Moto Z4 vs. Moto Z3 vs. Moto Z2 Force: Is the newest Moto Z the best Moto Z?

moto z4
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

After accidentally revealing it by, er, putting it up for sale, Motorola has officially announced the Moto Z4, its latest flagship phone. But is it what followers were expecting? The latest flagship isn’t packing the most powerful processor or a multi-lens camera, but does include Moto Mod support, and sees the shocking return of the headphone jack.

With that in mind, is Motorola’s latest phone the best choice for you, or are you better served by one of Motorola’s older flagships? The Moto Z3 and Moto Z2 Force still offer great value, and could give Motorola’s latest phone a run for its money.

Specs

Moto Z4 Moto Z3 Moto Z2 Force
Size
158 x 75 x 7.35 mm (6.22 x 2.95 x 0.29 inches)
156.5 x 76.5 x 6.8 mm (6.16 x 3.01 x 0.27 inches) 155.8 x 76 x 6.1 mm (6.13 x 3 x 0.24 inches)
Weight 165 grams (5.82 ounces) 156 grams (5.5 ounces) 143 grams 5.04 ounces
Screen size 6.39-inch OLED 6-inch Super AMOLED 5.5-inch Quad HD P-OLED
Screen resolution 2,340 x 1,080 pixels (403 pixels per inch) 2,160 × 1,080 pixels (402 pixels per inch) 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (538 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 9.0 Pie Android 8.1 Oreo (upgrades to Android 9.0 Pie) Android 7.1.1 (due to receive Android 9.0 Pie)
Storage space 128GB 64GB 64GB (U.S.) 128GB (International)
MicroSD card slot Yes, up to 512GB Yes Yes
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM 4GB 4GB 4GB (U.S.) 6GB (International)
Camera 48MP with OIS and PDAF rear, 25MP front Dual 12MP rear, 8MP front Dual 12MP rear, 5MP front
Video 2160p at 30 frames per second 2160p at 30 frames per second, 1,080p at 120 fps 2160p at 30 frames per second, 1,080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 4.2
Ports USB-C, 3.5mm audio jack USB-C USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes (in-display) Yes Yes
Water resistance Water-repellent nano-coating Water-repellent nano-coating Water-repellent nano-coating
Battery 3,600mAh

15W TurboPower fast charging

3,000mAh

15W TurboPower fast charging

2,730mAh

15W TurboPower fast charging

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon
Colors Flash Gray, Frost White Ceramic Black Super Black, Fine Gold, Lunar Gray (T-Mobile exclusive)
Price $500 $480 $300
Buy from Motorola, B&H, Best Buy, Amazon Motorola, Verizon, Amazon Best Buy, Amazon
Review score Hands-on review 3.5 out of 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

Moto Z3 review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Oddly, you won’t find the latest Snapdragon 855 processor in the Moto Z4. Instead, Motorola has gone for the Snapdragon 675, a solid midrange chip. The Snapdragon 835 in the Moto Z3 and Z2 Force is outdated, but it definitely outperforms the Moto Z4 in raw benchmarks. In real-life use, the Moto Z4’s performance is smooth, and shouldn’t give you any issues. We doubt you’ll notice a difference. All three have 4GB of RAM.

There’s no wireless charging on any of these phones, but you will find Motorola’s 15W Turbopower fast charging on all three. The Z2 Force’s battery life is the worst, with the phone barely managing to make it a full day. The Z3 and Z4 fare much better, with batteries capable of making it close to two days on light usage. But don’t forget that you can attach the battery-boosting Turbopower Mod to all three of these, though it does cost $80.

There’s no real difference in performance here, but the battery really clinches it for the two newer phones.

Winner: Tie — Moto Z4 and Moto Z3

Design and durability

Put these three phones side by side and it’s a great snapshot of how smartphone design has changed over the last few years. The Moto Z4 embraces bezel-less design with slim borders and a teardrop notch. While the Z4 isn’t as bezel-less as phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10, it’s leagues apart from the Moto Z3, which looks downright futuristic next to the chunky bezels of the Z2 Force. The Moto Z4 comes with an optical in-display fingerprint scanner, and while that tech has proven slightly troublesome, it’s still a cool addition. The Z2 Force has a fingerprint sensor on the front and the Z3 shifts it to the side. Moto Mod compatibility means each phone keeps similar dimensions to its forebears, so you won’t find many size differences. There also are pogo pins on the back of each one.

The Moto Z4 and Z3 both sport glass bodies and screens, while the Moto Z2 Force stands out, and not in a good way. It sports an aluminum body that’ll be less prone to cracks, but the shatterproof plastic screen picks up a lot of scratches. It risks not being a great looker after use. None of them sport water-resistance, only splash-resistance, and only the Z4 has a headphone jack.

We’re giving this to the prettier Moto Z4 and its headphone jack.

Winner: Moto Z4

Display

how does fast charging work
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Motorola has included solid OLED displays on each of these phones, with strong blacks and vivid colors. The Moto Z4 has a 6.39-inch screen, which is the largest of the three, while the Z3 has a 6-inch screen, though they sport a similar sharpness, as well as 1,080p resolutions. Oddly, it’s the Z2 Force that has the sharpest display, with a 1,440p resolution in a 5.5-inch screen, resulting in an extremely crisp image. But it loses some points for having an extremely scratch-prone screen.

Winner: Tie

Camera

moto z4
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Moto Z3 and Z2 Force both come with rear-based dual 12-megapixel camera setups. They’re good cameras, though neither could be described as among the best camera phones around. The Moto Z3 fixed the Z2 Force’s issue with shutter lag, but wasn’t able to crack the low lighting dilemma — which has been left to the Moto Z4. The Moto Z4 ditches two lenses for a single 48-megapixel lens, but it’s impressive. It uses pixel binning to combine pixels for better-lit photos, though that means you’ll only get 12-megapixel photos from it. Its low-light capabilities are further boosted by the new Night Vision mode, which stacks images and removes noise for better night shots. We’ll have to see how it fares against the Pixel 3a’s Night Sight, but it’s definitely better than its predecessors.

The Moto Z4’s camera is the clear winner here. The 25-megapixel selfie lens only sweetens the deal, comparing very favorably to the 8- and 5-megapixel lenses in the Z3 and Z2 Force.

Winner: Moto Z4

Software and updates

Moto Z3
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Motorola tends to stay close to stock Android where it can, and that’s the case with each of these phones, outside the additional Moto-branded software. Each phone does come with a disappointing amount of Verizon bloatware. The Moto Z4 launches with Android 9.0 Pie, while the Z3 has been updated to Pie. The Z2 Force is due to receive an update to Pie, but hasn’t yet.

That’s probably the last update the Z2 Force will see, though. The Moto Z4 has been confirmed to receive Android Q, but Motorola has been tight-lipped on confirming Android R, which is worrying. That would put the Moto Z3 and Z4 on equal footing for expected updates, which is a little odd.

Winner: Tie — Moto Z4 and Moto Z3

Special features

Moto Z2 Force hands-on review yellow camera back
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Moto Mods are what sets Motorola’s flagships apart from similar phones — but it’s not much help when we’re comparing other Moto Z-series phones. You’ll be able to use the entire Moto Mod range with each of these phones — outside of the 5G Mod, which will only work on the Z3 and Z4. Each phone also has Motorola’s own software tricks, like Moto Display and Moto Voice, and its own gestures system.

But the Moto Z4 has slightly more going for it. There’s finally a decent suite of A.I.-powered features, including Smart Composition and Portrait Lighting modes. Of course, there’s also the in-display fingerprint scanner, which, while not terribly effective so far, is certainly cool.

Winner: Moto Z4

Price and availability

The Moto Z4 will release on June 6 and will be available from Best Buy, Amazon, and B&H. Prices start from $500, but your purchase will also include the 360 Camera Moto Mod. The Moto Z3 is currently available, and it will set you back $480. It’s only sold for Verizon from Motorola, but you can buy unlocked versions from Amazon. The Moto Z2 Force is harder to get a hold of now, but you can find it new from Best Buy, or renewed models on Amazon, with prices around $300.

Overall winner: Moto Z4

It was always going to be an odd fight, what with the Moto Z4 seeing a downgrade in the processor department compared to its predecessors. But we’re confident it comes out on top enough times to ensure that it’s worth buying over the Moto Z3 or the Moto Z2 Force. The Moto Z4 is a good phone, and a worthy winner here. It’s a jump up from the Z2 Force in most respects, but if you already have the Z3, we’re not sure it offers enough to entice you to upgrade.

The Z4 also has tough competition from elsewhere. The $400 Pixel 3a comes with similarly slick performance and a superior camera, while the $500 Asus Zenfone 6 packs the mighty Snapdragon 855 and a unique design. If you’re happy to spend more money, there’s even the powerful and sleek OnePlus 7 Pro to consider at $680. But if you love Motorola’s phones, then the Moto Z4 is the one to pick.

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