Moto Z4 hands-on review

The Moto Z4 is not an exciting phone. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and at $500, you can buy similarly-priced phones with more compelling features, like the Google Pixel 3a or the Asus ZenFone 6.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad phone. The Moto Z4 offers solid performance, a large battery, a promising camera, and a nice software experience. You can still use Moto Mods, and some are genuinely useful. But at the end of the day, the Z4 is priced a little high. Based on my initial thoughts, you should only buy this phone if you’re on Verizon’s network, as it’s available for $400 if you’re an existing customer and you’re upgrading.

Moto Mods, and a large display

The Moto Z4 looks a lot like its predecessors. That’s because it maintains the modular system so Motorola’s Moto Mods can magnetically attach to the back of the phone. The phone’s dimensions needed to be similar so Moto Mods that worked on the Moto Z3 or original Moto Z can work flawlessly on the Z4. That’s great if you already own a few mods and are planning on upgrading from an older Moto Z phone.

Motorola offers 16 Moto Mods at the moment, with the most recent being the 5G Moto Mod. No new Moto Mods are launching with the Moto Z4, which is disappointing. Still, I’ve always liked Motorola’s implementation of mods. They’re easy to snap on and use. I can only recommend a few mods, though, such as the battery mod for longer battery life, the JBL Soundboost 2 speaker mod for blasting music, the wireless charging mod, and the Polaroid Insta-Share Printer mod.

moto z4 Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The phone’s back boasts etched matte glass (Gorilla Glass 3), and it feels nice. The matte texture eliminates ugly smudges and fingerprints, and it’s difficult to tell it’s a glass back. At the very bottom are pogo pins that are required for data transmission between Moto Mods and the phone. There’s also a large and ugly camera bump, but that disappears if you slap on a Moto Mod case.

The display is protected by Gorilla Glass 3 as well, and Motorola has jumped on the bezel-less and notch bandwagon. The edges surrounding the screen are slim, and that delivers a larger 6.39-inch display while maintaining nearly the same body size as the Moto Z3 (which has a 6-inch screen).

It’s an OLED display with 2,340 x 1,080 resolution, and it looks sharp, with strong colors and deep blacks. In my limited testing, it was bright enough to see the screen in direct sunlight. The large display with slim bezels helps apps and other content look good, and while I like the feel of the phone in my hand, it is a bit difficult to reach the top of the screen. It’s very much a two-handed phone.

The Moto Z4 offers solid performance, a large battery, a promising camera, and a nice software experience.

Gone is the sensor that used to sit on the side of the phone. It’s now under the display, a move we’ve seen from several handset-makers already, including Samsung. It’s an optical in-display fingerprint sensor, and while Motorola told me it has tested it extensively and it should perform reliably, my tests say otherwise. The scanner requires multiple attempts to acknowledge my print. I’ve rescanned my fingerprint many times to no avail. Other in-display fingerprint readers have proven just as troublesome, but it’s a disappointment all the same.

Thankfully, there’s a face unlock option that works well, though it’s not secure and can’t be used to authenticate payments or access sensitive apps — unlike Apple’s Face ID.

moto z4 Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The right side of the phone has a textured power button below a volume rocker. You can double tap the power button to trigger Google Assistant by default, which is a nice touch. On the bottom edge is a USB-C charging port, alongside — wait for it — a headphone jack! Yes, Motorola took out the headphone jack in the Moto Z, but it’s making a comeback in the Moto Z4. Why? Customers complained. It’s nice to see Motorola listening to feedback.

Sadly, the body of the phone is not IP-rated water resistant. It’s protected from splashes or rain, but it won’t survive a dip in the pool.

Good performance, uncluttered software

Motorola has stuffed Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 675 processor inside the Moto Z4 with 4GB of RAM. This gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand, phones like the Pixel 3a (which has the Snapdragon 670) didn’t give me too many issues, even when playing games like PUBG: Mobile. This rings true with the Moto Z4. It performs admirably.

The Pixel 3a is $400, though. For around the same $500 price as the Moto Z4, you can buy the Asus ZenFone 6, which packs the flagship Snapdragon 855 processor — the same chip that’s inside the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus and other high-end phones. That chipset is much faster and will hold up better as the years pass by.

Here are a few benchmark results:

  • AnTuTu 3DBench: 162,475
  • Geekbench 4 CPU: 2,381 single-core; 6,411 multi-core
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 1,053 (Vulkan)

The OnePlus 7 Pro, which is $680, has much better scores, and the Asus ZenFone 6’s numbers also fly by the Moto Z4. The Z4 does beat out the Pixel 3a, however. You’ll be satisfied with the Moto Z4’s performance, but you can get more for your money.

On the software side, Motorola offers a close-to-stock Android 9 Pie interface. It’s simple to use, and the unlocked model doesn’t have any bloatware (the Verizon model I looked at did).

Motorola has added a few of its classic features. Moto Actions returns, so you can use gestures like chopping the phone twice to turn on the flashlight or twisting the phone twice to launch the camera app. There’s also Moto Display. Hover your hand close to the screen and you get a quick glance at the time and notifications.

moto z4 Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

I did notice a problem with the keyboard. Google’s Gboard is installed by default, and it gave me poor keyword prediction while using the swipe method to type. I’ve never had a problem on other phones using Gboard.

Unfortunately, Motorola confirmed to Digital Trends that only one Android version update is planned for the Moto Z4. It will get Android Q, but the jury is out on whether it will receive next year’s Android R. On the plus side, you will receive bi-monthly security updates for two years.

Massive megapixels

The highlight of the Moto Z4 is the camera, because Motorola has packed in a massive 48-megapixel sensor (f/1.7 with optical image stabilization) on the rear as well as a large 25-megapixel sensor (f/2.0) on the front for the selfie camera. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll see large file sizes and ultra-detailed images. The rear and front cameras use Quad Pixel technology — another word for pixel binning.


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Pixel binning means the camera combines pixels so they take more light. More light means better low-light photographs. This feature is on permanently for the rear camera, so the camera output will always be 12 megapixels. It’s the default option for the selfie camera, so the output is a 6-megapixel photo, but you can opt to use the full 25 megapixels as well (in which case it won’t use pixel binning).

There’s also a new Night Vision mode. It stacks images together and removes noise for clearer and more colorful nighttime photographs. The images I took in that mode looked satisfactory but it’s hit or miss. Look at the examples below. In the first set, the standard photo is darker, but it’s much sharper. The Night Vision photo had trouble focusing. The second set shows the improvement Night Vision is supposed to bring. It makes the photo much brighter, and it’s still sharp. I’ll be comparing Night Vision to the $400 Pixel 3a’s Night Sight to see how well it stacks up.

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  • 1.
    Standard.
  • 2.
    Night Vision.
  • 3.
    Standard.
  • 4.
    Night Vision.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Daytime photos look detailed, though the camera seems to struggle a little with HDR and high-contrast scenarios. There’s no second camera for depth-sensing, but there’s still a Portrait Mode available. It’s decent, though the blur accuracy around a subject isn’t consistent.

Motorola has added a few AI features into the camera. Auto Smile Capture is back, so you can just smile at the selfie camera and it will snap a shot. There’s also Smart Composition, which will recommend the best place to align your photo. Portrait Lighting effects are available for added versatility in that mode, along with the usual Cinemagraph, Spot Color, and Panorama modes.

moto z4 review ho camera sample portrait mode

If all of this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s almost the exact same camera setup as the recently announced Motorola One Vision, which isn’t coming to the U.S.

Great battery life so far

Motorola has outfitted the Moto Z4 with a large 3,600mAh battery, and it claims the phone should last for two days on a single charge. On my first day with the phone, I hit 55 percent by 3 p.m. with medium to heavy use. That’s great, and it means the phone will easily last a full day. I can see it making it to half of a second day with light to medium use.

The Z4 also supports Motorola’s 15-watt Turbopower fast charging solution for rapid recharging. Despite a glass back, there’s no wireless charging, though there’s a Moto Mod you can snap on to get support.

Price and availability

The Moto Z4 will be available on June 13 from Verizon in Flash Grey, but the Frost White color option will arrive later this summer on the carrier. For a limited time, you can buy the Moto Z4 for just $240, or $10 per month for 24 months, on Verizon — but that requires a new activation. If you’re already on Verizon and want to upgrade, you’ll save $100 when you purchase the Moto Z4 via Verizon’s Device Payment Plan.

I like the Moto Z4, but it didn’t blow me away in my first day of using it.

If you’re eyeing the 5G Moto Mod, Verizon is offering a deal on it also for a limited time, bringing its price down to $200. There’s usually an additional cost to access 5G ($10 a month on top of your Unlimited or Beyond Unlimited plans), but the cost is waived for a limited time. Verizon’s 5G network is only available in Chicago and Minneapolis, and only in small pockets in those two cities. You should wait until 2020 to buy a proper 5G phone, as prices will hopefully come down and coverage will be better.

For those looking at the unlocked model, the Moto Z4 costs $500, but a Moto 360 Camera mod comes bundled in. It works on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint. The unlocked model doesn’t support the 5G Moto Mod at launch but will support it later (you’ll still need to be on Verizon). Pre-orders are available now, and it will be officially available starting June 6 from Best Buy, B&H, and Amazon.

All versions will come with 128GB of internal storage, and a MicroSD card slot is present if you need more space.

Conclusion

I like the Moto Z4, but it didn’t blow me away in my first day of using it. The Google Pixel 3a and Asus Zenfone 6 offer stiff competition. The Moto will struggle to overcome those alternatives, but perhaps time will leave me with a higher opinion of the Z4. Check back for my full review next week.