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Wednesday
Oct052016

Review: Lenovo Moto Z

Text and photos By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

On its own, the Moto Z is an inspired flagship device. It’s made of top tier materials, offers the best of Moto’s bespoke software experiences, yet presents users with a pretty pure Android experience with very little in the way of unwanted bloatware (unless you’re getting it from a carrier).

It’s my impression that Motorola, one of the oldest makers of smartphones in the industry, has always seen a future beyond the smartphone. 

Their first Android device, the Droid (sold in Canada as the Motorola Milestone), was the first to have a slide-out keyboard which differentiated it from most candy bar Androids of the time.

The Moto Atrix smartphone, had the ability to be mated to a laptop accessory and even a desktop, it preceded Microsoft’s Continuum feature of extending a smartphone to become a notebook replacement.

With Moto Maker on the Moto X, the company championed customization and personalization, plus they introduced leather, wood, and other materials to the smartphone market. Kicking off a trend that companies like OnePlus, LG, Huawei and others picked up on, but never really pulled off elegantly. Now, with the Moto Z, we're seeing the next phase of evolution.

 

As Motorola Mobility got acquired by Lenovo, it seems they managed to sell their idea of a modular smartphone future with the Moto Z family.

Unlike the closed ecosystem represented by rival Apple, who has taken it upon themselves to dictate what’s best for the consumer (i.e. you don’t need a headphone jack, you can’t have SD card expansion). Motorola’s been able to push the idea that the smartphone can be whatever you need it to be, provided the core device is capable enough to power various options. 

I’ll be covering each of the Moto Mods components separately as there’s too much to discuss for each particular use case. In this review, I want to focus on the Moto Z flagship and all that it represents. 

From X to Z

Motorola’s longtime flagship has been the Moto X line which has really dictated some of them biggest innovations in the smartphone space above and beyond the idea of customization.

The Moto Z is a completely different animal. It is arguably the most innovative smartphone design we’ve seen in years. It’s ultra-thin profile (5.2mm) recalls the RAZR and my personal favourite phone of that era, the SLVR. It’s mind-boggling that people aren’t going crazy over the fact that this skinny sliver of stainless steel features the latest SnapDragon 820 processor, has 4GB of RAM, and features a truly immersive 5.5-inch Quad HD display with a 535 ppi resolution. 

On its own, the Moto Z is an inspired flagship device. It’s made of top tier materials, offers the best of Moto’s bespoke software experiences, yet presents users with a pretty pure Android experience with very little in the way of unwanted bloatware (unless you’re getting it from a carrier). Moto Z features USB Type-C connectivity with Turbo Charging. A mere 15-minute charge is good for 8-hours of use and then, there’s always the option of slapping on a battery Moto Mod for instant juice for hours to an extra day. 

Living in the land of Z

I am a heavy smartphone user. While I hardly make phone calls with the device, I do use it for email, social media, photography, listening to podcasts and streaming music, watching short videos, messaging, light gaming and as a GPS navigation tool with Waze.

I got through a day taking the Moto Z off its USB Type-C charger at 7 a.m. and it was at 18% battery capacity at around 9 p.m., which is quite decent considering this is such a thin device.

The Moto Z comes with all the high-end goodies. A 13 megapixel camera with an f/1.8 aperture that’s capable of detailed stills and 4K video.

This camera’s resume is impressive, and I like that Lenovo has included a professional mode and RAW capture capability for photographs that crave more control. There’s a 5 megapixel front facing camera for with a 1.4um big pixel for better low light performance as well.

Everything about the Moto Z is about precision and detail. The beveled corners, the sensory ridges on the power button, and the balanced layout of IR sensor and the 4 microphones which enable the Moto Actions features are careful and purposely laid out.

Expansion Potential

 

On its own, the Moto Z is just as fast and competent as any flagship smartphone in the market right now but comes in a much thinner, more thoughtfully designed form factor.

A lot of thought and care went into every aspect of its design which, is more than I can say for many Android flagships that look and feel like derivative devices or pale copies of established devices. 

Lenovo has really created something special with the Moto Z as a standalone flagship, there’s really nothing that looks or feels like it in the market right now.

The other half of the story are the Moto Mods, add on peripherals that connect magnetically to give the Moto Z additional powers to run longer, entertain better and improve as a standalone camera.

Think of the Moto Z as the Tony Stark of smartphones. It is smart, charming, handsome and functional. But when it puts on a suit of armour (or in this case an external battery, a pico projector, JBL speakers or a Hasselblad camera), Moto Z becomes something else entirely.

Mod Squad


I plan on reviewing each of the existing Moto Mods in a separate review but I can say the concept works really well.

The Moto Mods connect very easily and firmly on to the Moto Z, there is a bit of play or looseness that can be felt if you press hard and move the mod (they’re just connected by magnets after all), but other than that they go on and tend to stay on.

Not having to install software for each Moto Mod and have them automatically recognized is huge. The firmware for many of the Mods gets updated automagically once they’re on the device.

 

So far, I’ve used the Incipio battery case the most on the Moto Z as it helps add power without adding much bulk. The Insta-Share projector has been a device I’ve used more than I originally though. I watched half the first season of Netflix Luke Cage off my Moto Z with the projector. The Moto Z’s loudspeaker is quite good for most shows but you can pair a Bluetooth headset and get even louder sound.

The Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod is the one I was initially the most excited about and while it does offer great 10x optical zoom, stunning photos and videos, I have yet to really put it through its paces. 

The option to quickly change the Moto Z’s look with a bamboo or even leather backplate will appeal to users who like to change up the look of their smartphones on a regular basis. I can’t wait to see what third-party cases and Mods can bring to this ecosystem.

Hits:

- Lenovo’s Moto Z is the thinnest flagship smartphone in the market right now

- Inspired design, great build, look and feel

- Moto Actions and 4 microphones help with personal assistants

- Above average camera with OIS and Pro Mode features

- Turbocharging and all-day battery life on an ultra-thin device

- Moto Mods open up a world of expansion possibilities

Misses:

 - No headphone jack,  included USB Type-C dongle is easy to lose

Verdict:

 

The Lenovo Moto Z is the most innovative and attractive smartphone in the market right now. Not only does it push the envelope in integration, with a razor-like thinness, it does so without sacrificing many of the key features that make it a flagship smartphone.

This alone makes Moto Z an impressive release, but when you consider the manifold expansion capabilities offered by the Moto Mods, this device becomes the nerve-centre of a truly forward thinking digital ecosystem.

 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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