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by Al Sacco

6 things you’ll love about the Moto Z Droids — and 6 you won’t

Reviews
Jul 29, 2016
Android Computers and Peripherals Consumer Electronics

The new Moto Z Droid and Moto Z Droid Force are now available from Verizon and Motorola. Theyu2019re some of the strongest Android phones on the market. Should you buy one? These 12 pros and cons could make or break your decision.

moto z droid front and back
Credit: Motorola

Lenovo’s Motorola Mobility division this week launched the latest “Droid” Android smartphones from Verizon Wireless, the sleek and slim Moto Z Droid and the durable, long-lasting Moto Z Force Droid.

Following a lavish unveiling ceremony in San Francisco last month, Motorola sent me both devices, and I’ve been putting them through some serious trials ever since. The devices are similar, but the Moto Z Droid is designed to be as slim as possible, while the Z Force Droid has a “shatterproof” display, a larger battery and a higher quality camera (21MP compared to 13MP).

I found a lot to like about both phones, particularly the Moto Z Force. Unfortunately, Moto also missed its mark in many ways with the two new Droids. Here are six Moto Z Droid pros and six cons you should consider before making either device your go-to smartphone.

6 things you’ll love about Moto Z Droid, Z Force Droid

1. Motorola ‘Mods’ are genuinely unique 

The most notable thing about the two new Moto Z Droids is their support for Motorola’s “Mods,” or modular peripherals and accessories that add some style or functionality to the phones. They all attach to the backs of the Droids via a set of 16 gold-colored magnetic pins at the base of the devices’ rear panels. 

The thin and light $19.99 (and up) Style Shell back covers come in a number of colors and textures, for example. The $79.99 JBL SoundBoost Speaker is a snap-on external speaker with better-than-average audio quality. The $59.99 Incipio offGRID Power Pack battery cover adds up to 22 hours of life, according to Motorola. And the $299.99 Moto Insta-Share Projector is designed to turn any flat surface into a large-screen display, up to 70-inches. And if Motorola has its way, many more innovative Mods will be released in the future, and they’ll all be compatible with later generations of Moto phones.

At a time when innovation in the phone world has slowed to a crawl and takes place almost exclusively on the inside of devices, the company deserves a nod for such a bold and innovative idea. Motorola still has a few warts to address when it comes to the Mod concept, but potential exists in the concept, and that’s exciting.

moto mods droid z Motorola

Moto Insta-Share Projector, Incipio offGRID Power Pack, and JBL SoundBoost Speaker Mods

2. Moto Z Droids’ Android ‘flavor’ is tasty

Android device makers often try to pack all kinds of cool-sounding but ultimately useless features and bloatware into their phones, in attempts to differentiate them from rival products. More often than not, such features are novelties with little real value, and I quickly try to find ways to hide or disable them.

The “flavor” of Android that runs on the Moto Z Droids is relatively “light,” meaning it’s not packed with soggy bloatware, and the experience isn’t too far off from Google’s stock Android software. That’s a good thing.

Some of the uniquely Motorola features are useful, including Moto Actions, which let you quickly shake your wrist twice to launch the camera at any time, and then twist twice again to switch back and forth between rear and front camera. A double-chop Action turns the rear-facing camera on and off. And the Moto Display can be set to show notifications on your lock screen as you receive them. Or you can choose to hide notification content until you pick up the phone and tap an app icon, which quickly shows a message preview. It’s a helpful and unique take on the standard lock screen.

3. Moto Z Droids and ‘TurboPower’ fast charging

The concept of rapid charging is hardly new, but Motorola’s “TurboPower” fast charge feature works particularly well with the new Moto Z phones. Using a compatible TurboPower charger, you can get 15 hours of power in just 15 minutes of charge time for the Moto Z Force Droid, according to Motorola. I didn’t test that specific claim, but I did pit the TurboPower charger and a dead Moto Z Force Droid against Samsung’s Fast Charge feature and a fully depleted Galaxy S7 Active (using a compatible charger). The Z Force Droid powered up significantly faster than the GS7 Active.

As long as you use the supplied USB C TurboPower charge cord, it shouldn’t take long to at least partially replenish a dead Droid.

4. Moto Z Droids available with 32GB or 64GB of storage 

Some of the most popular Android device makers recently decided it was a good idea to offer a single built-in storage option. (This means you, Samsung.) But choice is always better than a lack of options. So I appreciate the fact that both new Droids are available with 32GB and 64GB of storage space. They’re also compatible with microSD memory cards up to 2TB … but good luck finding a card that big.

5. Moto Z Force Droid is durable and long lasting

Thanks to its “Shattershield” screen and whopping 3,500mAh battery, the Z Force Droid can take some serious abuse and easily last a full day of excessive use. I won’t say the phone is indestructible, but I did toss the device from the second story of my office onto a marble first-floor with little visible damage. The Z Force Droid has a “waterrepellant nano-coating,” which means it can stand up to minor spills and light rain, according to Motorola. I also have no complaints about battery life. For context, the power pack in Samsung’s GS7 Active, which is touted as having very strong battery life, is 17 percent smaller than the one in the Z Force Droid.

6. Moto Z Droid is the ‘world’s thinnest premium smartphone’

Motorola says the Z Droid is the thinnest premium smartphone on the planet. I have no idea if that claim is true, but it is slim, that’s for sure — especially without any Mod attached. The Z Droid is 5.5mm thick. That’s more than 30 percent thinner than Samsung’s sleek GS7 edge and more than 20 percent thinner than the iPhone 6s. 

All of these strengths make the new Moto Z Droid and Z Force Droid some of the strongest Android phones available today. But they’re far from perfect. Here’s why.

6 things you WON’T love about Moto Z Droid, Z Force Droid

1. Moto Z Droid, Z Force Droid are Verizon exclusives

If you have an eye on either new Droid, but you’re not a Verizon Wireless customer in the United States, you’re out of luck. Both the Moto Z Droid and F Force Droid are available only on Verizon. You could buy the device off-contract and then unlock it. But there’s no guarantee it will perform as expected on another compatible network.

2. Moto Z Droid USB C port means no audio jack or micro USB

With its two new Droids, Motorola decided to embrace what will likely be the future USB port of choice for the majority of smartphone makers, except for Apple: the USB C port. That’s a good thing in some ways. For example, the port is symmetric on both sides, so you can plug in USB C accessories without checking the orientation. And it supports a wider variety of data transfer types, including audio.

However, the decision also comes with some inconvenient consequences. Neither Droid Z has an audio port, for example — an omission Apple has been senselessly blasted for, even though it hasn’t even released any device without such a jack. They both come with a 3.5mm-to-USB-C adaptor, so you don’t need to buy any other accessories to use your current headphones. But that’s one more cable to cart. And you won’t be able to use any micro USB cords or accessories with the Moto Zs without another adaptor. 

3. Moto Z Force Droid ‘Shattershield’ display far from scratch proof

Motorola claims the Shattershield screen on the Z Force Droid is shatterproof. However, devices like the Droid Z Force with ruggedized displays also have a dirty secret, as demonstrated in the video below.  

To protect the displays on these rugged phones, their manufacturer use a soft top-layer to protect the glass beneath. Unfortunately, the soft layer is much more susceptible to scratches than the Gorilla Glass that’s used in the displays of many other non-ruggedized screens. So while the Moto Z Force Droid’s display won’t shatter easily, it will certainty scratch.

4. Moto Mods are clunky and awkward

With the exception of Motorola’s Style Shell back cover, which is simply an aesthetic accessory, its Mods are somewhat unwieldy and they add bulk. This is especially noticeable when used along with the Moto Z Force Droid, because its big battery means it’s already somewhat thick and heavy.

The JBL SoundBoost Speaker, for example, more than doubles the thickness of both phones. It’s not something you want to carry in a pocket, in other words. And the Incipio offGRID Power Pack battery extender adds significant weight. This is less of a problem with the more diminutive Moto Z Droid, because it’s so thin. But Z Force Droid feels too big when equipped with these Mods.

You also need to remove and replace any case you use to protect your Moto Z Droid whenever you want to use a Mod, because cases won’t fit over them. All that on and off gets old fast and over time discourages Mod use. And many of the Mods are as large or larger than the Droid Zs, so they can be a burden to carry with you.

5. Moto Z Droid, Z Force Droid don’t support wireless power

The majority of high-end Android smartphones today support some form of wireless charging, but neither of the new Droids can power up wirelessly — at least not unless you purchase and attach the $60 Incipio Mod. This lack of internal wireless power support will seem particularly unfortunate to consumers who’ve already invested in wireless charging accessories.

moto z force droid front back side Motorola

Motorola’s Moto Z Force Droid

6. Moto Z Droid isn’t water resistant

The Z Force Droid may be ruggedized, thanks to its Shattershield display, and water repellent. But the Moto Z Droid is just as prone to water damage as any other Droid of years past. That’s a disadvantage for Motorola when compared to other modern rugged Android phones, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Active, which is both shatter- and water-resistant — though it’s also much more bulky and not nearly as stylish as the Moto Zs.

Both the Moto Z Droid and Moto Z Force Droid are now available on VerizonWireless.com and Motorola’s Moto Maker site. The Z Droid costs $624 (32GB) or $674 (64GB) off contract, while the Z Force Droid retails for $720 (32GB) or $770 (64GB). 

AS