The Moto Z4 is a capable, mid-range update to the Moto Z-series that, while a bit expensive for what it’s offering, keeps the Moto Mod ecosystem going strong.
The newest member of the Z-family, the Moto Z4, looks fairly identical the Z3 series, albeit with some updates in the hardware. However, those updates are incremental at best and there isn’t a huge wow factor; especially considering the price is much more expensive than other brands in its class which actually offer more in terms of feature-set and specs. Still, this is a purposeful strategy by Motorola and you have to commend them for their commitment to continue building for and capitalizing on the Moto Mod system.
What’s in the box?
We received test units that came with the Moto 360 camera mod, presented in a sleek, red Moto Z4 box, emblazoned with an embossed silver logo and text. Also included in the box were a pair of Motorola brand “earbuds metal”, in-ear wired headphones, marked with IP54 water resistant rating and came with three size ear-gels. Rounding things out was the TurboPower™ 15W+ charger with USB-C cable, which Motorola claims to be able to charge 3x faster than a typical 5W USB charger.
What’s in the phone?
The Moto Z4 is a slight step above the Z3, with expanded processing speeds and battery capacity. The Z4 utilizes a Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 octa-core processor and an Adreno 612 GPU, along with 4GB of RAM. I had no issue working with and switching through multiple, resource heavy apps such as Netflix, Snapchat, and Instagram. I didn’t encounter any noticeable lag and save for the one instance where the camera app force closed on me when mass uploading to GDrive; I didn’t have any crashing issues.
The Z4 has double the storage space than the z3 with 128GB of internal storage, though the expandability it limited up to 512GB with a microSD card. After a week of testing, I used 13% of the onboard storage, however, I noticed the majority of the space was taken up by System files used to run Android 9 (13GB).
moto Z4 Battery and Charge
The battery has been beefed up to a new 3600mAh size that Motorola touts as being able to achieve 2 days worth of battery life. In testing, I was able to get through about a day and a half before needing to charge the battery. As I did not have a SIM card and didn’t use the cellular radio, all of my activity was done through WiFi. Your mileage will definitely vary on the battery, depending upon how often you use the WiFi and Cellular radios, as well as the types of apps you run on a daily basis. If you’re like me and are constantly on social apps and taking tons of photos you may get similar results.
There is a Battery Saver mode which will extend your battery life by turning off some device features and restricts app services like background app refreshing, the brightness of the screen, and so on. I also like the Adaptive Battery setting which limits the battery for apps that aren’t in use often. It basically sets priority levels for apps based on the frequency of use and allocates battery use accordingly. The battery setting page gives you a summary of the current battery percentage along with an estimate on how long the current charge should last which is particularly useful. There’s also data on when the last full charge occurred, how long you’ve been using the screen since that charge. When the battery finally did peter out, the TurboPower charger made quick work of the situation, bringing the charge from 0% to 100% in approximately 30 minutes (At minute sixteen I was at 50%). The charging speed was impressive and led me to use the TurboPower charger for my other Android device, the LG G8 ThinQ, where I was able to achieve comparable charging results.
Many folks will be happy to know that Motorola made it a point to bring back the 3.5mm headphone jack. That said, the sound from the included earbuds was just ok, with flat audio that didn’t provide a dynamic sound experience. While the earbuds simply work if you’re not a big stickler on sound quality, I would still suggest switching out for higher fidelity versions that allow you to hear the high, low, mid-range and bass much more effectively.
The Moto Z4 display is good, but not nearly as naturally vibrant as other screens from other manufacturers unless you turn up the brightness setting close to max and make a few system tweaks. I did notice a setting that plays with this vibrancy called Colors which gives you the options of Natural (close to what the human eye would perceive without additional tools), Boosted (higher pigmentation), and Saturated (super pigmented, less realistic). Still, the 6.4-inch OLED display offered a clear, responsive experience. At times it was too responsive, so I lowered the Pointer speed in the settings to ward off the bouts of mistakenly activating touch points on the screen. The display is still quite good, and there is less bezel this time around.
There is a small, teardrop-shaped cutout at the top of the screen for the front-facing camera, though it’s much less intrusive than the iPhone X notch. The screen also boasts a built-in fingerprint sensor that, while super slick in form and feel, it suffers in the reliability department. There were notable instances where it wouldn’t read my thumbprint despite my hands being clean, dry, and clear of debris. In those occasions, I would have to switch to my forefinger or even the fingers on my other hand to get it to work. The in-display sensor is also not as fast as the external ones, which added a few milliseconds of waiting for an unlock, compared to competitors. Thankfully there is another biometric option with Face Unlock which is more accurate and faster than the fingerprint sensor.
Unfortunately for me and my small hands, the body of the phone is pretty tall, almost reaching the heights of an iPhone 8 Plus, while having a width similar to the LG G8. What that resulted in was a constant juggling of the phone while attempting one-handed operation; to the point where I gave up and decided to use one hand to prop up the device for additional safety. Understandably larger handed people may not have much concern but it’s a constant struggle when I test devices that want to have huge screens and more skewed proportions. I think things would have fared better if I had the added comfort of a screen protector to increase the grip on the smoothness of the Gorilla Glass 3 body. One thing I really detested was the large camera bump on the back of the phone. The resulting look is a large, nickel sized, raised circle that juts out the back of the phone and is fairly ugly. If you attach a Moto Mod to the phone the bump disappears, but otherwise, you have something that disrupts the aesthetics. With regards to the phone housing, there’s no IP rating. Instead, there is a “P2i splash-proof nano-coating” for water protection. The P2i website notes that their “water repellent coatings are bonded to the surface of the phone at the molecular level and, as it is hydrophobic, water will easily exit the device, so it isn’t sitting around causing harm…it means that even if the seal is broken and water gets into the device, it is repelled from the internals, minimizing the opportunity for corrosion to start.”
moto Z4 Camera
Phone cameras are usually the factors that can make or break a phone and the Moto Z4 cameras are good. Unlike the latest flagship phones which are releasing with two (or more) rear cameras, the Moto Z4 opts for just one 48MP main camera at the rear, while the front-cam is 25MP. Upon first observation most would understand that a high count MP would result in ridiculously large files. But thanks to Moto’s Quad Pixel technology (pixel binning), the output for the rear camera will always be 12 MP.
While I was able to test the efficacy of the Night Vision camera mode at the Motorola media event, my own review unit did not even have the option. [Note: We reached out to Motorola for assistance and will provide an update.]. Nevertheless, the Night Vision mode performed fairly well, as it removed noise from the shot and the sensors worked overtime to bring in extra light which created a relatively bright photo, even when there was little to no ambient light present. Motorola employed a crafty pixel binning solution, where the camera combines multiple pixels to encourage more light in low-light shots, assisted tremendously.
In high contrast, bright daytime photos I experienced a lot of camera bounce when the sensor tried to focus on a subject. In one scenario, I was at a university graduation at Barclays center which has massive amounts of lighting and lots of monitors around. The focus bounce intensified, especially when I attempted to zoom in. Obviously, when you do any extreme zoom-in (there’s an 8x max on the z4) you’ll end up with lots of noise and blurry imagery, but I felt the noise was too much of a factor even at 2x zoom. The camera also struggled with the HDR, so I turned the feature off for better results. At the end of the day, I felt that the camera should have performed much better for the price of the device. The Google Pixel 3a is only $500 and is the camera to beat in this price range.
Moto Z4 Software
The user interface is a clean, almost stock experience of Android 9 Pie. Navigation is straightforward and there’s plenty in the way of customizations, which speaks well to the DNA of Motorola. In the unit we tested, there were no bloatware or roundabout menus, but you have your choice of installing Motorola branded apps like the Moto Body fitness and health tracking app which plays well along with the stock apps. While an update to Android Q is promised once ready, there’s no word about whether the z4 will get future OS updates.
This was my first foray into Moto Mods and I loved the ease of use. As noted, the review unit came bundled with a moto 360 camera, which easily snapped on and off the phone with a magnetic connection. Upon snapping it together, the Z4 immediately recognized the add on. It’s a foolproof process that requires no further installations. When you open the camera app, you get a 360-degree spherical panorama, sourced by two 13MP sensors. You can process 360-degree view videos in 4k at 24fps, along with 3D audio. There are three viewfinder modes: a simultaneous live image of what the front and back sensors see, stacked on top of each other; a similar view where you see the front sensor in the top frame, but the bottom frame shows a full panoramic view of both the back and front cams; and the globe which is a spherical view of what the camera sees. You can swipe to move the view around and zoom in on the fly. If necessary you can still toggle between the regular Z4 cams and the 360-cam right from the camera menu. That’s all good and well, and the 360 cam mod can have its uses, but unless you’re in optimal conditions (i.e. it’s bright and you’re outdoors) the quality will suffer greatly. There’s no real stabilization to speak of and the moment you are indoors or in a low-light situation–forget about it. The noise and image quality encounters significant degradation for both photos and videos. Some of the more adventurous among us will find a use for the mod as it does have a capable editor to help you seam together wide angle shots. You can even livestream from the 360 camera.
Despite the bit of cool that’s present for this mod, I personally wouldn’t use it often or pay the $200 it costs as an unbundled mod add on. At the launch event, there was a lot of talk about the 5G mod and the incredible speeds testers were seeing in the launch cities of Chicago and Minneapolis. While encouraging, unless you live in these cities, are a Verizon customer, and need to be first out the gate to ride those 5G waves, it probably makes more sense (especially financially) to wait until the capability has spread out to more of the country and more, true 5G phones are released.
Motorola has apparently decided that their target for the foreseeable future will be the mid-range market and all actions seem to suggest that they’re content in this space. The Moto Z4 fills in some of the gaps, but at the end of the day it’s going to have a hard time staying competitive when you have better offerings at comparable prices, like the Pixel 3a. The Z4 is relying heavily on the Moto Mod system to make it stand out, so unless you’re willing to shill out the extra coins for a 5G mod, smart speakers, a Moto Power Pack, etc. you may find yourself longing for more bang for your buck.
The Moto Z4 officially drops on June 13 and retails for $499 for the unlocked version, bundled with the Moto 360 camera mod. The Verizon version is priced at $439 and includes the 5G Moto Mod, so if you’re already a VZW customer and live in an area with 5G capabilities this is an economical way to get you on the next-gen network.