Lenovo's modular Moto Z phones reviewed

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Lenovo's modular Moto Z phones reviewed
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Lenovo Moto Z review

When you take the Lenovo Moto Z out of the box for the first time, you’re struck by its thinness first of all. That’s for two reasons: firstly because it really is (5.2mm to be exact) and secondly because there’s an optional backplate in the box. You’re perfectly free to go about your business without adding the backplate, it’s just that you'll be exposing the phone’s party trick to the world.

That party trick is revealed by the strip of golden contacts dotted along the bottom of the handset. These securely hold the mods to the back of the phone.

In making this the “world's thinnest premium smartphone,” a couple of sacrifices have had to be made. First up, it’s a tiny bit misleading, because the camera hump is extremely obvious, though attaching the supplied backplate (in the same way you would add modules) instantly smooths things out. Second, and more importantly, the Moto Z follows the iPhone 7’s lead and loses the 3.5mm headphone jack. Indisputably, this is an unpopular move, even if Motorola does include a USB Type-C to 3.5mm jack adapter in the box.

And yes, it has a USB Type-C connector. This leads to rapid charging (there’s a fast charger in the box too) and data transfer, but does mean all your existing microUSB leads are instantly redundant.

It has a small, square fingerprint reader on the bottom of the phone which works both consistently and quickly, but oddly Lenovo has made the decision to put the home, back and menu buttons on screen in Android, rather than using the fingerprint reader and the space around it. Confusingly therefore, applying your finger back to the reader just locks the phone again.

Other than that, however, Lenovo should be applauded for doing as little to Android as possible, as per usual. So vanilla is their skin of Android Marshmallow, in fact, that Google Keyboard is included by default.

There's no denying it’s a handsome handset, though we would have kept the headphone jack even if it meant losing the coveted “thinnest handset” prize. The glossy glass rear is also a fingerprint magnet, meaning you'll almost certainly want to apply one of those modules as quickly as possible.

Screen

Things continue to impress with the screen, which is a quality AMOLED affair with perfect blacks and vibrant colours. It's a 1,440 x 2,560-pixel display, meaning it has around 535 pixels per inch when stretched across the device's 5.5in screen – very sharp, in other words.

But how does the screen compare to other flagship handsets? Here is a quick comparison table showing how it fares against some of the other top dogs (along with the cheaper Moto Z Play):

  Resolution Brightness sRGB gamut Contrast
Lenovo Moto Z 2,560 x 1,440 354.24cd/m2 98.5% Perfect
Lenovo Moto Z Play 1,080 x 1,920 355cd/m2 100% Perfect
LG G5 2,560 x 1,440 354.05cd/m2 97.1% 1,621:1
Samsung Galaxy S7 2,560 x 1,440 353.74cd/m2 100% Perfect
Apple iPhone 7 1,334 x 750 540cd/m2 95.8% 1,425:1

Those are damned fine scores in anybody's book, and bear in mind that the relatively low brightness can be attributed to the AMOLED screen – because they work by turning off pixels off when not in use.

What's more, the Moto Z has another trick up its sleeve here. While it doesn't have an always-on display, it arguably has something a bit more clever: wave your hand over the screen when it's off, and the display comes to life with the time, date and any notifications you have. Remove your hand and it’ll fade out in three seconds – a smart way of giving you the benefits of always-on without draining too much of the battery.

That’s just as well, because battery life is an area where the Moto Z struggles a tad. Within the Moto Z is a 2,600mAh battery. If that sounds a touch stingy, it's because it is, but if you're fearing that it'll struggle to get through the day with more than moderate use, then you may be pleasantly surprised. In our battery test, the phone lasted 12 hours and 21 minutes before giving up the ghost. That’s not great – the Samsung Galaxy S7 lasted 17 hours 48 minutes – but it’s only 41 minutes less than the iPhone 7, so it’s certainly not woeful.

If you want long battery life, you can always buy the Incipio Offgrid Power Pack mod – or consider the cheaper Moto Z Play, which offers the best battery life that we’ve ever seen.

Thankfully, the bundled fast charger is very fast indeed, giving you nearly a third of your battery back in a quarter of an hour. Still, you can't help feel that chasing the “thinnest phone” trophy isn't worthwhile if you need to strap a battery to the back to rival the longest lasting phones out there.

Performance

Thinness aside, one of the reasons the battery struggles to cope with the Moto Z is because it’ one powerful phone. A quad-core 2.15Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 runs the show, backed with 4GB RAM. If that chipset sounds familiar, it’s because it's the same Snapdragon used in – amongst others – the HTC 10, LG G5 and Sony Xperia XZ.

So how does it compare to its peers? Very well indeed. As you would expect on a phone with these kind of specifications, everything you throw at it is handled with total ease – which is why we turn to benchmarking software to give us direct comparison in like-for-like handsets. Here are those comparable handsets again:

  Geekbench  
single core
Geekbench
multi- core
GFXbench
Manhattan 3
(onscreen)
GFXbench
Offscreen
Lenovo Moto Z 1,474 4,007 27fps 41fps
Lenovo Moto Z Play 798 2,599 10fps 9.8fps
LG G5 1,667 3,879 31fps 46fps
Samsung Galaxy S7 1,877 5,295 27fps 38fps
Apple iPhone 7 3,489 5,652 58.92fps 62.62fps

So, overall, the Moto Z comes fairly close to (or in one case beats) its more expensive rivals. It comes with 64GB of storage, too, along with a microSD slot for expansion. 

Camera

The Moto Z’s rear camera is a 13 megapixel affair with 1.12um pixels and f/1.8 aperture. Optical image stabilisation and a laser autofocus are also included for a solid all-round package.

The results are good too: in well-lit environments, photographs are very impressive indeed, not too far behind the best in the business. Images appear sharp and detailed, even when zoomed in to a level that some handsets would consider too close for comfort.

In low light, things get a bit more tricky, and it loses ground to the Galaxy S7 in terms of detail and – at times – blurring. Nonetheless, it’s the kind of camera that should leave most amateur photographers happy, and there's always the Hasselblad DSLR camera mod for those unsatisfied.

The front-facing selfie camera is a 5 megapixel snapper, with f/2.2 aperture and 1.4um pixels and a LED flash. Suffice it to say, it’s more than sufficient to make your selfies come alive.

Conclusion

We really like the Lenovo Moto Z. Modular smartphones have been a bit of a gimmick so far, with only LG producing something usable, and in that case only a couple of add-ons ever arrived, all of which tended to add a fair amount of bulk in the process.

The Moto Z’s slim frame and incredibly easy attachments make its add-ons far more user-friendly, and there are already enough modules to prove that the idea has legs.

However, there are two problems with the Moto Z. Firstly, the thin design has come at a cost to battery life: 2,600mAh is simply not going to be enough for heavy users, and a fast charger can only go so far – especially when wireless charging isn't part of the package. And secondly, the lack of 3.5mm headphone jack is also something that many will consider unforgivable. Both of these issues could have been fixed if the company weren’t so hell bent on making the thinnest smartphone ever.

Still, at $999, the Moto Z is very good value, although buying additional modules will quickly add to the total cost. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be available from an Australian carrier on a monthly plan – it’s only available from the official online store and retailers like Harvey Norman.

However, if you like the idea of having a modular phone with premium features, the Moto Z is a fine choice.

Read on if you're more interested in the cheaper Moto Z Play.  

Lenovo Moto Z and Moto Z Play
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