The Moto Z4 is not a particularly exciting phone. It is a midrange device with a familiar design, spec list and function set. The most important distinguishing factor is Moto Mods, the attachable accessory that can magnetically click on the back of the phone. But those aren't really much of a draw. They were welcome a few Moto Z versions ago.
With a price tag of $ 499 for the unlocked model (or as low as $ 240 if you buy from Verizon and start a new line of service), you might think the Z4 is one of those medium budget phones that could replace something that costs much more. Yet the Z4 has a lot of great competition that feels fresher or more attractive in that price range. In a series of 2019 telephones, the Z4 does not get a second glance from anyone.
But while the Z4 is none exciting phone, it is certainly no bad phone. In fact, it has quite a few redeeming qualities that make it worth considering, depending on your priorities.
What is it?
The Z4 is the flagship of Motorola for this year (unless it releases the folding phone that has been rumored for a few months). In terms of design, it actually looks just like any other Moto Z phone, with glass on the front and back and a metal frame in the middle. It is compatible with all Moto Mod accessories that date back to 2016 and the unlocked model comes with the 360 camera Mod in the box. Verizon is the only provider that sells the Z4 directly in the US, but you can buy the unlocked version and use it on other providers. I tested an unlocked model on the T-Mobile network.
What's good about it?
The most impressive of the Z4 is the battery life. Motorola has installed a 3,600mAh battery – the largest of a Moto Z phone – an energy efficient processor and a 1080p screen in the Z4, which together result in a device that easily lasts a few days between costs in normal use, without the need for aggressive energy-saving functions or reporting procedures. I have not been so impressed with the endurance of a phone since the original Moto Z Play from 2016. As an experiment, I tested how long the battery would stay out of the charger with one of the Motorola Mods batteries and the Z4 was able to go from Saturday to Tuesday with normal use and without plugging in.
The display of the Z4 is also very good, despite having a lower resolution than other phones. It has an excellent color rendering, great viewing angles, becomes bright enough to read outside on a sunny day and has the deep, rich black tones that we are used to from OLED screens. It has a small notch in the top for the front camera, but it is one of the smallest cutouts on the screen that I have seen and does not prevent video images or other screen functionality. This is the type of screen that I expect on phones that are much more expensive than the Z4.
Motorola phones are usually very well put together, with recent models embracing the trend of a glass front and back sandwich with a metal frame in between. The Z4 is no different, the back of the phone has a smooth, matte glass finish and all seams and tolerances are very tight. It feels like a much more expensive phone when I hold it. In addition, Motorola has added a 3.5 mm headphone jack to the Z4, something that was not based on any of the previous Moto Z devices.
Finally the Moto Z4 has good software. It is launched with Android 9 Pie as standard and includes Motorola modifications such as an improved motion navigation interface and the ability to control various functions of the phone by shaking or turning them around. The actual software interface is clean and uncluttered, and the phone is free of bloatware and other preloads that nobody ever really asks for (at least about the unlocked model I used). Motorola has no great track record when updating its phones when new versions of Android appear, but even if it never gets an update, the Z4 software offers a good experience.
What's good about it?
The mid-range price of the Z4 means that Motorola had to cut a number of turns compared to the much more expensive flagship telephones on the market. The first thing you notice is that the Z4 is not as fast or spicy as a OnePlus 7 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S10. That is because its mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 processor, although very good for battery life, is not nearly as good as the Snapdragon 855 that can be found in many flagships this year. The Z4 is not as fast or smooth as other phones and will certainly not win any speed races. That does not mean that its implementation is in any way bad and I have not really seen any problems or failures while testing the phone. But if you're the kind of person who wants the ultimate performance from your phone, the OnePlus 7 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S10 will itch better than the Z4.
The main camera of the Moto Z4 uses only one lens and sensor, in contrast to the multiple lenses that we currently see on most phones. Fortunately, that one sensor is good – it is the same 48-megapixel camera that can be found on the OnePlus 7, Xiaomi Mi 9 and Honor View 20 – and can produce clear, detailed images with most exposure.
Surprisingly, Motorola has a night mode that actually works well to draw more details from low-light scenarios, just as Night Sight works on Google's Pixel phones. But the night mode of Motorola is not entirely of the level of Google and often produces exaggerated colors with an abundance of saturation. Yet it is better than the night mode options on many other phones in this price range.
The Moto Z4 has a single speaker at the top of the phone's frame, unlike the bottom where most of the phone speakers are located. It gets reasonably loud and usually sounds great, but it's not comparable to the stereo speakers that are available on many other devices. You could improve the sound quality of the Z4 with a JBL Soundboost 2 Mod, but that costs you $ 79.99 and adds a lot of mass and weight to the phone.
What's wrong with it?
The biggest problem with the Moto Z4 is the same that ravaged many other phones this year: the nice under-display fingerprint scanner is just not very good. Motorola uses an optical sensor here – the same as OnePlus and Xiaomi – and it is slower and less accurate than side or rear scanners. It often takes more than one beat to recognize and unlock my finger, and it often takes several attempts to unlock. Motorola offers a face unlocking feature that depends on the front camera, but it's not a 3D card system, so it's much less secure.
Like any other Moto Z phone, the Moto Z4 supports Motorola & Moto Mod system of modular accessories that are attached to the back of the phone via magnets. Popular Mods include battery packs and speakers, which help to extend the life of a power outlet or improve the sound quality of the phone. If you are a Verizon customer, there is even a 5G Mod that can add 5G capabilities to the Z4.
Functionally, all mods that I have tested with the Z4, including the 360-degree camera Mod that comes with the unlocked model, work exactly the same as on other Moto Z phones. But because Motorola has slightly changed the design of the Z4's frame – it now has a small beveled finish that gives a slight curvature to the back – none of the available mods are actually flat on the phone. There is a lip of about 1 mm around the entire edge when a Mod is attached, making the accessory feel less like a cohesive part of the entire phone and more like the screwed-on piece that it is. The redesigned frame makes the Z4 more comfortable to hold if you have not connected a Mod, but it is strange that Motorola would commit to continue supporting the Mods on the Z4 and then lose the experience with it .
Who should consider it?
The Moto Z4 is really only worth considering if you get it for a great deal, such as the Verizon launch offer when you open a new line of service. For that price, it is an excellent phone and a better option than the G7 series from Motorola, which are usually priced in that range. And if you are really curious about how Verizon & # 39; s 5G network is piling up, you can get the 5G Moto Mod to add the next generation of network capabilities to the phone. (I secretly suspect that the whole reason why the Moto Z4 exists is because Verizon wanted to sell a cheap 5G phone to its customers.)
For the full price, the Moto Z4 is a harder sell. Of course the battery life is great, and the screen is surprisingly good, but I would be more inclined to buy last year's OnePlus 6T for a comparable price and get faster performance, even better software and better software support. If you own one of the older Z models and have a pile of Moto Mods looking for a home, the Z4 is the most modern option for you, but the rest of us are better off elsewhere.
Vox Media has affiliated partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media can earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. See for more information our ethical policy.