With the new Lenovo Moto Z – following on the heels of the LG G5 – we see the second modular smartphone to enter the German market. We tested the Moto Z, along with the modules. Has Lenovo successfully implemented the module idea? And has a good smartphone come out in the process? Find out what we think about the phone in our review.
- ✓The module interface was well-implemented
- ✕Photos are mediocre in the dark
- ✕No headphone jack
Lenovo Moto Z release date and price
The Moto Z is now available from the Moto Maker online shop (www.moto.com) as well as from standard retailers at a recommended retail price (RRP) of $699.99. The modules are also listed in the Lenovo shop.
Lenovo Moto Z design and build quality
In its design, Lenovo put a stop to the old Motorola design lingo. Instead of an ergonomically curved back, the Moto Z is flat. The entire chassis is made from a mix of aircraft aluminum and stainless steel. Corning Gorilla Glass can be found on the back. Lenovo has chosen this combination of materials to stabilize the Moto Z, despite its 5.2-mm thickness.
In order to make the Moto Z so extremely flat, Lenovo also had to remove the headphone jack. A further compromise was also necessary: the main camera is raised several millimeters above the back – to compensate for this, there is a back cover, which is approximately two millimeters thick. Lenovo refers to these as a “Style Shell”. This virtually functionless Mods, in our case, gives the Moto Z a textile-like feel. This has several important benefits: on the one hand, the Mod ports are protected, and on the other hand, the Moto Z is more slip-resistant in your hand. Additionally, you’ll no longer feel the raised bump of the camera.
In short: the Moto Z loses the benefits of the extreme thinness of the housing, because it requires this functionless cover.
We employed the dark-color version for our test. The dark color and the surface of the glass (without the textile back cover) offered a high-quality tactile impression, but also served as a fingerprint magnet. Fingerprints shouldn’t be quite as noticeable on the lighter version of the Moto Z.
From the front, the Moto Z is reminiscent of the Moto G4 or G4 Plus. Like the two G4 models, the square fingerprint sensor is located below the display, and though it has the appearance of a button, it isn’t. Except for the recognition of fingerprints, the button has no other function. Nowhere in the settings can one find an option to configure this as a home button. Positioning it elsewhere is apparently not possible due to the Mods – so, basically, the lower edge is slightly oversized.
Lenovo has given the Moto Z a 2.5D glass edge. On the front, a pleasantly rounded edge was created. You’ll find no rounded edges on the back, though, only sharp cutting edges that make no sense.
There are three mechanical buttons on the right side. Two are intended as the up and down volume buttons, and in addition to those is a similar-sized but ridged power button. This arrangement makes it a bit harder to feel the buttons – in the long term, however, buyers will probably get used to it.
Lenovo Moto Z display
The Moto Z is equipped with a 5.5-inch QHD display (2560 x 1440 pixels). The resolution of the AMOLED display is of 535 ppi, and is on par with the rival smartphones from Samsung, LG, and HTC. The AMOLED panel has its weaknesses though. It seems a little dark, and even at the maximum brightness level, it is only moderately bright. Naturally, the display supports colors – but for an AMOLED display, perhaps it’s a bit too feeble. The display settings for color intensity cannot be changed. However, the display does render very sharp letters in text.
Lenovo Moto Z special features
MotoMods: the new distinctive feature from Lenovo
The Lenovo Moto Z can be customized with Mods. Lenovo has developed a proprietary interface, which is the same format found on the Moto Z Play. On the back, you can attach different Mods to the Moto, which are held in place by considerably strong magnets – the Mods are unlikely to fall off or slip. The electrical contacts are located in the lower third of the back of the smartphone. When a MotoMod is docked, a vibration confirms that the module was recognized and paired with the system.
We have two MotoMods in the newsroom and have already seen a third. We’ll report on further detailed tests of the modules in the near future. Nevertheless, we already have some insights here, because no Moto Z test would be complete without saying a few words about the Mods. The following have been announced, or are already available:
- JBL SoundBoost (loudspeaker)
- Moto Insta-Share Projector (projector)
- Incipio Power Pack (battery pack with 2,220 mAh)
- Hasselblad True Zoom (camera module)
The JBL SoundBoost MotoMod
The SoundBoost module was developed in collaboration with the audio specialists at JBL and transforms the Moto Z into a portable loudspeaker; also stuck into the module are a few additional battery cells. In the test, the module was especially a pleasant addition for games. Firstly, because it makes the smartphone better to grip, and secondly, because it gives the Moto Z a considerably better and more powerful sound. The sound power and quality are not good enough, however, to fill a room with music very well. A small kickstand is installed on the back so that the speakers can better broadcast the sound.
The Moto Insta-Share Projector module is a projector that’s already known from Lenovo tablets. This module is especially handy for businessmen and women who need to offer presentations for customers. Instead of packing a laptop and a projector, you only need your Moto Z and this MotoMod on a business trip. The transfer of the image to be projected from the Moto Z to the MotoMod is initiated via Lenovo Smart Cast. The projector only has a maximum resolution of 854 x 480 pixels, which is adequate for presentations. We will dedicate a separate review to the Insta-Share Projector module, which should appear in the next week.
We were also able to try the Hasselblad Camera MotoMod a little as wel. We did, however, find some serious problems with it, so we are refraining – for the time being – from offering a review. As a result, we recommend that those who are interested in the camera module wait a little while before deciding to purchase it.
MotoMods: Are They Really All They Claim to Be?
Technically, the MotoMods are superb. But do they also make sense for everyday use? Users need to form their own opinions as to whether the investment in the MotoMod platform makes sense or not. MotoMods supplement the Moto Z with features that could hardly be integrated into the smartphone. You can also obtain the above-mentioned functions without MotoMods: There are compact loudspeakers. There are mobile projectors. There are power banks. These functions are available with other hardware accessory gadgets, but they don’t fit quite as compactly on a smartphone. However, they are cheaper
Lenovo is tying buyers of MotoMods more closely to its own products: for example, whoever buys the Insta-Share Projector might want to use it with their next smartphone. But, then it will have to be a Mod-compatible smartphone – in all probability, the only choice will then be between various Lenovo smartphones.
Additional Mods are expected to appear in the coming months – but no devastatingly creative Mod has yet emerged. The Mods are, ultimately, a long-term bet that can pay off; but not necessarily.
Bye-bye Analog Audio Connection
Due to the extremely flat design, the typical 3.5-mm analog audio port is missing from the Moto Z. For those who want to connect 3.5-mm analog headphones, Lenovo lets you use a USB Type-C adapter. According to LeTV One, One Pro, and LeTV Max 2, the Moto Z is the fourth smartphone that says “bye-bye” to the analog audio signal. Apple has already done so with its iPhone 7.
The adapter is rather impractical for mobile use. A USB-C headset is not included with the smartphone – which is quite incomprehensible. For mobile use, you therefore need to buy a USB-C headset – at least if you do not want to mess around with an adapter.
Lenovo Moto Z software
In terms of software, the Moto Z doesn’t offer anything unusual if you already have a Motorola smartphone in your hand. Close to being a stock Android, the operating system is based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow and contains no evidence of bloatware or MotoMod apps. The latter are installed once a module is docked on the Moto Z for the first time.
The Moto display ensures that the smartphone wakes from standby when you press it slightly. Then you can see the time and unlock the Moto Z.
There’s actually not much else to say about the software. This is a positive thing, because most users will already be supplementing desired functions via app downloads, and thus won’t have to deal with unnecessary features or bloatware. One drawback is that we naturally miss features that would make the Moto Z stand out from other smartphones.
Lenovo Moto Z performance
Inside the Moto Z, the Snapdragon 820 is one of the fastest processors on the market. The quad-core processor is clocked at 1.8 GHz and it has 4 GB of RAM available.
Lenovo has set itself the task of providing each individual market with different storage configurations, with some countries getting 64 GB versions and others not.
In terms of performance, the Moto Z plays in the big league. Glitches are imperceptible, games run smoothly, and multitasking is handled quickly. A glance at the diagnostic tool of Android shows that the Lenovo Moto Z is usually able to display at 60 frames per second.
For games, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor and its Adreno 530 GPU are suitable. Riptide GP Renegade runs smoothly, even in hectic situations, where a micro-glitch can make the difference between victory and defeat.
Those who are interested in benchmark values will find these within the expectations for the Snapdragon 820:
- 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited: 24660
- 3DMark Slingshot OpenGL 3.0: 3001
- 3DMark Slingshot OpenGL 3.1: 2195
- Geekbench 4: Single-Core: 1487 / Multi-Core: 3991
The Geekbench values may be a bit low, but the everyday performance shows the benchmark the way.
Lenovo Moto Z audio
A mono loudspeaker is installed above the display for the sound. Naturally, it lacks in the basics and music sounds a bit tinny overall. The USB-C adapter allows you to connect classic headphones. The adapter makes it somewhat unwieldy, but the operation handles no differently, otherwise. And the music quality was decent in our listening test.
We couldn’t test the VoLTE in the O2 network. We could test classic mobile calls, but the audio quality did not stand out.
At least our test device was capable of dual-SIM. This was a bit of a surprise, considering it’s a function that’s only available in a few high-end smartphones. The disadvantage is that Lenovo forces the user to choose: a second SIM card, or memory expansion with a Micro SD card.
Lenovo Moto Z camera
The main camera of the Moto Z is an old acquaintance, known since the Moto X Force from 2015. As with that, Lenovo uses the Sony IMX230 image sensor, but in the Moto Z the aperture is greater, with f/1.8, and it’s equipped with an optical image stabilizer. The Moto Z shoots photos with a maximum 13 MP in 4:3 format, and videos are in 4K with 30 fps. A laser helps with the fast-focusing on objects. The software is known from the Moto G4, and has a manual mode.
For selfie fans, the Moto Z offers a 5 MP front-facing camera. An LED light illuminates the scene in dim surroundings.
But how do the pictures turn out? Here, we must differentiate: in good lighting conditions, the camera takes beautiful photos that are convincing both in terms of sharpness of detail and color reproduction. There are blurs sometimes, only at the edges of the image. At dusk, however, the camera automatically switches to an appropriate mode, which lengthens the shutter speed. Shooting in the dark is rather poor because the cameras tend to have clearly visible noise – in comparison, night photos with a Nexus 5X are significantly better.
Selfies turned out well in our test. It should be emphasized that the beautification mode is not active by default, which often results in very soft-washed photos on other smartphones. Here, too, you’ll quickly notice clear background noise in less bright surroundings. The front-facing flash allows for less noisy images; it takes the pictures, but also gets the surroundings.
Lenovo Moto Z battery
Due to the very sleek design, the Moto Z only has room for a 2,600 mAh battery. But, according to Lenovo, that should be enough life for moderate use of the Moto Z over two days. In our test, we did not make it. The running times were not exactly bad – we were usually able to get over a day, with some fluctuations.
We measured the performance of the batteries with PCMark, which simulates typical usage with videos, surfing, and writing. The test results show the amount of time it takes for a battery to drop from 80% to 20%. At full brightness, a smartphone should last five hours.
The Moto Z met all expectations, with the PCMark test results showing 5 hours and 48 minutes. This is not a terrific value, but for a smartphone with a 2,600 mAh battery it is quite satisfactory. Lenovo projects 2 days run time, which would obviously not be reached; however, it would easily last through a normal working day.
Lenovo Moto Z technical specifications
With the Lenovo Moto Z, a very interesting smartphone has found its way to AndroidPIT. The MotoMods are especially interesting at first glance, and we look forward to more. Although it is not a truly modular smartphone, the expansion interface is technically well-developed and is convincing at this level, in comparison to other solutions on the market.
However, the question arises as to whether the Mods really bring a great added value in everyday life. It seems to be a particular disadvantage that the interface is only proprietary. If you want to continue to use the Mods when you change smartphones, you need to purchase a Lenovo smartphone that is Mod-ready (currently only the Moto Z and the Moto Z Play). In this respect, however, the question arises as to whether these functions could also be achieved via the standard interfaces. Bluetooth speakers, or even a handy mini-projector, can work with all smartphones, notebooks, or tablets. It will be exciting to see if Lenovo can attain additional innovative functions.
Overall, the Lenovo Moto Z is a really good smartphone. As mentioned, it’s a successful complete package with a fast processor, a solid display, and a pleasant feel. Whoever needs a high-end smartphone with dual-SIM functions, needs to look no further. The only criticisms are the camera performance at twilight and the barely adequate supply of storage space.
The high price may especially be the undoing of the Moto Z: the smartphone itself is already quite expensive, while the most desirable Mods cost extra. And for the price, there are better deals among the competition.