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Review: Lenovo’s Moto Z smartphone – pricey add-ons a stumbling block

Lenovo acquired Motorola Mobility from Google early 2015, and soon released that year’s flagship Moto X and a number of other models offering bang for the buck. The modular Moto Z is the Chinese company’s first really innovative Moto smartphone.

Design and hardware

The Moto Z is super thin, at just 5.2mm. As a result, heat from the processor can be easily felt, though it dissipates quickly. The back of the phone is flat for connectivity or future modular compatibility. The positioning of the power and volume buttons – all evenly spaced on the right side of the phone – is not ideal, as it’s easy to press the wrong one.

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The fingerprint sensor on the front bottom of the phone is fast and accurate but it’s overly sensitive, so brushing against it – which happens often – would result in regular and distracting vibration.

Moto Z traded the 3.5mm headphone jack in favour of a USB-C and an adapter dongle that are awkward to use and ugly to look at. Speaking of looks, at first glance the Moto Z is a boring black slab. But it’s possible to pair it with Moto style shells of different colours and in premium materials, a selection of which come with the phone.

Features

The two modules of interest are the JBL speaker and the Hasselblad camera.

The JBL Sound Boost is a powered set of speakers and gets its own built-in battery pack. It proves to be a far better alternative to the one puny ear piece speaker on the Moto Z. It excels in producing well-rounded audio at good volume levels, though the bass lacks punch and the sounds of different instruments are not accentuated.

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The stand is a nice touch, and necessary, as it allows the phone to stand up horizontally and let the sound escape from beneath its body. The built-in battery is dedicated to the speakers so is not designed to charge the phone. The idea is it won’t be drawing power off the anorexic Moto Z. It does add 145 grams and a whopping 13mm to the phone.

The Hasselblad module features a camera with a 10x optical zoom lens. It has a little indent lined with foam in which the Moto Z’s camera hump sits when it’s snapped onto the phone’s back. Operation-wise, it’s flexible, and works with any other third party camera app, but otherwise just uses the default camera app on the phone.

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It has a physical power button, and one press will open the protector, extend the lens and load the camera app automatically. There is a zoom rocker, which is a little too sensitive, typically resulting in an all-or-nothing zoom.

Photo quality is, sadly, a mixed bag. For a device with 10x zoom as its selling point, it’s not so great when zoomed images come out a bit too soft. Even daytime photos can be noisy. The natural colours in pictures taken without zoom are a plus, however, and photos taken in low light and at night fare better than those taken on the Moto Z’s camera because of superior exposure. The quality of its videos is unimpressive.

The Moto Z’s built-in camera is surprisingly good under proper lighting, but that’s not to say it’s a great camera. Colours are vibrant, perhaps leaning slightly towards the artificial. Close-up macro shots are quite detailed.

Things take a turn for the worse by night though. Its night mode works similarly to HDR (high dynamic range) by taking several photos then combining them together for the best effect. This works to a degree but forces the user to hold the phone still to produce a sharp image – which is often very difficult.

Performance and battery

The Snapdragon 820 processor combined with the Moto Z’s near-stock OS (Android Marshmallow) means everything moves along at a good pace. There is also rarely any battery drain, which is quite refreshing. It’s just as well because the battery, while surprisingly large at 2600 mAh in such a slim body, struggles to hang on through a 14-hour day with medium usage – unless you buy the Incipio battery pack.

Conclusion

The Moto Z comes with some real innovation in both design and functionality. However, if you’ve already paid HK$4,999 for the phone, would you spend HK$900 for the Incipio battery pack? Or HK$999 for the JBL speakers? Or HK$3,399 for the Hasselblad camera?

Had the Moto Z been priced more competitively, the modular concept would have made much more sense. If Moto can bring more third parties on board and bring prices down, then this could well take off.

Dimensions: 75.3mm x 155.3mm x 5.19mm

Weight: 136g

Screen size: 5.5 inches

Screen resolution: 2560×1440 pixels QuadHD

Battery: 2600 mAh

OS: Android 6.0.1

Processor: Snapdragon 820

Cameras: 13 megapixels (rear), 5 megapixels (front)

Memory: 4GB RAM, 64GB ROM

Colours: Black

Price: HK$4,999 (includes style shells)