Verizon and Motorola today showed off the US versions of their Moto Z and Moto Z Force, plus a slew of MotoMods—the removable, add-on functional backs that make the Z more than the average smartphone.
We got to play with the Z, the Z Force and the mods for a little while this morning, and I’m initially very impressed. The Z is slim and powerful, and the Mods are already a far more developed ecosystem than LG Friends.
The Moto Z Droid
The first thing that hits you holding the Moto Z Droid is that it’s thin. Really thin. Motorola says that at 5.19mm, it’s the thinnest smartphone available. It’s rigid, too: it feels like glass all over, but the back is actually a slightly textured stainless steel. The main camera sits out as a huge, noticeable bump on the back, but that’s what’s going to happen when your phone is this thin.
It’s thin, but not narrow: while it has a 5.5-inch, 2,560-by-1,440 OLED screen, similar to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, it’s a tenth of an inch wider at 2.96 inches. That gives me mixed feelings: I very profoundly miss when Motorola was willing to make smaller premium smartphones. Those days are over.
This Droid looks stylish; it’s no longer heavy or aggressive. There’s no Verizon logo on the phone: only a small, tasteful “moto” below the screen. On the back, the magnetic connectors for the MotoMods add a touch of gold.
It’s always hard to judge performance in a quick hands on. The Droid Z uses a 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor like most other flagship smartphones do right now, so we’ll probably see similar performance. The Android skin doesn’t get in the way at all, and scrolling is fast. There’s a ton of undeletable Verizon bloatware, of course. I especially like Motorola’s camera app, which has always had two terrific features: you can tap anywhere on the screen to take a picture, and you can activate the camera by twisting your wrist.
Two other features make me uncomfortable. The fingerprint sensor, below the screen, isn’t a home button. It functions as an alternative on/off button. You use the virtual keys at the bottom of the screen for home. That’s unusual, and it threw me for a loop.
Most notably, though, there’s no headphone jack. Instead, there’s a wiggly USB-C-to-headphone adapter included with the phone. In a best-case scenario, you just leave it attached to your favorite headphones and don’t think about it, but it could cause a lot of grief. If Apple abandons the headphone jack, that won’t help Motorola owners, because Apple’s headphones will use a Lightning port rather than USB-C. We’re just going to have to groan and deal with a world where headphones are no longer broadly compatible.
The Moto Z Force Droid
The Moto Z Force Droid adds Motorola’s nigh-unbreakable screen technology to the Moto Z. The screen is scratchable, but very hard to shatter; I dropped it on the floor several times, hard, to prove a point. Motorola warranties the phone for four years against screen breakage. Note that only the front is made of the special material: the Gorilla Glass over the protruding camera lens on the back can still crack.
If the screen isn’t scratched, the most striking thing about the Z Force Droid is that its screen image looks nearly identical to the Z Droid. Stare at it long enough, and you might think it’s just a touch dimmer, with richer colors. But it’s very hard to see the difference.
The other main difference is that the Force is noticeably thicker than the Z Droid. It isn’t actually thick: it goes from 5.19mm to 6.99mm. That’s because it has a bigger battery and a better main camera, at 21MP rather than 13MP. If all other things stay equal, the Z Force looks like the better buy for me.
Poor LG. On day one, the Verizon/Motorola MotoMod ecosystem is already better than the LG G5‘s collection of “friends.”
MotoMods stick to the back of the phone using magnets. So far, in my initial use, they’ve stayed on, but they’re relatively easy to pull off by prying. Initial backs include various kinds of “style” backs—wood and rugged nylon, for instance—and several functional backs. My favorite, initially, is a JBL speaker with a kickstand, which puts out a lot more bass than you’re used to hearing from a phone speaker. It has an internal battery that adds 10 hours of music playback time.
The most technically impressive back is a 50-lumen projector, which threw sharp images short distances in the demo room. It has an hour of battery life on a built-in battery. There are also a slew of branded battery backs, including from Kate Spade, Incipio, and Tumi.
Geeks will thrill to the dev kit, which starts with a base breadboard and then adds “personalities” like a temperature sensor, a secondary screen, or—get this—a Raspberry Pi HAT adapter board. Motorola said you won’t need to alter your phone’s ROM to develop for these add-ons. Motorola added APIs, and hooked some of the standard Android APIs into them—although you’ll need to get Motorola’s permission if you want to start mass-producing and selling a mod.
Months after launch, LG still only has one add-on module, a camera grip, and no third-party contenders.
Verizon and Motorola are holding back the release date and price for all of these gadgets, although it’s obvious that the phones will be priced similarly to other high-end smartphones, and they’ll be released quite soon. The story is only likely to get better when unlocked devices compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile appear around the end of the summer. We’ll have a full review soon.