Motorola Moto Z4 Long-Term Review: Long Live the Z and Moto Mods!

I have been using the Moto Z4 for about 4 months now. By my standards, that’s a really long time. Most phones that come across my desk I don’t use for a very long time. I do switch to and from a small set of some of my favourites. I was jumping between the Pixel 2 and Galaxy S9 for a good chunk of the year but I haven’t gone with one phone as a daily driver for this length for a very long time and I have no intention of switching in the near future (unless the Razr delivers on the goods!).

Before I dive into the review I want to get something off my chest. The Z4 is a great phone but it was a failure before it even reached customers or reviewers’ hands. The reason, you ask? Tech reporters and bloggers that are, well, lazy and bored… Let me explain.

Left to right; Moto Z3 Play, Moto Z4, Moto Z

When the original Moto Z launched in the summer of 2016 there was a lot of excitement about its seemingly endless possibility of functions thanks to the innovative Moto Mod platform. Thanks to a simple phone design and a series of pogo-pins on the lower back of the phone you could turn your phone into a projector, printer, loudspeaker or add enough battery to last for 2-3 days of use. Motorola promised to deliver more Mods over time, and they did to a certain degree with some notable ones being the Alexa-enabled speaker (which is great by the way) and the Moto Gamepad. Some companies like Incipio added battery and car accessories and premium camera maker, Hasselblad released a fully-featured camera Mod. For the record, the camera, which came out around the time of the Moto Z2 and Z2 Play was pretty bad. It was slow and the sensor was just bad. However, most Moto Mods were good to great but were on the expensive side.

Motorola, recently acquired by Lenovo, committed to a 3-year release of devices that would support the Moto Mod ecosystem. At the time, everyone applauded Motorola for such a commitment.

By the time Motorola released the Moto Z3 and Z3 Play the media, big and small were complaining that the Moto Z design was tired and too dated to continue. Effectively, the blogosphere wanted the Moto Z and its Mods to be taken out to pasture. I used, and reviewed the Moto Z3 Play, last year and it was a really good phone and I really enjoyed using it. Was the camera as good as my Google Pixel XL (1st gen)? No, the camera was not the greatest but was perfectly usable in most situations. Even more so after I installed the Google Camera APK. Most reviews though, said the phone was dead on arrival and should never have been released.

Fast forward a year and the Z4 was leaked, subsequently announced and by the time it reached reviewers’ hands, most were already jumping on the hate-train saying Motorola is wasting its time, don’t bother with the Z4 and no one wants Moto Mods.

Hi! I do! I want Moto Mods! I have several and have invested myself in the ecosystem. On top of the Mods, I really like the build of Motorola phones, both for their physical and software designs.

What’s In The Box?

  • Moto Z4
  • Turbo Power Charging Adapter
  • USB A to C Cable
  • The usual paperwork
  • Moto 360° Camera Mod

Moto Z4 Specifications

What I Liked About the Moto Z4

Moto Mods

When I reviewed the Moto Z3 Play last summer, the number one thing I said liked about the device, was the mod ecosystem. This is still the case in 2019 when I use the Z4. The mods are what make the device worth it. I will admit that the case for the Z-line living on is getting harder and harder to make and the odds a Z5 seem pretty slim right now. My only hope is the fact that they firmly positioned the Z4 in the mid-range with its 600 series Snapdragon CPU. Doing this makes sense and removes the need for a lower end Play device.

As for the mods though, they are incredibly useful and augment the experience of the phone dramatically. Here are the mods I have:

  • InstaShare Projector
  • Gamepad
  • InstaShare Polaroid Printer
  • Alexa Speaker
  • 360 Camera

I use the projector and speaker daily and the other three make at least one or two appearances a week. I will often switch to another device for a review or just for fun, but I always end up having to keep the Z4 at the ready becasue I have become too used to having the mods there.

The caveat is that the mods are still very expensive. They are coming down in price, so if you are new to the Z-line and want to use mods, now is the time. For example, the projector had an original $400 CAD price tag. Today it is available on Amazon for less than $175 CAD.

The other caveat with mods and Z-line beyond the Z5 speculation is the lack of growth in the mod ecosystem. When Motorola brought us the original Moto Z in 2016 there was a promise of dozens of mods and a 3rd party ecosystem. Today, there are about a dozen mods still available online and even less directly from Motorola. That fact worries me and should be a major point of consideration.

The Camera

The 48 MP shooter on the Z4 is great when used properly.

For years Motorola has been slated for having poor camera performance. The software that drives the Motorola Camera app has been feature-packed but always struggled to produce consistent and reliable output.

That is less of a problem with the Z4, but it is still a problem. Enter Google Camera…

Thanks to a dedicated community of modders one can get a version of the Google Camera app for almost every device available today. Including the Z4.

If you have or are considering the Moto Z4 I absolutely implore you to install this APK and use it as your primary camera app. I haven’t touched the Moto app for months unless I have absolutely had too, and I have not missed a beat.

The camera performance is little slow still, even with the Google app, but that is a byproduct of the Snapdragon 675 and only 4GB of RAM. However, as long as your patient and set your expectations, I think you will be just fine. I was coming from a Pixel and a Galaxy S9 which were very fast and had Snapdragon 835 and 845 CPUs respectively and the performance difference was not that noticeable from a speed perspective.

Battery Life

Thanks to the 3,600 mAh battery inside the Z4 making through a whole day on a single charge is possible. I have been using the phone for 4 months now and have not seen much regression in day to day battery life. I do, however, lean on my devices very hard and usually need to top up at least once to make sure I can make it through my typical day which normally spans from about 5:00 am to 10:00 pm. I have recently ordered a battery mod to give me another 2,200 mAh battery just for fun.

What I Didn’t Like About the Moto Z4

There is not a lot I didn’t like about the Z4. If I had to pick one thing, it is the in-screen fingerprint scanner. Last year, the Z3 lineup had a horrible side-mounted fingerprint scanner which I still absolutely despise. This isn’t that bad, but it is less than enjoyable. Thankfully, I spend most of my time having the Z4 connected to either my Gear S3 Frontier or a set of Bluetooth headphones that keep the device unlocked thanks to Google Smart Lock. When the fingerprint scanner does light up, I find that it is generally inaccurate and slow. Again, not a major issue based on my use case, but consideration to account for nonetheless.

I would also give the Z4 a slight knock for its build design. It is hard to articulate this, since the phone is, more or less, the same footprint as the original Moto Z, but the slight rounding of the backside of the phone causes Moto Mods to have a small, but noticeable gap between the phone and the mod. The original Moto Z was a perfect match to all mods, the Z3 was almost there, but the Z4 just does not fit mods well.

Should You Buy The Moto Z4?

Moto Z4 and Moto Z

For the majority of people out there, you would probably look at the device and think you can get a Pixel 3a for only a little more or a Motorola G7 for a little bit less and wonder, why consider the Z4. The decision to buy this device really comes down to two things; Moto Mods and performance. If you have owned a Z phone before or want to augment your phone use with a mod, even just a speaker or the 360° camera, then this phone is worth it. Also, consider that no new mods are likely to come to the market. On the performance side, the phone holds up and if you have never had a phone with flagship specs you likely will not know the difference. However, switching from a phone with an 8XX series CPU and 6+ GB of RAM, you will feel the slow down when using the Z4.

If you can get past either of these, then buy this phone! With Black Friday and Christmas coming up fast, you’ll be sure to see some deals on the Z4 too!

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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