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Moto Z Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Excellent display
  • Thin & lightweight
  • Good battery life
  • Premium design

The Bad

  • Requires adapter for wired headphones
  • Camera could be better
  • Fingerprint magnet
4.5

Moto Z review: The US might have had a considerable head start, but that doesn’t make the European arrival of the Moto Z any less exciting. Here’s our full review.

Design

Apple whipped the tech world up into a storm by ditching the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 family, but Lenovo decided a similar fate with the Moto Z much earlier in the year and for a more obvious reason too.

Moto Z review: front Moto Z review: Back

The Moto Z is the thinnest smartphone in the company’s history and the thinnest smartphone currently on the market (2014’s Oppo R5 is pretty dated at this point) at an impressive 5.19mm. As with Apple’s 2016 blower(s) that does mean you’ve got to be willing to carry a Type-C USB to 3.5mm adapter (which comes in the box) with you if you’re a slave to headphones or earbuds and aren’t prepared to go wireless.

Beyond its svelte profile, the Moto Z packs some killer looks with metalwork surrounding the back and sides, textured hardware controls and a distinctive connector on the lower portion of its back. It makes for a stunning, striking design and feels great in the hand, not to mention impressively lightweight for its size.

Moto Z review: Hardware controls

Along with the two other devices in the Moto Z family (the Z Play and US-exclusive Z Force) the Moto Z can make use of the company’s Moto Mods – a range of dedicated accessories that magnetically attach to the back of the phone to expand its functionality. In the box you’re given the simplest of these in the form of a Moto Style Shell, which changes the look of the Moto Z’s back with a number of material choices including woven nylon and wood, but other options include a speaker from JBL, a battery pack from Incipio, a separate camera module with optical zoom, courtesy of Hasselblad and even a pico projector, but if you’re tempted by the more impressive add-ons, get prepared to pay bug bucks for the extra functionality.

Read next: Moto Mods hands-on review

Moto Z review: Connector Moto Z review: Style Shell

Whilst there’s little doubt that most users will slap the Style Shell on the back, without it, the phone’s camera module is a noticeable protrusion, whilst on the front you’ll find a fingerprint sensor (which you can also use to sleep the phone as well as wake/unlock it) and laser-based proximity sensors for the phone’s ‘approach’ gesture, which brings up unseen notifications on screen when you wave your hand in front of it. As with the fingerprint sensor, it’s a nice feature the evolution of which can be seen as far back as the original Moto X from 2013.

Screen

Motorola has a thing for sticking large screens on its flagships and the Z is no exception, with a 5.5-inch Super AMOLED panel that is ideal for media lovers.

Moto Z review: Screen

Colours appear vibrant, colour distortion is kept to a minimum at more extreme angles and contrast, overall brightness and legibility are all excellent too. Thanks to that Quad HD resolution it’s also pin sharp, but being so large does raise issues with ergonomics.

Its thin profile helps alleviate some issues of one-handed use, but for most people navigating around a 5.5-inch phone is a two-handed job, at least some of the time. Thankfully a swipe up from the navigation lets you initiate an ambidextrous one-handed mode that places the interface in the centre of the screen.

OS

The Moto Z runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow out the box and a distinctly clean iteration of it at that. Modifications to the stock experience have unquestionably been made, but their slight and in most cases beneficial without feeling over-engineered.

There’s no native split-screen multitasking, which would have been nice on a phone of this size, but smart actions like gesture-based quick-launch features and impressively reliable Google Now voice support using a custom wake command, let you get more done without tapping around apps and menus all the time.

Performance

As with almost every other flagship Android phone in 2016, the Moto Z comes packing one of Qualcomm’s best and brightest chipsets of the moment, the quad-core Snapdragon 820, backed up by 4GB of RAM. That means consistently excellent performance in everyday use, multitasking, gaming, HD video playback and pretty much anything else you can throw at it. And no, there’s no noticeable heat build up this time, either.

Moto Z review: Headphones

The 32GB of internal space that us Brits get feels a little tight, but thankfully there’s 256GB of expandability on offer from the combined microSD and nanoSIM tray that slots into the top of the phone.

Battery longevity is another big benefit of the Moto Z. Despite that narrow waistline, the 2600mAh cell gave us a day and a half of general use, so should happily meet its maker’s claims of lasting all day, even under heavy use. What’s more the TurboPower charger in the box gives you 20 per cent charge (or seven hours use) from just 15 minutes charge time and the phone can go from empty to full in little over an hour (1 hour 15 minutes in our tests).

Cameras

On paper, the Moto Z places an impressive gamut of photographic tech at your disposal, with a 13-megapixel sensor backed up by OIS (optical image stabilisation), a laser autofocus array, an f/1.8 aperture, enlarged 1.12μm pixels and a dual-tone LED flash. The powerful processor helps the Z deliver on the promise of zero shutter lag and 4K video recording, but you also get options for Full HD video at both 30 and 60fps as well as HDR video recording – a feature seldom seen on rival smartphones.

In practice picture quality is consistently clear, well exposed and accurately coloured, and the same can be said for video, which by default comes with image stabilisation switched on. It’s undeniably effective, but a little overbearing, sometimes resulting in noticeable micro-vibrations within the footage as the OIS works its magic.

All that functionality is wrapped up in a deceptively simple interface that carries across the simple tap-to-focus and exposure control of the company’s simpler phones and there’s manual control on offer too, not to mention two years of free unlimited full resolution photo and video storage, which is a nice deal-sweetener.

Overall, camera performance is not unlike the results produced by the HTC 10, in that it promises a lot and delivers great, but not outstanding photos on par with the iPhone 7 or Galaxy S7.

There’s also a front-facing 5-megapixel shooter which boasts a wide-angle lens, a front-facing flash and performs extremely well in selfie-worth scenarios, with great clarity, sharpness and colour accuracy, as well as low light performance, for obvious reasons.

Verdict

At £499, the Moto Z is obviously priced like a flagship, but justifies the cost well. It offers a beautiful design and a stunning screen, a unique feature set thanks to its Moto Mods compatibility, excellent battery life with the benefit of fast charging, smart UI elements and a great (although not class-leading) pair of cameras.

Moto Z review: Handheld

If you’re after a Nexus/Pixel XL-like stock Android experience with a little extra spice, the Moto Z’s arrival in Europe is perfectly timed. If not, look at key rivals like the OnePlus 3, which costs less or the Galaxy S7, which delivers (but also costs) a little more.

Watch the full Moto Z video review below:

 

Specification

Screen size5.5-inches
Screen resolutionWQHD (2560x1440)
Weight136 grams
OSAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Rear Camera13-megapixels w/ OIS, laser autofocus and dual-tone LED flash
Front camera5-megapixels w/ LED flash
Processor2.15GHz/1.6GHz quad-core Snapdragon 820
Memory4GB RAM
Storage32GB. Expandable via microSD up to 256GB
4G LTEYes
Bonus featuresMoto Mods compatibility, TurboPower fast charging, fingerprint sensor, gesture quick-actions

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