Moto Z is the first Moto-branded flagship since Lenovo began phasing out the Motorola brand name, and the successor to the popular Moto X line. At the time of its unveiling, Moto X represented a new Motorola with a new, clearer vision under the influence of Google itself. The company ditched the heavy skins commonly found on Android handsets, built a solid phone that was a good overall experience, and added some features here and there that made it stand out from the crowd. It was the ideal prototype of what an Android OEM should do.
But the Moto X is gone now, and Motorola is now owned by Lenovo. Slowly but surely, we have seen Lenovo make its mark on the Moto phones of years previous, and this year things took another step in a new direction. Lenovo skipped over Y and has now launched the Moto Z, and deserving of its new name the device is indeed. The curved back and the Moto dimple of the X line are gone, replaced with an aluminum and glass surface that makes a bold attempt at a new super-thin sexiness. Is it a good phone, though? Let’s talk about that…
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So what is the Moto Z?
The big thing here is the Moto Mods. The modular phone idea that sprung out of Phonebooks and Project Ara in 2013 has been gaining steam in recent years, and LG experimented with a version of this with its G5 smartphone. Now, Moto — or should I say Lenovo — has introduced their take. Mods are different, though, in that they don’t actually involve disassembling any piece of the phone itself. The Moto Z is completely functional by itself, and the Mods are simply backplates that can be attached on the back. This contrasts with Ara, which involves several pieces attached to the back of a skeleton, and the G5 which has a removable battery and bottom bezel.
But the thing that will probably first catch the eye of the consumer in regards to these mods is their price tag. We’ll talk about this a little bit more later in the review, but it’s something to keep in mind so that you can have some perspective on exactly the proposal Lenovo is making with this phone. There are four types of Mods that Moto is making available off the bat. The Moto-made projector Mod is $300, a JBL speaker called the SoundBoost is $80, the Power Packs are available from $60, and the Style Shells are $20.
Hardware build |
This phone is really well-built — and I don’t say that lightly. In terms of actual appearance there’s a lot to be desired (at least on the white model), but the quality of the materials and the overall design continue to impress me the more I use the phone. The device has aluminum rails around the sides, a Gorilla Glass or ShatterShield 2.0 screen (for the Moto Z and Moto Z Force, respectively), and a back that is both aluminum and glass. The back reminds me a little bit of the iPhone 5, with glass at the top and bottom (presumably to allow for better phone signal).
On that note, the way the device handles antenna lines is also pretty great. There’s a small gap in the aluminum at the top that I didn’t even notice, and the sole USB-C port at the bottom serves as another antenna gap. Other than that, the rails are one single piece only interrupted by a microphone and the SIM tray at the top, and 3 buttons — one for lock, and two for volume — along the right side.
As you may have seen, this device is insanely thin. The standard Moto Z is 5.19mm thin, while the Force is 6.99mm. The Force is already an incredibly thin phone (the Galaxy S7 edge for example, is 7.7mm), but the standard Z somehow manages to make the Z Force feel thick. Using the Z and Z Force for the last week has constantly had me coming back to the standard Z if only for its physical attractiveness. This is the kind of thinness that makes people in public say “wow, that is a crazy thin phone, what is it?” I would know, because it has happened to me several times so far.
But there’s a couple of notable downsides to the thinness of both of these phones (but especially the standard Z). First, they have huge camera bumps on the back. Many people will probably argue that Motorola should have just made both phones thicker, filled in the body, gotten rid of the camera bump, and added hefty batteries. I might be one of those people, but you have to realize that such a proposition wouldn’t have worked with these phones. The entire point is that you should be able to quickly snap a Moto Mod on the back and carry the phone around like normal — with the added functionality not getting in the way of usability.
They feel like you’re holding a super-thin piece of aluminum (because you are), and that’s not the most comfortable feeling in the world. Compared to the curved edges of the Moto X in the past (and the many materials you could pick from to find one that perfectly suits your preference), the Moto Z is simply uncomfortable. It reminds me a lot of the Galaxy S6, which many people said around its release that it just felt a bit “sharp” around the edges. Samsung fixed that problem with the S7 by adding just a little bit of curve around the back edge, and that would have been nice to have here.
But there’s a reason that Lenovo couldn’t do that with this phone, and that brings us to the solution the company is providing to make up for these two shortcoming as well as the lack of Moto Maker customization. The Mods, including the thin Style Shell mods, have to fit nice and snug on the back. This alleviates the sharpness problem in my experience and makes the phone much more comfortable, but it added a couple of millimeters of thickness for no functional benefit. The Style Shell mods that shipped with the review unit we received are a dark wood grain design, and they look nice, but I keep going back and forth between wanting to use it to make the phone more comfortable and stylish, and wanting to go naked to show off the remarkable thinness of the device.
All of this is a moot point, really, as I’ll get to later, because the attractiveness of such a thin phone comes with some downsides that I’m not sure if I can handle. One of those is battery life.
What is up with the front?
Taking a look at the rest of the physical build of the device, I have to mention a few more things that people have been concerned about ever since the very first leaked renders of the phone started making the rounds. The front of the device has always been the most controversial part, with evidence of Lenovo’s design influence creeping in and invading what was an excellently built and designed Moto X.
They’re not so noticeable on the black model (which might be why almost every reviewer got a black model — I’m curious if Lenovo picked up on the early complaints about the design of the white version), but the white phone’s front looks absolutely horrid in this reviewer’s humble opinion. There are just so many black dots on the face of the phone — making up the front camera, the front flash, a couple of microphones, and proximity sensors — that it almost makes no sense to even make the phone in white. On the black model you can only really see the front-facing camera and the front flash, so I have no complaints there.
But a one weird thing about the front of the device that affects both colors is the square fingerprint sensor and how large the bezel surrounding it is. The bottom bezel, to make room for the square fingerprint sensor and the “moto” logo, is noticeably larger than the top bezel (which houses the sole speaker, and the front-facing camera). That’s one tick off the attractiveness score of the phone for me, and on top of that, Lenovo decided to make the fingerprint sensor just a fingerprint sensor, and not a functional home button. That means that the phone needs a set of traditional Android capacity buttons at the bottom of the screen, making the bottom bezel appear even larger when the phone is on and the black software buttons appear when you’re anywhere but the home screen.
To add to the confusion, the software keys seem to disappear whenever you’re using an app in full screen, making it easy to accidentally tap the fingerprint sensor to quit an app — only to find out that it does nothing. There’s no setting to make the fingerprint sensor act as a home button (or at least not yet), and what’s worse is that if you’re in an app and you try to tap the fingerprint sensor to leave and you accidentally hold the button for more than a second, the phone will actually lock.
Great displays, but not outside
The screens are back to AMOLED from the LCD panels used on the Moto X last year. It’s quad HD, 535 ppi, and 5.5-inches on both the Moto Z and Moto Z Force, and brings the vibrant colors you would expect from a 2016 flagship. Similar to the Samsung Galaxy S7, you have the option to use the screen in two color modes: Standard and Vibrant. Vibrant is the default, and as many agree, the better looking of the two options. For the uninitiated, going with the standard mode simply makes the screen appear a little bit more washed out, but more realistic.
One thing of note with the display — and this one might just be a deal breaker for me — is its dimness. It’s not much worse than many competitors on the market, but that doesn’t mean it’s great. The screen just doesn’t get that bright when you need it bright, and doesn’t get that dim when you need it dim. This means that outdoor visibility is rough in broad daylight (honestly, you can hardly see the screen unless there’s cloud cover), and using your phone in bed isn’t the greatest. At its lowest setting, it’s still a bit too bright for my taste. All this said, the viewing angles are good and general usability, as long as you’re not trying to use the phone in direct sunlight, is about what you would expect.
Moto Z Force ShatterShield
The star of the show for the Force is definitely its ShatterShield 2 screen, which while it isn’t glass on the top layer, it’s not going to crack on you. I have dropped the phone about a dozen times in my testing on a variety of surfaces — including carpet, tile, and hardwood — and I have yet to see a single hairline crack. That said, it’s worth remember that the Force is by no means indestructible. You’re still going to get your share of nicks and scrapes around the aluminum rails and on the back of the device, and there’s always the risk of damaging internal components. If you go with the Force, I wouldn’t recommend being reckless. Sure, it has an indestructible screen, but the screen can still get scratched up pretty bad.
Speaker & microphones
Another downside of the Moto Z versus the Moto X line is that the front of the device features one mono main speaker and earpiece combo, rather than a pair of high quality stereo speakers. This one speaker is good, but not great. You can hear people fine when taking calls, but it’s a noticeable change from the Moto X when you’re trying to watch YouTube videos or the like. Admittedly most Android phones have a similar set up, but the stereo speakers of the Moto X are duly missed.
And as I mentioned, there are a slew of microphones on this phone — and on the white model you can see them clear as day. There are two on the front to pick up your voice, one on the top of the phone, and another on the back. I tested these with some quick calls and they sound pretty good — just as good or better than the competition. You would hope that to be the case with two microphone holes on the front.
What about the headphone jack, jack?
Lenovo decided to beat Apple at Apple’s own game. Yes, as you probably already know by now (because who isn’t talking about this?), Lenovo has ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack with the super-thin Moto Z. And not only that, but the less-super-thin Moto Z Force, which definitely has room for one, forgoes the headphone jack as well. This means that Lenovo included a USB Type-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter in the box, and it means you have one more thing to lose. You can also choose to go with Bluetooth headphones of course, but this is quite simply a nuisance. USB Type-C headphones aren’t popular yet, and it’s just not a great experience.
Adding to that, this means that you can’t listen to music with headphones and charge the phone at the same time — at least not through the sole USB Type-C port on the bottom of the phone. As you’ll notice is a theme with this review, though, Lenovo has a “solution” in the form of a Moto Mod. I’ll talk about this more below, but the Tumi, Kate Spade, and Incipio power packs do more than just add some extra juice to your phone — some more expensive variants also bring wireless charging, a feature that has seems to gone from Android flagships as fast as it came.
Vibration motor tells all
I’ve always said that one thing that speaks volumes about the quality of a phone’s hardware — and one of the very first things you notice about a phone — is its vibration motor. When I first booted up the phone and opened up the Gmail app and started tapping out an email, I was pleasantly surprised to find a vibration motor that’s strong and tight. It’s a little buzzy if you have the phone on a hard table and you’re tapping around Moto Display notifications, but unlike the weak and sometimes unnoticeable Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X (and many other phones), the vibration on the Moto Z and Moto Z Force is more than a satisfactory.
A mostly stock experience
And that takes us to software and the decisions Lenovo made in hopes to improve the experience atop Android Marshmallow. This phone is basically 90% stock Android, just like the previous lineup of Moto X devices. For reviewers and the Android enthusiasts among us, that’s a blessing knowing the current state of Android skins. Many skins have improved in recent years, but with the mess that still is Huawei’s EMUI skin (hopefully not for much longer), as well as those from Oppo, Xiaomi, and many others, it’s nice to see a Chinese OEM that knows what its American audience wants.
When you boot up the OS for the first time you’ll see the Verizon DROID, Moto, and Lenovo logos, but from there you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell that this isn’t stock Android. The lock screen sports the usual Google Now quick access in the bottom left, access to the Camera in the bottom right, and the time and date in the middle of the screen just like you would find on a pure Nexus phone. You might notice that Moto’s launcher is slightly different from the Google Now Launcher, but not enough to make changing necessary.
First, the Moto launcher (called Launcher3 in the Settings app), goes with a transparent background in the app drawer. That’s probably the most obvious change, but you’ll also find that the custom launcher allows you to navigate your pages of apps in landscape by default while the Google Now Launcher requires you to toggle that on. Interestingly, Lenovo also decided that, by default, users _have_ to use the hold-fingerprint-sensor-to-lock functionality. Unless you toggle a setting in the Settings app (which I quickly did just for my own sanity), pressing the lock button will only turn the screen on and off (with it locking automatically after a certain amount of time). Perhaps Lenovo did this to convince you that holding the fingerprint sensor to lock is somehow superior to the lock button we’re all familiar with, but I personally decided to go with the standard route immediately.
The notification shade, quick settings menu, and multitasking screen are exactly the same as stock Android Marshmallow, and the phone ships with all the stock apps you would expect: Calculator, Camera, Chrome, Clock, Contacts, Downloads, Drive, Gmail, Google, Hangouts, Maps, Phone, Google Photos, Android Pay, YouTube, and the Settings app are all stock. As someone who is a big fan of stock Android, this makes me happy. And it’s one thing that this phone has above the competition — you get a true Android experience without the bloat. Except… Verizon.
Since the Droid edition of this phone — the only version of the phone as of the time of this writing — comes with Verizon’s input, the carrier of course decided it would be best to duplicate some of the functionality of stock Android with its own apps. Most of these are removable, but it’s still a nuisance. Verizon puts them on the home screen by default, and they’re the worst. They include Verizon’s Caller Name ID, Cloud, Message+, My Verizon Mobile, Voice Mail, VZ Navigator, and VZ Protect. There’s also Slack Radio, NFL Mobile, IMDB, File Manager, Email, and Audible for good measure.
Moto’s great additions
Looking past the annoying software additions, Moto also — thankfully — had some say as to what this software packs. This includes the Moto app, which lets you go hands-free and listen to calls and texts while on the road, the lovely wrist twist to open the Camera app, the ability to talk with the phone using a custom name even if it’s locked, and what is probably the best-of-the-best lock screen notification experience. You can chop twice for flashlight, you can pick up the device to trigger Moto Display, you can put the phone face down to silence it, you can lift the phone to put it in vibrate mode, and you can swipe up from the bottom to shrink the screen. All of these are useful additions that don’t get in the way of stock Android.
Moto Voice, as we’ve seen with the Moto X in years past, learns your voice and listens for your own custom “launch phrase”. This can be anything from “OK Moto” to “hey robot” to “yo android”. Moto Voice, as mentioned, can announce your incoming calls and texts when it detects that you are driving, or you can set it to always announce when you are where a headset of some kind. Also, you can add a place — based on your GPS location — that you would like the phone to announce calls and texts. This isn’t personally a feature that’s super useful for me, but I can definitely see many taking advantage of it — especially the driving features.
Finally, the Moto Display has a lot of different options as well. You can decide to enable or disable it completely if you want, and you can toggle whether or not it vibrates when you’re tapping on a notification. You can also choose for Moto Display to always keep the screen dark between certain hours of the day (such as midnight to 6 AM), and choose how much detail of a notification actually shows on the lock screen. Just like with standard Android notifications, you can choose to show all notification content, show no notifications at all, or hide sensitive notifications. Personally, I like to keep sensitive notifications hidden.
When will we got Android Nougat?
It would have been really nice to see this phone launch with Android Nougat, considering that in just a couple of months the first flagships with the next major version of Google’s mobile OS will be launching. Furthermore, Moto phones getting updates has been pretty unreliable post-Lenovo, so there’s really no way of knowing when the Moto will get around to it.
Having looked at a little bit at the hardware and software, let’s talk about how the two work together. Performance of the phone — with its Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 820 processor (2.2 GHz Quad-core) and Adreno 530 GPU — is about the same as many of the flagships that launched earlier this year. There’s 4GB of RAM to handle some intense multitasking, and that it can. You can run pretty much any game on the Play Store just fine at really great frame rates, and yes — since you were wondering — this is a great Pokémon Go device.
Performance is great, but that starts to break down a little bit when talking about the standard Moto Z and its 2,600 mAh battery. That’s definitely less than the average flagship, and it seems to be a compromise made for thinness and to make the idea of thick Mods a little more palatable. Slapping the very-thick JBL speaker on the back of the standard Moto Z doesn’t feel too odd because — while it’s definitely thick — it’s not unwieldy. The standard Moto Z is thin enough that it’s still sleek.
Having Snapdragon 820 performance is awesome, but unless you have the battery to back up the powerful hardware, you’re not going to be able to do much for very long. Thankfully the Moto Mods pack their own batteries in some cases (I’ll talk more about that below), but that doesn’t change the fact that if you want to go nude with the standard Moto Z (or with a Style Shell mod), you’re going to need to charge the phone every single night. And you might need to find that AC adapter and give it a top up during the day.
The battery feels like it drains really fast, and to make matters worse, Doze doesn’t seem to be functioning as well as it should. A couple of nights, overnight, I went from about 90% To 80% or 75% — and that’s not using the phone at all. During the day, you’ll probably get around 4-5 hours of screen on time before you need to charge up with the standard Moto Z. That’s obviously not the case with the thicker Moto Z Force, which has a higher-capacity 3,500 mAh battery.
Overall, the system, multitasking, and navigating around the device just feels really snappy compared to most other Android phones I’ve used this year. Interestingly, its speed is reflected in Geekbench 3 scores, beating both the LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy S7 edge in single-core and multi-core despite having the same processor.
The Moto Z features a 13MP main camera, while the Moto Z Force features a 21MP camera. Albeit slight differences in detail when you zoom in on a photo, though, both cameras seem to perform about the same. They both have optical image stabilization, laser autofocus, dual-tone flash, and a hoard of software features to make either of them more than capable enough to be your daily snapper.
As for video, they both feature video stabilization, 1080p HD video (at 30 fps and 60 fps), 4K video (at 30fps), slow motion video, and video with HDR (at 1080p and 4K). Based purely on my time taking some quick videos around the house and outdoors, there’s nothing particularly special here. They’re great cameras, but that’s about it. Optical image stabilization works. As you can see in these videos, I’m able to walk around while holding the camera with minimal shakiness.
You’ll also find, as I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned, that the front-facing camera has a front-facing flash to go along with it. Check out the video above for some samples of how this looks, but I’ll say I found the quality of selfies, in a variety of conditions, came out really well. Obviously it’s always a better idea to take photos in good lighting when you can, but the front-facing flash really helps in those situations where you’re taking a front-facing shot in a lowly-lit bar or something.
Moto Mods to the rescue |
While the Moto Z and Z Force both have their share of shortcoming (the former more so than the latter), Lenovo has partnered with several companies to introduce “mods” to help remedy the situation. The front-facing speakers aren’t great, hence the JBL speaker mod. The standard Moto Z definitely needs some help with battery life, hence the Tumi and Incipio power pack mods. It would be really nice to have the customization of the original Moto X, hence the Style Shell mods.
It’s really an interesting take on the whole modular concept. I’ve spent a lot of the first part of this review talking about the downsides of the Moto Z, but part of me feels like that’s comparable to criticizing the shell of Google’s Project Ara (which is basically just an SoC, a screen, and a battery) without any modules attached. Lenovo seems to think that everyone who purchases the Moto Z is also going to want to play with these mods and figure out which ones are best for them, and in a lot of cases they make up for the places things are left to be desired.
Probably one of the coolest aspects of the Moto Mods is that some of them pack their own battery that you can charge directly by USB-C. Of course the Power Pack mods have their own batteries, but so do the Insta-Share projector and the JBL SoundBoost. That’s because they pull a lot power, and if they were draining from your phone battery, they probably wouldn’t last long. That said, if the SoundBoost or the Insta-Share projector run out of their own battery, they will begin pulling from your phone to stay alive.
Style Shell mods
The perfect examples are the Style Shell mods. I tried my hand at several of these at the Moto Z launch event in June, but Lenovo only ships one with the phone itself. With the review units that the company sent us, that’s a dark wood grain Style shell mod. As I mentioned earlier, this not only adds a little bit of style to your device, but also some thickness. The Style Shell mods also solve one of the problem of sharp edges around the Moto Z, and makes the phone much more comfortable to hold.
Unfortunately, the Style Shell mods don’t have any of their own functionality. They’re literally just a slap of plastic (or wood, or nylon, depending on what kind you buy) that magnetically attaches to the back of the device. They look good, but I think this would have been a great opportunity for Moto to add some functionality. We all know that the hardware to add wireless charging fits fine in the Power Pack mods, and I think adding the same part to this mod would have made sense without much compromise.
Moto Insta-Share Projector
Another interesting mod is the Moto Insta-Share projector, which was probably one of the biggest “wow, that’s just really cool!” moments for me when I first received this review unit. The projector “can project up to 70-inches” according to Lenovo, and I have to say that in my testing this is about what you’ll get. That said, you definitely won’t get anywhere close to that number in a well-lit room. I got around 70 inches when using the projector in a pitch black room and with a clean, white wall.
This 16:9 DLP projector is definitely not the most powerful projector you’ll ever own (if you ever own it). It has a high lamp life rating at 10,000 hours, a contrast ratio of 400:1, and a resolution of 854×480 WVGA. The key spec with projectors, though, is always lumens and this thing only throws an image at 50 lumens nominal. With a daylight-lit room, the image will be almost invisible any larger than 20 inches, and in an artificially lit room you’ll probably only be able to get up to around 40 inches before it’s hard to see.
The project is remarkably easy to use, though, and that’s a big part of why these Moto Mods are so impressive (the others are really easy to use, too). You literally just snap the Mod onto your Moto Z, press and hold, the power button, and your screen is being cast on the wall. To keep from killing your phone, the projector has a 1,100 mAh standalone battery which charges by way of a USB Type-C port on the Mod itself. After the projector is turned on and you flip up the kick stand, all you have to do is adjust the focus.
For me, the projector is really just used as a cool way to sit in bed with my wife and watch movies on the ceiling. So in my case, it probably wouldn’t be worth the huge $300 price tag. On top of a $600+ smartphone, that makes this 50 lumen projector that only lasts an hour or two at most cost $900, and that’s just not palatable for me. If I really needed a projector, it would probably make a lot more sense with me to go with a ZTE Spro projector or similar for around $400, which comes with a less-powered Android device built in.
JBL SoundBoost Speaker
While a $300 projector might be a little bit out of range for me, the idea of a Moto Mod JBL speaker makes a lot more sense. It’s still expensive at $80, but I have to give this thing credit. It’s really loud, and even compared to some larger, standalone JBL speakers, it sounds pretty great. Once again, the big sell here is ease-of-use, and the JBL speaker is a perfect example. Head into the Spotify app, play your favorite song, snap on the JBL, and your music is already playing at volume loud enough to fill a small room.
Check out this comparison of the Moto Mod to the JBL Charge:
On top of this, JBL had the smart idea of adding a kickstand, and I’ve found it to be really useful. If I’m in the kitchen trying to cook and I need to watch a video to help me out, the JBL speaker is the perfect little add-on. I get the volume to fill the kitchen while I’m working, and the kickstand keeps my phone standing up so I can see it. It’s like a throwback to the kickstands on Android phones of years past, and it’s a little feature I forgot I missed.
The JBL also helps full a hole in the Moto Z: its speaker. The front-facing speaker on the phone is just not that great, and isn’t loud enough. Giving consumer the option of an — admittedly expensive — add-on speaker might just sell. As is the case with all of these Mods, price is really the only thing keeping them from being a no-brainer. At $80, doesn’t it make more sense to buy a standalone Bluetooth speaker that will work with all of your phones?
Tumi, Kate Spade, and Incipio Power Packs
Of the three Moto Mods that are available at launch, I have to say that the Tumi, Kate Spade, and Incipio Power Packs just make the most sense — especially if you can’t help but go with the cheaper and thinner standard Moto Z. If you pick the Moto Z Force, you might not need one of these mods, but the thinner device almost makes it necessary. These work seamlessly too — just pop on the mod and your battery will begin charging.
After you attach the mod, you’ll notice a notification status card — like the ones used for Wifi and Google Now information — appear that lets you see the status of the external battery. You can tap this to quickly jump to the Moto Mods section of the Settings app, and there you’ll find an option to enable Battery Efficiency Mode, which improves Moto Mod battery performance by keeping your phone charged at 80% rather than 100%.
Unfortunately, this mod doesn’t have its own charging port like the ones found on the JBL and Insta-Share projector. That means to charge the Power Pack you have to attach it to your phone, wait for your phone to charge, and then wait for the pack to charge. Thankfully, however, Lenovo is offering a Power Pack with wireless charging for an additional $10 — which seems like a no brainer to me.
No matter how great these phones may be, the reality of the situation is that great phones are cheaper than ever. And the $26/month (or $624 retail) that Verizon wants for the (locked!) standard Moto Z Droid is a lot of money. The OnePlus 3, just as one of many examples, brings more or less the same capability and specs for just $400. That doesnt’ even mention the fact that to really make the standard Moto Z a great phone (and to take advantage of its unique abilities), you need to pitch a bit more money for some mods.
Asking customers to pay $60 or $70 for a Power Pack Moto Mod that will only work with the Moto Z and Moto Z Force (and, if we’re lucky, next year’s Moto Z) is a bit much. You can grab some fully capable battery packs that will bring a lot more capacity and work with any of your devices for half that price (or even less). $80 for a Moto Mod speaker is also a lot of money. Same idea. Buy a Bluetooth speaker for half that price that works with more devices than just the Moto Z in your pocket.
The Moto-made Insta-Share projector feels like a joke to me — albeit an admittedly very cool joke. I’ve been using the projector in my bedroom for the last week to watch Netflix, but the $300 price tag just seems ludicrous. It’s not that $300 is a ridiculous price for a pico projector. Other projectors that offer similar functionality are often around the same price, but why would you put so much money into a gadget that — in reality — probably wont last more than a couple of years? It only works with these phones.
It’s just an unfortunate situation. I find all of the Mods themselves to be a great experience and great products. As I’ve mentioned, Lenovo did an amazing job making these Mods as easy to use as possible — the average non-techie consumer should most definitely have no problem. And I have greatly enjoyed using them myself. But as much as like them, I can’t see myself always carrying them around, and I can’t see myself paying retail for them. The $20 Style Shells to add a little personalization make sense. Perhaps the $70 Power Pack with wireless charging makes sense. But beyond that, these Mods will probably be soon forgotten.
I have to mention that the Moto Z Force might be a great buy for some. The added shatterproof screen, larger battery, and slightly better camera is worth the uptick in price ($33.22/mo or $720), although it’s slightly thicker and feels more substantial in the hand. Adding a Style Shell or the battery pack to the super-thin standard Moto Z makes the phone actually feel more natural to me, but adding an attachment to the thicker Z Force definitely makes it a more hefty handset than some.
Add all of this to the fact that these phones are exclusive to Verizon for the time being, and you get the perfect storm of possible reasons not to buy these phones — as of right now, at least. If you’re a Verizon customer (or want to be one), don’t mind Verizon’s bloatware, want to pay a premium for good specs and a well-built phone, have a little extra cash to spend on proprietary Mods that probably won’t stick around, prefer stock Android, then maybe one of these phones is for you. Otherwise, my suggestion is that you wait for the unlocked models, prices to drop, or go with one of the many more-than-capable competitors launching this fall (like the Nexus phones, perhaps?).
The biggest thing getting in the way of modular smartphones is that there isn’t a standard. The LG G5 launched earlier this year, and while its “Friends” were cool and made the phone unique, it didn’t sell well enough for third-party developers to have any real interest in making their own modules. The high price for the underwhelming LG G5 was one of the biggest reasons for this, and unfortunately, the Moto Z shares that problem. The phone is definitely a flagship, but you can’t sell a phone for $600 or $700 anymore unless you’re Apple or Samsung.
Announced last year, the Moto X Style/Pure Edition was one of many phones that contributed to the trend. For a “Pure Edition” unlocked phone, $399.99 got you a 5.7-inch Quad HD display, the Snapdragon 808, a 3,000 mAh battery, 3GB of RAM, 4G LTE, 16GB of storage, a 21-megapixel main camera w/ a f/2.0 aperture and 4K video capture, a dual-tone flash, a 5-megapixel front cam, and a front-facing flash. Those were flagship specs at the time. Compare that to the Moto Z, which offers not much more than flagships launched earlier this year, and is shipping first on Verizon with prices starting at $624.
As I’ve said, though, this is a great phone. I have plenty of complaints about the physical appearance of the white-faced models, but overall these are some of the best phones of the year. You’re not going to find a “modular” experience better than this, Lenovo has accomplished an insanely thin build with the Moto Z, and you’re not going to find a shatterproof screen on a flagship phone pretty much anywhere else. If these phones were a Benjamin cheaper and the Mods were an Andrew Jackson cheaper ($100 and $20, respectively, for non-US readers), they would all be a no-brainer.
In January 2014, Lenovo CEO Yuanqing Yang spoke to CNNMoney about his company’s acquisition of Motorola from Google. In the interview, he was asked if he thought his company could “catch up with Apple or Samsung.” In response, he said “Definitely, over time. Our mission is to surpass them.” While these phones are a noble attempt and one that will make the industry pay attention for a brief moment, time will tell whether the Mods become a platform — or go the way of the G5 and become a regret.