Motorola Moto Z review: The start of the modular revolution

Nick Broughall 24 October 2016

Moto Z review with hasselblad

Motorola wants you to make your own phone with the modular Moto Z, but it has a way to go to prove the platform is worth the investment.

Go back a little over 10 years and you’ll remember that Motorola (alongside Nokia) ruled the mobile world. The RAZR was an icon of personal communication, with its thin design and robust flip build quality, years before Steve Jobs announced the iPhone.

The company has been bought and sold by Google since those days and is now owned by Lenovo, but Moto is hoping that the new modular ecosystem for hardware that’s build into the Moto Z and Moto Z Play 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 designed to try and accommodate a simple, intuitive modular ecosystem. For the most part it succeeds, with an intelligent system with impressive mod attachments, though the cumulative costs could be prohibitive, especially if Motorola’s new platform fails to take off.

Upsides: Why you'd want the Motorola Moto Z

  • 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 taken off without removing the battery and just look nicer. Getting third party partners like JBL and Hasselblad on board definitely helps. But the fact the mods all work seamlessly is the best addition – attach the Incipio mod and the phone’s battery will be kept charged. Add the Hasselblad and you can use your phone like a traditional point and shoot camera, with no learning curve.
  • 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.
  • Solid performance: The specs only tell half the story though, so it’s reassuring to see that the Moto Z manages to come through on the performance front as well. While it can’t compete with the sheer power of the latest iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 family, it does remain well and truly towards the top in GeekBench 4’s performance tests:
HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
Apple iPhone 7 Plus33745649
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge13595333
Samsung Galaxy S713784718
Apple iPhone SE24494171
Apple iPhone 6s24654052
Google Pixel XL16294051
Motorola Moto Z14773853
Sony Xperia XZ16363604
Google Nexus 6P12933594
Motorola Moto X Force13523581
Sony Xperia X11222626
Motorola Moto G Play5221334

Things aren't quite so cheerful in the 3DMark Ice Storm unlimited test, with the Moto Z sitting towards the bottom of the cluster of devices running the same processor. But it's close, and the results shouldn't be considered bad.

Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
Apple iPhone 7 Plus37956
LG G529597
Apple iPhone SE29276
Samsung Galaxy S728903
Samsung Note728646
Google Pixel XL28458
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge28402
Apple iPhone 6s28171
HTC 1027392
Sony Xperia XZ26279
Sony Xperia X Performance26125
Motorola Moto Z25629
Google Nexus 6P24703
Sony Xperia Z519197
Alcatel IDOL 4S18186
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus17981
Huawei Mate 817947
HTC One X916877
Sony Xperia X16648
Sony Xperia XA11173
Oppo R911053
Motorola Moto G4 Plus9757
Telstra Signature Premium9559
Oppo R7s8390
Motorola Moto G Play4475
LG Stylus DAB+4321
Alcatel Pop 43863
Samsung Galaxy J23469

Moto Z review JBL speaker

Downsides: Why you might not want the Motorola Moto Z

    • Battery life underwhelms. It's not really a surprise given the sheer thinness of the Moto Z, but battery life tests show the Moto Z being outperformed by many of last year's phones. So investing in that Moto Mod battery case might be a pretty good idea:
HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge11:55:007150
Huawei Mate 811:14:406659
Apple iPhone 7 Plus11:11:206713
Sony Xperia X10:40:406406
Samsung Galaxy J210:05:202689
Samsung Galaxy S710:01:206013
Motorola Moto X Force9:46:503914
Motorola Moto 4G Plus9:44:103977
Motorola Moto G Play9:36:003840
Alcatel Pop 49:20:302490
Samsung Galaxy Note 59:18:005580
Google Pixel XL9:14:205543
Huawei P98:26:304948
Sony Xperia XZ8:24:205042
Alcatel Idol 4S8:14:204943
LG Stylus DAB+8:11:403278
Apple iPhone 6S Plus7:48:104681
LG G57:36:104561
Alcatel Go Play7:21:102941
HTC 106:54:304145
Samsung Galaxy S66:51:304115
Sony Xperia X Performance6:46:514068
Oppo R96:41:504018
Google Nexus 6P6:39:203754
Moto Z6:38:103981
Telstra Signature Premium5:48:503260
Apple iPhone SE4:27:102671
Apple iPhone 6s3:52:102321
  • 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.
  • Button placement and design: Over the course of the review, it became increasingly frustrating to use the Moto Z's physical buttons. The power button is the same size as the volume buttons and the exact same distance below the volume down button as the volume up. It's ridged, but it still created unnecessary confusion. But more frustrating is the placement of the fingerprint sensor, which sits below the screen and looks just like a home button, but is exclusively there for unlocking the device with your digits. There's no button aspect to the sensor despite its appearance otherwise, which leads to constant situations where you try and navigate home but instead lock the phone with your thumbprint.
  • 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: Specs

Motorola Moto Z
Storage
 64GB with expandable microSD up to 2TB
Screen size
 5.5inch
Resolution
 2560 x 1440
Rear camera
 13MP
Front camera 5MP
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 with 2.2HHz quad-core CPU/Adreno 530 GPU
Display density
 535ppi
Battery
 2600 mAh
ColoursBlack with Lunar Gray, White with Fine Gold

Who is it best suited for? What are my alternatives?

The Moto Z is quite the pioneer when it comes to smartphones. It's a flagship device targeting early adopters who want to be able to get more from their hardware over time. The modular platform means there's not a lot of alternatives – the closest is the LG G5, but given the rumours swirling that LG is going to ditch the modular system for the G6, that might not be the best investment at this point in time.

Of course, if the Moto Mods platform interests you but you don't want to pay for the Moto Z, the Moto Z Play offers the same ecosystem at a lower price point.

How can I get it?

The Motorola Moto Z is available for $999 from Motorola's online store, as well as Harvey Norman, The Good Guys Stores and Officeworks retailers around the country.

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