Moto Z4 review: a worthy alternative to Google’s Pixel 3a XL

The MODS live on!

Moto Z4 review

Bottom Line

The Moto Z4 is the finest MODS-compatible handset to date. It’s also a thoroughly refined mid-range phone that gets most things right.

Overall
4

Pros

  • Moto MODS
  • Bundled 360 camera
  • Excellent battery life
  • Headphone jack
  • Stock Android
  • 5G upgradable

Cons

  • Slow in-display fingerprint sensor
  • Camera tuning
  • Quiet speakerphone
  • No IP rating

Performance and battery life

The Z4 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 675, a recent mid-range SoC (octa-core, 11nm) designed to balance speed and efficiency. Moto mated this chip with 4GB RAM and 128GB of built-in storage (expandable to 512GB via microSD). As you’d expect, the Z4 keeps on ticking no matter what you’re doing. It breezes through Gmail like a boss and tackles Pokemon GO without drama. Sure, you’ll want a flagship to play the hard-core games, but otherwise, do you really need more speed than this? I doubt it.

Battery life is quite impressive. I only had four days to review the Z4 and I spent almost two of those days (38 hours) on a single charge. This included snapping most of the sample photos for this review, running multiple apps, testing various features, and listening to music for several hours. Not bad for a 3600mAh battery. I’m confident the Z4 will last an entire day of heavy use (busy conference), or two full days of light use (chill weekend). And while it doesn’t support wireless charging, Moto ships a 15W TurboPower fast charger in the box.

Spec-wise, the Z4 packs the usual radios (LTE / GSM / CDMA, WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0, and A-GPS / GLONASS / Galileo) and sensors (proximity, ambient light, gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass). It also includes NFC and FM radios, along with a nifty in-display fingerprint sensor. This optical sensor is pretty reliable, if rather slow — putting it somewhere between the slow and finicky OnePlus 6T reader, and the speedy and reliable OnePlus 7 Pro reader. Reliable beats slow, so I’m happy with it.

Software

Want an almost stock Android experience on your next handset? Moto’s got you covered. The Z4 runs a clean build of Android 9 (Pie) with a few helpful tweaks and zero bloatware. Hurray! Keeping the software fast and compact makes for a lovely user experience — it’s a breath of fresh air. Like the company’s other recent phones, the Z4 features Moto Display, Moto Actions, face unlock (which works best when there’s enough light), and a screenshot editor (which scrolls content automatically).

Moto Display includes Peek Display, which wakes the screen for incoming notifications or when you tap the glass, and Attentive Display, which keeps the screen on while you look at it. Moto Actions are fancy gesture controls, like Lift to unlock, Three finger screenshot, One Button Nav (gesture navigation), Fast flashlight (chop down twice to toggle the flashlight), Quick capture (twist twice to activate the camera), Swipe to shrink (for one-handed use), Pick up to silence, and Flip for DND — phew. That’s basically it.

Price and competition

The Moto Z4 costs $500 unlocked and is bundled with the 360 Camera MOD (worth $200 on its own) — not a bad deal. If you don’t care about the MODS, check out Google’s Pixel 3a XL ($479) or 3a ($399), which pack similar specs and a much better camera in a cheaper body (plastic) with a smaller screen (6- or 5.6-inch). Another option is the OnePlus 6T ($549), which offers a similar design, screen, and in-display fingerprint sensor, uses a faster processor (Snapdragon 845) and more RAM (8GB), but lacks a headphone jack.

If you want a more affordable phone that’s compatible with the MODS, consider last year’s Z3 Play ($350). It features a similar design and specs, but comes with less storage (64GB), a smaller display (6-inch), and no headphone jack. Finally, the Moto G7 ($270) delivers most the Z4’s great user experience (minus the MODS) at a much lower price point.

Bottom line

With the Z4, Moto’s definitely crafted the finest Z-series handset to date. It blends the best attributes from its predecessors into a modern mid-range phone while still supporting those sweet MODS (including 5G). There’s a lot to like here — the premium design, quality screen, strong performance, great battery life, and pleasant user experience — to name a few. Still, there are few things holding the Z4 back. The camera needs tuning, the in-display fingerprint sensor is slow, and the speaker is too quiet for some calls.

Is the Moto Z4 worth $500? Yes, I think so. Besides the camera and updates, it’s a better handset than the Pixel 3a XL. For the first time since the Z2 Play, I can recommend the Z4 even to those who don’t care about the MODS. Finally, consider this: the Z4 comes with a 360 camera and will likely drop in price quickly. What’s there not to like?

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