on both devices is also fantastic. The Moto Z feels sturdy, but without sacrificing the premium feel in hand. Even when using the much more damage-prone Moto Z, I never felt the need to add a case since the phone had a solid amount of grip in the hand.

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The Moto Z Force takes that sturdy feeling to a new level though. This device is, of course, thicker, adding to the grip in the hand, but it also packs the second-generation of Motorola’s unbreakable ShatterShield glass. This time, things are improved as well with better scratch resistance, something that was a real pain point for 2015’s DROID Turbo 2 which first packed that technology.

Display

As previously mentioned, the Moto Z Force packs a ShatterShield display where the standard Moto Z packs Gorilla Glass 4. Underneath both still pack the same 5.5” AMOLED display. This certainly isn’t the best display out there, but it gets the job done well.

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Colors are very accurate, viewing angles are great, and even the brightness is solid for an AMOLED panel. This isn’t on the same level as something like the Galaxy S7, but this is a great display, it’s just not the best out there.

Where the AMOLED technology really shines, however, is with Moto Display. This feature has been around since the original Moto X, and it’s still just as awesome. Any time I wave my hand over the phone or pick it up, I can quickly see the time and all of my notifications. Even at night, that’s all you’ll see. There’s no backlight to be found this time. Along with the core functionality, Moto Display has received some minor updates to the way the feature displays certain things (such as music). These are very minor changes, but good nonetheless.

Software & Performance

With flagship specs comes good performance, and the Moto Z is no exception to that. This device absolutely flies on Android Marshmallow. I experience less lag on this device than almost any other I’ve tried so far this year. Part of that is due to the fact that the Moto Z has pretty much the same specs as phones like the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10, so good performance shouldn’t come as a surprise at all.

The Moto Z also handles gaming without suffering in performance. I can play intensive games on this phone without lag, but it certainly heats the device up. In general use, this phone is definitely warmer than most, but it’s nothing to worry about.

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Moto’s skin is just as “invisible” as it’s always been as well. Moto itself loads very little bloatware on the device, but Verizon on the other hand, not so much. Regardless, software on the Moto Z doesn’t get in the way of the experience, works reliably, and is just a pleasure to use.

Battery Life


Moto Z

With a thinner body comes a smaller battery. In the case of the Moto Z, that’s a 2,600 mAh cell, and it’s just as bad as it sounds. Rarely can I get through a full day of use with this phone. I usually end up plugging in any time I’m in the car and if I’m home, this phone is on the charger by 4 pm, especially if I’m going out.

Normally this wouldn’t be terrible, but I get the same results regardless of how much I use the phone. Even if I barely touch it, the phone is still dead long before the end of the day.

Moto Z Force

Comparatively, the battery on the Moto Z Force it pretty good. You can get a full day out of it, and maybe even more. The only time it really needs to be plugged in is at night. But, suppose you do run out of battery, the quick charger it comes with will power up your battery in no time at all. So there really isn’t anything to worry about.

Audio

On the Moto Z, Lenovo has made some major changes in the audio department. The first comes in the speakers. The front facing stereo speakers of the 2015 Moto X are gone, replaced with a single front facing driver which sounds shockingly good. It gets loud, has good range, and I was overall happy with it.

As for the headphone jack, well, there isn’t one. As much as that stinks, I didn’t really miss it all that much. Bluetooth headphones are easily accessible now, and pretty inexpensive. Plus, if you do need a headphone jack, there’s a USB C to 3.5mm adapter in the box.

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Moto Mods

The new huge thing to talk about with the Moto Z is arguably the biggest, Mods. LG attempted modularity with the G5 earlier this year, but the Moto Z absolutely nails the concept, at least in today’s limited way.

This is no Project Ara, but with a quick snap, you can instantly improve the look or functionality of your device. Along with our review units, Verizon was kind enough to send over 3 MotoMods, so let’s go over those with a bit more detail.

 – Style Mods

The first thing to talk about is Style Mods. Available in 6 styles, these mods give the device a couple of extra millimeters of thickness, something that’s great on the Moto Z, a bit of extra grip, and a fantastic new look. The Moto Z and Moto Z Force come standard with the “Charcoal Ash” style mod, and it looks fantastic. There are also two other wood styles, made from real wood, by the way, two nylon options, and a black leather option. These start at $19.99 and run up to $24.99 if you opt for leather.

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 – TUMI Power Pack

Moto also offers an assortment of power packs, including the TUMI Power Pack which we spent a bit of time with. This option comes in at $79, $89 if you want wireless charging, and offers an extra 2200 mAh of power. This provides an extra 22 hours of battery life, at least according to Moto’s claims. In my use I generally get about 80% of my Moto Z’s battery back using this mod, but that definitely doesn’t last me for 22 hours. These power packs are fantastic though for charging up your device on the go. I grabbed the mod several times as I ran out the door to go somewhere so I could get the phone charging while I was on the go. My sole complaint is the fact that you can’t choose when to turn this pack, and the others, off or on.

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 – JBL SoundBoost

Another useful mod for the Moto Z is the SoundBoost speaker. This replaces the back the phone with a bulky speaker with a kickstand. Now, in any other situation, I’d say this thing is just way too thick, but the audio saves it. The SoundBoost mod provides a fantastic audio experience which gets nothing short of insanely loud. I have Bluetooth speakers twice the size of this that don’t get as loud, so nice job JBL. At $80 it’s not particularly cheap, but neither are most Bluetooth speakers. The SoundBoost also provides an advantage over those speakers since it connects directly to the phone, with no annoying pairing to deal with.

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 – Moto Insta-Share

If you’re looking for something to add to your impromptu home theater, you might want to also check out the Moto Insta-Share Projector mod. It’s exactly what it sounds like and doesn’t disappoint. It snaps right on to the back of your Moto Z and once powered up, will project whatever is on the phone. It charges over USB Type-C and takes a little bit of time to charge, but once it does, it’ll last you a good couple of hours. It adjusts itself perfectly square on the wall or object you project it to and projects colors accurately. Overall, it’s a great mod and a lot of fun to use. Unfortunately, it comes at a cost. At $299 it’s not necessarily for everyone, but it is solid for sure.

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Camera

The camera on the Moto Z is fine, there’s nothing impressive about it, but it can certainly hold up to the competition.


Moto Z

Moto Z Force


Final Thoughts

When it comes down to it, the Moto Z is a really nice phone, but not perfect. There are still a few ways I think Lenovo could boost up the Z, but overall they did a nice job. We’re done, right? Nope. As great as Lenovo/Motorola did on this phone, they nearly ruined it in two ways. One, price. The Moto Z starts at $620 without financing, but $699 from most sources if you want it GSM unlocked. The second issue is Verizon. For whatever reason, Moto decided to make the Moto Z a temporary exclusive to Verizon, and the Z Force a permanent one. That was just a bad, bad idea… Granted, there is a GSM unlocked model as linked below.

Where To Buy