Saturday, January 11, 2020

Review: Moto Z4

This is my review of the Moto Z4 phone from Motorola.

Buying Decision

About 3 months ago when my 2016 original Pixel XL phone starting losing its battery life, I initially compensated by bringing my phone charger to work. After a few weeks, though, even that wasn't sufficient to keep my phone charged all day and I knew it was time to replace it.

Whenever you have to replace a phone, the first thing that goes through your mind is how good or bad the experience with your last phone was. I had pretty mixed feelings about the Pixel: while it had worked fine for the last three years, it was a pricey phone at $1000—made all the worse when Google botched my fulfillment, charging me full-out for the phone even though I had arranged Financing.


Price was going to be a key factor. Although I have always purchased top-of-the-line premium phones for myself, nowadays I'm on a campaign to reduce my living costs without heavily compromising lifestyle. I vowed to find a phone I could live with that cost no more than $500.

Like most tech professionals, I use my phone frequently and it's essential to have one you can count on. There are some very low cost phones out there, but I wasn't quite ready to move from top-of-the-line to the bottom and was hoping to find an affordable mid-range phone. I also wanted a new phone: while we've bought refurbished or last-year's-model phones for our children at times, an Android phone tends to only get updates for a few years, not perpetually.

Display Size

In addition to my cost objective, I had two others: display size and bloatware-free-Android. My older eyes need a larger-size phone I can see clearly, which is why my last phone was a Pixel XL. Of course, larger-size phones cost more which comes up against the lower-cost objective.

Stock Android

Avoiding Android bloatware is difficult, as any phone obtained through a carrier is sure to have altered and non-removable vendor apps including Contacts; so no carrier-sold phone for me. Even with an unlocked phone, many vendors may customize Android far more than you'd like: would you rather use Google Assistant or Samsung's Bixby? Although Samsung is the dominant phone manufacturer for Android with a ton of models for every budget, their non-stock Android is a deal-breaker. The two best phone brands for stock Android are Google (of course) and Motorola.


Perhaps one final objective has to do with recent trends in phones that give me pause: the display notch and the camera bump. I don't have direct experience with either because I've avoided them. Taking away part of the display for a camera offends my design sensibilities, yet so many phones are doing it now. What if that notch hides a critical part of an app? Even it it doesn't, it seems to me it would be a constant irritant. The camera bump equally offends me: it suggests my phone won't lie flat which I'd hate.

Given my other objectives, I suspected I might have to give in on the notch or the bump. I decided to have an open mind and to handle any prospective phone in-person at a Best Buy before making a decision.

Pixel 3a XL vs. Moto Z4

With these parameters established, I soon narrowed the field to two possibilities: the Google Pixel 3a XL or the Motorola Moto Z4, both costing just under $500 for an unlocked phone.

The Pixel 3a XL is nearly half the price of the Pixel 3 XL, but what are you giving up? Both have the same award-winning rear camera, memory, design, and Android version. The 3a has a polycarbonite unibody instead of glass-and-metal, so it feels like a cheaper phone. It also has a lesser processor and a lesser front camera.

The Moto Z4 seemed to have a lot of what I was looking for. Thinking back, one of the best phones I ever owned was a Moto X, with an attractive design and stock Android. When Google bought Motorola, I was jubilant about the future; but after extracting what they wanted from the company and selling it off to Lenovo, I was less so. Still, perhaps another look was warranted. The Moto Z4 reviews mostly agreed the Z4 was a decent mid-range phone with the features I care about; but most of them also recommended passing on this phone because the Z4 didn't offer anything especially new or exciting. The Z4 has a lesser camera than the Pixel, but would likely give me an acceptable overall experience.

The Moto Z4 also supports Moto Mods, which are accessories that clip on as second backs to the phone. There are mods for 360 camera, video projection, photo printing, and longer battery life. But, most reviews describe Moto Mods as an idea that didn't catch on.

If you research the Moto Z4, some of the review headlines will certainly give you pause: The cheapest 5G phone you can buy but shouldn't; It’s Time to Move On; The Moto Z4 is tragically boring and behind the times. For my criteria, however, the Moto Z4 topped the list and it's what I picked.


I bought my black Moto Z4 from Best Buy and it came with the 360 camera Moto Mod included. I added a Metalllic Slate case from Tudia. I haven't really done anything with the Moto Mods, but I'm very happy with the phone.

Now that I'm a few months in I have no regrets about the Moto Z4: it does everything I want in a phone. I haven't minded the camera notch after all. The battery lasts a really long time and is typically at 80% when I get home from work.  It looks and feels great and is a pleasure to use. This is a phone I recommend.

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