This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read their continuously updated list of deals atTheWirecutter.com.
You may have already seen Engadget posting reviews from our friends atThe Wirecutter. Now, from time to time, we’ll also be publishing their recommended deals on some of their top picks. Read on, and strike while the iron is hot — some of these sales could expire mighty soon.
Verilux HappyLight Deluxe 10,000 LUX sunshine simulator
Street price: $130; MSRP: $190; Deal price: $80
Only the second time we’ve posted a deal on this lamp, and it’s a huge drop below the last price we posted, which was $108. This blows past that, dropping all the way down to $80, though you’ve got to be a Prime member to get this discount.
The Verilux HappyLight Deluxe is our runner-up pick for the best light therapy lamp. Kit Dillon said, “It has many of the same features as the Day-Light Classic Plus, including UV-free, 10,000-lux light and a large 200-square-inch face. Unlike the Day-Light Classic Plus, the HappyLight is not adjustable by height and angle, though that makes it a less cumbersome light overall. In fact, upright designs like this one will project light further than adjustable units; the HappyLight promises a 10,000-lux intensity up to 14 inches away from its surface—that’s two inches further than our top pick provides.”
Samsung SmartThings Hub
Street price: $100; MSRP: $100; Deal price: $79
We’ve only posted this price once in the past, though it did drop this low one other time that we missed. This is part of a larger Samsung SmartThings sale that’s available until the 10th, so if you’re considering upgrading multiple devices, it’s a great time to buy.
The Samsung SmartThings Hub is our pick for the best smart hub. Jon Chase wrote, “The Samsung SmartThings Hub is a polished, powerful option for tech-savvy DIYers who have a desire for an integrated smart home but lack the budget for or interest in a professionally installed system. It’s easy to set up on your home network, and pairing it with other smart devices is largely seamless.”
He went on to say, “We did extensive research on hubs in general and the SmartThings hub in particular, and believe our experience is consistent with the reviews and findings of most other outlets: Namely, of all the hubs on the market, the Samsung SmartThings Hub is the most powerful and promising, but is best suited to devout tinkerers and those willing to spend a fair amount of time tweaking and refining their smart-home system.”
Philips Hue white and color Ambiance A19 bulbs
Street price: $60; MSRP: $60; Deal price: $50
This is a nice $10 drop from the usual $60 price on this LED bulb. It rarely drops in price at all, and if you’re planning to buy multiple bulbs for your house, the savings add up.
The Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 is our pick from the LED smart bulb starter kit we recommend in the best smart LED light bulbs guide. Grant Clauser wrote, “The Philips Hue A19 color-changing smart LEDs are the all-around best smart bulbs you can buy. The Hue does everything its competitors do, but a wider product and app ecosystem allows for more flexibility and creativity than any other smart bulb. It costs a bit more than the average smart bulb, but wide compatibility with other products and systems, such as Apple’s HomeKit, Samsung’s SmartThings hub, and Amazon’s Alexa, mean you’ll be able to do more with them than other bulbs; this makes them a more practical long-term investment.”
Refurbished Motorola SB6183 SURFboard cable modem
Street price: $84 (new); MSRP: $100 (new); Deal price: $55
We haven’t posted too many deals on the SB6183 since the SB6141 is usually a much better value, but at $55 for a refurbished model, we think this is worth it That puts it only $15 above the best price we’ve ever seen on refurbished models of the SB6141, and for those of you with faster internet plans, that’s likely worth the upgrade. This comes with a 90 day warranty.
The Motorola SB6183 SURFboard is the upgrade pick in our guide on the best cable modem. David Murphy said, “It supports double the download speeds of the SB6141, but few Internet plans offer that much speed. You’ll need it only if you subscribe to a plan like Time Warner’s 300Mbps Ultimate tier, found in locations like Los Angeles, New York City, and Austin.”
He added, “If you’re not paying a ton of money for these super-fast plans, our upgrade pick is overkill. Our primary pick, an 8×4 cable modem, gives you plenty of overhead for your service.”
Deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go to The Wirecutter.com.
Well, that was fast. It’s been just over a month since the Moto Z and Moto Z Force landed in the US and Motorola has already cooked up another phone to go with them. The new Moto Z Play is the last and least expensive member of the Moto Z Family, and you’ll be able to nab one for yourself in the US starting on September 8. Sounds all well and good, but here’s the big question: How does Motorola’s modular vision scale down to more modest smartphones? Pretty well, actually.
But first, a quick note. The Z Play will set you back $408 when it launches or $17 a month if you’re cool with installment plans. Unfortunately, Z Play is still going to be a Verizon exclusive in the US for at least a month or so. After that, you’ll be able to buy a fully unlocked version of the original, svelte Moto Z and the Z Play in October. One word: finally.
Moving on, the Moto Z Play packs an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 and 3GB of RAM. It’s a decidedly mid-range chip compared to the high-powered 820 Moto Z fans are used to, but it was still more than enough to keep things moving briskly. Swiping through apps, playing a few games, snapping on MotoMods all willy-nilly — none of this threw the Z Play for a loop.
Meanwhile, the 16-megapixel camera around the back churned out better shots than expected. For those of you keeping count, that’s actually a higher resolution than the super-slim Moto Z can shoot at, but I prefer the latter’s detail a little more. Shots taken with the Z Play were bright and had nicely rendered colors, though there were a few occasions where I got some strangely soft edges even in broad daylight. On the plus side, the camera packs a dual-focus system that leans both on phase detection and a laser-focusing module to quickly acquire targets.
The software situation was what you’d expect. As usual, Motorola gave us a mostly stock version of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow festooned with its intelligent gesture tricks — think twisting the phone to launch the camera and waving your hand over the screen to see the time and your notifications. I didn’t notice any major differences in performance between the Z Play and the either of the other Moto Zs I had lying around — a testament to the power you can squeeze out of an ostensibly mid-range chip. And since it’s a Verizon device, expect plenty of bloatware to greet you: I counted 14 pre-loaded apps I wanted nothing to do with. (The Amazon and Audible apps are here as well, but at least they’re useful.)
Anyway, toss all that into a glass-and-metal body and throw in a bright 5.2-inch screen running at 1080p and you’ve got the Moto Z Play in a nutshell. It’s familiar, it’s cheap and — believe it or not — it’s a little more special than you’d think.
Its battery life is pretty insane, for one. The combination of the power-sipping Snapdragon 625, Marshmallow’s Doze feature and a 3,510mAh battery means the Z Play often stuck around for more than two days of pretty consistent mixed usage. If you’re an especially light user, expect to see it last for closer to four full days before needing a charge. Not bad at all. The battery here is actually a little bigger than the one in the US-only Moto Z Force, making it one of the biggest batteries Motorola has ever produced in a phone (only the earlier Moto X Force tops it, at 3,760mAh). Oh, and there’s another thing.
It has a headphone jack.
Some facepalmed when Motorola removed that classic port from the Moto Z and Moto Z Force, but the company remained steadfast. It’s the way of the future, they claimed, and other players would follow suit. (Hint: Motorola was talking about Apple). Motorola might be right about this sea change in audio interfaces, and to be fair, the USB Type-C dongles they included with those earlier Moto Zs worked just fine. Still, I had to ask: Doesn’t this look like Motorola’s trying to bounce back from a controversy? To hear Motorola’s spokespeople tell it, there’s a headphone jack here simply because the design of the Z Play’s logic board had room for it. That’s it. Motorola wasn’t compromising on its vision or responding to a backlash — spokespeople say the company saw an opportunity and went for it. Sounds like spin to me, but whatever, we’ve got a headphone jack again!
For now, the Z Play seems to strike a commendable balance between price and performance — stay tuned as we see if that first impression holds up.
We’re live all week from Berlin, Germany, for IFA 2016. Click here to catch up on all the news from the show.
Remember the days before the Moto Z launched, when a mysterious camera MotoMod was leaked along with a handful of other snap-on accessories? Remember when the Z and Z Force launched, and that camera was nowhere in sight? Well, the wait is (almost) over. Motorola just revealed the fruit of its close collaboration with Hasselblad today — the $250 True Zoom — and it’s set to launch on September 15th.
Like, say, Sony’s peculiar lens cameras, the True Zoom replaces the 13/16/23-megapixel on the back of whichever Moto Z you happen to own. Instead, you’ll start working with a 1/2.3-inch 18.9-megapixel with big (think 1.55 micron) pixels and a 10x optical zoom. You’ll probably notice a few things right off the bat. First off, everything’s really well constructed. The mod itself is light, and when it’s strapped to a Moto Z the textured grip is easy to hold on to and the zoom rocker around the shutter button works like a charm. With a big lens housing, a xenon flash and dark trim, the whole thing looks exactly like a pricey point-and-shoot from a distance. More importantly, the True Zoom behaves like one, too.
Early test JPEG and RAW shots came out remarkably crisp in both bright and low-light conditions, just as you’d expect from a sensor with pixels that big. (Friendly reminder: Fretting about megapixels is almost completely pointless these days.) That crispness persists even when you’re zoomed in all the way, which is frankly incredible. Think about it: The more you zoom, the more the minute motions of your hands get magnified. Lackluster stabilization would make for a Monet-like soft image at best and a hot blurry mess at worst, but the True Zoom does an incredible job of keeping things tight and focused.
You can even reach beyond the limits of lens thanks to an additional 4X digital zoom, but really, you’re better off steering clear. That’s nothing against Hasselblad — digital zoom is just by nature a lousy compromise. (Alas, a pre-release software update basically bricked our True Zoom demo unit so we’ll update this story with sample photos once we get another to play with.)
Frankly, it’s a little strange to see Hasselblad dabbling with smartphone accessories of all things. In case you’re not familiar, the storied Swedish company specializes in expensive medium format cameras — at time of writing, the cheapest new Hasselblad camera on the market will set you back more than $6,000. To hear company spokespeople tell the tale, Hasselblad has been exploring more consumer-friendly options for a while, and Motorola’s high-speed MotoMod connector was intriguing because of how seamlessly it allows third-party hardware to meld with the host device. Speaking of seamless, the True Zoom also plays nice with third-party camera apps, though whether you need them is another story. The stock Moto Camera app has been tricked out with extra scene modes and presets for sports and night photography.
What we have here isn’t Hasselblad at its most ambitious, but Hasselblad at its weirdest, its most experimental. The jury’s still out on whether anyone actually wants (or needs) to carry something like this around, but hey — there’s still something to be said for ambitious, elegant weirdness. Stay tuned for more as we continue our testing.
We’re live all week from Berlin, Germany, for IFA 2016. Click here to catch up on all the news from the show.
In June, Motorola unveiled its VerveLife line of “lifestyle” products, with the VerveOnes+ wireless earbuds being the first to go on sale. These are truly wireless, existing as two independent pods that you wedge into your ear holes, with no wires or headband to be found. Needless to say, I was excited at the prospect of ultracompact Bluetooth earbuds — especially after reading about the Bragi Dash, a very similar device. Sure, these headphones will be easy to lose (something the company addresses), but having a semi-smart audio system without tangles that’s easy to stow in your pockets… that seemed like the future. Sadly, while there are some useful features and the sound quality is indeed respectable, the form factor itself still has some lingering issues — most notably, drops in earpiece-to-earpiece syncing. That’s a problem, given the $250 price tag.
The package includes two wireless earbuds and a charging case, which you’ll unfortunately need to keep close at hand most of the time. The Hubble Connect companion app for iOS and Android gives you a place to customize the settings, but the buds will need to be inside the case in order for the app to connect with them. Without the app, you can still control playback, select EQ presets and connect to Google Now or Siri through simple button presses. If you misplace the buds, the app will help locate the last place they were synced, which is helpful, if only a bit.
The orange and black design with matching charging case is attractive, but unlike in the press photos, the bulky buds don’t sit flush and tend to hang a bit awkwardly out of your ear. I suppose someone out there with larger ears than mine could pull these off a bit better, but for me, it’s tough. Sure, the battery and audio drivers add to their size, but the similar Bragi Dash manages a far sleeker design, with more features inside, no less. That’s not to say the VerveOnes+ ever felt like they were going to fall out of my ears, they sit in pretty well, but do feel as big as they look. As a bonus, at least, IP57 waterproofing means they can withstand sweaty workouts and even the occasional dunk in a sink.
There’s definitely a tradeoff of style for functionality, then, but even that doesn’t seem totally worth it. The headphones have deal-breaker levels of audio dropouts between the left and right earbuds (and sometimes the pocketed source-device), which makes listening a bumpy ride. A recent firmware update helped keep the signal solid while I was sitting at my desk, but go outside amongst the Bluetooth-emitting populace and it’s dropout city.
As for audio quality — dropouts aside — they sound pretty good. Motorola, which actually licensed this product from Binatone, hasn’t revealed the frequency range, but they have 6.8mm dynamic drivers providing what’s described as “deep, rich HD sound.” That’s not much to go on unless you’ve given them a listen yourself, but the bass is indeed deep and full, with solid mid-range tones and generally crips highs, especially with high-resolution audio files. These earbuds also support Bluetooth aptX, so if you have a phone or player that supports the format, you can expect “CD-quality” wireless listening.
To tweak the output, you get six pre-set EQ profiles to choose from: Bass, Brilliant, Balance, Rhythm, Live and Moto Sound. I’ve found Balance and Moto Sound to be the best for normal listening. To get a preview of the settings, just press the earbud button on either side for six seconds while music is playing. It’ll cycle through the options. Press once to lock in your EQ when you find one you like.
Other system options include Ear Detect — an IR sensor switches the buds on once inserted into your ear and vice versa. There’s also Voice Answer for taking calls using the onboard dual mics, and Pass-Through, which lets in a tinny version of the outside world. While this definitely helps, it’s not a safe enough (or often legal) solution for cycling and wind noise also becomes a major problem with Pass-Through enabled. All these settings are supposedly accessible through a six-second button press (without music playing), but so far I’ve only heard a prompt for toggling either music or video mode (something not indicated in the manual). Still, these are generally options that you’ll set once, which you can accomplish easily through the app, while the earbuds are stowed in the case.
One of my favorite features is actually using Google Now (since I’m on Android) for verbal inquiries or turn-by-turn directions when walking or biking around. You can trigger access with a long (but not six-second long) press of the left earbud button until you hear the Google “listening” tone as it accesses your phone. Saying “walking (or biking) navigation directions to a [specified location]” usually took me right into spoken prompts indicating where to go. I usually prefer not to plug up both ears with headphones when I’m out and about, so I’ve taken to using just one. Incidentally, that also solves the annoying audio-dropout issue.
Having a single earbud that can serve up music from your phone and provide one-click access to Google Now for searches, random info and especially directions is actually pretty great. Unfortunately, if you have Ear Detect on and happen to drop them into your pocket for five minutes or more, the buds will go to sleep and only the charging case will be able to wake them up. The workaround is to turn off Ear Detect, leaving the earbud on continuously. Your freedom will only last as long as it takes for each 72 mAh battery to run down, which is listed as about three and a half hours per earbud while in use.
The 600 mAh charging case also provides an additional charge, giving you enough juice for a total of more than 12 hours of playback time once you re-up. The 115-hour standby claim also seems valid. I’ve left them in my bag (in the charging case) for four or five days and they usually still had a healthy charge.
When I first tried these headphones, they seemed like an obvious skip. If I had paid good money and the earbuds cut out as much as they had, I’d be clamoring for a refund. I had high hopes that the recent firmware update would improve their ability to stay connected, but that only helped while indoors with few people around. It’s not just the Motorola VerveOnes+, though, that have difficulty with earpiece-to-earpiece and source device connectivity. Erato’s Apollo 7 buds and the Bragi Dash suffer some of the same problems, but the Dash at least has onboard memory, so you can listen to tunes without bringing a phone (and without suffering any dropouts). And again, they also offer a sleeker fit, which is important in a product with this form factor.
I look at these headphones as examples of fledgling technology: still at the mercy of what’s technically possible. If you can afford to experiment, you may get some enjoyment out of these earbuds, but for $250 most will be disappointed. Truly wireless still seems like a great idea, but the connectivity — a key factor here — is still not where it needs to be.
When it comes to flagship smartphones, consumers certainly don’t suffer from a lack of choice, but on the flip side, with so many great options available, it is quite difficult to select which device is best suited for you. In today’s comparison, we pit two of the hottest smartphones in the market right now, and they couldn’t be more different from each other.
- Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge review
- Moto Z review
On one hand is the Galaxy S7 Edge, with Samsung continuing to refine and improve what it started last year with its predecessors. On the other are the latest Motorola flagships, that are poles apart from anything we’ve seen from the company so far, and bring something unique to the table in the form of Moto Mods.
How does Motorola’s take on the Android flagship compare to one of the best and most well rounded smartphone offerings from Samsung? We find out, in this in-depth look at the Motorola Moto Z vs Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge!
Buy the Samsung Galaxy S7 / S7 Edge
Buy the Motorola Moto Z / Z Force
Starting with design and build quality, both of these phones are made with some high quality materials, and not only look fantastic, but also feel extremely sturdy. The Moto Z features glass on the front and back, with a smooth metal frame holding it all together.
The corners have been rounded off to allow for a more comfortable feel in the hand, and there is a subtle curve to the glass panel up front. However, for the most part, the phone is completely flat on the front and back, save for the rather large protrusion of the rear camera.
The Galaxy S7 Edge also features a metal and glass unibody construction, but unlike the Moto Z, you get curves everywhere, including the tapers along the sides of the back, the rounded corners, and of course, the curved edge display up front.
It’s not only of the most solid and comfortable feeling phones that Samsung has ever made, but comes with a sleek and eye-catching design. Samsung has done a good job with reigning in the camera protrusion with the Galaxy S7 Edge when compared to its predecessor, and is nowhere near as prominent as what is seen with the Moto Z.
The downside to any phone made predominantly with glass is that the device becomes a complete fingerprint magnet, so either have to clean it on a regular basis or use a case, to avoid this. Motorola offers a simple solution in this regard with the Style Shell covers, that gives the Moto Z some extra flair, while also adding enough thickness to cover that camera bulge.
Without any covers or Moto Mods attached, the Moto Z is an extremely thin smartphone, with a thickness of just 5 mm, and it’s certainly very impressive how thin Motorola has managed to make it. The Moto Z Force is slightly thicker at 7 mm, which is still quite thin, and you really have to hold these phones in your hand to truly appreciate this design aspect.
That said, apart from the thickness, the Moto Z is actually larger than the Galaxy S7 Edge in every other dimension and has a much larger footprint, despite both smartphones coming with 5.5-inch displays. Samsung has managed to make the Galaxy S7 Edge the more compact phone by having a smaller top and bottom chin, thinner bezels, and adding curves to the glass on the left and right sides.
Both smartphones come with 5.5-inch AMOLED displays, or Super AMOLED in the case of the Galaxy S7 Edge, with Quad HD resolution. As expected, both displays are plenty sharp, and are very vibrant, saturated, and with deep, inky blacks. The display of the Galaxy S7 Edge is a touch brighter and offers slightly better viewing angles, but for the most part, these are very comparable displays, and things like gaming and watching videos are very enjoyable on either of these screens.
One benefit of the Samsung flagship is its Always On display feature, which lights up only the necessary pixels to let you see important information like the time, date, battery life, the calendar, and notifications, with a quick glance.
While the Moto Z doesn’t come with this feature, it offers the next best thing with Moto Display, which remains one of the best features to ever grace Android. The display will periodically pulsate whenever you have any notifications, and you can manually wake it by either picking up the phone, or simply waving your hand over it.
Worth mentioning here is that the Moto Z Force comes with a shatterproof display, that makes it far more durable when compared to the standard Corning Gorilla glass 4 panels that are found with the regular Moto Z and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
Under the hood, both smartphones feature identical specifications, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, Adreno 530 GPU, and 4 GB of RAM. This is the same processing package that is found with almost every current generation flagship smartphone, and it’s not surprising that both these devices are blazing fast, and can handle anything, including multi-tasking, web browsing, and playing high-end games, with ease. Despite offering two very different software experiences, the overall performance with both is very smooth, and you will be hard-pressed to find a noticeable difference between them.
Both smartphones are available with 32 GB or 64 GB of on-board storage, and both offer expandable storage capabilities via microSD card up to 256 GB, so storage will not be a concern with either device.
Sitting right below the display of both devices is a fingerprint scanner, with the difference being that while the fingerprint sensor of the Galaxy S7 Edge is embedded into the home button, that isn’t the case with the Moto Z, which uses on-screen navigation keys. This can certainly take some getting used to, especially if you are already comfortable with also using a front-facing scanner as a home button, and when using the Moto Z, you will find yourself occasionally reach for the fingerprint sensor for no reason.
As far as accuracy and reliability of the fingerprint sensors are concerned, both work extremely well, but you will find the one of the Moto Z to be a tad quicker, mainly because of the fact that is reads your fingerprint simply when you touch it, instead of needing to press down on the button as you have to do with the Galaxy S7 Edge. Even though the scanner of the Moto Z does not double as a home button, it does function as a lock key to put the phone back to sleep, which is a nice touch.
A big difference in hardware between the two is that the Moto Z comes with a USB Type C port, while the Galaxy S7 Edge features a microUSB port. The latter also comes with a headphone jack while the Moto Z does not, which is one of the compromises that had to be made to keep the sleek profile of the device. Instead, you will have to use a Type C adapter to use your regular headphones with the Moto Z.
The Moto Z does offer a better sounding speaker, with its front-facing position better than the bottom-firing speaker of the Galaxy S7 Edge. That said, neither speaker is particularly impressive, but you do have the JBL speaker Moto Mod with the Moto Z to make up for this deficiency.
Speaking of Moto Mods, there are only a few that are currently available, including the JBL speaker, the projector, and the Incipio power pack case, but there should be more coming soon, as more third-party manufacturers jump on-board and create new Moto Mods. These Moto Mods are certainly a big selling point when it comes to the Moto Z, given how they work and the extra functionality that they offer. Just keep in mind that these Mods aren’t exactly cheap, and do add a significant amount of heft to the phone.
The speaker of the Galaxy S7 Edge is also more muffled and distorted due to the built-in water and dust resistance, which many will agree is a small price to pay to keep your device protected from the elements. The Moto Z is also water resistant, but does not come with the IP68 rating that the Galaxy S7 Edge features, so while the former can survive a splash or a small spill, it certainly won’t work if submerged entirely.
When it comes to battery life, the Moto Z packs a rather small 2,600 mAh battery, compared to the 3,600 mAh unit of the Galaxy S7 Edge, but the playing field is a lot more even when considering the Moto Z Force and its 3,500 mAh battery. Battery life is obviously going to vary depending on your usage, and while the Moto Z does allow for a full day of use, you will be able to do that far more comfortably with the Moto Z Force and the Galaxy S7 Edge.
Both devices come with fast charging capabilities, so you will be up and running in no time, and in the case of the Galaxy S7 Edge, you also get fast wireless charging. If battery life is a concern, Motorola has a simple solution for the Moto Z with the Incipio power pack case, which to me, is currently the most useful and practical Moto Mod that is available.
The Moto Z comes with a 13 MP rear camera with a f/1.8 aperture, OIS, and a dual tone LED flash, while the camera of the Moto Z Force is bumped up to 21 MP. On the other hand, the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge come with a 12 MP rear shooter, f/1.7 aperture, OIS, and a blazing fast dual pixel auto focus system that allows it to focus much faster than any other smartphone camera currently available.
When it comes to the camera software, Motorola keeps things pretty simple by only offering the most basic of camera modes, while Samsung gives you a bevy of options with a slew of modes and camera effects to choose from. Both do offer fairly robust manual modes however.
Moto Z camera samples
If I had to pick either one of these cameras, the Galaxy S7 Edge would be my choice. The Moto Z can take some decent photos, but it really pales in comparison to the Samsung flagship. Photos taken with the latter are sharper and more detailed, and with better dynamic range, while the Moto Z has the tendency to overexpose and blow out highlights.
Galaxy S7 Edge camera samples
The Galaxy S7 Edge camera is also the much faster one overall. In low light situations, the Moto Z is quite slow to capture an image, especially if you are using HDR, while the Galaxy S7 Edge remains really fast when it comes to focusing and taking a shot. The Samsung smartphone camera does have some trouble with white balance in low light conditions, but the photos still come with a lot more detail when compared to shots taken with the Moto Z.
As far as the front cameras go, both phones are utilizing a 5 MP sensor, which work well enough for taking selfies, but the Moto Z has an advantage here with its front-facing flash, which can be extremely helpful when taking selfies in low light.
One of the best parts about Motorola is that they keep the software experience pretty close to stock Android, but with a few very useful additions built in. The Moto Z is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and it is as close to stock Android as you are going to get without the device being a Nexus smartphone. Motorola’s customizations aren’t numerous, but they are some of the most useful features we’ve seen on an Android smartphone.
You have features like the Moto Display that we mentioned earlier, and there is also Moto Voice, that lets you call upon your Moto Z from across the room. Also available are a slew of gestures, such as the double chop to turn on the camera flash, and the double twist of your wrist to launch the camera.
The only real down side now is that the Moto Z is a Verizon exclusive, so it comes with a lot of Verizon bloatware, and a host of pre-installed games and third-party applications. An unlocked version will be coming soon though, but if you are looking to get the Moto Z right away, the bloatware is something you will have to deal with.
The Galaxy S7 Edge is also running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but Samsung’s take on Android, with the TouchWiz UI, couldn’t be more different from stock Android. Samsung has been doing a better job with streamlining the software experience as much as possible, and what you get is a much cleaner and less bloated user interface than before.
With the Galaxy S7 Edge, you also get the Edge panels, that can give you quick access to apps, sports scores, the weather, your contacts, and a variety of other shortcuts, but just swiping in from the edge of the glass. These panels can be useful, but like any new smartphone feature, you will have to train yourself to get used to them.
|Display||5.5-inch AMOLED display
Quad HD resolution, 535 ppi
|5.5-inch Super AMOLED display
Quad HD resolution, 535 ppi
|Processor||2.15 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
Adreno 530 GPU
|2.15 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
Adreno 530 GPU
|RAM||4 GB||4 GB|
expandable via microSD card up to 256 GB
expandable via microSD card up to 256 GB
|Camera||13 MP rear camera, f/1.8 aperture, OIS, dual tone LED flash
5 MP front-facing camera, front-facing flash
|12 MP rear camera, f/1.7 aperture, OIS, dual pixel autofocus, LED flash
5 MP front-facing camera
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
GPS + GLONASS
USB Type-C 1.0
|Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
GPS + GLONASS
|Battery||2,600 mAh||3,600 mAh|
|Software||Android 6.0 Marshmallow||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
|Dimensions||153.3 x 75.3 x 5.2 mm
|150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm
So, there you have it for this in-depth look at the Motorola Moto Z and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge! Both of these devices are two really fantastic smartphones in their own right, but what it is really going to come down to is how much you value the Moto Mods, and how easily you can get your hands on one of them. The Galaxy S7 Edge is the easier phone to get right now, with it being available from all major network carriers, and while an unlocked version of the Moto Z will be arriving soon, Verizon is your only option currently.
The Moto Z is a very solid option however, and the Moto Mods are just icing on the cake, providing a very elegant and simple way of modifying your smartphone. If you are willing to spend the extra money, you certainly won’t be disappointed. While the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge doesn’t have any crazy bells and whistles, or extra moving parts, it’s an all around great smartphone that ticks all the right boxes, and for most people, that is going to be more than enough to suit their needs.
Buy the Samsung Galaxy S7 / S7 Edge
Buy the Motorola Moto Z / Z Force
Before Lenovo bought Motorola from Google in 2014, the company created a few very interesting lines of phones under the Moto brand that sought to change the way we buy phones. One of these is the Moto G line, that was introduced a few years ago and offered an very reliable and speedy phone for less than $200 unlocked. The Moto G eventually became Motorola’s highest selling phone of all time.
Fast-forward to today, Lenovo hopes to carry on the legacy of the Moto G, and offer a quality, affordable successor in a world where most other smartphone companies are offering their new phones for lower prices. The Moto G4 is here, and literally bigger than ever.
The Moto G4’s build quality hasn’t improved from the previous years iterations, but it feels solid for a $200 plastic phone. At 155 grams, it has the perfect amount of heft for me. I really like the plastic back of the phone which has a slightly textured feel to it and feels almost like rubber, although the oil from your hands will visibly show up on it after just a little usage. Wash your hands at all times.
The front of the device brings the classic minimalistic style I’ve loved since the Nexus S came out a long time ago. In fact, the design of this phone reminds me so much of a bigger Galaxy Nexus – front and back. There’s nothing on the front except the secondary camera and a single front-facing speaker right above the screen. No Lenovo logo, no Moto logo. That’s a +1 right there. While I’m bummed they didn’t include dual speakers like last year’s Moto G, I can’t complain for the price. Plus, the single speaker does get very loud, and almost competes with speaker quality on flagship phones using single speakers on the bottom.
As for the power and volume buttons, someone at Lenovo should’ve spoke up about these. They feel cheap, and barely provide any feedback when pressing them. It takes more effort to press the volume buttons than any other phone I’ve used. The power button at least has a horizontal line texture on it to distinguish it from the volume.
Easily the highlight of this phone. I’ve seen quite a few cheap LCD displays on phones before, even on more expensive phones, but the 1080p LCD display on the Moto G4 rocks.
I was disappointed with Lenovo’s decision to put a 5.5 display on the Moto G, but after using it for a week, it doesn’t feel like a big phone at all. 71% of the front of this device is covered with screen, so it doesn’t feel bulky to me.
Aside from the size, the quality of this screen seriously impresses me for what it’s worth. If any of you still own the OnePlus One or OnePlus 2, the display quality is right with those. I will say, the viewing angles are not great, as the brightness decreases and colors go yellow as soon as the device is slightly shifted away from your eyes. However this isn’t a problem for me, as my phone is directly facing me 98% of the time I use it.
Comparing the screen to other LCD displays like the Nexus 5X and Nexus 5, I immediately prefer the display on the Moto G4. The colors look very washed out on the LCD Nexus devices compared to the Moto G4, which is able to produce colors almost as vivid as an AMOLED display.
The 1080p resolution is perfect for this device. I started using this phone right after using the OnePlus 3, and believe it or not, I prefer this screen. These phones both have 5.5 inch 1080p displays, but the pentile AMOLED screen on the OnePlus 3 holds it back in comparison in terms of image sharpness. Images are sharper, more accurate, and the whites on the G4 look much better. I still much prefer the deep blacks on the OnePlus 3’s AMOLED screen though.
In 2016, it’s hard to find a phone running Android 6.0 that doesn’t perform well. The Moto G4 runs on a Snapdragon 617 processor which was unveiled by Qualcomm in September of 2015. I was expecting a sluggish experience, and to this day I’m waiting for the inevitable crashes or hair-pulling slowdowns to happen. But so far, this phone runs well! If I were to compare the everyday speed of the Moto G4 to something else, I would say it’s neck and neck with the Nexus 5 from 2013 – which still runs like a champ on Marshmallow with its Snapdragon 800 chip.
After using the phone for a couple hours on AT&T LTE while browsing on Chrome, the phone didn’t get as warm as other phones have, and quick-charging it with the Motorola Turbo-Charger doesn’t make the phone as hot as previous Motorola phones, specifically the hot-plate that is the Droid Turbo.
If you’re into mobile gaming, you might want to look the other way. The Adreno 405 GPU here does not handle most games very well, and loading times are pretty terrible. I primarily play Fallout Shelter, and while I had zero hiccups and quick loading times playing it on a phone with a Snapdragon 820 chip, the loading time to get into my game on average took a staggering 72 seconds on the Moto G4. This was if the game didn’t freeze or crash mid-load, which happened 20% of the time. I experienced similar results with other 3D games.
Don’t expect miracles here, people. But also don’t expect a bad camera. The Moto G4’s 13-megapixel with f/2.0 aperture provides pictures more than deserved for a $200 phone. Pictures in daylight look a little more dim than they should be.
Low-light pictures lose a lot of detail, but having HDR mode on really helps balance out the bright parts of the photos and the darks. Notice the overexposure of the Subway sign and interior in normal capture mode.
Daylight HDR on
Daylight HDR off
The camera app takes a couple seconds to open, which is annoying when trying to grab a quick shot. The app comes with some useful features such as professional mode that allows for manual tweaks, slow motion mode (although the 540p resolution for this is kind of a joke) and auto-HDR.
I was a little nervous Lenovo would take Motorola’s near-stock Android skin and mess it up, but things have barely changed since previous Moto phones.
This is basically stock Android with the addition of a few useful features. First, we have Moto Gestures, which includes four ways of interacting with the phone. When it’s off, you can make a chopping motion with the phone to turn on the flashlight. Keeping the phone face down immediately mutes the phone and keeps it silent. When someone calls, picking the phone off the table cuts the noise of the ringer. Finally, whether the phone is on or off, twisting it will launch the camera.
On top of this, Moto Display is back, showing your notifications when the phone is sleeping, however it;s nowhere near as useful as it is on the Moto Z, or previous Moto X phones that have sensor on the front for hand waving gestures, or the AMOLED screens that actually save battery when using the Moto Display. On this phones LCD display, you can totally tell the entire screen is on, and it just doesn’t look great.
A 3000mAh battery is becoming common for a high-end phone, so the decision to put one in the $200 Moto G4 was a great move from Lenovo. This phone lasts until the very end of the day for me with 10-15% left. To be exact, I unplug the device at 6:45 AM, stream Play Music for 30 minutes to work, browse reddit and Chrome for about an hour a day, text my imaginary friends using Textra, send between 20-30 snaps with Snapchat, and use a lot of GroupMe until I’m tuckered out at 10:30 PM. That’s 16 hours of “moderate” usage.
I haven’t felt concerned with running out of battery in a day yet, but if I do, this phone comes with a Turbo-Charger that supports Qualcomm Quickcharge. I remember when I had to pay extra for a Turbo-Charger when I bought a Moto X 2014… so I’m very pleased with this.
I’m satisfied with the Moto G4. I’m not blown away by it, and I’m not disappointed with it. Lenovo didn’t take risks with this device, and they didn’t push any boundaries. The build quality lives on from previous Moto G generations, and the display quality is something I never expected to see on a $200 smartphone. But is a bigger, better display worth the removal of dual front-facing speakers and a waterproof exterior? If I were to give an answer, I would say the screen is more important to me than speakers I rarely use, or having the ability to pour champagne on my smartphone.
At $199 for the 16GB model, the Moto G4 is less impressive than it was in its earlier generations, and faces serious competition from smartphones in similar price ranges, such as the all-metal, fingerprint scanner included Honor 5X. For $199, I would recommend the Honor 5X over this phone, but you won’t be disappointed with a purchase of the Moto G4, especially with the experience of customizing it through the innovative Moto Maker website.
You can purchase the Moto G4 here
For years, Motorola put out a flagship phone called the X, and for years it won positive reviews, thanks to its customizable design, clean software build and generally good value. This year, there’s no X. Instead, we have two new Moto phones, the Z and Z Force. And it makes sense that Motorola chose a different naming scheme, because these are indeed very different devices from what the company has put out in years past. The design is no longer customizable, and with prices reaching $624 for the Z and $720 for the Z Force, they’re not exactly what we’d call affordably priced either. Instead of being colorful and cheap, they have a modular design that allows you to snap in optional “Moto Mods” accessories, including a speaker, projector and battery pack. Another risk? Neither phone has a headphone jack. Oh, and they’re exclusive to Verizon.
While we’re not too pleased about those last two caveats, the Moto Mods make the Z line the best modular phones we’ve seen yet. The Z in particular is exceptionally thin and charges quickly, while the slightly chunkier Z Force adds longer battery life, a shatter-proof screen and a more robust 21-megapixel camera. For that reason, we gave the Z Force the higher score. But hey, if a thin phone floats your boat, you’ll be happy with the Z too.
Since 2013, the Moto G has been our favorite mid-range smartphone — or favorite budget phone, even, depending on how you define “budget.” Now in its fourth generation, the G series has expanded to include three models, two of which we got to take for a spin in a recent review. Indeed, the 5.5-inch G4 and G4 Plus mostly impress, but not every design decision feels like an improvement. Though the phones are more expensive than they used to be, at $200 and $250, respectively, the plastic build feels less durable than we would have otherwise expected.
What’s more, the G4 is no longer waterproof, and its camera suffers in low light, to boot. The G4 Plus at least offers a better camera and faster performance, though it too has a chintzy build that doesn’t feel likely to stand years of wear and tear. Those complaints aside, the handsets nonetheless deserve their strong scores of 84 and 86 — and they continue Moto’s tradition of holding down the “value smartphone” crown.
Ever since the original Moto X came out, I’ve been fascinated by Motorola. We saw one of the biggest, oldest brands in communications take a long, hard look at where it’s been and chart a thoughtful path forward. Flash forward a few years (and a few Moto Xs) and wouldn’t you know it? Motorola started to lose some of its voltage when it came to its flagship phones. Don’t get me wrong, the Moto X Pure Edition was a fantastic device, but in hindsight it’s not hard to see that it was more of the same.
While we might still see a new Moto X this year, Motorola decided to try something different. We now have two different modular flagship smartphones, the superthin Moto Z Droid ($624) and the sturdier Moto Z Force Droid ($720). Some might bristle that both are exclusive to Verizon and aren’t yet slated for an international launch (I sure did), but there’s no two ways about it: These are still the most exciting Motorola phones in a long time.
Note: For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to bother calling these things “Droid Editions” for the rest of the review.
At 5.2mm thick, the Moto Z is the thinnest flagship phone I’ve ever used, and it’s just stunning. In fact, when it comes to design, the Moto Z couldn’t be any more different from the flagship Moto Xs that came before it — the friendly curves and sloping back are gone, leaving us with something more angular and elegant. Think of it as the lightweight Lamborghini to the Moto X Pure’s friendly VW Beetle. If I’m honest, I was concerned that a phone this thin would feel insubstantial, but Motorola dodged that issue too. Aside from the pane of Gorilla Glass covering its 5.5-inch, quad HD AMOLED display, the Z’s body is crafted entirely of metal, lending it a crucial air of rigidity. Fair warning, though: Our review units came in a two-tone black and gray finish that both looks lovely and acts like a fingerprint-and-schmutz magnet.
All that said, this phone certainly isn’t for everyone. Some people I’ve shown the phone to (here’s looking at you, Devindra) think the Moto Z is too skinny to feel comfortable in-hand. More important, you can’t build a phone this thin without making a few compromises. Motorola could only squeeze a relatively modest 2,600mAh battery into the Z’s body. The 13-megapixel camera juts out from the back in a circular hump. And the most divisive change? The phone’s slim frame meant Motorola had to ax the headphone jack. Motorola is convinced it’s on the right side of history with this move, but in the short term, you’re stuck buying either a pair of USB Type-C headphones or using an adapter that comes in the box.
I’ll delve more into the audio quality a little later, but right off the bat, the change presents some tricky issues to tangle with. Let’s say you’re a klutz like me: You’re probably going to lose that dongle before long. And if you’re listening to music through wired headphones, you can’t charge the phone at the same time. Inconvenient at best; counterproductive at worst.
Motorola is so sure of this decision that the Z’s cousin, the Moto Z Force, lacks the headphone jack as well, even though its thicker body could definitely have accommodated one. Throughout my week of testing, I’ve been looking at the Z Force as the Moto Z for everyone else: It has the same new look, paired with a bigger 3,500mAh battery and Motorola’s Shattershield design to keep you from cracking your screen. Throw in an improved 21-megapixel rear camera and we have a package that more than makes up for Z Force’s heftier dimensions. If owning an incredibly thin smartphone isn’t high on your list of priorities, you’re probably better off looking at this version of the Z instead. It’s just too bad neither of these phones are waterproof: They’re nano-coated to resist splashes, but that’s it.
Despite their differences, the slim Moto Z and the sturdy Z Force share some powerful silicon. Thrumming away inside both devices is a quad-core Snapdragon 820 chip paired with 4GB of RAM and an Adreno 530 GPU — just like almost every other flagship Android phone released this year. The similarities don’t end there, either: Both sport an excellent fingerprint reader beneath the screen, either 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot for as much as 2TB of extra space, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. A trio of tiny volume buttons and a sleep/wake key poke out of both phones’ right side, and on the bottom is a solitary USB Type-C socket for power, data transfers and audio.
Both devices are showcases for Motorola’s impeccable workmanship, but they’re made even more interesting by the array of golden contacts on their backs. Those 16 points make up what the company calls its Moto Mod connector, which allows power and data to flow between the phone and optional accessories that magnetically latch to the phones’ backs. The first batch includes a tiny projector, battery case and a JBL speaker, and they add a lot to the Moto Z/Z Force formula, so I’ll be sure to dig deeper on these in just a moment. For now, just know this: Motorola’s approach to modularity is the most elegant you’ll find on the market right now.
Display and sound
Both Moto Z phones feature 5.5-inch AMOLED displays running at 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, and they’re pretty great. In addition to very accommodating viewing angles, you’ll get the usual punchy colors that come with AMOLED screens. If they’re a little too punchy for your liking, though, you can hop into the device’s settings and poke around: The “Vibrant” color mode is enabled by default, but there’s also a “Standard” option that attempts to render colors more realistically. I’ve come to prefer the slightly oversaturated look you’ll see by default, but hey, it’s nice to have choices.
It’s also worth noting that these displays don’t look identical. My Moto Z’s panel seems a little more high-contrast than the Z Force’s screen, and I’m willing to bet that’s because of the Z Force’s Shattershield construction. In case you never owned a Droid Turbo 2, here’s the skinny: Above the AMOLED panel itself, there’s a redundant touch-sensing layer and two protective lenses, all meant to keep the screen from breaking if the Z Force takes a tumble. I reluctantly treated this thing like a jerk throughout my week of testing, dropping it on concrete for laughs and lobbing it onto my desk from across the room. The damage? A couple nicks on the screen and some scuffs on the phone’s aluminum edge. Shattershield is a welcome feature indeed, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t make the Moto Z Force invincible.
Both phones also have a single speaker above the screen, nestled in the same place as the earpiece. It’s a far cry from the stereo setups we’ve seen in other smartphones, but you know what? The Z/Z Force’s speakers consistently churned out crisp (if not terribly loud) audio. It’s not a surprise, really: Lots of companies sort of phone it in when it comes to speaker quality, and it’s clear Motorola would like you to buy one of JBL’s sweet speaker Mods.
Now, about that pesky headphone issue. I’ve used the included USB Type-C dongle with several pairs of cans and in-ears, and it doesn’t seem to affect audio quality at all when playing high-quality tunes saved on Spotify. If anything, my biggest gripes were logistical: When I didn’t keep the dongle attached to headphones, it got lost in the depths of my backpack. When I did keep it attached, it sometimes made the cord long enough to be cumbersome when jamming everything into my pocket (especially when those headphones had an L-plug).
Are these huge issues? No, not really (and if you’re a Bluetooth headphone person, basically none of these gripes apply). Still, these sticking points aren’t going away for a while, so keep that in mind before you buy.
Let’s be honest: Motorola isn’t exactly known as a leader in photography. That’s why the company’s work this year is so surprising: We now have two Motorola phones with seriously good cameras. If the normal Moto Z is your thing, you’ll get a 13-megapixel main camera with a f/1.8 aperture lens and a laser autofocus module. My expectations were set needlessly low. As it turns out, the Z’s camera takes bright, nicely detailed shots with vivid colors almost across the board. It does stumble a bit in low light, where you’ll plenty of grain and soft edges, but really, what smartphone doesn’t? The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are still better all-around performers, but for once, Motorola has done well to close the gap.
Meanwhile, the Moto Z Force’s camera does a slightly better job of capturing fine detail, which really isn’t surprising — it’s a 21-megapixel sensor, after all. What is surprising is how tight the image-quality race can be sometimes. For a while, the Moto Z seemed a little better at rendering accurate colors, but then photos with the Z Force started coming out a little better. Then back. Then forth. You get my drift. What makes this whole thing even stranger is that the Moto Z Force was occasionally slower to focus on subjects than the Z, despite having phase-detection autofocus in addition to a laser-autofocus module. A quick tap or two is all it takes to set it right, but that’s still a little odd. It’s the Z Force’s low-light performance that clinches the deal here: It’s not quite Galaxy S7-level, but it’s closer than I dared dream.
Despite some curious performance quirks, I’d ultimately go with the Z Force as my shooter of choice — it’s as good a camera as Motorola has ever made, even if the underlying software needs some extra polish. Still, the standard Moto Z is no slouch.
Beyond the intricacies of their sensors, the Z and Z Force camera experiences have a lot in common. They share a 5-megapixel, wide-angle camera for selfies that does a generally lovely job of capturing those fleeting moments of vanity. Speaking of vanity, there’s also a new Beauty Mode that irons out the wrinkles and blemishes that might mar one’s selfies. I wouldn’t be at all shocked if this was a feature that parent company Lenovo insisted on; these sorts of cosmetic enhancements have popped up, and continue to pop up, in Lenovo smartphones.
It’s too bad it doesn’t work very well. I snapped selfies at both ends of the Beauty mode spectrum and neither did much for my looks. This year, Motorola also added a Professional Mode that allows for more granular control over your photos. Once enabled, you’ll get full control over ISO, white balance, shutter speed and exposure — change any of those settings and you’ll get a live update on your display. Just maybe don’t go too crazy with them. I managed to crash the camera app a few times doing that.
Of course, the story of the Moto Z and Z Force extend beyond the devices themselves. Motorola has a vision centered on accessories that snap onto the phone with magnets. Not only is this less annoying than LG’s attempt with the G5 — it’s simpler and cleaner too. Motorola has also said that these first-generation Moto Mods will work with next year’s model as well, though the company isn’t promising anything beyond that.
First up: Motorola’s Insta-Share projector. When fully charged, the projector will run for about an hour on its own before using the battery in your phone. Stick it far enough away from a wall and you can get a picture that’s about 70 inches diagonal, a pretty big jump from the clunker of a TV I bought on sale years ago. Your environment needs to be superdark, and it can be tough to get the focus right, but once everything came together, I had a bit of a “wow” moment I didn’t see coming. There are, however, two potential issues to keep in mind. First, the speakers baked into the projector aren’t great, so you’ll want an external set if you’re really after something resembling a movie-theater experience. Second, it’ll set you back $299. If you’ve got money to burn, then by all means, go for it, but for most, it won’t be worth it.
Compared with that, the $79 JBL speaker Mod seems way more modest. I probably pissed off a few people in the office by cranking it up all the way, which can be almost unpleasantly loud depending on the kind of music you’re listening to. It lasts about 10 hours on a charge, and the speaker burns through that juice before switching to the phone’s battery for power. Alas, the audio doesn’t sound as meaty as I imagined; it seems to do better with podcasts and songs with lots of action in the mid and high range. Here’s my issue, though: You could get a portable Bluetooth speaker that sounds better (and works with any smartphone) for around the same price. Either way, you’d have to carry around a second piece of hardware. On the plus side, though, it has a kickstand to prop up the phone — a helpful touch when you’re watching videos.
Really, though, the best Moto Mod is a battery back that basically doubles the Moto Z’s battery life while still managing to feel like a natural extension of the phone. If you buy a Moto Z, this needs to go with it.
By building the Moto Mod connector and inking deals with companies like JBL, Motorola is admitting that we can’t always have everything we want in one single device. The beauty of Motorola’s design, though, means the things we add to the Moto Z feel like seamless parts of the device itself. It’s still early days for the Moto Mods program, and the only way to ensure it goes anywhere is to buy this stuff. Hopefully, enough people invest in this new ecosystem of hardware to keep it alive. It would be a shame to see such an elegant solution flounder.
(Side note: if you’ve got a brilliant idea for a Moto Mod of your own, Motorola is opening up its developer program in August — $125 gets you a hardware-development kit for bread-boarding and hashing out initial designs.)
Motorola is well known for releasing smartphones that run very clean, almost stock versions of Android… unless those smartphones are Verizon exclusives like these. The broad strokes of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow are still there, and for the most part, Motorola seemed happy to leave well enough alone; the most notable visual tweak is a dark theme applied to the familiar Marshmallow menus and app launcher.
Still, Verizon’s influence is undeniable. There’s a separate-but-optional setup process to get started with Verizon’s cloud upon first boot, and lots of preloaded software I never touched. I’m talking VZ Navigator, VZ Protect, Message+, Caller Name ID and a cloud app, not to mention NFL Mobile, Slacker, Audible and a ton of derivative games. You can delete some of them, but the rest need to be disabled in the settings and I couldn’t so this fast enough.
Curiously, the Motorola-made apps that used to come preloaded on the company’s Verizon-bound phones aren’t here anymore. If you want Loop and Zap (which let you keep tabs on loved ones and share content with people nearby, respectively), you’ll have to get them from the Play Store. I love it when companies stop trying to force apps of dubious value on us — HTC recently did this too — but Verizon pushed enough bloatware that Motorola’s cleanliness almost went unnoticed.
On the plus side, Motorola’s thoughtful software tricks are all still here. The sensors on the Z’s face can still detect your hands as they approach, and they’ll light up part of the display to show you the time and your notifications. Like before, you can double-twist your wrist to launch the camera, and a double karate chop turns on the flashlight. As it happens, Motorola added a new gesture this year: If you swipe up from the bottom of the display, the on-screen view will shrink so you can reach the notification shade without having to reposition your hand.
The Moto Z siblings are great at listening for your voice commands, too. Once you’ve trained them to listen to your activation phrase (mine is the dull “OK, Moto Z”), the phones will wake up and take requests like a proper assistant. That might not sound like a high bar to clear — after all, virtual assistants have come a long way since the earliest days of Siri and Google Now — but Motorola was one of the first companies to go big on phones that always listened, and they’re still very good at making them.
We can keep this part simple: The Moto Z and Z Force are damned fast. Is that really any surprise? Both run with the same high-end Snapdragon silicon as most other flagship Android phones I’ve played with this year, and they’ve all been really fast too. As always, my week of testing included all the usual, frenzied multitasking for work, along with loads of Real Racing 3, Mortal Kombat X, Hearthstone and Pokémon Go when the news died down. Try as I might — and trust me, I tried — the Moto Z and Z Force handled all of my trials with gusto. (They do get noticeably warm when you starting to push them, though.) Ultimately, now that premium smartphones like the Moto Z and its ilk all fall into the same performance range, the details that make these devices different are more important than ever.
|3DMark IS Unlimited||29,117||28,964||28,529||26,747|
|GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps)||49||49||45||48|
|SunSpider 1.0.2: Android devices tested in Chrome; lower scores are better.|
Consider batteries, for instance. Thanks to its slim body, Motorola fitted the Moto Z with a 2,600mAh cell. Not bad, but definitely not great. I’ll admit, even though I’ve used smartphones with similar specs and battery sizes before, I went into this review expecting the worst. Thankfully, that was unwarranted. On days of heavy use, the Z would get me through the work day but give up the ghost not long after. That works out to about 11 hours of pretty continuous use, though you can stretch that up to about a day and a half if you’re a very, very cautious user. In our standard Engadget rundown test (looping a video with the screen brightness set to 50 percent and WiFi connected), the Moto Z lasted about just north of 10 hours. That’s on par with the LG G5 and HTC 10.
This means the Moto Z’s battery will probably cut it for most people, but anyone on the fence should consider the next step up. As you’d expect, the Moto Z Force blew its skinny sibling out of the water. I routinely got two full days of use out of its larger 3,500mAh battery, and got closer to three days over a particularly quiet weekend. Not bad at all. And in our rundown test, the Z Force looped the same sample video for 14 hours and 12 minutes, just 18 minutes less than Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge.
I probably sound like a broken record saying this, but there’s really never been a better time to buy a top-tier Android phone. While some are better suited to certain situations than others, there really isn’t a bad choice among them. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are waterproof and still lead the pack in camera performance, though you’ll have to deal with the (much improved!) TouchWiz interface that’s layered on top of Android Marshmallow. The HTC 10’s fit and finish is first-rate, and it handles media better out of the box: It’ll tune your music for your preferences and headphones, for one, and it’s the first Android phone to officially support Apple’s AirPlay streaming standard. Meanwhile, if you’re shopping for flagship power on a budget, the reasonably priced OnePlus 3 brings the speed for a fraction of what the Moto Z and Z Force cost.
But if we’re looking at the Moto Z and Z Force as modular phones, first and foremost, the only real comparison this year is LG’s G5. The broad strokes are similar — Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM, a circle of “Friend” accessories — but the Moto Z’s elegant execution gives those two phones a clear edge. Just look at LG’s setup: modules connect to the bottom of the G5, requiring you to remove the phone’s battery, attach it to the new module, stick that whole thing back into the phone and power it up. At best, it’s an annoyance. On the plus side, though, you’ll be able to swap batteries willy-nilly, and you have a really neat dual-camera setup to play with.
I have to give Motorola credit for doing what LG couldn’t: building modular smartphones that are convenient, cool and worth using. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the Moto Z and Z Force are two of the best-made devices in Motorola’s history, and that they can go toe-to-toe with any other flagship Android phone out there. These devices represent Motorola at the top of its phone-making game.
It’s a shame, then, that some curious decisions have kept me from loving the Z and Z Force more fully. Part of it is the lack of a headphone jack. Maybe I’m old-school, but I can’t be the only one who misses it. Part of it, too, is that some of the Mods are of dubious value. Worse, only a certain chunk of people — Verizon customers — can buy these phones. Ultimately, though, the strength of the Moto Z line and the potential of Moto Mods outweigh the few cons. If you’re a Verizon customer on the hunt for a powerful smartphone, pay attention to these two. (And if you’re a klutz, pay closer attention to the Z Force.) The rest of us will just have to hang in there — Motorola can’t let phones this good stay exclusive for too long.
When it comes to getting the most smartphone for your dollar, the Moto G line has been your best choice for the past few years. We adored the previous model, which came in at a mere $180. Now with the Moto G4 and G4 Plus, Motorola is literally aiming to make its budget lineup bigger and better. They’ve got larger and sharper screens, improved cameras and, of course, speedier processors. With those upgrades come compromises, though. For one, they’re more expensive: The G4 starts at $200 and the G4 Plus at $250. Motorola also made some curious design decisions, which in many ways feel like a step back. Still, they both manage to carry the mantle of Smartphone Value King.
You won’t find any premium aluminum or chamfered edges on the G4 and G4 Plus. They’ve got practical and simple plastic cases. Still, they don’t feel like budget phones. Their curved edges make them easy to hold, and the slightly textured rear cover feels a bit luxurious against your palm. Both phones are also noticeably larger than any previous Moto G, thanks to their 5.5-inch 1080p screens. At least they’re thinner than their 11.6mm thick predecessor, clocking in at just 7.9 millimeters to 8.9 millimeters. Strangely enough, they weigh the same 155 grams (0.34 pounds) as before.
The G4 and G4 Plus feel pretty solid for plastic encased phones. There’s little flex or creaking when gripped tightly. Long-term durability might be a concern though — somewhere during my week of testing I nicked the top of the G4 Plus’s plastic edge. I never dropped it, so your guess is as good as mine as to how it got damaged. It does make me worried about how well they’d stand up to months of everyday use.
Both phones sport removable back covers, just like all the previous Moto G models. In addition to the nano-SIM slot, there’s a microSD slot for up to 128GB of additional storage. They pack in 3,000mAh non-removable batteries, a nice bump from the last Moto G’s 2,470 mAh offering. It’s a shame that the battery can’t be swapped out, but it’s also large enough that that shouldn’t be a huge issue. (We didn’t have a problem with it last year, either.)
Powering all of this budget goodness are 1.5GHz Snapdragon 617 octa-core processors. Both phones offer 16GB of storage by default, but you can bump up to 32GB with the G4 (a no-brainer $30 premium) or 64GB with the G4 Plus (for another $100). They come with 2GB of RAM, though the 64GB G4 Plus gives you a luxurious 4GB of RAM.
Given that they both share so much hardware, you’re probably wondering what makes the G4 Plus, well… Plus? The most obvious difference is the fingerprint sensor on its front, which sits right below the software home button. The G4 Plus also packs in a 16 megapixel rear camera with phase detection and laser autofocus. The G4, on the other hand, has a 13 megapixel shooter without the added niceties.
One unfortunate downgrade from last year: Neither phone is waterproof. Instead, Motorola is calling them “water repellant,” thanks to a “nano-coating” technology that protects them from spills. That means they should be fine during light rain, or if you spill coffee on them. Just don’t go fully submerging them in anything.
Display and sound
There’s nothing budget about the 5.5-inch 1080p displays on the G4 and G4 Plus. They’re not quite as fancy as the quad HD displays we’re seeing in some flagships, but they still pack in 401 pixels per inch, which is plenty sharp for typical usage. Colors were bright and bold, even in direct sunlight, and viewing angles were surprisingly great. I didn’t notice much of a difference between my iPhone 6S while reading long articles from Pocket and the New York Times app. Videos also looked uniformly great. The big downside is that they’re less capable when it comes to mobile VR. It’s no wonder they’re not Google Daydream ready (though nothing is stopping you from plugging them into a Google Cardboard headset).
On the sound front, Motorola made the curious decision of replacing the last Moto G’s solid stereo speakers with a single one. It’s plenty loud, but it doesn’t sound nearly as good as before. Now that Bluetooth speakers are cheap and small, I’d recommend just snagging one as an accessory.
One nice feature that I never thought I’d have to call out in 2016: both phones have headphone jacks! For the uninformed, you use them to connect a wide variety of audio devices, including headphones. Someone should tell Motorola that these audio ports, which have been universally supported for decades, would be a nice addition to their flagship Moto Z lineup. That’s especially true for the Z Force, which is thick enough to fit a headphone jack. (Yes, the Moto Z comes with a dongle, but that comes with plenty of compromises. You won’t be able to charge the phone when the dongle is plugged in, for example.)
Motorola delivered a nearly stock OS on the G4 and G4 Plus, specifically Android 6.0.1. Marshmallow. The phones are devoid of the junkware and sponsored apps you often find on budget devices. None of this is new for Motorola, it’s been trying to deliver vanilla versions of Android since it was under Google. But it’s nice to see the company stick with that philosophy under Lenovo.
Motorola’s unique gestures, which made their debut on the original Moto X, once again make an appearance. Twisting either phone twice, similar to turning a door handle, quickly loads up the camera from anywhere in the OS. Making a double-chopping motion turns their flashlights on and off. What’s particularly nice is that both features work consistently even when the phones are in standby mode.
This is where the Moto G4 and G4 Plus truly diverge. Should you settle with a 13 megapixel camera, or spend the extra cash for the G4 Plus’s 16 megapixel one loaded with autofocusing upgrades? Based on my testing, the G4’s camera is a bit hit or miss. Sometimes it delivered sharp and vibrant photos, but sometimes its color rendering was all off. It was also a constant disappointment in low light. The G4 Plus was a lot more consistent — it was able to lock onto subjects much more quickly, and it was actually useful in low light. Looking at both phones shows how far we’ve come in the world of mobile cameras. But, if I had to choose, I’d opt for the G4 Plus’s shooter without any hesitation.
While Motorola used a light touch with most of the software, its camera app is a very different experience from Google’s stock entry. There’s a radial exposure meter right next to the focusing ring, which lets you lighten or darken the image by dragging it up or down. Flash, HDR and timer settings are also on the left side of the screen, instead of the top. If you want to take panoramic photos, or simply want manual controls, you’ll have to use a separate app, like ProShot or Open Camera.
While I was bracing for a slow experience with the Moto G4 and G4 Plus (due to increased rendering demands for 1080p screens, last year’s display was only 720p), both phones surprised me with their relatively smooth performance. Sure, they’re not as instantaneously zippy as expensive flagships, but they also don’t feel like “budget” devices. Browsing around Android Marshmallow, launching multiple hefty apps like Pokemon Go, and juggling through them was relatively painless. There was the occasional slowdown on the G4, but nothing show-stopping. If anything, their performance feels more in line affordable mid-range phones like the Nexus 5X.
And when it came to demanding usage, I was surprised by how well both phones held up. I was able to capture 1080p videos of both phones’ displays using the AZ Screen Recorder app while running Pokemon Go and jumping through several apps. The Moto G4 showed a bit of slowdown, but Pokemon Go was still totally playable. And the resulting video didn’t have any major hiccups or dropped frames. The Moto G4 Plus with 4GB of RAM fared even better, with no slowdown during screen recording.
Moto G (2014)
3DMark IS Unlimited
GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Offscreen (fps)
The benchmarks for both phones reflect the strong performance I saw. Compared to last year’s Moto G, they scored four times higher in AndEBench, three times faster in CF-Bench and they were more than twice as fast when it came to the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited. Of course, benchmarks aren’t everything, but huge performance bumps like these are noteworthy. I wouldn’t have dared play a complex 3D game on the last Moto G, but the G4 and G4 Plus ran games like Racing Rivals without any issue.
The fingerprint sensor on the G4 Plus was easy to set up, and it had no trouble accurately recognizing my fingers. Its placement on the face of the phone is confounding, though. Motorola would have been better off placing it on the rear of the phone like LG, or making it an actual home button like Samsung and HTC.
As for battery life, neither phone disappointed. Their 3,000mAh offerings had no trouble lasting me throughout a full day, even when I decided to go on some impromptu Pokemon hunts. In our test, which involves looping an HD video at 50 percent brightness, they both lasted around 12 hours and 30 minutes. The previous Moto G, lasted 10 hours and 40 minutes.
At $200 for the Moto G4 and $250 for the G4 Plus, both phones are practically in a class of their own. There are cheaper phones out there, including Motorola’s own Moto E and HTC’s $179 Desire 530, but they all have significantly worse performance in every respect. If you wanted a big upgrade, you could step up to the Nexus 5X, which currently sells for between $280 and $350, and remains one of the best Android phones on the market. Beyond that, there are the affordable high-end options like the $399 OnePlus 3.
If you’ve only got $200 to spend, there’s no better option than the Moto G4 right now. Stepping up to the G4 Plus gets a bit more confusing. If you want the 64GB version with 4GB of RAM, you’d have to shell out $300. At that point, the Nexus 5X is more tempting thanks to its faster hardware, though you’d have to live with its smaller 5.2-inch screen.
Motorola’s big problem with these new phones is that the last Moto G was simply too good. In pushing for larger screens and other upgrades, it also introduced some compromises. Ultimately though, the good outweighs the bad. The Moto G4 and G4 Plus offer plenty of power and versatility without breaking the bank. And they show that, once again, nobody does budget phones better than Motorola.