- WIREDYou won’t find mods as useful or well-designed on other phones. Motorola’s gestures are handy. Fantastic battery life, especially on the Moto Z2 Play. Storage is expandable via MicroSD.
- TIREDWhere’s the waterproofing? The Z2 Force has no headphone jack. The best Moto Mods are pricey, as are these phones. The cameras are acceptable, but still need work.
A LOT OF Android phones claim to be different, but Motorola’s Z series backs up that claim. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Moto Z phones have something that other phones just don’t. The new Moto Z2 Force and Moto Z2 Play have magnetic Mods that snap onto the back of them, adding new features. What you think about those Mods will determine whether either of the two Moto Z2 phones are right for you.
Whatever you’re doing, Moto wants to have a Mod for that. Snap on a battery pack if you’re going off grid, or maybe a 360-degree camera so you can capture everything on that nature hike. Pop on a speaker and you can pump up the jams, or attach Motorola’s brand new Polaroid printer Mod that lets you instantly print out any photo you take. You can even buy a Mod that turns your phone into an Amazon Echo speaker, complete with a glowing blue ring.
There are more than a dozen of these Mods, and they all magnetically cling to the back of the rather svelte Z2, which feels almost too thin and flat without one. Moto Mods are the defining reason to buy a Moto Z2 Play and its more expensive sibling, the Z2 Force. But they don’t come cheap. Many of these doodads cost upward of a hundred bucks.
My Moto Z2s have worn a lot of Mods in the last few weeks. I found most of them fun, but I didn’t want to keep any of them snapped on forever. Many of them make the phone a little too fat. My favorite was a battery pack, which I kept in my back and snapped on whenever I had a long day ahead of me. Oddly, I rarely needed it. Both the Z2 Force and Play get excellent battery life without augmentation. I was able to use the Z2 Play for two days straight after forgetting to charge it, though it was gasping for a charge by the second evening. That kind of battery life is hard to come by these days.
Both Moto Z2 phones are nearly identical from the outside. They have large glass 5.5-inch screens above a nice fingerprint sensor. The sides and back are smooth, brushed aluminum with a large circular bump for the rear camera. Ridges on the power button make it easy to distinguish from the volume keys, all of which sit on the right side of the phone. Charging via the USB C slot on the bottom is also pretty standard.
Initially, I was bothered by how flat the back of the phone feels. It doesn’t contour to your palm like some phones. After a few days, I got used to it and now appreciate how thin these phones feel, though I still recommend a bumper case, like this one from Lenovo.
Setting aside the lack of waterproofing on either phone, the only problem with the design is that it’s large for one-handed use. This is an extra-large phone, and if that bothers you, consider the smaller and cheaper Moto X4.
Both phones also run Motorola’s slight twist on Android 7 Nougat (the new Android 8 Oreo is promised, but not out yet). Most of what’s here is identical to other Android phones, but there are a few Moto Action gestures that I like to use. You can twist the phone to open the camera and swipe it down and up like you’re swinging an ax to turn on and off the flashlight. Even better are the home button gestures, which let you dump the onscreen back, home, and multitasking buttons in favor of swiping left, right, and pressing on the home button. It takes a good day to get used to it, but swiping is very intuitive, and a great reason to stick with a phone with a home button fingerprint sensor, like this one.
The 12-megapixel rear cameras perform similarly, as well. I snapped some lovely night photos on a trip to New York City, and the camera did a decent job balancing dark areas and bright Christmas light displays at Saks Fifth Avenue and Rockefeller Center. The Moto Z2 Play has been my go-to camera for three weeks now. Despite what feels like a second of lag when pressing the shutter button, it hasn’t hampered my ability to take timely shots. The 5-megapixel front camera on each is decent, but has had some trouble in low-light situations. The rear camera’s 4K (30fps) video support is also nice. If you’re picky about your photos though, neither of these can match the shooters on the new iPhone X or Pixel 2.
The Difference Between Us
Both Z2 models will work on most wireless carriers, have 64GB storage (with MicroSD slots), and 4GB of RAM. Still, there are a few vital differences between these phones that I’m going to sum up quickly.
The Z2 Force is the fancier $720 version. It has an extra rear camera (that, to be honest, does not add a whole lot to the experience), a cutting-edge Snapdragon 835 processor (this doesspeed the phone up substantially if you use intense apps or games), and a higher-resolution Quad HD screen that will supposedly withstand falls better. It also comes with a “Shattershield” screen cover stuck on it that’s sharp around the edges. What you lose is a headphone jack and a few hours of battery life. It’s also imperceptibly thicker.
The Moto Z2 Play has a weaker Snapdragon 626 processor, larger battery, FM radio, and standard HD screen. I was legitimately shocked when I found out both screens had a different resolution, which shows just how adequate a 1080p screen still is. Both Super AMOLED displays look excellent.
I still like having a headphone jack and the slightly slower performance of the Moto Z2 Play is an easy tradeoff for the savings. The $500 64GB Unlocked version of the Moto Z2 Play is my favorite model (linked in the Buy buttons on this review), though there is a Verizon-only edition for $408.
It’s a Moto of Choice
There are a few truly high-end phones you can buy for $500 or less, like the OnePlus 5T or Essential Phone, but neither of them have Moto Mods. That’s the reason to choose a Moto Z phone.
The 64GB Unlocked Moto Z2 Play is a fantastic phone, if Moto Mods interest you. If they don’t, I can’t help but direct you to the other Moto in the room, the Moto X4.