Moto Z In-Depth Review: More Than Just a Phone (Literally)
- Vanilla Android
- 5.5 inch quad HD AMOLED
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC
- Thinnest Phone in market
- Premium Aluminium Finish
- USB Type-C Fast Charge (Turbopower)
- 13-Megapixel camera
- No multi function fingerprint sensor
- Dreadful battery life (2,600mAh)
- Looks incomplete without MotoMods
- No 3.5mm jack
- 5-Megapixel front camera
- Non-removable battery
- Poor heat management
Motorola is the name that might come to your father’s head when you start mentioning mobile phones. Rightly so since they were the first manufacturer to create this new phenomenon called the cell phone or mobile phone. Bear with us as we look back into history and do a little throwback for the iconic manufacturer that is Motorola. Back in the day, the mobile phone as we know it today existed in the form of a big, plastic brick-like thing that is no smaller than an actual clay brick. It was huge, it was heavy, it was unwieldy, and it had terrible battery life. It offered only up to 30 minutes of talk time and then you have to charge it for the next 10 hours. But it featured something that we hailed as the gift of the mobile gods; fast charging. The Motorola DynaTAC, as it was known was shipped with a wall charger that could charge it within an hour, at the cost of the battery itself of course. Battery technology back then was quite rubbish if we have to say. Plus when the DynaTAC was released to the public in 1984, it would empty your wallet for months as it costs nearly US$4,000 (MYR17,680) at the time, equivalent of US$9,400 (MYR41,548) of todays money.
Mobile phones after that has gotten smaller, more useful, and plenty affordable. The mobile phone became no bigger than the current line of huge powerbanks and had greater battery life than before. Battery was still no more reliable than your Jaguar automobiles back then; Motorola realised it and packed their phones with an extra battery to ship in the box, that gave way to removable batteries and charging docks designed for both phones and battery. You get plenty of design choices too with their new ‘state-of-the-art’ 8-bit, two-tone coloured display. You have the original clamshell design with a featureless black case when you close the illuminated rubber buttons and the display. You have the traditional candy bar design with exposed everything, and you get a half clamshell design where only your display is exposed when the device is closed. You could only make phone calls at the time or send text messages like you would on pagers. It was the coolest thing at its launch with that antenna sticking out of the devices like it was always meant to.
Then Nokia took over from 1998 onward and made headlines all the way into the new millennium. Nokia dethroned Motorola as king of mobile phones. Of course Motorola was still great in the era of coloured screen mobile phones. They made the iconic RAZR line of devices that was became an instant hit. When the smartphone era begins with the Apple iPhone back in 2007, Motorola goes into a shock; they could not keep up. They did however launch the first proper Google Android tablet in the form of the XOOM. After multiple failed Android devices, and lackluster sales performance on whatever devices they could develop, they folded up and sold themselves to Nokia in 2010 and they split into two to be Motorola Mobility, and Motorola Solutions.
Motorola Mobility would end up in Google’s hands by the end of 2012 for the next two years. It was all quiet from the iconic manufacturer at this time period. There was so much hope that Google would make the icon rise back from whatever depths Motorola has sunken into. Nothing much happened though and Google gave up Motorola Mobility to Lenovo in 2014 to everyone’s surprise. Then, there was the Moto Z; Motorola’s first proper flagship since its Lenovo acquisition and in a long time.
It was the first device ever to receive a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 treatment in the market back in 2016. It also received the first MotoMods treatment from Motorola/Lenovo. The comeback device was the thinnest ever smartphone to be released in 2016 while being one of the most powerful. Android Vanilla was rocking the device and the device rocked the world. Ashton Kutcher gave the world a reason to be excited when the Moto Z was launched in Lenovo World 2016. Then it came to Malaysia, Motorola’s first modular smartphone lands in the South East Asian market. It was also Motorola’s first official device in Malaysia since its withdrawal from the market back in 2008.
So, the Moto Z then; Motorola’s first modular phone with MotoMods. A Google Project ARA revived and reloaded into something else entirely. A cornerstone for the ‘new’ Motorola by Lenovo. A start of something great with the new-found funding from the Chinese firm. But herein lies the problem. Is it worth splurging MYR2,699 on this device? Is this device really the great flagship we all have been waiting for from Motorola? Read on and find out.
The Moto Z actually looked great as it is. The device 5.5-inch device is just about 5.2mm thick at its thinnest point making it one of the slimmest smartphones we have ever seen or get our hands on. If you cannot imagine its thickness or its lack of, we can only describe it as wafer thin at best.
Of course, you have to take into account the camera module that is sticking out its back like a sore thumb adding slightly more heft to it. The ‘camera bulge’, as the general consensus calls it spoils the thin wafer like lines on the device and gives it an added visual feature on the back of the device. Well, we do not mean spoil in a bad way. It adds a sort character to the device; just do not take the promise of the device being the thinnest ever too literary, the camera bulge will easily add 2.0mm to the device making the device at least 7mm thick. It is still a thin device, not just as thin as they make u think it.
The lack of thickness however is more than just a skin deep design. It harks back to the days of Motorola Razr phones. That super thin, super sharp flip phone before the days of Android and iOS. It became a popularity symbol at its launch and rightly so with the brushed aluminium body that looks like it came from the Star Trek future.
That said, the device looks properly pretty, from the back at least it is full of that Razr character. The front, the device looks pretty typical for a smartphone, a large screen conquering most of the body’s proportions with a fingerprint sensor/touch power switch that sits at the bottom of the Full HD display. The rest of the body is made of aluminium and is built like the Motorolas of old; solid, rugged, premium.
The whole thing actually feels like it is made out of a single aluminium billet when it actually is not (that took care of the built quality description). The clean cut aluminium frames at the side feels smooth and polished. It is featureless but adds a sort of drama to the device.
The sides of course houses the volume up and down buttons, and a textured power button which is nice. The textured button help you identify which buttons you are actually pressing as the volume button area actually similarly sized. The top and bottom of the device houses the Nano SIM/MicroSD card tray and USB Type-C connector respectively. They are still pretty much featureless, but they are uniform in thickness which, again creates some sort of drama; and the illusion that the device is actually 5.2mm thick all around.
Then you turn to the back of the device and the first thing that might catch your eyes is the golden sunken pins that adorns the near bottom part of the Moto Z. These are the connectors to the MotoMods modular attachments that we will cover in slightly more depth later on. The connectors though looks like it belongs there. It does not break the look of the device, and the fact that it sits flush with the rest of the body helps its case.
The second thing that you might look at is the large, glass housed, aluminium framed ‘camera bulge’. It has the look of the infamous Moto 360 with some sort of tapering at the bottom of the glass to fit the flash modules in. It is also the bulge that prevents the device to sit flush on the table so that could be a little bit of a let down. It does prevent your textured aluminium back from getting scratched though.
The tiny diamonds that makes up the textured mid section of the Moto Z’s back feels like they have been lasered in and they look good to a certain extent. The aluminium is a nice touch to make the device feels more premium and well put together. However the textures does not help with additional grip or ergonomics which makes it feel bare. The pins are magnetic though so you can actually attach one of the MotoMods back plate options to change the look and feel of your device. So the laser engraved textures at the back could very well be totally useless.
The overall lack of thickness, though nice does not give total confidence to us at least. Due to the wafer thin constructions and its lack of substantial weight the device, in the hands feels quite unnerving to hold. Do not get us wrong, the device is solid with a premium sort of quality about it. It will be able to take a little bit of a tumble so long as it is within a reasonable condition. But put it this way, you would want to get one of those back plates to ‘support’ or ‘protect’ the device. It completes the device somehow. The back plates also helps the Moto Z to sit flush on the table, so there’s that. That said, however good-looking the device is on its own we cannot help but feel that the device’s design is incomplete (we have a feeling that it is designed that way on purpose, but that could just be us).
While the design may feel somewhat incomplete, the internals does it some justice. Whichever you may look at the device, this thing is a powerhouse on paper. It is one of the first devices to fit Qualcomm’s brand new (at the time) Snapdragon 820. Paired with 4GB of sweet RAM and the latest Adreno 530, the Moto Z on paper should be able to crush whatever you can throw at the 5.5-inch Full HD Moto of the modern world.
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (4 Cores)
Dual-core @1.8 GHz
Expandable with MicroSD (Max. 2TB)
|Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)||Adreno 530|
5.5-inch (~535 ppi)
1440p Quad HD (1,440 x 2,560 pixels)
Corning Gorilla Glass 4
|Operating System||Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow Vanilla|
|Battery||Removeable 2,600mAh Li-Ion
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi IEEE802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.1 LE
Optical Image Stabilisation
Dual LED Flash
4K Video recording (30fps)
1080p video recoring (30fps)
We expected Lenovo to run things differently with their acquisition of Motorola. We even half expected them to build a totally new custom ROM for Motorola and put it into all the new Moto devices. Then again, that will ruin the Motorola experience.
The Motorola experience is technically the original Android experience. Motorola smartphones, starting from the Android era has been equipped with the latest and greatest from the Google owned Operating System (OS) and is always Vanilla; true to the original, unblemished Android OS with little to no altercations or additions.
The Moto Z is no different. It ships with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow at its rawest format. The User Interface (UI) is unmistakably Android and it works just like how Google designed this OS to work. Albeit without physical navigation buttons.
The UI, just as any would expect out of the best-in-class processor is as smooth as ever. Everything launches quickly without breaking a sweat and working with the phone is a pleasure. You get very little lags while using the Vanilla Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Everything is placed at where they should be and the UI is more intuitive than ever. It looks good too on the Full HD AMOLED display of the Moto Z.
The best part about the stock Android experience is that there are no bloatwares or altercations that will affect your use of the device. It is super clean too with no manufacturer applications bogging the device down in the background. The app icons look mighty good too even without any sort of changes or additions. The rounded shape of the applications give it a sort of playful character.
The only complain I have with the Android of stock is that you cannot create folders in your app tray to organise your app lists. The only way to create folders that contain a group of apps you deem similar is in the homescreens. That, to me is a little bit annoying but not a deal breaker; there are plenty of custom ROMs out there anyway. I am the sort of person who likes to keep everything within the reach of one or two pages, I do hate scrolling endlessly to find a random app that I might not even use for an hour. With the Moto Z I did not have that flexibility in the app tray itself, but I worked around that by using the homescreens. Still I like to keep minimal things on my homescreen so that made it look a little cluttered.
What I like about the UI on the Moto Z is the glance feature. All you have to do is hover your hands above the device and the display will show a Samsung-esque always-on display type of time and notification. Only it does not stay on and will let you know the time and whatever notifications you have within a matter of a few seconds. I recon that is enough, and that this is a really useful feature that we hope to find its way to other devices.
Being the most powerful Snapdragon of its time (before the 821) it will come as no surprise that the benchmarks tell a story of a beast. A powerful dragon that would be the king of smartphones eventually. Plenty of these benchmarks of course show the potent Snapdragon’s prowess. The scores are off the charts with brimming numbers. It also shows how much of a high performer it is. Notice though in one of them you would see that temperatures are quite high as well, and that is because it tends to run that hot when pushed to its limits. To eliminate heat from the equation we had to let the device rest and cool down after every benchmark. Quite unlike other devices which run two or more benchmarks one after the other.
The benchmarks do give some insight to what the device can actually do when it comes to heavy processing and multitasking. In practice the numbers do reflect the Moto Z’s true potential. In daily use though the Moto Z experiences less than half of what the benchmarks do to the device. So in reality you will not get as much heat unless you play processor intensive games or run processor heavy applications. In reality as well the benchmarks only tell half the story, your smartphone goes through plenty more than SoC abuse. So do take the benchmarks with a pinch of salt.
The comeback device packs a punch with its cutting edge hardware that are fitted into the super slim body. That is because Moto wants to make a statement more than anything with the device. What sort of statement? The kind where you really want to turn your attention to. The super fast processor in the device is not just for show though. It works, and it works well most of the time. The only way to describe the whole experience of using the device was ‘smooth and snappy’ despite rare lags. Technically as well the device should handle daily tasks like a champ with the high-end sort of specifications it has. Technically.
Call Quality and Connectivity
To start with, the device is packed with the usual slew of global antennas that picks up 2G, EDGE, GPRS, 3G HSPA+, and 4G LTE. You get a reliable WiFi antenna too obviously to complete the smartphone package. Bluetooth is handled by version 4.1 LE and you can get your maps up and running with GPS and Assisted GPS. To kickstart Moto’s comeback they have fitted the Z with the brand new USB Type-C connections, one of the first devices to receive that treatment, and also Moto’s first device with USB Type-C (a MicroUSB to USB Type-C adapter comes in-the-box). But the slim body took some sacrifice and that is why you will not find any 3.5mm headphone jack on this device. You will not even get a 3.5mm jack adapter in the box for that matter. But you do get MotoMods, which is nice.
This device became my main driver for about a week, which means it ran on my Maxis Hotlink network. In that time period as well I have made plenty more phone calls than usual, for whatever reason. For that week also I experienced very little dropped phone calls. I experienced very strong network connections throughout that week; I was in Kuala Lumpur anyway, there should not be any dropped networks in any case. I did experience some signal loss for the 4G connections in some areas for a short period of time, though that could be a network issue rather than the device acting up.
Phone calls are as good as expected of any modern smartphone. Of course the dual-mics with active voice cancelling does help with call qualities. The person on the other side of the line never complained of any distortion in voice when network signals are strong. You get very little environmental noise as well going to the other person which means the dual-mic is doing its thing. On our end the earpiece is loud and clear. We could easily make out whatever the other person wants to convey to us (save for vague, abstract messages in codes). The same cannot be said when it comes to loudspeaker though.
If you were to use the device as a device for; let’s say teleconferences using its loudspeaker you would want to think twice. We are not saying that it cannot be used in that manner, it could by itself be used as a teleconferencing device. The loudspeaker works but with some distortions in voice. The distortion is not as bad as, say a 150 grit sandpaper rubbing against your ear for example. You still could make out words from it and it is still quite usable. It does, however sound weak; as in there is very little in terms of volume. It is loud enough that if you sit closely enough to the device on a tiny discussion table you can hear it. Put it in a small-sized discussion room and have everyone slightly spread out in the room though, you might not hear it properly. The mic though pics up your voice pretty decently from about an average arms length and slightly more. That said, ringtones might sound weaker than you expect it to be so you would have to be slightly more alert when your device is in your bag or anything like that. You could solve that problem with a MotoMods made by JBL though, but more about that later.
With the lack of 3.5mm jack as well your only listening option other than loudspeaker and putting your ear on top of the ear piece is Bluetooth earphones or headphones. You do get a 3.5mm jack to USB Type-C adapter cable out of the box if you would like to use your available earphones. The little adapter cable is small though so you might lose that, and you cannot charge your phone while using your wired earphones. But Bluetooth earphones or headphones have come a long way and latency is almost non-existent these days (provided device is within range).
The thing with smartphone users these days is that they tend to keep more and more apps open, running in the background more often than not. Modern smartphones, therefore are expected to do more and be as smooth as ever even with a gazillion apps open all at once. It is a far-fetched idea, and an idea that has been integrated within Android since 4.0. That is also why smartphones are gaining in RAM size and processing power so quickly. It has become our daily computing device, almost replacing a proper PC or a handy laptop in many aspects.
Having multiple apps open at the same time with the Moto Z is a breeze. You get nearly no delays and lags while opening apps and switching between them constantly. Of course the 4GB of RAM fitted within the device paired with the Snapdragon 820 helps with that smooth transitioning and multitasking. But more than that is the stock Android that is built and designed to handle that kind of load.
If you have read my past reviews, you might have picked up that I tend to open multiple tabs on a browser at once. Being my daily driver, the Moto Z receives even more of that abuse having up to 20 tabs open in Chrome app. On top of that I was texting through Whatsapp while having Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Spotify running in the background. Of course; me being me, that was not all the apps that were open, there were multiple others too. We are happy to report though that during this ‘intense’ moment of app switching and browsing there were no noticeable slow down with the device. It worked very well and transitions were snappy and smooth. The only downside is probably the slightly excessive heat production from the device and the alarming rate that the battery percentage number is dropping.
If you have read reports of overheating or heat issues from Snapdragon 820 devices you might know what to expect in this field. We are not too impressed with the way the device heats up during our mobile gaming sessions with the device but are happy to report that the problem is not as bad as we expected it to be. Then again with the sort of thickness, or lack of it there is not much in the way of heat dissipation; so we do expect to feel some of the excess heat from the SoC on heavy processes like gaming.
We tested the device’s gaming capabilities with Need For Speed: No Limits, NinJump, Hearthstone, and Sky Force Reloaded. Hearthstone is one game that could hardly run properly on all the mobile devices that we tested so far. It did not come as a surprise then when the launch of the game, even when it was already running in the background is not as smooth and snappy as it was designed to be. The launch animation had some dropped frame rates and stuttered a little bit but it did smooth out during gameplay. Right after the launch animation though we do notice an alarming heat build up from the device itself. It got to a slightly uncomfortable level during gameplay but we decided to push it a little more and are pleased to find that the heat stayed at that manageable level (it was still quite uncomfortable though).
Surprisingly though, Hearthstone was not the only mobile game that proved to be a little to heavy for the mighty Moto Z. Need For Speed: No Limits and Sky Force Reloaded proved to be a formidable foe for the Moto Z as well weirdly. We could understand and argue for the case of Need For Speed: No Limits with its graphical focus and the way it takes up power from the GPU and main processing unit. But for Sky Force Reloaded to have multiple frame rate drops, stutters, lags, and excessive heat build up was a little bit of a let down to us in terms of mobile gaming. We still do play Sky Force quite a little bit after the first disappointment but it still performed the same way.
The battery life during gaming is quite terrible as well, meaning we had to cut short our mobile sessions multiple times due to concerns of running out of battery throughout the days. It still happens more than we like it to though. It is as though the battery consumption jumps to twice the normal rate once we started launching the games.
We narrowed our conclusion to two though. Either the Moto Z is a terrible device for mobile gaming; the SoC was not designed for gaming at all while the device is too thin for any significant heat dissipation, or our review unit is problematic. We doubt that it was problematic though as we did a clean factory reset when we received the device.
Most flagships come with at least 3,000mAh. Forget flagships, even the most average mid-range these days will give you at least 3,000mAh of battery. The Moto Z makes do with 2,600mAh. That is a necessary evil to accommodate the sexy slim body that the device has though. Theoretically as well, with the latest Android and the latest ‘super efficient’ Snapdragon 820 at the time the device should last users at least a day of regular use. Theoretically the device should last you at least about a full working day from 8.00 a.m to 6.00 p.m. right?
In most daily use conditions it should last you almost a full working day and more. But that is if you leave it on standby most of the time. That full day of use also entails some texting, one or two phone calls, very little music, and little to no internet browsing. Start playing a game though you might lose an hour of battery life within about 15 mins.
In my case, being on-the-go and always taking public transport facilities means that most of on-the-go browsing is facilitated by my smartphone. Of course, being my daily driver also means that the device will be used for multiple phone calls through out the day, some photo taking, an alarming number of texts from time to time, and plenty of music to bear the waiting and travelling time of Malaysia’s wonderful public transport system. In these conditions I have to keep my eyes very close to the battery meter on the phone to know how much battery I have left for the rest of the day. At most days the device at least lasts until about 5.00 p.m. or 6.00 p.m., which in any way is the end of a working day which is fine. At most days also I stopped using the phone and have it on standby starting from 3.00 p.m. onward.
Of course you will suggest carrying a powerbank. As much as I hate carrying a powerbank I do have at least one in my backpack wherever I go. The problem here is the sort of cable I pack with the powerbank; MicroUSB. The Moto Z is a USB Type-C device which will not accept MicroUSB connections. That also means the packed cable is totally useless and that I need a sort of adapter or pack a USB Type-C cable separately. Yes, the adapter does come in the box with the device but our review unit does not come with the box so we do not have the necessary adapter. The best part about being me is that I am a very forgetful person and that applies to the USB Type-C cable that I was supposed to pack into the backpack. You get the picture then.
However, all is not lost with the Moto Z. There is another solution to that woeful battery life in a form of a MotoMods battery pack that should extend your battery life quite a little bit more. In the case that you carry your charger around though; find an outlet and the battery fast charges and you should be ready to go within two hours. Again, we could not test its fast charging technology fully as the original charger does not come with the review unit. Or you can use your device way less than I do.
Meeting your eyes on the Moto Z is a 5.5-inch AMOLED display with sharp and rich 1440p quad HD resolution. It is a properly impressive display. True to any AMOLED displays colours pop, images are sharp and saturated with amazing details, and it is super bright. Of course the 2,560 by 1,440 pixels help in the sharpness of the details too. But we have to say that the AMOLED technology has no replacement in the current progression of display technology; it is the best there is. At 5.5-inch too anything that you view on the display is not too small. Movie playback is a total pleasure on-the-go, photos on the display looks amazing, and any games you play automatically look good with the colour saturation. Under bright sunny days that Malaysia is always graced the AMOLED display, with brightness turned all the way up is still pretty usable.
There is of course that slight yellowish hue to the display as with any AMOLED displays. However the yellow hue is noticeably less than any other AMOLED displays I have seen in the market personally which could be a good thing. This way too, whites are brighter than usual and the screen appear much brighter in shaded areas. Of course you can turn the brightness all the way down and keep your eyes from burning in the dark; the display gets strangely dark though at the lowest brightness settings.
The qHD AMOLED display is a fitting display for any flagship and more so for the comeback flagship of Motorola’s Moto Z. That super sharp, crisp, saturated display is a quality product that lets you know, just by looking into it that you are paying for the best of the best.
The camera module that sticks out the back of the device is a 13-Megapixel shooter that can shoot at f/1.8 aperture. In theory it should mean that the Moto Z will take highly saturated, highly detailed photos, and with f/1.8 aperture, great low light photos. The big bulge that sticks out the slim body also houses the dual LED flashes to accompany the 13-Megapixel module right above the ‘moto’ branding. Looking at the shape as well, it is reminiscent of Moto’s highly popular Moto 360 with its ‘flat tyre’. This is of course no watch. Underneath that glass and aluminium housing as well you get some needed Optical Image Stabilisation with 4K video recording; which in theory sounds awesome as well.
To top of the spec sheet the rear shooter is complemented by a 5-Megapixel camera module above the display pointing at you. That comes with a lens opening of f/2.2 which in theory, shoots good even in low light. It also records video at 1080p Full HD, so that should be something. We did not try to records videos through the front camera though. Why? Because, why record at 1080p when you can record at 4K? (Our samples were compressed to 1080p though to keep files small)
Now if you have used stock Androids of old the most annoying part of the whole Android experience is the Camera app. No matter what you do, or how many megapixels your device packs the Camera app seems to always make your photos look gloomy, grainy, dark, and blurry; in short, photos look terrible. In the past, any manufacturer that goes with stock Android always pushes their own camera app to ensure that the results come out at an acceptable level.
So, is the photos that is taken with the Moto Z any good? The short answer; at least for the rear camera, is yes.
The stock Android Camera app itself has undergone a thorough plastic surgery looking fresher than before and packing HDR this time. Of course as with modern camera apps these days the Android equivalent comes with a plethora of filters and settings. If you really like, you can even go manual and play around with things like ISO, aperture, white balance, and such to get the results you want. But if you really want fuss free photo shooting, leave it in auto. We find that manual settings in smartphone cameras, including this one is a little too finicky for our liking. That, or we are just a useless bunch.
The most important part of this is of course the photo quality that comes from the Moto Z. In that department we would like to report that the photo quality is good. If we are honest we did not expect much from the camera knowing the past stock Android experiences. But we are pleasantly surprised when it comes to the Moto Z. Photos look good and highly detailed to a certain level. It is still not comparable to, say a Samsung Galaxy S7. But we do think that the image quality is still above average and way above our acceptable level.
Low light performance is also better than expected. But of course it would be with the f/1.8 lens opening letting in large amounts of light. Do not be fooled with the f/1.8 when it comes to depth of field though, you still hardly get the ‘Bokeh’ effect other manufacturers would tout on their dual-lens set ups. As mentioned though the large lens opening is mostly to help with low-light images, and it does; to a certain level. You cannot get a supreme image in conditions like, let us say a nightclub. But then again you would not be able to hold your phone still in a nightclub and lighting conditions are exaggeratedly poor.
Still that is still better than the 5-Megapixel shots you get from the front camera. Our attempt on taking selfies are horrid (mostly because we are quite useless in this field). But when you do get a good selfie with good lights (and steady hands), it does pay off a little bit. It is not the best photo that you can actually get out of any phone out there but it is usable in a profile picture situation for example. You might want to be better than us when it comes to taking Tinder profile photos though. We do notice however the 5-megapixel is not the best when it comes to direct artificial light with a little bit of lens flaring at some point. If you look at it closely as well the details are not the best. In certain situations though the same lens flaring could be obtained from the rear camera, but the 13-Megapixel shooter seems to be coping better.
The main meat of the camera set up here is obviously the rear shooter. It works well in most of the situation that we could throw at it. Also like the other features of the device you can make photos even better with MotoMods, and Hasselblad.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge has its razor like sharp edges that has a function of its own. The Apple iPhone 7 has its intricate design, smooth operator vibe, and Jet Black. Huawei with their P9 has the dual cameras. The Moto Z has MotoMods. It is one of their biggest selling point if not the ultimate selling point for their flagship. But what is it?
If you remember not too long ago since the first inception of the smartphone like the Nexus One, iPhone 3Gs, Samsung Galaxy S, or HTC Desire; there was another more unique concept to the approach of smartphones. Some design student from Sweden (do not quote us on that, we could be wrong) came up with an idea of a smartphone that you can endlessly modify by attaching individual parts that make up a smartphone to create a whole new smartphone. The idea of that was to make the smartphone industry more sustainable, less expensive, more fluid, to a certain extent more focused, simpler, and flexible. Every manufacturer focus on building their own parts that contribute to a bigger picture with a universal plug and play system.
That idea gave birth to Project ARA, a modular smartphone dreamt up by Google. The idea is simple enough with Vanilla Android as its main operating system. You pair that with a basic skeleton of a smartphone, slap on some custom built modules with universal connectors, voila you get a brand new smartphone. In the ideal world, Google’s partners would join their hands together and manufacture different specialised modules. This is not the ideal world however and not one manufacturer gave into the idea of Project ARA. Then came a certain Korean manufacturer that is LG.
LG’s G5 may be the first modular smartphone device in the market but the implementation is crude at best. There were a few modules available by LG but removing and installing them was cumbersome, inconvenient. It was a small glimpse into the future though. A preparation more like, to what Moto, under the new funding of Lenovo could do.
We arrive here then, with the Moto Z and MotoMods. It is Motorola’s modular device project that is not only catered to the Moto Z family. It was meant to be spread out among more devices with a proprietary Motorola MotoMods connections. In concept, the idea is simple and sleek as viewed from the Moto Z we have. Simply slap a module like you would slap on a case on any device and a magnet will hold it in place while the module will connect to the phone via gold pins. So simple that even a monkey can do it.
In implementation, it is beautiful and really easy. First of, the available modules are a pocket projector, an external speaker, an enhanced camera, an extra larger external battery (or you clearly know it as powerbank), and a couple of textured backs. Once slapped on the Moto Z it is held together by pretty strong magnets. It takes a bit of effort to pry the device off a MotoMods module. But once you slap on a MotoMods module on the device they look like they belong. Any MotoMods of your choice looks like a single piece of device with the MotoZ, that is also thanks partly to how thin the Moto Z actually is.
Textured Backs (Moto Style Shell)
The Moto Style Shell are the most basic of MotoMods. They are technically just hot-swapable textured backs for your Moto Z or Moto Z Play smartphone. You get one out-of-the-box when you purchase your Moto Z and you can choose whichever one that tickles your fancy. Like the other MotoMods you just slap it on the back of the device and the magnets will hold it in place. It is, by visual inspection as think as the camera bulge of the Moto Z which means when this is attached your device will sit flat on the table.
The Style Shell though have no other function than to complete the look of the Moto Z. When they were conceptualising the Style Shell we were hoping that any one design of the textured backs would translate out the the Moto Z or Moto Z Play’s wallpaper. It does not though, it is just a visual upgrade. If you are wondering, it only covers the back part of the device. It does not protect the sides of the device like we think a ‘shell’ should. But it does add some needed texture and feel to the back of the device. Some adds some grip feel too which is nice. Each one goes for MYR59 to MYR79 officially. Considering that smartphone owners spend north of MYR200 to protect their devices and personalisation, the Shells are relatively cheap. If you get a few different ones, you can even change the look of your device everyday; how about that for some variety.
Incipio offGRID Power Pack
The Incipio Power Pack is exactly what you expect it to be. It is a sort of power bank that is proprietary to the Moto Z family with the MotoMods connector pins. Unlike other power banks though you can only charge this offGRID power pack by attaching the pack to the back of the device while the main device is being charged. There is apparently a wireless charging capable Power Pack out there too but I doubt our review unit has that capability built in.
Attaching the Power Pack is, as any MotoMods is very straightforward. There are no latches, not notches to lift or press, no fuss; it is just a matter of slapping the Power Pack to the back of the Moto Z like the Moto Style Shells. It adds more thickness that the Moto Style Shell but not by that much that the phone could not fit in your pockets (unless you are wearing those really tight jeans). Attached and paired, the Power Pack boosts the measly battery life of the Moto Z by about 20%. In our tests, the Power Pack does boost the sad battery life of the Moto Z. But that only still gave us a full day of use at best, that is when you keep the Power Pack settings to be as economical as possible and leave the Power Pack attached to the device all day.
All that is great when you really need to get out of your office and be on the move all day. The offGRID PowerPack though cost MYR499. If you really consider it, it is one expensive power bank (considering the fact that there are plenty of power banks offered at less than a quarter of that price) that you can only use one type of device. But think about it this way, if you do get more MotoMods friendly device in the future, you may not have to spend on an extra battery again.
Hasselblad True Zoom
The Hassleblad True Zoom is truly one of the more interesting MotoMods we tested. It supposedly enhance the quality of the photos to a certain level. It is built in collaboration with Hasselblad, a medium format photography equipment powerhouse. So it must be true, the claim to better photos using this module on the Moto Z or the Moto Z Play. It adds something that plenty of smartphones’ cameras struggle with too; zoom. It has actually optical zoom up to 10 times. Paired with some proprietary software developed in-house by Hasselblad as well it should do the Moto Z some specials.
The camera module, when attached covers the whole back of the Moto Z including the 13-megapixel camera. The Hasselblad True Zoom becomes, technically the camera of the device. Of course, making the Moto Z into a miniature Hasselblad mirrorless digital camera does add some heft to the device in total. Keep in mind also this is one of the bigger modules currently in the market for the Moto Z, and with the multiple creases and sharp edges, will spoil your jeans line. It does come in a case of its own though when you buy the module so you can truly carry it like a digital camera.
The side grip that is protruding at the bottom part of the device is small, but comfortable. You cannot expect a DSLR level comfort though due to the overall size restriction of the Moto Z and the module. You even get proper xenon flash with the module so any low lights can be brightened up like a sun. It does not step the 13-Megapixel shooter up though so you still get that much resolution in the photos. In fact in our tests we are getting only 12-Megapixels out of the Hasselblad, a little bit of a bummer to us.
You either start using the Hasselblad module by turning it on as you do on any digital camera, by a power button next to the shutter button, or launch the camera app from the Moto Z itself. Snapping photos is as straightforward as a modern digital camera as well; half press the shutter button to gain autofocus, then fully press the button to snap a photo. The results are far from breathtaking if we are honest. To an untrained eye the photos taken with and without the module have insignificant differences. There is little to no difference if you only use the photos for social media purposes. What makes it even worse is that there is an added lag to using the Hasselblad module while taking photos. For some reason, it does not make image files significantly larger than the device camera itself but taking considerably longer to process. It takes some time to launch as well, which is annoying.
If you do have some appreciation in photography though the differences, though subtle are one that you can appreciate. Photos come out with slightly better details and perform slightly better in good lighting conditions. Photos are a little sharper once you get into the details and RAW images come out better too (we could not post up the RAW samples though, server limit unfortunately). Autofocus is quick and accurate most of the time if you can get it right. Due to its compact and light packaging one handed operation of the combination is a breeze and you do not need to have a surgeons hand to get a good result.
In low light conditions, it may not perform necessarily better than photo taking without the module. Hold your hands steady though in low light conditions and you may be more than surprised with the result. The 10x zoom is as remarkable as any zoom. It does take a little bit out of the performance of the camera in the sense that the autofocus takes a little longer to adjust and you really have to have steady hands while operating it at maximum zoom. Somehow as well photos come out slightly grainy in mediocre lighting with maximum zoom. But you seldom need to anyway with a smartphone camera, you instinctively move closer to your subject. But when you do need it, it is good to know that you have it.
Do keep in mind however that there are no built-in battery in the Hasselblad module. We ought that the slightly protruded rubberised grip might contain a battery to help power the camera module, but no it does not. In that case you may want to keep a constant eye on the battery level of the device as the Hasselblad module does take up some power though not by much. Still, you do not want to make your already terrible battery life go flat even quicker. All this subtle differences go for MYR1,299 though. That is an extra MYR1,299 on top of your Moto Z that retails for MYR2,699 mind you. Which makes it the most expensive marginal improvement ever, we think.
Moto Insta-Share Projector
The Insta-Share Projector is somewhat a unique module out of the MotoMods stable. We do think that it is based on one of Lenovo’s pocket projector technology, in a way smaller package. There is a mixed opinion about this one in the office; on the one side it is a brilliant tool you can bring everywhere, on the other was more like; “what was Motorola thinking?”
Despite its name it is not some Instagram tool to repost anything you see or anything like that. It is exactly the projector moniker implies; a pocket projector that attaches to your Moto Z device. Just like any other MotoMods it just slaps on the Moto Z and works out of the bat seamlessly. It has a built in kickstand and a cooling grille that we thought to be a speaker. It is interesting to note at this point that the kickstand can go up to 180° for some weird reason. It also comes with some rubber runners on the kickstand to ensure that the projector can grip on to any surfaces (the one on our test unit fell off even before we got it). It is quite obviously a quality product though; it feels robust and tested.
To use the projector you have to press a button beside what appears to be the projector lens on the side of the device. The projector will then mimic your device screen or whatever you are displaying on the screen. Keep in mind though that it is quite a small projection so you’d have to keep a little bit of a distance if you want it to look like a TV screen. Due to the compact size as well the projection light bulb is not what you call powerful so you would have to keep everything pretty dark to appreciate the Android on your wall or projector screen. Of course, as with any projector you will have to adjust the focus via a roller that is situated beside the lens. As for power consumption the projector does have a tiny internal battery to help cope; though not by much.
The idea here is to be able to be ready to project anywhere. If you are a businessman or are in the sales line you would be able to pop up a presentation in no time anywhere, anytime. Then you would close a sales deal and kiss your Moto Insta-Share projector. Or you can make more friends by showing them funny cat videos on YouTube on some white wall you can find, or anywhere that is projection worthy rather than your small screen. Another one use we though you might be interested in is a romantic night out with your significant other and watching a movie from the device itself; cheap Netflix/iflix and chill cinema (use your imagination, we cannot do all the work for you).
In reality though the projection is so weak you would have to find a really dark room to appreciate the projection. The projection is up to 480p only as well which is less than the agreeable 720p that any movie should be displayed in at least these days. The device’s speaker, as we have mentioned could be a bit weak so you would have to sit pretty close to the device to appreciate any movie or shows. Even if you use it as a presentation device, you would still have to close all the windows and dim every single light near your device or projection to make it even visible. Then there is the heat that the projector bulb produces. Even in normal industrial scale projectors cooling is a big issue. In a small compact package the issue is exaggerated at least twice. A five minute video projection is enough to build the heat up to an uncomfortable level. To make it worse the phone heats up as well pretty quickly. Any videos that goes longer than 15 minutes the heat is unbearable. Imagine then if you have to fit that thing in your pocket. It is like picking up a charcoal and shoving it near your groin (or on your butt cheek if you put your phones in your back pocket). In any situation, it is terrible. The worst part is the battery consumption of this module. It basically kicks you in the face by at least halfing your already terrible battery life with the Moto Z. At MYR1,399 it is the most expensive MotoMods to date, and it is terrible.
JBL SoundBoost Speaker
We save the best for last, and to be really truthful this is our favourite MotoMods to date the JBL SoundBoost Speaker. JBL as many of you tech enthusiast may know is one of the world’s largest brand in audio products. They are one of the most successful companies when it comes to portable audio and their products tells you why. It is no different with the JBL SoundBoost really. What the SoundBoost is, effectively is a speaker extension for the Moto Z family. Well, technically speaking it is actually a portable speaker that can only be paired to the Moto Z line of devices.
This speaker is a little peculiar though, it is not as big as any of JBL’s compact portable speakers to date. It still packs its own battery inside the SoundBoost casing itself, and quite a decent sized one at that (1,000mAh). That battery is purely for use of the speakers though, you cannot share its power with the Moto Z. The JBL charges via a MicroUSB slot that hides at the back (or front if you might) of the speaker. We do not know whether or not it will draw power from the Moto Z device when its battery is flat though (we have not tested it to that extent). It also features a funky orange aluminium kickstand with a rubber bushing to prop itself up when you play music or whatever audio through the Moto Z.
The SoundBoost speaker is not what you would call slim in the mobile phone world and the heft shows when attached. It will spoil your smooth jeans line when you put it in your pocket and add a little bit of weight. Ergonomics for one handed operation is definitely affected as a result of the added heft (it is like adding 3 more Moto Zs behind the Moto Z itself, go figure). The wedge design though does help a little with comfort. As with other MotoMods this one also sticks to the back of the Moto Z and held in place with magnets. The magnets are pretty strong and help make the device feel like a single humongous device when paired. That is a testament to quality by the way. The whole speaker is made up of metal though so that would also be a reason to why the device feels so put together in a sense.
The price for all that quality feel though is MYR599 on top of the Moto Z. It is not the cheapest speaker solution in the market nor is it the best out there. But boy does this portable speaker pack a punch. When attached, it becomes the primary speaker of your device which basically amplifies every single sound your device makes. The weak speaker is now replaced by two huge (in a mobile phone sense) speakers at the back. That also meas no more missed calls due to not hearing your ringtones go (might be due to loss of hearing more like). YouTube videos, movies, or any sort of audio experience is immediately transformed with the module in place.
Music sounds as crisp as it could get from a mobile device of its size. There is a hint of a slightly heavier bass than I would prefer but then again, no smartphone could produce sounds like the JBL SoundBoost. The SoundBoost is great for everyday hearing and is more than anyone can handle as long as their not audiophiles. Even an audiophile can actually appreciate this compared to normal smartphone speakers. The volume, as previously mentioned is greatly boosted and it gets pretty loud. You can even push the SoundBoost to top volume without getting any noticeable crackles from the speaker, unless you have crappy audio file.
We recon as well that the SoundBoost is loud enough to fill a small to medium sized room with music when you are partying. Even conference calls benefit from this with the extra loud and clear speaker. You can be rest assured that every single one of a meeting’s attendees will hear every word that comes out of the speaker; provided you use the kickstand. The kickstand does not only prop the device up for when you watch a video or photo on your device. It angles the speakers in such a way that the sound waves reflect of the surface of whatever you prop your Moto Z on which in turn amplifies the volume even more. Sure, certain surfaces might muddle the sounds a bit but that only matters if you are an audiophile.
Of course you can still use it by just leaving the device to lay flat on the table and the results of that will still be fine. You still get speaker openings on either side to let the volume escape and engulf you with musical magic. Unlike other MotoMods though this is the one module that I can see myself using most of the time, which is why we like it so much. I do not even mind the heft so much. For me it keeps the device in check. Keep in mind though that despite this being a perfect replacement for the mediocre device speaker it still does not add a 3.5mm jack to the device.