That is not to take away from the excellent Pixel XL – which after all is a pure Android reference device designed to show off Android Nougat to its best. But the Moto Z is also pure Android (Marshmallow and the Nougat upgrade will happen any day), and frankly, it is a more refined "package" of hardware/apps/OS/support even without the amazing, compelling Moto Mods. Sorry Google, but it is bad timing for you with me having both devices at once.
Moto fired some well-aimed shots, not over, but directly, at the bow of Apple’s new iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S7/Edge, Google Pixel XL and others, by what it says is the only true innovation — Moto Mods — shown by any smartphone maker this year. I agree, but LG may dispute that with its LG friends concept.
I have only had the phone a week – not quite enough to do a full review, but demand for the review units outstrips supply, so I hope to get it back in a few weeks for more testing. Everything works flawlessly. Read on.
Out of the box
You get the phone, a Qualcomm USB-C Fast charger and cable, a USB-A to USB-C cable, a USB-C to 3.5mm analogue jack dongle (it does not have a 3.5mm jack), a set of reasonable in-line mic/headphones, a Moto Style shell and an acrylic bumper.
First impressions are – wow, this is amazingly thin. In fact, so thin you really need the faux wood, back Style shell (supplied).
On the back are 16 “pogo” pins, a locator hole as well as a grounding strip for the Moto Mods that snap on magnetically. The camera protrudes slightly, but not with the Style shell attached.
It has three small side buttons. The power button is knurled to provide tactile feel in the dark. The other two are for volume up/down.
It runs pure Android so, like the Pixel, updates are easy and quick after Google releases them. Also like the Pixel, it has OS upgrades for two years and security updates for three.
The front fingerprint sensor is fast, and it will also power the phone up and down. You can either use the Moto launcher or the Google stock one.
But where it has it over the Pixel are the Moto enhancements that are loaded as an app (so as not to change pure Android). These are gesture-, voice- and glance-based and can control many aspects of the phone.
Many, like Moto Assist, are context-based e.g. reading a text out when you are driving. There is flip for do not disturb, Attentive Display, chop for a flashlight, and waving or voice commands to activate the camera.
These add definite value to pure Android without compromising it.
Specifications – Moto Z XT1650-3 64GB
For convenience, where there are significant differences I have listed the Google Pixel XL specs in [square brackets]
- Screen: 5.5”, QHD 2560 x 1440, 535ppi, AMOLED screen with Gorilla Glass 4, 72% screen to body ratio
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, Quad-core 2 x 2.15GHz and 2 x 1.6GHz [Snapdragon 821 throttled back to 820 specs]
- 4GB RAM, 32 or 64GB [128GB] storage, microSD slot to 2TB [no microSD slot]
- Rear camera: 13MP [12.3], f/1.8 [f2.0], 1.4 µm pixel [1.55], laser autofocus [+phase detection], HDR, Optical image stabilisation [electronic image stabilisation], Video image stabilisation, dual tone CCT flash, 4K record
- Front camera: 5MP [8MP], f/2.2 [f/2.4], 1.12 µm pixel [1.4], LED flash [nil], HD record
- Sound: USB-C to 3.5mm dongle [3.5mm audio], 2 x ANC mic, 2 x mics, single front ported speaker (it is the slot in the top bezel).
- Battery: 2600mAh non-removable , USB-C 15W TurboCharge, OTG, 53-hour [78h] endurance rating. See Moto Mod options later for wireless charging [nil] and additional battery capacity [nil]
- Wi-Fi AC, dual band, MIMO; Bluetooth 4.1; GPS; FM radio [no]; NFC, Fingerprint reader
- Features magnetic back and interface for Moto Mods [no]
- Dual SIM 4G+3G, 4G LTE B1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 19, 20, 25, 28, 38, 40, 41 (SIM two doubles for micro SD)
- Amazingly slim 75.3 x 155.3 x 5.19 mm x 136g
- Water-repellent nanocoating [IP53], Military grade aluminium and stainless steel
- Android 6.x with 7.x coming [7.x]. Moto enhancements include Moto Voice, Moto Display, and Moto Actions [nil Android 7.x has Assist and Allo]
- RRP: $999 4/64GB including free back shell and bumper [Pixel comes either with 32GB or 128GB for A$1269 or A$1419 respectively]
There is no notification LED (same as Pixel) but the AMOLED has glance display (Pixel does not but firmware could fix that in the future).
As you can see, apart from the Nougat OS (coming soon) and the 821 processor (throttled to 820 anyway) they are pretty comparable. But the Moto ticks the box with microSD support and its innovative Moto Mods.
On paper, the Pixel has a slightly better rear camera than the Moto Z due to the slightly larger pixels. DxOMark Mobile puts it at 89 ahead of the Moto Z-Droid at 84 (the Z has not been tested yet, but they use a similar camera).
Outdoors in bright sunlight, Pixel’s colours are a little more vibrant and detail a little sharper, but both are very good.
Indoors in natural light, Pixel edges ahead and the Moto HDR can hunt a little slowing it down slightly. A “hold camera steady” message appears.
Indoors with flash, on par, with Moto’s f/1.8 aperture making up for the Pixel f/2.0 with slightly larger pixels.
Indoors without flash, Pixel gets more light, but the Moto Z gets slightly better detail.
Had I not taken comparable shots with the Pixel I would have concluded that it’s a pretty good all round performer – and it is.
As a further test, I compared the LG G5 (DxOMark 86) and Samsung S7 Edge (88). The Pixel, in my opinion, is very close, if not a tad ahead of the GS7 and frankly not that much better than the LG.
The 5MP Moto Z produced excellent results with a fill light. The 8MP Pixel is more about bigger pixels.
When recording in 4K/30fps, the Moto was constantly hunting for focus. It did far better in 1080p/30fps.
I suspect that the Moto Z camera will improve with subsequent firmware updates as the basic hardware is very good. It is not quite up with the Pixel yet.
But wait, there is a game changer!
Enter the $399 Moto Mod, Hasselblad, TrueZoom, 10x optical zoom, Xenon Flash with a two-stage shutter button. It adds 144g to the base — total 281g — and it is hot swappable. Interestingly, it is still quite pocketable.
In all tests it beats the Pixel for colour, detail, flash, low light – everything. Its sensor and performance are like a Canon PowerShot or Sony CyberShot dedicated point and shoot camera.
It has a 10X optical/4x digital Zoom; 12MP; 1.55 µm pixels; f/3.5-6.5 (in 35mm camera speak); 22-250mm focal length; macro; Xenon flash (good up to 3 metres and no red eye); focus assist LED; Optical image still and Electronic image video stabilisation; ISO up to 3200 (800 max recommended); saves in JPEG or RAW; and will shot in B&W as well.
In all comparable tests, it met or exceeded the Pixel and GS7. To be fair, the key reasons to buy are the zoom, flash and the lens quality – these cannot be accommodated in a flat glass slab.
I took more than 100 reference photos, and it was a battery drainer – I was down to 25% after four hours shooting. In a way, it’s a shame it cannot co-exist with the Incipio offGrid.
Video is 1080p/30fps, and it has two microphones. It works flawlessly as does the integration with the Moto Z GPS, sharing, camera app, etc.
I can see this Mod being one from which even better Pro version cameras evolve.
Screen – AMOLED
Both the Moto Z and Pixel have a 5.5” AMOLED screen and both produce similar deep blacks and vivid colours. Both are excellent screens until you compare them to the GS7 which is noticeably brighter again. Still, AMOLED is the way to go.
I like the screen menu choices. Adaptive Brightness can amp up the colours and brightness in dark conditions; it has standard colour (realistic) and Vivid (more saturation) and Daydream mode for the equivalent of a display that wakes on tap (and no notification LED).
Pixel has Night Light ( a feature of Nougat) but no Daydream mode and no notification LED.
Battery plus Moto Mod options
It has a 2600mAh battery. I had to charge it each night, and I could not find a battery saver mode.
The 3450mAh Pixel has Nougat’s Doze feature which gives two day’s use with the battery saver. That will come to the Moto.
The Moto Mod Incipio offGrid at $119 adds another 20+ hours use via the 2200mAh (total 4800mAh) and weighs 83g totalling 219g [Pixel is 168g in total]. There is also a wireless charge model at $139 (not tested). Both support fast charging via the phones USB-C port. A worthy investment, especially the wireless charege version.
Sound – Moto Mod JBL rocks
It has a snap-on, rear facing, Moto Mod JBL stereo speaker that is perfect for listening to music via the 6W (2 x 3W, 27mm) speakers. It adds 115g, has a 1000mAh battery for up to 10 hours use that can also power the phone (as a power bank) and is independently USB-C rechargeable, a flip out stand, and it does not obscure the camera.
The sound will increase to 80dbSPL which is about six times the loudness of the onboard mono speaker. The sound is, as you would expect from JBL, 200Hz-20kHz with good bass and treble. The volume is controlled by the phone buttons, and it acts as a great hands-free speaker phone.
It’s as good as a Bluetooth speaker and a lot more convenient.
I have always been disappointed by Pico Projectors – all brands and types. And to be honest, this was pretty much the same. I am not unkind so, please don’t let my quest for perfection discourage you. This $429 projector has uses for salespeople, small group boardroom presentations, and perhaps for travelling as long as you can blackout the room. If you use it with a proper projector “screen” versus a painted wall, the image is quite clear, and the colour is acceptable.
It will project a 480p (854 x 480), up to 70” image at a 400:1 contrast ratio and 50 lumens brightness. What this means is its useless in daylight or brightly lit rooms. It projects whatever is on your phone screen in portrait or landscape. It has a 10,000-hour lamp life.
It has an 1100mAh battery that is good for 60 minutes’ projection time that can be independently charged via USB-C (even when connected to the phone).
The inbuilt phone speaker is inadequate, but you can use a Bluetooth speaker. Again, it would be great if it could co-exist with the JBL speaker – perhaps in future the Mod “slice” approach will be considered.
Sorry Mr Google, I would buy this over the Pixel XL. In comparison, it is almost as good, will have Chewy Nougat, has microSD support, local Australian support, better added value apps, and is at a price that allows me to get the Moto Mods that really make this shine – and still have change!
Moto Mods are the beginning of an ecosystem – or at least I hope they are. As Danny Adamopoulos, senior director of Product Operations APAC/India, stressed, the initial Mods are just the beginning of a new ecosystem that would carry forward to next year’s Moto Z phones. “We released the software and hardware development kit — it is an open standard — and will soon be announcing three more third-party Mods. Can’t tell you what just yet but imagine that the Moto is the computer, and the Mods extend its usefulness.”
I can’t say there is anything I dislike about this phone. Let’s end on a positive note – it is so good, it ticks all the boxes, I may just buy one, and the wireless battery, and the Hasselblad camera, and the JBL speakers.