Motorola’s Moto Z smartphone redefines the meaning of mobility

Apple must be wondering how its designers were caught asleep at the innovation switch by Moto Mods

Motorola’s Moto Z smartphone redefines the meaning of mobility

Lately, reviewing Android phones has become difficult—difficult because the quality of the phones has become so consistently good. Android reached parity with iOS with the Kitkat release. Since then the component quality spiked upwards, delivering clear and colorful screens, smooth performance and long battery life at decreasing price points. It leaves the reviewer with little to nitpick over other than the cameras. And recently, the difference in camera quality in all but the economy-tier improved dramatically.

The Moto Z Droid and the Moto Z Force change this with Moto Mods, an ingenious way to add hardware features. Management at One Infinite Loop must be wondering how Apple’s designers were caught asleep at the innovation switch.

The Z Droid and the Z Force are flagship top-tier phones, but the place to start is with Moto Mods because the high expectations for flagship phones from companies like Motorola, Samsung and HTC are rarely unmet. But Moto Mods is a real differentiator in the top-tier, hard-to-differentiate flagship category. Motorola engineered lightweight add-on hardware modules: an LCD projector, boom box speakers and a 2,200 mAh battery that adds 22 hours of battery capacity. Motorola promised that the Moto Mods would operate with new phones released in the future.

I demonstrated the Moto Mods to a group of virtual reality and mobile professionals. All were impressed, especially with the Insta-Share projector, and at the same time they were disappointed because Moto Mods won’t work with their Apple, Samsung and HTC phones.

The Motorola-designed modules add unique functionality that Motorola expects third-party consumer electronics companies to extend into new application-specific Moto Mods to create an ecosystem. If a vibrant ecosystem emerges, Motorola will have achieved an engineering coup in the mobile industry. Later this summer, Motorola plans to open up Moto Mods to third-party developers with the release of designs and software called the Moto Mods Development Kit (MDK.)

Using a magnetic to attach these modules simplifies connecting them with a snap. Magnets are a better alternative than mechanical fasteners that can wear and break. Human interaction with Moto Mods explains the merits in this video:  

Moto Mods available

Insta-Share projector: Less than a half-inch thick and weighing 4.5 ounces, the Insta-Share projector turns a Moto Z into a projector. The chart below compares the Insta-Share to the Asus S1, one of the popular and highly ranked portable projectors sold by Amazon. Few compromises were made in achieving Insta-Share’s small form factor.

moto insta share projector Steven Max Patterson

JBL SoundBoost Speaker: Many flagship phones have high-quality dual speakers built in (one at the top and another at the bottom), reproducing fairly good sound quality using algorithms from Beats By Dre,  Dolby and JBL. But the small and dense phone form factor is a compromise to faithful reproduction of recorded music. In the confined space of a phone enclosure, speaker drivers have to be smaller and less powerful to produce less heat, and smaller speaker drivers and smaller speakers can’t produce the same frequency ranges, especially bass.

Most smartphone speakers operate at about 0.5 watts, and the SoundBoost speakers operate at 3 watts each. The SoundBoost module won’t compete with a 100-watt stereo or please a large dancing crowd, but it produces quality sound without the tininess from a smartphone’s limited low-frequency response. SoundBoost speakers will please a small group with music or provide rich sound without earphones while watching a video.

Incipio Offgrid power pack: The snap-on battery adds 2,220 mAh of power to the Moto Z Droid’s 2,600-mAh and the Force’s 3,500-mAh battery. The 0.25-in. thickness added by the battery is barely noticeable when attached to the backs of the Droid and Force. The simplicity of the magnetized snap-on connection makes adding a battery more convenient than opening the phone and swapping the battery or stopping to use the Moto Z quick-charge feature that charges the phone’s battery to 50 percent in 20 minutes. Motorola claims the Power Pack will add up to 22 hours of operation.

While connected to the Moto Z, the battery can be recharged using a wireless charger or while the phone is connected to a Type C USB charger, or when disconnected on a wireless charger. When powering the phone, the power pack continually charges the phone's battery as it discharges, keeping the battery fully charged until the power pack is drained.

Moto Z Force camera: The 21-megapixel rear camera produces excellent indoor and outdoor photos. Images taken with the Z Force camera and the Nexus 6p camera are compared below. The Nexus 6P rear camera was chosen because it was widely reviewed and highly ranked. The Nexus 6P with a 12.3MP image sensor and large 1.55-micron pixels that capture more light per pixel is a different design. The two cameras have different settings, making an exact comparison impossible. Z Force also has optical image stabilization (OIS); the Nexus 6P doesn’t. Both have High Dynamic Range (HDR). The photos were shot at the highest resolution available for each phone; the Z Force was set at 21MP and the Nexus 6P at 12.2MP.

Camera reviewer DxOMark gave the Z Force a top score of 87, just behind the HTC 10 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. The Nexus 6P ranks 84 on the index, along with the Apple iPhone 6s Plus and the Samsung Galaxy 6S Edge.

The Moto Z Force landscape image below is warmer. Ignoring this, the depth of field of both images is very good. The high-resolution image sensor produced a well-balanced and high-contrast exposure, delivering more detail.

moto z force landscape image Steven Max Patterson

Moto Z Force’s 22MP camera caught more light, producing a warmer image, exposing more detail than the Nexus 6P.

nexus 6p landscape image Steven Max Patterson

Same scene using the Nexus 6P

The Moto Z is a smartphone, too

As anticipated nothing unexpected turned up in reviewing the Z Force and the Z Droid smartphones. The build quality is top-notch. The components are exceptional. Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with up to 2.2GHz quad-core CPU with an Adreno 530 GPU running Android Marshmallow, operation is smooth and fast. The screen is a 1440p Quad HD AMOLED display (2560x1440) at 535 ppi protected by Corning Gorilla Glass. It comes with 4GB RAM and optionally 32GB or 64GB of ROM. In addition to internal memory, it has a MicroSD slot that can take a 128GB ROM card today and, when the memory manufacturers deliver it, up to a 2TB card.

With a glass and aluminum construction, in black with protective trim, the Moto Z is thoughtfully designed but doesn’t standout compared to many flagship phones, like the Nexus 6P. Colorful shells can be added to personalize the back of the phone. The Moto Zs tested are Verizon-specific models, though it seems like later year this year a new Moto Z will be sold by Motorola through its Motomaker ecommerce site that lets consumers configure more colors and design options.

Moto Z Force vs. the Moto Z Droid

These two phones differ on just a couple of points. Most noticeably, Moto Z Force is guaranteed to be shatterproof like the Turbo 2. Though this quality wasn’t tested, the Turbo 2 was dropped on brick and cement without damage. The Moto Z Droid isn’t guaranteed to be shatterproof.

The Z Force has the 22MP, while the Z Droid has 13MP. The Z Force has a larger battery and charges more quickly. Both can be used with Moto Mods. Given the $100 difference in price, the Z Force seems a better choice, especially for the consumer who is prone to dropping phones.

Pricing and availability

Moto Z Droid: $624

Moto Z Force: $720

Insta-Share projector: $299

Sound Booster Speakers: $89

Incipio Battery Pack: $59.99 to $89.99 branded by TUMI and Kate Spade New York.

Availability: Pre-order now from Verizon and available July 28

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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