Lenovo GSM Moto Z review: Modularity done right, but there are better $700 phones

  • Editors' rating
    7.8 Very good

Pros

  • Thin form factor and high quality build
  • Functional Moto Mods design
  • Pure Google experience
  • Useful Moto gestures
  • Water repellant nano-coating

Cons

  • Single purpose fingerprint scanner
  • Small battery capacity
  • Unknown software update plan

Last month, ZDNet's Jason Cipriani posted his hands-on impressions of the Moto Z Play and Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod and I found the combination to be quite interesting. I reviewed the high end Moto Z Force Droid Edition a couple of months ago too, but since I'm not a Verizon customer it wasn't an option for me so I held out for the GSM version of the Moto Z.

The GSM variant of the Moto Z was recently launched at the Lenovo website, on Amazon, and from other retailers. Due to the included Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod, I ordered my own unlocked Moto Z that I've been using for a couple of weeks.

It's a solid smartphone that carries on the tradition of the Moto X while offering up the best modular concept we've seen so far. There is a lot to like in the world's thinnest premium smartphone, but it turns out it's not the device for me.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 1.8 GHz quad-core
  • Display: 5.5 inch 2560 x 1440 pixels resolution AMOLED, 535 ppi
  • Operating system: Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64 GB internal with microSD card storage
  • Cameras: 13 megapixel f/1.8 camera with OIS and 5 megapixel front facing f/2.2 camera with flash
  • Water resistance: Water repellant nano coating
  • Battery: 2,600 mAh battery with TurboPower fast charging
  • Dimensions: 153.3 x 75.3 x 5.19 mm and 136 grams

Like the new Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, there is no headset jack on the Moto Z. This makes sense given that the Moto Z is just over 5 mm in thickness and Lenovo does include a USB Type-C to 3.5mm headset adapter in the box.

While the Moto Z is not IP rated for dust and water resistance, it has the same nano coating that Moto has had in its devices for years so you shouldn't have to worry about an accidental spill or a quick sprint to get to your car in the rain.

Hardware

Opening up the retail package from Amazon left me a bit surprised to find a Charcoal Ash wood style shell and clear plastic bumper case included inside the Moto Z box. Neither of these were present in the description for my purchase, but are valued at about $25 so were welcome additions.

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The Moto Z is extremely thin, just over 5mm in thickness, and feels rock solid in the hand. There is no creaking or movement when you try to twist the device, despite its thin form factor, thanks to the glass and metal composition. I personally love the feel in the hand, which is one reason I keep thinking I may keep the phone.

The 5.5 inch AMOLED screen looks great and the Moto Display functions are more useful than any other Android standby display. You can simply tap and hold on a notification to read the content of that notification and Moto has a real winner here.

The Gorilla Glass covers the entire front with a rather large bottom and upper bezel. The upper area above the display houses the front facing camera and an actual LED flash, along with the mono speaker so all of that space is justifiable.

Below the display you will find the Moto logo and then the front fingerprint scanner. The fingerprint scanner is only used to unlock the display and also turn it off, but does not serve as a home button or for any other function.

There is a USB Type-C port centered on the bottom, the nanoSIM and microSD card in a compartment on the top, nothing on the left, and volume buttons on the right with a ridged power button. There is a large circular camera module on the back with the camera lens, Moto branding, and LED flash light below the camera lens. Near the bottom of the back you will find the pins for Moto Mods.

The 13 megapixel camera has optical image stabilization and fairly basic camera software. I was able to capture quality images in most lighting conditions and like the fact that the camera software supports barcode, QR, and business card scanning.

ZDNet's Jason Cipriani did a great job describing the Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod and all I can say is that the 10x optical zoom can be useful. The capture and zoom button is way too cheaply built and not worth the $300 with a build quality indicating it will be lucky to last a few months. Since you use this Moto Mod to zoom in and out, that should be the most robust part of the design.

The extending lens and Xenon flash appear to be well made and also perform well. As you can see in my full resolution Flickr album, the True Zoom lens did capture objects that no other camera phone could hope to capture. I usually turn the flash off on smartphones since they are terrible, but the Xenon flash on the True Zoom Moto Mod actually works well so you can take your Moto Z to a party and capture great shots of family and friends.

The wood shell is fairly well designed, but it does slide around just a bit. I personally prefer to have the shell secured in place during daily usage as if hides the camera hump and Moto Mods pins. The clear bumper can also be used with and without the wood style shell.

The Moto Z has a 2600 mAh battery, which has worked out much better than I anticipated. I've been seeing about 12 hours of fairly standard usage with about three hours of screen on time. I'm not able to go as long as I can with the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, but the Moto Z is a thinner and lighter device so that's a trade-off one makes. Unfortunately, fast charging is only supported if you use the specific Lenovo Turbo Charger.

There is no 3.5mm headset jack, but that hasn't bothered me much as I use Jaybird wireless Bluetooth headphones for most of my audio enjoyment to avoid the tangle of cords as I commute and walk a couple of miles to and from the office.

Software

The Moto Z GSM unlocked model launches with Android 6 Marshmallow. Lenovo just started rolling out Android Nougat 7 to the Moto G4 devices so I am sure the Moto Z will get the update eventually. Unlike in the past, Lenovo has not been clear on when, or if, we would be getting major software updates. Moto devices in the past were often purchased because updates came quickly to these devices, sometimes quicker than updates appeared for Nexus phones.

You will find a very pure Google experience on the the Lenovo Moto Z with no bloatware or other carrier software. With 64GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot, it's refreshing to have clean device to customize as I see fit.

Even better than the pure Google experience though is the fact that the Moto Z has all of the great Moto Actions, Voice, and Display. Moto Actions include the chop motion for flashlight, double twist for camera, flip for do not disturb, pick up to stop ringing, and more. Moto Voice lets you customize the launch phrase for Google Now, enable the announcement of texts and calls when driving or when a headset is connected, and more. The Moto Display is the best implementation of standby screen notifications. You can tap and hold to see more content, drag up to preview the notification, ignore your notifications, and more.

Only the minimal number of Google apps are installed out of the box so you get about 55GB of 64GB internal storage for your usage. The Moto Z also supports adoptable storage, like the HTC 10, so you can have an external microSD card function as internal storage.

Google bonuses on a non-Pixel phone

It was interesting to see a couple features that Google is advertising for the Pixel phones present on the Moto Z. Like the Apple iPhone and Google Pixel, the Moto Z GSM unlocked model supports visual voicemail right in the dialer app. You no longer need to download and install your carrier visual voicemail application.

The Moto Z camera software is also well integrated into Google Photos. As part of this integration, you get free full original file size backup on Google Photos for two years with the Moto Z. This is something Google is now also offering Pixel owners.

Pricing and competition

The GSM unlocked Moto Z is priced at $699.99 and works with AT&T, T-Mobile, and other GSM carriers in the US. I purchased mine through Amazon because Amazon included the Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod, a $299.99 value, for free.

The 5.5 inch Google Pixel is $769 for the 32GB model and $869 for the 128GB model with the Apple iPhone 7 Plus priced about the same. The new LG V20 is priced $70 more at $769.99, but it's a better overall device in my opinion.

The Moto Z Play is priced at $449.99 and while the specs are a bit less than the Moto Z, the battery life is reported to be much higher. I would personally like to see the Moto Z priced at $599.99.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

I haven't owned a Moto smartphone since my 2013 Moto X and when I purchased the Moto Z a couple of weeks ago I thought this was the one for me. The Moto Actions and Moto Display are enhancements that I thoroughly enjoyed using on previous Moto phones and they work even better now on the Moto Z.

The Moto Z feels great in my hand with high quality construction and a thin form factor that makes it easy to slip in my pants, and even shirt, pocket. The included wood shell was a nice addition and I mount that on the Moto Z most of the time.

I was a bit concerned about the 2600 mAh battery and proprietary Turbo Charger and I'm able to go about 12 hours with 3 hours of screen on time before hitting 15 percent remaining. This is just not enough battery capacity for me and I am not buying a device with limited fast charging support.

It helps that Amazon included the $300 value Moto Mod, but the Hasselblad True Zoom lens is worth maybe $100 if zoom is essential to your business. You have to make an effort to carry the True Zoom along, but if you are going on a hike or to some event where you know you will need to zoom in then it's worth taking along. It's a cool concept that could have been built much better for $300.

Fingerprint scanners on the front are my personal preference, but this one on the Moto Z only works to unlock the device and turn off the display. I continue to press it hoping it will function like a home button, as seen on every other device with a front fingerprint scanner, but I just end up turning off the display.

The quick twist to launch the camera and chop to turn on the flashlight are handy. The pure Google experience is refreshing and something we've seen for years on Moto devices. We have also seen Moto devices in the past updated as fast, and sometimes faster, than Google's own Nexus devices. We'll have to see how Lenovo does with updates on the Moto Z, but I did see that the Moto G4 Play is already getting the Android Nougat update so there is hope here as well.

Specifications

Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, magnetometer, gyro sensor, hall sensor
Additional Features TurboPower techbnology
Security Devices Fingerprint reader
Cellular
Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
Type Smartphone
Integrated Components audio player, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900 / CDMA2000 1X 1900/800
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider not specified
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow
SIM Card Type nano SIM
Input Device Multi-touch
Details
SAR Value 0.396 W/kg
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, audio player, voice recorder, navigation
Body Color Black
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyro sensor, hall sensor, magnetometer, proximity sensor
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Yes
Communications
Data Transmission EDGE, EV-DO, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE
4G LTE Band Band 13, Band 2, Band 3, Band 4, Band 5, Band 7
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n, NFC
Processor
Clock Speed 2.2 GHz
Manufacturer Qualcomm
Processor Core Qty Quad-core
64-bit Architecture Yes
Display
Technology AMOLED
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Pixel Density (ppi) 403
Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 14 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Color Support color
Camera
Digital Zoom 4
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source dual LED flash
Features Panorama, Phase Detect Auto-Focus (PDAF), video recording
Memory
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC - up to 2 TB
Multimedia
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 506
Battery
Run Time Details Mixed usage: up to 50 hrs
Digital Camera
Digital Zoom 4
Lens Aperture f/2.0
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source dual LED flash
Video Recorder Resolutions 1280 x 720 (720p), 1920 x 1080 (1080p), 3840 x 2160 (2160p)
Features Panorama, Phase Detect Auto-Focus (PDAF), video recording
Header
Brand Motorola
Product Line Motorola Moto
Model Z Play
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyro sensor, hall sensor, magnetometer, proximity sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Additional Features TurboPower techbnology
RAM
Installed Size 3 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 64 GB
Max Supported Size 2 TB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC
Graphics System
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 506
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 16 megapixels
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Service Included parts and labor
Full Contract Period 1 year
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 5 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/2.2
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty

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