As a professional photographer, mobile phone photography has always been something I’ve shied away from. Thanks to cameras with built-in Wi-Fi, such as newly acquired Sony a6300, I rarely use my smartphone’s camera since the quality typically doesn’t come close to what my actual cameras can achieve. However, my opinion of smartphone photography was challenged after a recent brush with the Moto Z Force Droid. Rated by DxOMark as one of the top 5 smartphone cameras on the market, the Moto Z Force Droid camera is said to outperform even the likes of the Apple iPhone 7.
How does the Moto Z stack up for travel photography? I had the opportunity to test this new phone’s camera capabilities during recent trips to Oregon’s Hood-Gorge region and ended up being stunned by the outcome especially when comparing results from my Canon 6D.
My Smartphone Experiences
I jumped into the smartphone arena relatively early, going from a 2008 Blackberry Bold straight to the Apple iPhone 3Gs in late 2009. It was Google’s very first flagship phone, the Nexus One, which made me a loyal Android user ever since. Like many Android fans, my smartphone experiences have varied over the years with stints with HTC, Samsung, and Motorola. To my surprise, the Moto X has been my favorite smartphone line in recent times thanks to its intuitive user interface, minimal bloatware, and affordable price. The only thing lacking on previous Moto X phones including my current Moto X Pure was the quality of the built-in camera, which was always subpar. Enter the Moto Z!
Moto Z Force Droid Specs
To be clear, there are two company flagship phones: the Moto Z and Moto Z Force. These two phones have minor differences, and there are also two ‘Droid Edition’ versions that are exclusive to Verizon. This review is of the Moto Z Force Droid.
From the Motorola website:
- Choose from 32/64GB storage, three front and body colors, and an array of Moto Mods to transform your phone.
- 5.5 Quad HD Moto ShatterShield™ display, guaranteed not to crack or shatter.
- Up to 40-hour battery with a high-capacity 3500 mAh battery.
- Get up to 15 hours of battery life in 15 minutes with TurboPower™ Charging.
- 21 MP rear-facing camera; 5.0 MP front-facing camera; 4K video recording
- Capture clearer pics with laser autofocus and optical image stabilization.
- Instantly wake and unlock your phone with a fingerprint reader
Moto Z Force Droid – The Good
Fingerprint readers are a game changer
Setting up the fingerprint reader is quick and easy, and from then on, you can unlock your phone with just the touch of your finger. During my trial period, I used this feature constantly and found it to be incredibly convenient. It’s much faster than having to swipe to unlock and enter a passcode. The ability to speedily unlock the phone with no delay also made it much faster to take a photo, much like using a real camera. As a result, I ended up taking twice as more phone photos with the Moto Z than with any other smartphone.
The best phone for mobile photography
The Moto Z Force Droid comes equipped with a 21-megapixel rear-facing camera with laser and phase detection autofocus, plus Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). This means users will have the ability to focus on subjects quickly and accurately, as well as shoot clear shots low-light scenarios. Another handy inclusion in the camera was facial recognition, a feature I’ve become accustomed to while shooting with my Sony a6300. Facial recognition on a camera phone is a useful, welcome addition.
After several weeks of shooting with the Moto Z Force in various scenarios, I have to say it lived up to the hype and its extraordinarily high DxOMark rating. Many times, the images produced by the phone rivaled those snapped with my Canon 6D full-frame DSLR, which was shocking, to say the least. See if you can tell which photos were taken by the Moto Z Force Droid or Canon 6D. The answer is below.
Answer: All photos on the left are taken with a Canon 6D; all photos on the right taken by a Moto Z Force Droid.
Excellent battery life and fast recharging
According to Verizon, the Moto Z Force Droid promises 40 hours of battery life, plus the ability to charge the phone with 15 hours of battery life in 15 minutes. In my experience, the Moto Z Force Droid could indeed last approximately a day and a half, assuming I was doing simple tasks like email, checking Facebook, snapping photos, and posting to Instagram. After awhile, I got so accustomed to the phone’s long battery life that I would neglect charging it for a couple days to the point it finally flashed the low battery sign. No worries, since the Turbo Charging also delivered on its promise and I could easily recharge the phone in half an hour or less. Impressive.
Moto Z Force Droid – The Questionable
One of the main features of the device that’s meant to set it apart from competitors is the inclusion of optional Moto Mods. The idea of a modular phone was most recently seen in the LG G5, where it got a so-so rating. Moto Mods promise to be different with a nice assortment of mods such as a projector, JBL speaker, battery bank, Hasselblad camera, and an array of Style Shells that can add design flair to your phone. For obvious reasons, the Hasselblad camera was my main interest, but unfortunately, I was only able to test the Style Shell. Despite my limited interaction with Moto Mods, I was impressed with my faux wood Style Shell, which solidly mounted to the device via a strong magnet. Even without the chance to try the Hasselblad mod, I found the native camera to function perfectly fine without it.
Hasselblad True Zoom Camera Moto Mod
Dubbed the Hasselblad True Zoom Camera, this slim mod connects to the back of the phone with a strong magnet. It then uses an electronic connection to the phone for data and power transmission. You can then treat the phone like an actual camera, using the mod’s built-in shutter release and zoom lever. There’s even a fully functional Xenon flash. The camera allows you to take photos using a 12 MP 1/2.3 BSI CMOS sensor. Push your ISO up to 3200 and get a 10x optical zoom using the 35mm equivalent focal length of 25-250 with f/3.5-6.5 aperture. While it’s a bit pricey at $249.99, it really is a game-changer to be able to operate your smartphone like a true point and shoot camera. In my book? It’s totally worth the investment!
Different charger and headphone jack
Similarly to the newest generation of iPhones, the Moto Z Force Droid does not have a 3.5mm headphone jack. It also doesn’t have the standard Android micro USB charging port. Instead, the device comes with a USB Type-C port for both charging and headphone connection. Thankfully, the device comes with a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter so you can continue using your wired headphone. An appropriate wall charger is also included. The only time the lack of a standard port can become an issue is when you don’t have an adapter or USB Type-C charger with you. These are not yet as easy to come by on the fly. Not to mention, what am I now supposed to do with the mountain of micro USB cords that I’ve accumulated over the years?
Overall design and usability
Out of the box, the Moto Z and Moto Z Force Droid look different from any other smartphones on the market. Both are quite slim. The Moto Z sports a thickness of 5.2mm and 7mm for the Moto Z Force Droid. That makes both phones slimmer than both the iPhone 6S and Galaxy S7. Material-wise, both the Moto Z and Moto Z Force are constructed of premium aluminum chassis. This makes the phones look and feel like premium products.
- Moto Z – 153.3 x 75.3 x 5.2 mm (6.04 x 2.96 x 0.20 in) and 136 g (4.80 oz)
- Moto Z Force – 155.9 x 75.8 x 7 mm (6.14 x 2.98 x 0.28 in) and 163 g (5.75 oz)
However, the issue with these phones has to do with their overall width and length. These phones are large. They’re similar in size to my current Moto X Pure Edition, which feels like a giant phablet. As a female with relatively small hands, the Moto Z phones are a bit too big. It’s particularly nervewracking to use the phone one-handed out of fear of dropping it. While the included Moto ShatterShield™ display guarantees no cracks or shatters, I was not willing to test that feature this time around. One feature I would love to see added to this phone is a wrist or neck strap. I would feel more confident using this phone as a camera if it had a way prevent accidentally dropping it.
Overall, I love the direction of the Moto Z and Moto Z Force Droid. The fingerprint sensor combined with the Moto Z Force’s mobile camera complemented (and sometimes replaced) my DSLR camera. I definitely recommend it to any Android users out there looking for a superior camera phone option.
Moto Z Force Droid Photo Gallery
*Photos are taken by me, unless otherwise noted.