Motorola has a long history of slim phones. First there was the RAZR in 2004, the device that showed phones could look cool. In 2011-2012, there were Droid RAZRs, Android smartphones with slim steel frames. The RAZRs' spiritual successor, the Moto Z Droid ($620 for 32GB; $674 for 64GB on Verizon), is one of the slimmest smartphones available; only the low-end Blu Vivo Air LTE is thinner. The Z Droid is a powerful, good-looking device, and its MotoMods set of replaceable backs are a genuinely useful innovation. But its performance doesn't measure up to its larger sibling, and our Editors' Choice, the Moto Z Force Droid.
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The Moto Z Droid measures 6.10 by 2.96 by 0.20 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.8 ounces. That's lighter, but wider and taller, than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (5.95 by 2.83 by 0.30 inches, 5.54 ounces), and I find it just a bit too wide to use with one hand. Some of the phone's height goes into the perplexing placement of a fingerprint sensor under the screen, which works as a screen on/off button, but not as a home button. The phone is a big slab of glass and metal, with a Gorilla Glass screen and a black stainless steel back. Power and volume buttons are on the right side, and the combination SIM/microSD card slot sits on top.
The 13-megapixel main camera forms a large bump on the back, but you likely notice it because you'll have a magnetic back attached to the phone. The Moto Z platform allows for MotoMods, which are functional backs that clip onto the phone, adding features or just changing the look; a basic wooden back costs $14.99 and neutralizes the camera bump. I'll discuss these in greater detail below.
The phone's 5.5-inch, 2,560-by-1,440 AMOLED screen is gorgeous: it has the deep, saturated colors and perfect blacks you expect from AMOLED, and in brightness, it appears to fall just a touch short of the spectacular Samsung Galaxy S7.
One thing you won't find is a headphone jack. I'll get to that.
Call Quality, Networking, and Power
The Moto Z phones have a loud, harsh earpiece tone when making phone calls. It definitely punches through background noise, but I found that it rendered my voice rather nasal (and my voice certainly doesn't need help in that regard). But the volume is powerful, both on the earpiece and the speakerphone. I was more impressed with call transmission quality, because noise cancellation in the microphone is just terrific.
The Z phones use LTE bands 2/3/4/5/7/13. Technically, they're unlocked, but don't rush out to buy one for another carrier: Unlocked global models with no Verizon bloatware will arrive around the end of the summer, so if you aren't on Verizon, wait. The global models have better LTE roaming, and also have HSPA+ 1700 and LTE bands 12 and 17, which are needed for the best coverage on AT&T and T-Mobile.
The Moto Z had solid LTE signal performance in testing, but it perplexingly fell behind on Wi-Fi. I'm wondering if there's a firmware issue here, as I saw on early units of the HTC 10.
As usual with high-end devices, the Moto Z kept up with the Galaxy S7 and Moto Z Force when close to a Wi-Fi router, but it dropped off much more sharply at the edge of the Wi-Fi cell, giving me 1-2Mbps down when the other phones were able to find 7-12Mbps.
Battery life is fine, if not spectacular, at just under six hours of screen-on video streaming time over LTE. I got the same result on the Z Force, though the Z Force has a larger 3,500mAh battery that I suspect will outperform the Z after some tuning with a future software update.
Because of their magnetic backs, there's no wireless charging for the Z series (there may be a wireless charging mod, though). The Z comes with a 3.6A fast charger. It charged the phone to 25 percent within 15 minutes, and 24 percent more in the next 15 minutes, taking a little over an hour to fully charge the phone's 2,600mAh battery.
Android and Software
The Moto Z Force runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Motorola's typically low-key extensions. Motorola insists that it will get an Android 7.0 Nougat upgrade, but I think Verizon will hold that up for months.
Benchmark results are quite similar to other phones with a 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM, like the Galaxy S7. That's a good thing, as these are the most powerful phones available today. All of the Snapdragon 820 phones tend to score around 5400-5500 on Geekbench. I got 150,000 on the Antutu benchmark, which bests both the OnePlus 3 (at 141,000) and the Galaxy S7 (at 123,000.) The difference is largely in the UX tests; Samsung's skin slows its phones down, while Motorola's lighter touch pays off in speed.
Motorola's few software extensions have been around since the 2013 Moto X. Moto Display lights up the time and notifications when you put your hand near the screen, which I find very convenient; it's a good balance between battery life and always-on display functionality. The phone also has some gesture controls, such as flipping it over to mute the ringer. Otherwise, Motorola still, fortunately, doesn't mess with Google's launcher, and doesn't give you competing photo and music apps—it's Google Photos and Google Play Music all the way.
The OS build takes up 8.37GB of the phone's 32GB, largely thanks to Verizon's bloatware. There are a dozen preloaded Verizon apps on these Droids. A few egregious games are deletable, but you're stuck with NFL Mobile, Slacker, and VZ Navigator for life.
Fortunately, there's a microSD card slot as part of the SIM slot in the top. It supports all the card sizes currently available, and is compatible with Google's Adoptable Storage, which makes SD cards work like internal storage.
Camera and Multimedia
The Moto Z has a 13-megapixel main camera and a 5-megapixel front camera. Camera quality falls noticeably behind the 12-megapixel Galaxy S7, though. Outside, everything looks a little smoothed by default, and exposures don't bring out quite the level of highlights that the Galaxy S7 or the Moto Z Force do. In low light, images are a little dimmer and blurrier than the Galaxy S7. Pictures from the Moto Z Force are brighter than the plain Z, but noisier; I happen to be biased toward noisy rather than dim.
The two Moto Zs share the same 5-megapixel front camera. In good light, they take sharper selfies than the Galaxy S7 does. In low light, the S7 manages to pull somewhat better highlights out of images with the front-facing camera.
Video-wise, the phone has no trouble recording 4K video at 30 frames per second with its main camera, or 1080p video with the front camera. It also records 720p video at up to 120fps for slow-motion playback.
The Moto Zs are the first major smartphones to come without a 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead, you get a headphone-to-USB-C dongle (pictured above) in the box. (The phone can output analog audio over the USB-C port.) This is annoying, especially because you can't charge your phone while listening to wired headphones, but it's also something we're likely to start seeing a lot more of in the future. You're not getting any special audio quality for your sacrifice—the Z Force doesn't have the richness you get on the HTC 10. It looks like this was done mostly to keep the phone thin.
There are no USB-C headphones on the market yet. In three days, I've already misplaced the small headphone dongle several times. The best idea is just to keep it attached to your favorite headphones. Honestly, I'd just go with Bluetooth headphones for the phone, which will help you get around any charging issues.
The Z series' most exciting feature is Moto Mods. As mentioned earlier, these are magnetic accessories that add features to the phones. All Moto Mods are compatible with both the Z and the Z Force.
Initially, Motorola is launching with a half dozen. Basic back plates in soft-touch plastic, wood, and metallic materials will cost $14.99. TUMI and Kate Spade power backs cost $59.99 to 89.99. The $79.99 JBL SoundBoost is a large add-on speaker with a kickstand that lets the phone play room-filling sound, with far better bass than the internal speakers provide. And the Moto Insta-Share projector is a 50-lumen projector with an hour of battery life for $299.99. We'll review these in the upcoming weeks.
For geeks, the most exciting mod is the one that can be anything: the $129.99 Developers Kit. There are a few sample "personality cards" that go on top of the basic dev breadboard, but the one to pay the most attention to lets you attach any Raspberry Pi HAT module. Motorola tells me that Mod will come with all the software necessary to develop for the phone; it didn't specify whether that includes rooting or unlocking the bootloader.
Snap on a Moto Mod and a settings screen pops up. With the mods I've tested, the most important aspect of that screen is that it lets you monitor the battery in the Mod, as well as make minor settings changes, like telling the battery back when it can charge the phone, and setting auto-keystoning on the projector. It's a very smooth, streamlined experience. I think lots of people are going to buy battery backs.
Comparisons and Conclusions
The Motorola Moto Z Droid packs a lot into a very slim package. Were there no Force version, it would be a close second to the Galaxy S7 series. Motorola's Android software is better than Samsung's, and the Moto Mods are genuinely compelling add-ons. But camera and Wi-Fi performance are important, and in those regards, the Galaxy S7 pulls ahead slightly.
But you don't need to compromise. The Moto Z Force Droid gives you the Moto Mods, a bigger battery, a nearly unbreakable screen with a four-year warranty, a sharper camera, and better Wi-Fi performance. If you're going to spend $600 on a phone, you might as well spend $700. Go out and get a Moto Z Force.