Lenovo's latest smartphone, the Moto Z, is a huge departure in both style and substance from its immediate predecessor. But are all the changes for the better? Let's take a quick look at how the brand new Moto Z lines up against its predecessor, the Moto X Pure Edition, in our (admittedly brief) time spent with the phones together.
The spec numbers don't always tell the whole story, but when you can compare a phone directly to its predecessor, the spec table is a good place to start.
|Category||Moto Z||Moto X Pure Edition|
|Operating system||Android 6.0||Android 6.0|
|Processor||Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 820 processor||Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 808 processor|
Quad HD (2560x1440)
Quad HD (2560x1440)
|Expandability||MicroSD up to 2 TB||MicroSD up to 128 GB|
|Rear Camera||13MP, OIS, ƒ/1.8
1.12um pixels, laser autofocus
|Front camera||5MP, f/2.2, 1.4um pixels
|5MP, f/2.0, 1.4um pixels
|Water resistance||Water-repellent coating||Water-repellent coating|
|Fingerprint||One-touch fingerprint sensor||No|
8 hrs battery in 15 min
10 hrs battery in 15 min
|Moto Mods support||Yes||No|
|Dimensions||153.3 x 75.3 x 5.19 mm||153.9 x 76.2mm x 11.06 mm|
Hardware and Display
To say that the Moto Z looks nothing like the Moto X Pure Edition would be betraying the subtle nods to previous Moto models, but Lenovo's design team certainly went out of its way to distinguish the new handset. Thinner and considerably less round, the Moto Z looks like it built to be as minimal as possible — which, of course, it was. The phone is a shell onto which other accessories are meant to be added, but without any accompaniments it still feels remarkably solid. That is owed to the combination of aluminum and stainless steel, the former wrapped around the sides and the latter covering the back as a way to attract the magnets used by the Moto Mods to align with the Moto Z's pogo pins.
The Moto X Pure Edition, on the other hand, is rather bulbous — comfortable, sure, and attractive in an oversized way — with a rounded top and a back that slopes around a curved 3000 mAh battery. While some people, such as our own Phil Nickinson, don't love the Pure Edition's evolutionary aesthetic — it's clearly a larger combination of the original Moto X and its 2014 successor — I have a soft spot for it. The rounded back makes it comfortable to hold for long periods, and the employment of symmetrical lines on the front is delightful. Inside, the 2600 mAh battery may not be huge, but the Snapdragon 820 chip is more efficient than the Pure Edition's S810 (and Moto Mods make it easy to top up halfway through the day).
That symmetry is halted on then Moto Z, since the bottom speaker is replaced by the same square fingerprint sensor we first saw on the Moto G4 Plus. And while having a fingerprint sensor is better than not having one, I'm not enamored with the design Lenovo chose — though, to be fair, Samsung and HTC have the "rounded rectangle", and Apple, LG and others have the circle, so there weren't many other shape options.
Then there's the ultimate omission: the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack will force music output through the USB-C port
The Moto Z also deviates from the Moto X Pure in its button and ports: the power button is now below the volume keys, which are now separated; on the Moto X Pure, the volume rocker sits below the power button. And they feel considerably better on the Moto Z, too. In fact, many facets of the Moto Z feel like more care was taken to make the whole feel more compelling. And of course there's the ultimate omission: the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack will force music output through the USB-C port (in higher quality, natch) or over Bluetooth headphones, a contentious move that will be made more mainstream after other devices are released later this year with the same absence.
The Moto Z may have a slightly denser display than last year's Moto X Pure Edition, but its real advantage, at least after our initial evaluation, is in the quality. The Moto Z has a 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED display, and it's superb: bright and colorful, with excellent viewing angles and vibrancy. The Moto X's IPS panel is no slouch, either, but I'll take a great AMOLED display over an IPS equivalent any day. We didn't get a chance to take the Moto Z outside, though, so we're not sure how it stands up to the harshness of a bright day.
Around back is where things get really interesting. My Moto X Pure was a custom Moto Maker version, with black accents and a red leather backing. Whereas the Moto G and E lines have always had some form of snap-in customizability, the Moto X line has only been as changeable as your day-of-ordering tastes. The Moto Z line takes a page from its less expensive counterparts with hot swappable back covers in a variety of materials, such as wood, leather, or rubberized plastic. These affix to the phone, as do the more elaborate Moto Mods, with strong magnets that take a significant amount of force to dislodge.
While the Moto Z is usable with no back cover, the stainless steel casing is prone to attracting fingerprints, and is fairly slippery. And with a back cover on, the camera module is flush with the phone's back, making for a more uniform aesthetic.
The Moto X Pure Edition is certainly an attractive phone, but I have no qualms in saying its successor is more so. Much more.
We didn't get a chance to dive as deeply into the software on the Moto Z as we wanted to — and technically, what we used at the device's launch was the Verizon-specific Moto Z Droid Edition — but we noted a couple of improvements in the Moto features that has graced the Moto X since its inception.
A great new feature enables a one-handed mode by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, anywhere in the UI.
As with the Moto X Pure Edition, the Moto Z has a single app, simply called Moto, that oversees all of the unique software features. While it appears that Moto Display has been updated to support larger, more visual notifications, the biggest changes we saw were in Moto Actions. The Moto Z still supports double-chopping the phone while on its side to turn on the flashlight, along with two quick twists of the wrist to enter the camera app, but a new feature enables a one-handed mode by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. When enabled, the entire interface shrinks to about half its size, leaving a black expanse on the rest of the screen. Tapping in that black area resets the scaling. It's a feature not unique to the Moto Z — Samsung's Galaxy line has offered something similar for years — but this is easily the most elegant application I've seen.
The Moto Z also supports Moto Voice, though we weren't able to determine whether the phone has gained any intelligence is that regard over its Moto X predecessor.
The 21MP camera in the Moto X Pure Edition is fine, but even in mid-2015 it was nowhere near best-in-class. This year, the Moto Z has reverted back to a 13MP sensor (with the Force variant maintaining a 21MP resolution, but in an updated sensor), with 1.12-micron pixels and an ƒ/1.8 lens. A wider aperture begets improved depth of field, but the real advantage over previous Moto devices is the presence, for the first time in a Moto device, of optical image stabilization, along with laser-assisted autofocus.
The Moto Z also has a much-improved camera app, the same one that we first saw in the Moto G4 Plus. It's got an actual shutter button, along with an improved menu layout.
On the selfie side, it seems that the Moto Z hasn't received any particular upgrades — the 5MP sensor has the same 1.4-micron pixel size, and a slightly smaller ƒ2.2 aperture than the Moto X Pure Edition. The phone even maintains he Pure Edition's front-facing flash, the usefulness of which I don't understand, since in dark locations it tends to overexpose the subject's face.
We're pretty excited about the Moto Z's camera: it's about time the Moto line got itself a photography champion. Don't let us down, Lenovo!
A distinct break away from the Moto X line
There is no question the Moto Z is a distinct break from the X line — which may not be dead — with its straight, clean lines and magnets. But there are also a lot of similarities, and the Moto Z wouldn't exist without its predecessors' commitment to simplicity, especially on the software side.
While the Moto Mods are nice, they're not necessary to love, or even enjoy, the Moto Z. The phone is a stunning example of ambition that doesn't distract from the core promise of quality.