When Lenovo and Motorola put out that RAZR teaser a couple weeks ago, we were wondering how they’d manage to bring back the flip phone now that the flip phone’s expiration date has passed. We were hoping for a folding smartphone using bendable OLED tech, and while Lenovo teased exactly that at their Lenovo Tech World press conference yesterday with some exciting concepts, those device aren’t ready for prime time yet. Instead, the spiritual successor to the RAZR is more interested in bringing back that snapping sound — this time, of accessories snapping onto the back of the Moto Z. Oh, and let’s get the frustration out of the way early — the Moto Z (full name Moto Z Droid, so you see where this is going) is a carrier exclusive to Verizon.
For all the pre-show hype, the Moto Z is just another flagship phone — by itself. The internals are what we’d expect from a 2016 flagship, but flip the Moto Z over and you’ll see 16 gold dots near the bottom of the phone. Those connectors can connect to a number of Moto Mods, accessories that all add some other function to the phone. The Moto Mods are designed as external back plates, remaining flush with the phone’s edges. At the outset, the lineup of Moto Mods includes the JBL SoundBoost (powerful external speaker with a kickstand), the Moto Insta-Share Projector (projects a 70″ image), and the Power Pack (external battery), along with an assortment of designer back shells. All of these add thickness to the phone, which is why Motorola and Lenovo took special care to make the Moto Z itself as thin as possible — at 5.2 mm thick, it’s the thinnest flagship smartphone of the year.
The JBL SoundBoost is pretty straightforward — it makes the phone a lot louder — but the other two Moto Mods are worth looking into a little more. Expectations for the Moto Insta-Share Projector should probably be tempered — resolution will be limited to 480p and it can only produce 50 lumens of brightness, so expect it to only be useful in completely dark conditions. The Power Pack is a little more promising — it adds a 2,200 mAh battery and wireless charging using either the Qi or PMA standards. Those Power Packs will be stylish in their own right, with designs available from Kate Spade, TUMI, and Incipio.
But, the Moto Z is no gimmick phone. Strip the Moto Mods away, and you still have a very impressive flagship smartphone. The Moto Z is a 5.5″ device with a 2560 x 1440 AMOLED display. Inside, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC, 4 GB of RAM, and 32 GB or 64 GB of storage (with a microSD card slot good for up to 2 TB). Unsurprisingly, because of the extreme thinness, the battery is quite a bit smaller than other 2016 flagships at 2,600 mAh (charged over a USB Type-C connection). The Power Pack helps with that, but then again, that’s also another expense. But, Motorola has another pretty good battery argument — incredibly fast charging that should get you up to 50 percent in less than 30 minutes. The exterior is made of aircraft-grade aluminum and stainless steel, and while it’s not waterproof, it at least has a water-repellent coating. Motorola has also added a fingerprint scanner on the front, so the Moto Z really does tick all the premium boxes.
Along with battery, camera quality has been a big factor in smartphone differentiation this year. We expect the Moto Z probably won’t have the best of the bunch, but it’ll be no slouch, either. Motorola is using a 13 MP sensor with laser autofocus and optical image stabilization, along with a front-facing 5 MP sensor with a wide-angle lens. A lot of other smartphone cameras are more powerful or more fully featured this year, but hey, who’s to say Motorola can’t fix that with a new Moto Mod down the road? There is a pronounced camera bump, but that seems functional in this case — using the back-mounted Moto Mods won’t affect the camera’s field of vision or ability to take in light this way.
But, there’s one big drawback to having a phone this thin. Motorola managed to beat Apple to the punch — there is no 3.5 mm audio jack on the Moto Z (nor the thicker Moto Z Force). You’ll have to use either Bluetooth headphones or the included adapter. The adapter idea isn’t viable — the benefit of having a thin phone that can slide easily into pockets is totally negated by having to stuff an adapter in your pocket, too. It’s not a desirable solution, and with a lack of USB Type-C headphones and the high price of high-quality Bluetooth headphones, we can’t help but think Motorola was way too early in making this move. We recognize that the 3.5 mm audio jack’s days are numbered, but like with the MacBook having only one Type-C port, the Type-C accessory market isn’t mature enough to make this a consumer-friendly decision.
Next page: The Moto Z Force and modularity