Motorola Moto Z4 hands-on: Moto keeps the Mod line alive

The Moto Z4 is the latest iteration of Motorola’s line of Mod-compatible phones. The Z4 picks up where the Moto Z3 left off last year. It slots into the “affordable premium” category by targeting value over raw performance. Motorola upped the screen size, opted for a huge camera sensor, and, yes, made sure to dangle that 5G carrot in your face.

More important than the Moto Z4’s specs, however, is the price. Motorola updated the phone across the board and yet managed to keep the cost low enough for just about anyone — all while maintaining backward compatibility with the existing ecosystem of Moto Mods.

Here are our Motorola Moto Z4 hands-on impressions.

New face, same body

Motorola painted itself into a bit of a design corner with its Z phones and the associated Moto Mods. Each new device in the series must carry forward the basic footprint of the original Moto Z, as well as the rear-mounted contact plate and circular camera module in order to fit the Mods. This means the Z4 is nearly impossible to tell apart from the Z3, which was in turn hard to discern from the Z2 before it. The entire Z family DNA is not only evident, it is mandatory.

This didn’t stop Motorola from making some refinements along the way.

Number one, the screen has evolved from a 16:9 panel sunk in chunky bezels to the all-screen face of the Moto Z4. With just a teardrop notch at the top, the Z4 is as close to 100 percent display as we’ve seen from Motorola. In other words, it fits in with the current array of competing devices.

Front upper side of the Motorola Moto Z4

Motorola painted itself into a bit of a design corner with its Z phones.

The OLED screen measures 6.4 inches across the diagonal and boasts Full HD+ resolution. It’s a beauty. The insane contrast ratio (1,000,000:1) allows for inky blacks and vibrant colors. Brightness is solid and viewing angles are excellent. It’s a fine screen for a phone at any price.

Motorola Moto Z4 in hand - full lreview

An aluminum frame runs around the outer edge. I like that the metal has a grainy finish. The edges angle toward the back panel just a bit. This helps make the phone more comfortable to hold. It also introduces an interesting issue with Moto Mods.

The footprint of the rear panel is about 1mm narrower all the way around than Moto Mods themselves. This means each Mod now has a defined lip against the frame of the Z4. I get that Motorola wanted to make the phone a wee bit smaller when used without the Mods, but the Mods are now less secure on the phone. The lip can easily be caught on your pocket liner or palm and pull free of the phone. This is a curious design choice from Motorola. The Mods are fully compatible with the Z4, of course, but they don’t fit as seamlessly as they do on the Z3 and older generations.

Back side of the Motorola Moto Z4 showing the camera bump

The 2.5D front glass may be slightly curved where it meets the metal frame, but the rear glass is perfectly flat. Motorola says the panels are made of Gorilla Glass 3, which is curiously out-of-date compared to the Gorilla Glass 6 that’s appearing on modern flagships.

Motorola stacked the volume and power buttons on the right edge. They are flawless. The SIM and microSD tray and speaker are up top, and a USB-C port is on the bottom. Motorola caved to consumer complaints and brought the 3.5mm headphone jack back to the Z line. It is next to the USB port on the bottom.

Side view of the Motorola Moto Z4 showing the volume and power button.

In all, the hardware is just what we expect from a phone at this price point. It offers modern appointments in a classy frame using high-quality materials.

Upgraded internals

The Moto Z4 may look identical to its predecessors, but the innards tell a different story.

Motorola opted for a Snapdragon 675 processor with Adreno 608 GPU, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. The microSD slot allows for an additional 512GB of storage. The battery has a capacity of 3,600mAh. Motorola claims it is good for two days and that it supports 15W TurboPower charging. These are all par for the course at this price point.

There’s no secondary camera for telephoto or wide-angle shots.

The company has high hopes for the camera. You’ll find a single 48MP sensor inside. It supports pixel binning and outputs 12MP images supported by an aperture of f/1.7 and OIS. There’s no secondary camera for telephoto or wide-angle shots. That’s a bit of a bummer. The Moto Z4 still supports features such as night mode and portrait lighting.

A 25MP camera adorns the front. I’m disappointed there’s no wide-angle selfie cam — unless you count the hard-to-use selfie panorama mode that forces you to tilt the camera back and forth for larger group shots.

You’ll be able to capture 4K video with the rear camera and Full HD video with the front camera, both at 30fps. This is the bare minimum.

Software is one of Motorola’s strengths.

The expected selection of radios is on board, as well, including Bluetooth 5.0, dual-band WiFi, LTE, FM, and NFC for mobile payments.

Bottom side of the Motorola moto Z4 showing the usb-c port

Easy as Pie

Software is one of Motorola’s strengths. The Z4 ships with a near stock version of Android 9 Pie and Motorola’s truly useful customizations. For example, the chopping motion that turns on the flashlight or the twisting motion that launches the camera.

Motorola’s gesture-based navigation is far superior to Google’s. Once you learn the basics of flicking and swiping your way through the home screen, no phone feels more natural to use than the Z4.

Front lower side of the motorola moto z4

Oddities abound

Motorola continues to make odd decisions with its hardware. To start, the Moto Z4 has no IP rating. As it has done for years, Motorola coated the phone’s circuit board with a water-repellent material. It can handle light splashing and rain, but not submersion.

Motorola announced no new Mods for the Z4.

The company opted for an under-the-display fingerprint reader. More and more phones are pursuing this technology — for good or bad — and Motorola’s optical sensor offers an acceptable level of performance. The Z4 has face unlock, too, and it worked quickly if insecurely.

It’s not called the Moto Z4 Note, and yet the phone supports the Microsoft active pen protocol. There’s no active stylus in the box, but if you pick one up you’ll find it works with the screen.

Then there’s the Mod story. Other than the 5G Mod, which debuted for the Z3 earlier this year, Motorola announced no new Mods for the Z4. The company has trotted out at least one new Mod with each successive generation of Z-series device. Not this time around. Apparently the 5G Mod, which will add 5G to the Z4 should you opt to buy it, is the only thing Motorola has up its sleeve. I would have preferred to see Motorola design a 5G phone from the ground up, but I understand that it already has a 5G solution available in the 5G Mod.

Moto Z4 specs

Display 6.39-inch OLED
19:9 Max Vision aspect ratio
Full HD+ resolution at 2,340 x 1,080
1,000,000:1 contrast ratio
85 percent screen-to-body ratio
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 675
Octa-core processor (up to 2.0GHz)
GPU Adreno 608
RAM 4GB
Storage 128GB
Expandable with microSD slot (512GB max)
Power 3,600mAh
15W TurboPower charger included
No wireless charging (without Moto Mod)
Ports USB-C 3.1 port
microSD card slot
Single nano SIM card
3.5mm headphone jack
Cameras Rear camera:
48MP sensor with 12MP output
Quad Pixel technology
f/1.7 aperture
1.6um pixel size
OIS, PDAF, laser autofocus
CCT dual-LED flash

Front camera:
25MP sensor with 6.25MP output
Quad Pixel technology
f/2.0 aperture
0.9um pixel size

Video Rear camera:
Up to 4K Ultra HD (30fps) video capture

Front camera:
Up to 1080p (30fps) video capture

Audio Top port loudspeaker
3.5mm headphone jack
Security In-display fingerprint sensor
Face unlock
Connectivity LTE: B2/B3/B4/B5/B7/B12/B13/B20/B28/B66
UMTS: B1/B2/B5/B8
CDMA: BC0/BC1
GSM: B2/B3/B5/B8

Bluetooth 5.0
NFC support

GPS, AGPS, GLONASS, Galileo

Software Android 9 Pie
Dimensions/Weight 75 x 158 x 7.35mm
165g
Colors Flash Grey, Frost White
Moto Mod Support Yes

Pricing and availability

The Motorola Moto Z4 goes on sale June 3 at a shocking range of price points.

Motorola Moto Z4 sideview in hand

Verizon Wireless plans to sell the phone starting June 6. For a limited time, customers who switch to Verizon or add a new line will be able to get the Moto Z4 for $10 per month for 24 months, or $240 total for the phone. Want that 5G Mod? Expect to pay double. The 5G Mod adds $200 to the overall price of the Z4, pushing the total to $440. Ouch.

Full Moto Z4 availability details here

Verizon’s regular price for the Moto Z4 will be $20.83 per month, over 24 months. That’s a $499.99 total retail cost.

Editor’s Pick

What is 5G, and what can we expect from it?

You’ve likely heard the term a lot recently, but what is 5G? Good question. Simply put, 5G networking is the next major evolution of mobile wireless technology. It will empower customers with even faster data connections, …

Motorola plans to sell the phone unlocked via Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, and B&H Photo. Motorola didn’t immediately say how much the unlocked version costs on its own, but if you buy it with the 360-degree camera Mod, you can get the Z4 for $499. Yes, you read that correctly.

At just $240, the Moto Z4 is in instant Pixel 3a killer. At $499, it easily falls prey to the Pixel 3a XL.

This concludes our Motorola Moto Z4 hands-on. What do you think?