Motorola Moto Z review: The start of the modular revolution

Nick Broughall 24 October 2016 NEWS

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.

Motorola Moto Z

Motorola Moto Z from Dick Smith Electronics

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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:
Handset Geekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3374 5649
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 1359 5333
Samsung Galaxy S7 1378 4718
Apple iPhone SE 2449 4171
Apple iPhone 6s 2465 4052
Google Pixel XL 1629 4051
Motorola Moto Z 1477 3853
Sony Xperia XZ 1636 3604
Google Nexus 6P 1293 3594
Motorola Moto X Force 1352 3581
Sony Xperia X 1122 2626
Motorola Moto G Play 522 1334

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.

Handset 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 37956
LG G5 29597
Apple iPhone SE 29276
Samsung Galaxy S7 28903
Samsung Note7 28646
Google Pixel XL 28458
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 28402
Apple iPhone 6s 28171
HTC 10 27392
Sony Xperia XZ 26279
Sony Xperia X Performance 26125
Motorola Moto Z 25629
Google Nexus 6P 24703
Sony Xperia Z5 19197
Alcatel IDOL 4S 18186
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus 17981
Huawei Mate 8 17947
HTC One X9 16877
Sony Xperia X 16648
Sony Xperia XA 11173
Oppo R9 11053
Motorola Moto G4 Plus 9757
Telstra Signature Premium 9559
Oppo R7s 8390
Motorola Moto G Play 4475
LG Stylus DAB+ 4321
Alcatel Pop 4 3863
Samsung Galaxy J2 3469

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:
Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 11:55:00 7150
Huawei Mate 8 11:14:40 6659
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 11:11:20 6713
Sony Xperia X 10:40:40 6406
Samsung Galaxy J2 10:05:20 2689
Samsung Galaxy S7 10:01:20 6013
Motorola Moto X Force 9:46:50 3914
Motorola Moto 4G Plus 9:44:10 3977
Motorola Moto G Play 9:36:00 3840
Alcatel Pop 4 9:20:30 2490
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 9:18:00 5580
Google Pixel XL 9:14:20 5543
Huawei P9 8:26:30 4948
Sony Xperia XZ 8:24:20 5042
Alcatel Idol 4S 8:14:20 4943
LG Stylus DAB+ 8:11:40 3278
Apple iPhone 6S Plus 7:48:10 4681
LG G5 7:36:10 4561
Alcatel Go Play 7:21:10 2941
HTC 10 6:54:30 4145
Samsung Galaxy S6 6:51:30 4115
Sony Xperia X Performance 6:46:51 4068
Oppo R9 6:41:50 4018
Google Nexus 6P 6:39:20 3754
Moto Z 6:38:10 3981
Telstra Signature Premium 5:48:50 3260
Apple iPhone SE 4:27:10 2671
Apple iPhone 6s 3:52:10 2321
  • 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
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
Colours Black 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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