Here’s a million dollar question: “What makes a great smartphone?” Well, nowadays you obviously need good specs that don’t outperform each other, a good and sturdy build that’s not too thin and not too thick, nice software to work off of, and some unique features to make the phone stand out. Well, at least that’s my opinion…
So since I’ve been testing Moto’s (now Lenovo’s) Moto Z Droid Edition for the past 6 weeks, I thought I’d see just how the smartphone stands up to my description of a great smartphone. And unsurprisingly, most of the boxes on my list check off with flying colors. However, in some areas, I’ve been pretty disappointed.
Let’s jump into MBEDDED’s official review of the Moto Z Droid Edition and see just how good the latest offering from Moto really is.
What’s in the Box
Inside the box of the Moto Z (Droid Edition, obviously), you’ll get the phone itself, a Turbo Charger which can’t be detached from its wall adapter, a 3.5mm headphone jack (female) to USB-C (male) dongle (I’ll explain later), a SIM removal tool (at least for me), and some paperwork from Verizon. You also get a Moto Style Mod to snap to the back of your phone (which I’ll go more in-depth about later in this review). Nothing else is included, so you’re not getting any headphones or stickers or anything.
Design & Build
Design wise, the Moto Z includes a totally flat back and front (obviously). Opposed to last year’s Moto X and past Moto smartphones, the Moto Z brings a flat design to the back of the phone while also removes the company’s signature logo dimple. Of course many may be sad that the past design has evolved into this, however it makes sense for Moto and Lenovo to get a bit more sophisticated with their smartphone designs, and this one doesn’t oppose that statement. A very skinny 5.2mm thin form factor which feels a little awkward to hold in the hand also accompanies this new design language. I’m not a huge fan of how thin this phone is, however I don’t really mind it thanks to an addition I’ll mention later.
I got the White and Gold model of the Moto Z which, for the record, I’m not a fan of at all. The main reason is due to all the sensors being exposed on the front of the device which causes it to look cluttered and overall messy. I don’t mind the gold finish, however if I had gotten this phone in black and gold, I’d be more pleased. Nevertheless, if you wanna pick up this device, get it with a black front (I promise you won’t regret it).
The front of the device is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 4 which creates a good, sturdy shield against minor drops and accidental scuffs and scratches. The back of the Z is metal, so if you know your materials, you know metal’s pretty prone to fingerprints. And boy is this the truth! Just holding the Z naked in my hands for 5 seconds I was experiencing giant, almost permanent fingerprints that were extremely hard to get off. I eventually did, but it took forever. Therefore, if you’re getting this phone, grab a skin, case, or a Moto Mod (which I said I’d explain later, reader) for the back.
Something I pretty much hate about the build of the Moto Z is the fact that there’s no headphone jack. I know we should all start adapting to the cordless future we’re promised, but I’m not ready yet. I love using my Apple EarPods with anything I can stick them in, and the Moto Z isn’t one of those things. Of course, you can use the included 3.5mm headphone jack to USB-C adapter included in the box, but this method is so inconvenient I tend to just leave my headphones home when going for a walk or car drive.
Overall, the build of the Moto Z feels sturdy. I don’t feel like I could bend it (which I dare not even try), it has a nice amount of weight to it at 136 grams (4.8 oz), and the rounded corners add an added layer of comfort while operating the device in one hand. However, as we shall learn soon, this method of using the device isn’t ideal.
On the front of the Moto Z you’ll find a 5.5-inch QHD (2560×1440) AMOLED display which looks simply great. It’s not the best QHD display I’ve ever seen (I’d still give that to the newly announced Galaxy Note 7), but it definitely gets the job done. Colors are accurate if a little over saturated, text is nice and crisp, and no matter how close you look, you can’t see any pixels.
Viewing angle wise, the Moto Z performs okay in this department. I think my expectations were higher than others, however I’ve experienced some color shifting like a green tint appearing on the display just by tilting the device to around a 35 degree angle. Anything steeper than that, and the entire display begins rainbowing out. This is really unfortunate as the IPS panel could be better for the price of this handset, but at the same time I can live with it to some extent.
Two screen modes are present under Settings > Display > Color mode for the Moto Z, with one being called Standard and the other called Vibrant. The Vibrant setting is by default selected, so this is the reason you’ll see instant poppy-style colors when you first power on the Z. And in fact, it’s the better of the two. With Standard enabled, colors actually look pretty washed out and definitely not as saturated as the Vibrant setting. Plus, it gives some type of green tint to the entire display. I definitely prefer the latter over the former, but that’s just my opinion.
One of the most unfortunate factors of the Moto Z’s display is the brightness level. It doesn’t get very bright at all, especially outdoors. This is really disappointing because everything else about the screen is great. But if I must have one complaint about the display, it’s this.
All in all, I’ve been very satisfied with the display on the Moto Z. Like I said, colors are vibrant, text is sharp as a pin, I can’t see any pixels whatsoever, and even VR content using a Google Cardboard works flawlessly. If the brightness level of the screen was increased just a little more, I think I’d be better satisfied. Otherwise, I love the screen.
Specs & Performance
For your convenience, here’s a rundown of all the internals of the Moto Z I got:
- Quad-Core Snapdragon 820 processor
- Adreno 530 GPU
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB storage
The Snapdragon 820 is clocked in at 2.15GHz on two cores and 1.6GHz on the other two cores, with two present for heavy tasks like lots of multitasking and gaming and the others present for things like checking Twitter, sending email, and other simple tasks like browsing the web and going on Facebook. And surprise, each set of cores do their job flawlessly. You can breeze through your emails with no problems, check Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram almost instantly at once with the speed of multitasking present, and animations, launching apps, and interacting with the OS is nice and fluid.
Gaming with the Moto Z and it’s more powerful set of cores is also great. I’ve tried Real Racing 3, Suicide Squad: Special Ops, Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom, and even lighter titles like Stack and Color Switch (and no, I didn’t try Pokemon GO!). And overall, you’re gonna get a great gaming experience. The Adreno 520 GPU provides enough graphics power to plow through the most graphic-intense games. I only experienced three or four dropped frames during gaming sessions in my two week testing period, and this was while I played the heavier titles like Real Racing 3 and Suicide Squad: Special Ops. So overall, don’t expect many stutters in this department.
Multitasking is also great with the Moto Z. With its 4GB of RAM, I don’t have to worry about any app redraws or crashes. I can have quite a few apps open at the same time and switch between them flawlessly.
The built-in fingerprint sensor on the front of the device is also really fast. I can get right into the Moto Z in under one second, which is really impressive. The button is actually raised a bit from the Moto Z in order for it to read your fingerprint better, but I’ve constantly mistaken it for a home button. Let me be more clear: the fingerprint sensor where the home button would be on any other smartphone is not a home button. It only reads your fingerprint. That and it can put your phone back to sleep by long touching the surface of the reader. I’m not saying I don’t like the fingerprint sensor because I very much do, I just don’t like how it’s not a home button.
For me, I found that 32GB of storage was enough. I was gonna pop in my small 8GB microSD card, however I never found the need to and still don’t. I’ve only used about half of the available space, so I don’t plan on taking the card out of my Moto E any time soon. Of course, my experience, opinions, and usage isn’t exactly the same as everyones, so if you are picking up the 32GB Moto Z, you may want to grab an extra microSD card while you’re at it.
I ran some benchmarks on Geekbench 3 and AnTuTu Benchmarks on the Moto Z, and this how it performed.
With a Geekbench 3 score of 2356 on the single core and 5498 on the multi-core, the Moto Z performs better than the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Nexus 9 tablet. Plus, those scores are pretty impressive nonetheless. And with its AnTuTu benchmark of 130707, the graphics on the handset fall just short of the iPhone SE’s score of 131401. However, this doesn’t mean the GPU performs bad, as I previously stated playing graphic-intense games on the device is a very pleasant experience. I just found it appropriate to include these benchmarks for your convenience and reference.
The internals of the Moto Z are pretty high quality. I can’t say I wish there was something more, because I believe everything’s already here. I think the storage options are good at 32 and 64GB with the option to expand that via microSD card, I think the processor is the best that Moto could’ve included, the fingerprint sensor is nice and speedy, and the RAM count is great. Maybe if there were 6GB of RAM I’d love it a bit more, however that’s not the point. 4GB of RAM in a smartphone is good enough. I mean, we’re not running desktop Photoshop or Final Cut Pro here, are we?
Software & Experience
Running on the Moto Z is a relatively stock version of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. This gives you features like Now on Tap, adoptable storage, more precise app permissions, Doze mode, and more. The only difference between this build and what comes on, say, a Nexus is the fact that there’s a few preinstalled apps and tweaks from Moto themselves. However, if you happen to get the Moto Z Droid Edition like I have, you’re gonna be greeted with a ton of bloatware from our good friends at Verizon. There’s even a dedicated folder on the launcher for it all.
Speaking of the launcher, Moto has decided to ditch the Google Now Launcher as their built-in home screen and instead make one of their own. It’s a rather interesting move since practically every phone they’ve made to date uses the Now Launcher as the home screen, but I guess the company’s making some changes we’re gonna have to get used to eventually.
This launcher, called Launcher3 like many others, features a black, transparent app drawer and folder design which benefits from the AMOLED display on the Z. This allows not every pixel to be lit at the same time, therefore saving battery life. A Google search bar is present at the top of the home screen which can be accessed just like the one in the Google Now Launcher. However, the Google Now pane to the left of the home screen isn’t present. This, of course, isn’t expected from a built-in launcher, however I thought it’d be worth noting.
I definitely don’t prefer this launcher over something like the Now Launcher or even the recently leaked Nexus Launcher, however I can live with it and have for the sake of this review.
Moving away from the home screen, not much is different between this and the build of Android Marshmallow found on a Nexus. There’s a few add-ons via the Moto app like the ability to activate your camera via two twists of your wrists and the ability to activate your flashlight via two karate-style ‘chops’. You can also turn on a feature called Moto Display which shows you your notifications in a very battery efficient way (kind of like Ambient Display mode on the Nexus) while also set certain times and locations when your notifications should be silenced. I found the latter feature especially useful as I have a custom setting for when I go to bed, however Moto Display is probably my favorite out of all these gestures as I can simply wave my hand over the display to wake it up and view my pending notifications.
Using the Moto Z with one hand is definitely not ideal. While trying to text in bed and browse stuff like Facebook, I really struggle trying to hit all the buttons on the screen, especially the ones in the top corners. Luckily, Moto has built in a feature you can turn on or off in the preinstalled Moto app which allows you to swipe up from the bottom of the screen and shrink the entire display for easier use during one-handed periods. I found this method of reaching the top of the phone pretty useful, however the display gets pretty small, mind you, and text is kind of hard to read. But nonetheless, if you’ll be using your Moto Z with one hand often, turn on this feature. Otherwise, you’re gonna have to have some pretty big hands to get around the device.
Other than those subtle tweaks (and a whole boat load of junkware provided by Verizon), there’s not much to describe the version of Android loaded on the Moto Z other than to say it’s relatively stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. And what does that mean? It means you’re getting a nice and smooth experience throughout as no custom skins or themes are present to bog you down. I’ll admit I’ve had a few hiccups here and there when redrawing the home screen or switching an app from the multitasking view (which, by the way, has a really nifty “Clear All” button), but that only occurred around 4 times during my testing and I blame it solely on the RAM speeds which, unfortunately, aren’t the highest.
I’ve always been a fan of Motorola keeping everything relatively stock on their smartphones. I’m not really one for skins or custom themes built in by companies who think it’s cool or stylish because – most of the time – it’s not. And while I don’t mind a skin as long as it’s light, I really appreciate Moto for keeping things clean on the Z and not even thinking about a custom skin, even though the default launcher seems to hint at the possibility of one developing some time in the future.
On the back of the Moto Z you’ll find a 13MP camera with an f/1.8 aperture, laser autofocus, OIS, and a dual LED flash. And surprise, it’s pretty good. Pictures come out with a good amount of light, pretty good color correction if a little under saturated, and a decent amount of exposure.
Here’s a gallery of some sample photos I took with the Moto Z’s rear camera (side note: all these photos were taken with the 4:3 aspect ratio enabled at 13MP).
A few problems I had with the Z’s camera were in the areas of focusing and lighting. To start with the former, when I got close to a plant or tree to try and take a picture, I had to manually focus on the subject I wanted to capture. For some reason, the laser autofocus didn’t decide to kick in during my testing when I had these problems, so I thought it’d be worth noting.
To touch on the latter, while directing the camera’s attention to the sky, the exposure around my house and the trees above it kind of got muted and aren’t very visible in the photo. Of course, some spots on the trees are visible, however if I were to focus directly on the sky and not partially on the trees, I wouldn’t be able to see any greenery at all.
When I loaded the pictures onto my computer and zoomed in to see the detail, I noticed something I’ve seen many a time before on Motorola’s phones, and that’s too much softening. When you take a photo and look at it without zooming in, it’ll actually look almost over sharpened. But when zooming into the photo, you realize that the image is pretty soft and muddy. This has occurred with various other cameras I’ve tried built into Motorola phones, so I wasn’t surprised to see it in the Moto Z.
The rear camera on the Moto Z also supports recording 4K video at 30 frames per second. I ran a test on this feature to see just how good it was, and to my surprise, it’s not all that great. I mean, it’s okay, but autofocus has serious problems with trying to find the right subject to look at while exposure tries so hard to make everything look good in the scene that it does the opposite, especially with the sky. And let’s not even talk about the microphones.
The front facing camera weighs in at 5MP and includes an f/2.2 aperture, 1080p video recording, and an LED flash. And to my absolute shock, I found this sensor a lot better than the rear sensor, at least in the video department. Photos look pretty good if you’re taking a quick selfie for Instagram or something, while video actually looks pretty top-notch for 5MP. Plus you’re getting a nice, wide-angle lens so you can squeeze in a large crowd into your selfie or video.
Here’s a few selfies I took to test out this camera.
By placing myself in the right spot so the sky would be at my back, I figured a test like this had to be done. So that third picture where my face is all shadowed out is the result of this trial. Obviously, it’s not a very good picture, and I blame it solely on the focusing and exposure problems the Moto Z struggles with. The bottom image looks too blown out for my taste which, again, is the whole exposure thing, while the second photo I took also suffers from this problem. In fact, the only decent selfie I took is the first one, which proves if you want to take good pictures with either camera, you really need to be in a good spot and position yourself correctly in whatever lighting conditions you’re in.
Speaking of lighting conditions, when taking pictures in a lighting a bit darker than dusk, I noticed that the Moto Z tends to bring in a lot of light. If you take a look at the pictures below, you’d think I had taken them at around 2 or 3 ‘o’ clock in the afternoon, but I assure you I didn’t.
As you can see, there’s a lot of light in these photos. When you zoom in, you’ll notice that the images appear a little over sharpened. This is the result of the artificial exposure increase. Of course, it won’t be a problem for most people, however I found it slightly annoying and worth a note here.
When using the LED flash in the same lighting condition with the Moto Z, things get a little filthy. First off, the flash tends to over blow your shot by way too much most of the time, while once in a while you’ll get a pretty decent shot. However, a majority of the pictures you’ll take with this flash will not doubt come out pretty terrible. Again, I blame this on the poor focusing capabilities of the Z’s rear camera since – by manually focusing – your photo will come out okay, however I’m pretty sure the flash and software correction for photos taken with the Z are to blame as well.
The last two photos seen above were a little test I did. The former of the two was taken without the flash, while the latter was taken with the flash. And as you can see, the flash pretty much ruined the picture. You can’t see as much detail anymore, while the photo looks completely blown out overall. And although I hate to say it, I don’t recommend using this flash system as it’s pretty awful.
On the front of the Moto Z, there’s also an LED flash for the selfie camera. So in the same lighting condition, I took a few selfies with the flash to see how it performed. And while my expectations were pretty low since the rear camera performed so poorly, I was (once again) pleasantly surprised with the front camera’s low-light capabilities.
I took two selfies in two different positions, while the last two were taken with the 5MP camera and flash but pointed in a different way to see how focusing performs. And to my surprise, the camera actually performed pretty well. Again, once in a while a picture would get too overblown and the flash would totally ruin the picture (see last photo), however if there was a subject front and center within the photo frame (like you and your friends would be while taking a selfie), you’re really good to go. So overall, I think the front camera is still better than the rear camera, but that’s just me…
In a nutshell, don’t expect to replace your DSLR or point-and-shooter with the Moto Z’s cameras. I mean, they’re good for taking a quick picture for Snapchat or filming a little video for Instagram, but other than that, I wouldn’t do too much with these sensors. But don’t get me wrong, you can really get some nice results. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t place all my trust on just using these cameras alone.
The battery life on the Moto Z is, undoubtfully, not that great at all. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you can get through a full day on this guy. However, with the 2600mAh battery inside paired with a Snapdragon 820 and QHD 5.5-inch display, on paper battery life shouldn’t be that good anyway.
Overall, I got around 2-3 hours of screen-on time with the Moto Z. For a flagship device that costs as much as it does, I was rather disappointed. If the Z had a 1080p display, for instance, but kept the same 5.5-inch form factor, I probably would be praising the battery life. But you don’t see me doing that, do you?
Stand-by time was also pretty bad, as I’d go to sleep with around 40 – 50% battery life off the charger and wake up to a phone with nearly enough juice to keep it alive. This really surprised me since Doze mode was present the whole time on the Moto Z, however I think Moto Display and its overactive sensors that light up the screen may have something to do with it.
When playing games and using the Moto Z for simple tasks like email and Facebook, I noticed that the whole device started getting oddly warm. Eventually, I’d have to put it down for being too warm to operate. I have no clue why this happens, however I belive it’s due to the metal material being used that stores heat more effectively than something like plastic or glass. Of course, the handset didn’t get hot all the time, but during YouTube sessions or using the camera for more than 20 minutes, things started getting pretty hot.
While the battery life on the Moto Z is pretty disappointing by itself, there is a fix I can recommend that really works. And it’s called a Moto Mod.
When Lenovo announced the new Moto Z and Z Force, they also unveiled new accessories to snap on the back of your phone called Moto Mods. These attachments connect via magnets and grant the Z and Z Force with new capabilities like a better sounding speaker, a projector, and even better battery life.
Moto sent us over three Mods to check out for our testing: the Incipio offGRID Power Pack, the JBL SoundBoost Speaker, and the Lenovo-built Insta-Share Projector. These Mods launched alongside the Z family and were the very first to hit the market, while other companies like Hasselbland are now developing new Mods for the Z series that have recently launched. However, we haven’t gotten our hands on this Mod yet, but stay tuned.
When you get the Mods, you first unbox them and peel off some plastic. Then you connect the magnetic pins on the back of the Mod with the ones on the back of the Z and lineup the camera cutout with the camera itself to secure a good connection. Once that’s completed, you’re good to go. Literally. It’s that easy. Plus, each Mod gives the Z a good amount of weight and thickness, which is something the Z family is practically lacking. In addition, each Mod launched with this year’s Moto Z will also work with the next generations, so if you do put some money down on these things, you won’t be stranded to just using them with one device.
Starting with the Power Pack, I was particularly interested in checking out this Mod since I wasn’t a fan of the Moto Z’s standard battery life. This pack gives the Z a 2200mAh boost, creating a combination of two separate cells to make one big 4800mAh battery. And, surprise, it works extremely well.
When you have both 100% capacity on the Z itself and the Power Pack, the phone will use the Mod’s juice before its own. Essentially, this means that on day one, you’ll have 2200mAh to use, while on day two you’ll have 2600mAh to use. It’s worth noting that this isn’t actually how you have to use the Mod. This is just how I did. By having the extra juice on the back of the Z, I was getting at least triple the screen-on time of what I had with just the Z itself. This resulted in around 11 to 12 hours of use, which is killer to have. And since the Pack’s power is used before the Z’s, you’ll have 100% battery for, like, an entire day. Seriously. Then at the end of day two (assuming you use your phone like I do and can survive off of 2200mAh for a day), you just have to recharge overnight with the Mod attached and you’re good to go. Overall, I think this was my favorite Mod I got to test with the Moto Z as I found it most useful. I also believe that if you’re going on a trip and don’t wanna bring your charger, at least fasten this puppy to the back of your phone.
Next up is the JBL SoundBoost Speaker. Let me first start off by saying that the speaker on the Moto Z is just the earpiece, and while it is front facing (which is nice to have), it’s rather tinny and starts to distort if you increase the volume too far. So when I hooked up the JBL speaker to the back of the Z, I was absolutely blown away with its sound quality. It makes for a great alternative to the built-in speaker.
Of course, it’s not the best speaker I’ve heard. There’s a decent amount of base and music sounds nice and clear whether the volume is high or low, however it kinda just sounds like your average run-of-the-mill external speaker for a smartphone, in some ways. I’m not saying it’s bad by any means (hence I got blown away earlier), I’m just trying to make a reasonable argument here. The fact is, if you’re an audiophile, you won’t find anything special in this speaker. However, if you’re a casual listener that prefers external speakers over built-in ones, you’ll love this thing.
Finally, we have the Insta-Share Projector. For starters, I’m not sure who’s gonna buy this thing. I just can’t see myself ever even wanting it. I mean, of course I enjoyed using it, but it’s kind of a gimmick you’ll probably use a couple of times to show your friends then set on a high self to collect dust.
Okay, I’m butchering this thing too early. When you connect the Insta-Share Projector to the Moto Z for the first time, you’re walked through a little guide to teach you how to use the accessory, like how to operate the kickstand and when to use the focus wheel. After that, you simply long press on the power button and your phone’s screen will begin projecting from the built-in 50 lumens-bright projection. Up to a 70-inch display can be created with this projector, however since I don’t have a big enough wall to test this with, I think I’ll just tell you whether the projector’s worth it or not.
Personally, I don’t think so. Sure, you can watch movies with your friends with it or stream YouTube videos on your ceiling (see pictures above), but other than that there’s not much special about it. If you absolutely need a projector and you have a Moto Z, I’d definitely recommend this for you. But for the rest, just leave this one aside. especially because it costs $300…
One Moto Mod actually does come with the Moto Z right in the box. It’s called a Style Mod, and it offers an alternate backplate for your device. There’s multiple to choose from on the market, however the one Moto includes in the box has a wood-like texture. I’m a big fan of it since it feels nice in the hand, it doesn’t collect fingerprints, and it adds a nice thickness to the Z which is desperately needs.
Lenovo’s idea of modularity is rather interesting. It’s not as modular as something like the LG G5 which actually requires you to take apart your phone, however it’s also not like just plugging in a battery pack or external speaker. It’s more than that. The Mods actually snap onto the back of your Moto Z like modules do, however it’s not as complicated as the G5. Overall, I believe that this direction to take in the world of modularity is very unique and likely has a future. Of course, only time will tell how the public reacts to swapping out pieces of their smartphone for others, but at the moment, I think this is a great idea, even though the Mods are priced extremely high for what they do.
Lenovo’s 2016 Moto flagship has its quirks, but overall the entire device makes it a great one. Yes, I’ll admit the camera’s good but not great most of the time and you can only get around day out of the battery, but I only say that because I’m a reviewer. I have to give my honest opinion. The typical smartphone buyer (in other words, not me) will probably fall in love with this phone. The only factors that may or may not change their minds is whether they think it’s too expensive at $699 unlocked or if it’s just too big which, by the way, it kind of is in both senses.
Nevertheless, with its high-end specs and modularity brought by Moto Mods, the Moto Z makes for a great smartphone with plenty of potential. Personally, I give it a 7 out of 10 in terms of all-around enjoyment. The points taken away are because the device does tend to get very warm often, the camera’s not the best in the world, the battery life doesn’t meet my expectations, and there’s just too much Verizon bloatware. Of course, if I were given an unlocked unit to review, that last factor wouldn’t even be present. But I wasn’t, and that’s how I feel about it.
Overall, I could recommend the Moto Z to someone who’s looking for a flagship smartphone with high-end specs, a decent camera, and something that’ll make it different from the rest. It may not be my first choice to tell a friend about, but it’s definitely in the top 5. Enough said.