In 2016 Motorola released the Moto Z. This was the phone that was intended to change the way we think of and use our phones. What made the Moto Z special was not so much the phone itself, as it was fairly standard spec-wise when compared to other flagships at the time. It was a small patch around the back of the phone that contained pogo-style pins which allowed users to connect a variety of peripherals to the phone known as Moto Mods that was supposed to make the Moto Z stand out from the rest. While you could argue that the Moto Z did stand out, it was not in the way Motorola, freshly acquired from Google by Lenovo, would have hoped.
I recently had been listening to a few Android related podcasts talking about how manufacturers, the media, and tech reviewers (at least the top ones) discard an earlier generation smartphone as incapable of doing the job for users day-to-day. The podcast challenged that, and its hosts/guests discussed how many phones that are 2-3 years old can do just as much as the current generation. I decided to take that and run with it. I pulled my 2016 Moto Z out of the box, charged it up and committed to using it for a month. Let us find out how it went!
As I mentioned, the Moto Z specs were within the ballpark of other smartphones released around the same time. Powered by a Snapdragon 820 processor the Moto Z had a 5.5” AMOLED display, 32 or 64 GB of onboard storage which could be expanded via a microSD card, 4GB of RAM, a 13 MP rear facing camera and a 5 MP front facing camera. Also on board were a front facing fingerprint scanner and a tiny 2,600 mAh battery. It is worth noting that this was also one of the first Android phones to, at least temporarily, remove the headphone jack and provide a proprietary USB C to 3.5mm headphone adapter. The Moto Z launched with Android 6.0 Marshmallow and in true Motorola fashion slowly made its way up to Android 8.0 Oreo. This was back when Motorola committed to 2 Android version updates verses the single version update on its current phones.
Using the 2016 Moto Z for the first few days had me thinking this was going to be a breeze and that there was no reason a phone of this age couldn’t be used as a daily driver. However, by day three, the battery life of the Moto Z was so poor I was not even making it to noon before needing to charge the device.
This is where the point or the goal of Moto Mods started to show. One of many Moto Mods were various battery mods. I was fortunate enough to have the Motorola branded battery mod available which doubled my battery to nearly 5,000 mAh. Battery problem solved!
The Moto Z is stuck at Android 8.0 Oreo which means that it is no longer able to receive security updates and features found in newer versions of Android will never be seen. In my month of use with the Moto Z I did not find I was missing any features that my Pixel or newer devices have. I missed having the option for gesture navigation, but the three-button method that Android used for years was completely adequate.
The screen size of 5.5” was good for 2016, but by today’s standards it was a bit of a challenge to enjoy content designed with larger and taller screens in mind. I also couldn’t stop staring at the mammoth-sized bezels found on the original Moto Z. The device has a 72% screen-to-body ratio. Today’s phones are pushing well into the 90% range. Even the final Moto Z, the Moto Z4 had an 84% screen-to-body ratio, while maintaining the exact overall footprint of the original Moto Z.
The camera on the Moto Z, by any standard, is just not good. In 2016 when I first started using the device it could do ok in outdoor conditions, and in perfect indoor conditions the images were passable. However, anything with any movement or low-light and the camera started to fall apart. Today, it is much of the same. Using it next to a Pixel, or even its older sibling, the Z4, shows how far cameras have come. For me, the camera is the most important function of a smartphone. If the camera is bad, the phone is of no use to me. Battery life is a close second, and as I mentioned already, the Z’s 2,600 mAh battery has pretty much given up.
My experience with the rest of my Moto Mod collection is not exclusive to the Moto Z 2016, since all mods with across the entire family of Moto Z phones, but it certainly helped make the phone, which feels otherwise stale, into something more fun.
The mods I have on hard are:
- Incipio Projector
- Polaroid Instashare Printer
- Moto Gamepad
- Moto 360 Camera
I already discussed how the battery saved me from having to charge 2-3 times per day. The rest of the Mods worked great on the phone and like I said, added some incentive to keep using this phone despite its shortcomings and age. The Alexa speaker is staple day-to-day in my use of the Moto Z. Now, caveat, the Alexa hands-free app does not support Android 8.0 and the Moto Z, so the speaker is just a speaker, sans the smart/connected features. It was a bit of a letdown to be unable to use this feature, but even without it, the speaker sound excellent.
The Polaroid is just a party trick strapped to the back of a smartphone, but it is a lot of fun to use.
The Instashare Projector did not get much this time around. However, I used to use it daily as a bedroom TV and was also a trusted travel companion ensuring we always had the movie or shows that we wanted to watch available.
The gamepad had a lot of potential and is fun to use depending on the game, most games I play on my phone are racing games and the gamepad handles hat well for the most part, but the design of the controller can make its use a challenge from time to time.
Finally, the Moto 360 camera is a fun accessory, makes for a great travel accessory or if you have a specific thing you want to capture. However, in day-to-day use, it is not something you really need.
Final note on the Mods. They all sound great, and mostly work great, but the cost of Mods on top of what is, or was, an expensive phone is a roadblock to making this practical for most people. This brings me back to what I was eluding to earlier. The Moto Z 2016 cannot really stand on its own as a viable smartphone in 2021, 5-years after its launch. The Mods were the only thing that made the phone usable and to purchase all the Mods I own would cost you about $500 today.
Conclusion – Can you or should you use a 5-year-old smartphone?
For the most things sure. However, your experience is going to be severely compromised, and the lack of OS and security updates will leave you vulnerable to issues that do not make the tradeoff worth it. Any other 5-year-old phone, without the ability to augment its function using Moto Mods would leave most wanting to pull their hair out. In the end it was a fun experience, but I am happy to put the Moto Z back in its box and get back to using something more modern and up to date!