Hands on: Motorola Moto Z first impressions review

Nick Broughall 13 October 2016

Moto Z review with hasselblad

Motorola made mobiles mainstream with the RAZR back in the day. Today, it wants you to make your own phone with the modular Moto Z.

There was a time that Motorola ruled the mobile world. It was a simpler time, a time before Steve Jobs had announced the iPhone, but the name Motorola was synonymous with mobiles. The company has been bought and sold by Google since those days and is now owned by Lenovo, but Moto is hoping that its new modular ecosystem for hardware will provide the catalyst for its next rise to prominence.

Launching alongside some pretty impressive first and third-part modular attachments, the Moto Z has been redesigned to try and accommodate a simple, intuitive modular ecosystem. Whether it will succeed remains to be seen, but from our early experience, it seems that Motorola has invested a lot of thought into the Z platform.

Motorola Moto Z: Design

Moto Z review projector

At 5.2mm thin on its own, the Moto Z is the thinnest smartphone you can buy right now. It's insanely thin, with an aluminium frame using the same materials as aircraft to retain its strength while still being lightweight and razor-thin.

In order to make that happen though, Motorola had to come up with some liquid cooling solution, as well as redesign the antenna so it didn't just switch off when you attach a metal mod to the back of the phone.

Thinness aside, the phone looks pretty standard. Volume and power buttons on the side, fingerprint scanner below the screen and large, centralised rear camera.

The real beauty of the phone's slimness comes when you attach a mod to the back of it. Magnetically snapping onto the rear of the Moto Z, the mods add a varying level of bulk, depending on the mod used. But by adding the Incipio power pack, you can add up to 20 hours of battery life without turning the phone into a bulky mess.

Adding the Hasselblad camera attachment, meanwhile, adds some serious camera cred to the phone, with a 10x optical zoom, dedicated shutter button and a xenon flash. But where the likes of the LG G5 camera attachment make the phone a bulgy behemoth at the bottom of the phone, the Moto Z distributes the weight and bulk of the camera attachment across the entire back of the phone.

Cleverly, replacing the mods is as simple as pulling them off the back of the phone, though it can be a little challenging to get it at the right angle – the magnets secure things pretty tightly, as you'd hope. There's no need to remove the battery like LG either, so it allows Motorola to implement some cool software functions - throw the JBL speaker attachment on the back and it will automatically play tunes from the mod, rather than your phone's tinny speaker.

Motorola Moto Z: Specs

Motorola Moto Z
 64GB with expandable microSD up to 2TB
Screen size
 2560 x 1440
Rear camera
Front camera 5MP
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 with 2.2HHz quad-core CPU/Adreno 530 GPU
Display density
 2600 mAh
ColoursBlack with Lunar Gray, White with Fine Gold

Motorola Moto Z: Upsides

  • The modular platform: It's obviously going to take a couple of years to see if the modular smartphone concept will take off in a big way, but Motorola's Z platform is clearly the winner from a design perspective. The attachments seamlessly attach to the phone, can be removed without removing the battery and just look nicer. Getting third party partners like JBL and Hasselblad on board definitely helps.
  • Super slim design: Motorola carved its name on the world using a phone called the RAZR, so it's no surprise that thinness is one of the Moto Z's major selling points. The fact the Moto engineers managed cram in top-tier specs when the phone is just 5.2mm thin is ridiculously impressive.
  • A specs powerhouse: Forget about the phone's thinness and look at the specs sheet. Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB on board storage (plus support for 2TB expandable), 13MP rear camera with an f1.8 aperture and optical image stabilisation – this thing is packed with the top end of 2016's components. We'll need to review the phone fully to see if it can use them fully, but on paper things look pretty good.

Moto Z review JBL speaker

Motorola Moto Z: Downsides

  • That modular platform could fail spectacularly: What happens if you drop a grand on the Moto Z and another grand on modular attachments and the platform tanks, disappearing after two years? People generally replace their phones every two years –  Modular phones are a bit of an unknown in terms of how long they will be supported for and therefore a risk, especially in terms of whether mods will be supported at that point.
  • Cost of attachments: If you look at the ecosystem, things seem priced fairly reasonably. But those attachments will add up quickly, so you'll need plenty of extra coin to get the most out of the Moto Z
  • Not available on plans: At the moment, you can only grab the Moto Z outright through Motorola or a retail partner. If you don't have $999 lying around, you're going to find owning the phone challenging.

Motorola Moto Z: Early Verdict

There's a huge amount of potential for the Moto Z. Motorola has obviously done a fantastic job at developing a modular system that's practical and useful to the user, so it will be interesting to see if there's demand for the idea over the coming months. From our early hands-on, the Moto Z outshines the other modular device on the market right now, the LG G5, in almost every department. We'll need to put the phone through its paces, but our first impressions are overwhelmingly positive.

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