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The Moto Z and Z Force are as controversial as they are ambitious

Engadget Engadget 9/06/2016 Chris Velazco

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Oh, you thought Lenovo and its Project Tango device were going to hog the spotlight today? Not quite. Motorola just revealed its new flagship phones, the Moto Z and Moto Z Force, and we've already had a chance to spend a little time with them. Spoiler: There's a lot to love here, tinged with a few things that might drive you up a wall.

The Moto Z is both incredibly fast and insanely thin. Under the hood, the Z uses a Snapdragon 820 chipset, 4GB of RAM and an Adreno 530 GPU, all of which helped to make the performance feel smooth as I leapt in and out of apps and generally tried to throw the phone for a loop. No dice. Motorola's hands-off approach to Android usually helps its phones feel fast too, but the version of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow we've got here isn't as clean as what you'll find on, say, the Moto X Pure. The build I played with was the Verizon-exclusive version (the so-called "Droid Edition"), which comes loaded with the same tweaked interface and Big Red bloatware we saw on the Droid Turbo 2. Ick. Hopefully, the unlocked Moto Z shipping later this year runs stock Marshmallow.

When the first leaked images of the Moto Z made the rounds, I was admittedly concerned. There's a very real risk that thin phones will actually be uncomfortable to hold since your hand just grips the edges. Thankfully, the Moto Z easily dodges that problem: The stainless steel-and-aluminum body has comfortable sides that fit neatly into my palm without digging in. I spent so much time idly rubbing the phone's edges, in fact, that I sometimes forgot about the otherwise lovely 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED screen.

Still, that trim waistline comes at a cost. The 13-megapixel rear camera (which took solid photos during our brief time with it) sticks out of the back in a circular pod, which might rub some design purists the wrong way. More importantly, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack; you'll have to use an included USB Type-C adapter to connect your existing headphones to the Z. Since the Moto Z Force is a physically thicker device (and something of a "Pro" version of the Z), Motorola probably wouldn't have had trouble fitting that headphone jack there, but it just wasn't meant to be. They're embracing the future, but I seriously wonder how bad the blowback from this decision will be.

While we're on the subject of the Moto Z Force, this is probably the version of the phone most people will want. Think of it as a very slightly beefier version of the Z with a better battery (3,500mAh, compared to the normal model's 2,600), an improved 21-megapixel camera with phase detection and laser autofocusing and Motorola's ShatterShield display. In case you already forgot, ShatterShield essentially guarantees that your Z Force's screen won't crack when you drop it. And unlike the Droid Turbo 2 (which, by the way, survived being run over by my car), the ShatterShield setup here doesn't seem to require a thick plastic screen protector anymore.

And of course, there are those MotoMods. In case you hadn't heard, Motorola built a clever system involving magnets and a 16-pin interface for power and data transfer. Some Mods are purely for aesthetics, like the handsome Motorola Style shells that just snap onto the back of the Z and Z Force. Still others are more utilitarian. A battery Mod from Incipio can give the Z phones an extra 2,200mAh of power with the added benefit of feeling way, way better than a traditional battery case. The whole point is to build accessories that blend into a unified whole, and Motorola's early partners have done a really impressive job. Oh, and it's nearly impossible to knock those Mods off by accident -- those magnets are no joke.

In case you feel like blasting tunes, JBL's speaker Mod gives the Z line some added battery and some much louder sound. The most curious of the bunch is Motorola's tiny projector, which more or less blows the Moto Z screen up to about 70 inches on a wall. It's surprisingly bright and produces a steadier image than you might expect, but I wonder who really wants to tote one of these things around. (Vacationing families, maybe?) At the very least, I'm told that these Mods are meant to be "intergenerational," and will work with next year's Z phones, too.

There's a lot to like about the Moto Z line, but there's no denying it adds still more wrinkles to a smartphone lineup that was already getting a little unwieldy. At this point, Motorola is selling the low-end Moto E, three new versions of the Moto G in different markets, three versions of the Moto X, and now the flagship Moto Z slots in at the top with a launch set for this summer. And prepare to scratch your heads even harder: The far-more-fascinating Moto Z Force will be a U.S. exclusive on Verizon for, well, who knows how long. We eventually saw the Droid Turbo 2 trickle into far-flung markets as the Moto X Force so it's likely the Z Force will eventually do the same, but still -- it sucks for Moto fans in other countries that the best version of the Z isn't coming their way anytime soon.

Get all the news from today's Lenovo and Motorola event right here!

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