The Moto Z4's Biggest Upgrade is Surprisingly Retro

By Sam Rutherford on at

By almost all accounts, 2018 was a pretty good year for Motorola and its parent company Lenovo. Total revenue hit $51 billion (up 12.5 per cent Year over Year), while Motorola itself returned to profitability in the second half of 2018. And with the Moto Z4, Motorola is hoping to continue that success with a device that offers higher-end features – including a headphone jack and Moto Mods, but with a more affordable price tag.

Bot don’t call it a flagship, because with a retail price of $500 ( £395, UK pricing TBA) and specs including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 processor and 4GB of RAM, the Moto Z4 isn’t really designed to compete with phones like the Galaxy S10, or even the S10e. Instead, we’re looking at more of a mid-ranger meant to go up against phones like the £400 Pixel 3a, or last year’s OnePlus 6T.

That said, the Z4 still has a number premium features including a colourful 6.4-inch Full HD+ OLED display, 128GB of base storage (and a microSD card slot), an in-display fingerprint reader, and a frosted glass back like previous Moto Z phones. Plus it still supports the company’s line of interchangeable mods.

The continued support of Moto Mods isn’t a complete surprise, as Motorola claims that Moto Z owners who buy into its mod system are more satisfied than those who don’t. However, with Motorola having reached the end of its three-year commitment to its mod platform with last year’s Z3, there’s no telling what will happen in the future. Also, while the 5G Moto Mod officially went on sale earlier this spring (and does give the Z4 owners on Verizon optional 5G connectivity), the Moto Z4 is the first Z phone to launch without a few all-new mods in tow.

But enough about mods, because the surprise on the Z4 is the return of the headphone jack. This revival marks one of the first times a phone maker has brought back that divisive little port, a fact that seems even more remarkable when you remember Moto first axed the feature more than three years ago with the launch of the original Moto Z.

However, according to Doug Michau, Motorola’s executive director of product operations for North America, the impetus behind bringing back the headphone jack was quite simple: user complaints. That’s because while customer surveys and net promoter scores for previous Moto Z phones allegedly performed quite well, time and time again, Motorola got feedback from users that not having a headphone jack was a major point of frustration. So Moto listened, and now the Z4 has a 3.5mm jack again. You see, sometimes enough complaining does make a difference!

Elsewhere, the Moto Z4 features the same spill-resistant nanocoating designed to protect the phone from a quick splash, but don’t go dropping the Z4 in the pool, as the phone doesn’t have an official IP rating for water resistance. And unlike pretty much every other high-end phone these days, the Z4 doesn’t have wireless charging either (though there is a mod for that).

Another slightly odd choice is Moto’s decision to give the Z4 a single camera in the back, despite the less expensive Moto G7 having dual rear cams. Moto says the reason was it wanted to avoid unnecessarily complicating the phone’s design and instead focus of giving the main camera by giving a high-resolution sensor. And with a 48-MP sensor in the back (along with a 25-MP selfie cam in the front), Moto has certainly appeared to have accomplished that.

Both front and rears cameras use a technique called pixel binning that combines four pixels on the camera’s sensor into one big pixel, which has the effect of lowering overall resolution but increasing light sensitivity, which is want you want in low light. Moto didn’t stop there though, because following in the footsteps of Google, Huawei, Samsung, and others, Moto also gave the Z4 a dedicated low-light mode called Night Vision. And even without secondary cameras in front and back, the Z4 can still take portrait-style pics with blurry backgrounds.

I’m really curious to see how Moto’s night mode compares to what we’ve seen on more expensive phones. But in the end, a lot of the Z4's appeal continues to lie in how much you value its modularity. And for Verizon customers, the ability to upgrade your phone post-purchase with mods almost feels like a sneaky way to help future proof the device a year or two from now when upgrading to 5G makes a bit more sense.