Curiously, the Motorola-made apps that used to come preloaded on the company's Verizon-bound phones aren't here anymore. If you want Loop and Zap (which let you keep tabs on loved ones and share content with people nearby, respectively), you'll have to get them from the Play Store. I love it when companies stop trying to force apps of dubious value on us -- HTC recently did this too -- but Verizon pushed enough bloatware that Motorola's cleanliness almost went unnoticed.
On the plus side, Motorola's thoughtful software tricks are all still here. The sensors on the Z's face can still detect your hands as they approach, and they'll light up part of the display to show you the time and your notifications. Like before, you can double-twist your wrist to launch the camera, and a double karate chop turns on the flashlight. As it happens, Motorola added a new gesture this year: If you swipe up from the bottom of the display, the on-screen view will shrink so you can reach the notification shade without having to reposition your hand.
The Moto Z siblings are great at listening for your voice commands, too. Once you've trained them to listen to your activation phrase (mine is the dull "OK, Moto Z"), the phones will wake up and take requests like a proper assistant. That might not sound like a high bar to clear -- after all, virtual assistants have come a long way since the earliest days of Siri and Google Now -- but Motorola was one of the first companies to go big on phones that always listened, and they're still very good at making them.
We can keep this part simple: The Moto Z and Z Force are damned fast. Is that really any surprise? Both run with the same high-end Snapdragon silicon as most other flagship Android phones I've played with this year, and they've all been really fast too. As always, my week of testing included all the usual, frenzied multitasking for work, along with loads of Real Racing 3, Mortal Kombat X, Hearthstone and Pokémon Go when the news died down. Try as I might -- and trust me, I tried -- the Moto Z and Z Force handled all of my trials with gusto. (They do get noticeably warm when you starting to push them, though.) Ultimately, now that premium smartphones like the Moto Z and its ilk all fall into the same performance range, the details that make these devices different are more important than ever.
Consider batteries, for instance. Thanks to its slim body, Motorola fitted the Moto Z with a 2,600mAh cell. Not bad, but definitely not great. I'll admit, even though I've used smartphones with similar specs and battery sizes before, I went into this review expecting the worst. Thankfully, that was unwarranted. On days of heavy use, the Z would get me through the work day but give up the ghost not long after. That works out to about 11 hours of pretty continuous use, though you can stretch that up to about a day and a half if you're a very, very cautious user. In our standard Engadget rundown test (looping a video with the screen brightness set to 50 percent and WiFi connected), the Moto Z lasted about just north of 10 hours. That's on par with the LG G5 and HTC 10.
This means the Moto Z's battery will probably cut it for most people, but anyone on the fence should consider the next step up. As you'd expect, the Moto Z Force blew its skinny sibling out of the water. I routinely got two full days of use out of its larger 3,500mAh battery, and got closer to three days over a particularly quiet weekend. Not bad at all. And in our rundown test, the Z Force looped the same sample video for 14 hours and 12 minutes, just 18 minutes less than Samsung's Galaxy S7 Edge.
I probably sound like a broken record saying this, but there's really never been a better time to buy a top-tier Android phone. While some are better suited to certain situations than others, there really isn't a bad choice among them. Samsung's Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are waterproof and still lead the pack in camera performance, though you'll have to deal with the (much improved!) TouchWiz interface that's layered on top of Android Marshmallow. The HTC 10's fit and finish is first-rate, and it handles media better out of the box: It'll tune your music for your preferences and headphones, for one, and it's the first Android phone to officially support Apple's AirPlay streaming standard. Meanwhile, if you're shopping for flagship power on a budget, the reasonably priced OnePlus 3 brings the speed for a fraction of what the Moto Z and Z Force cost.
But if we're looking at the Moto Z and Z Force as modular phones, first and foremost, the only real comparison this year is LG's G5. The broad strokes are similar -- Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM, a circle of "Friend" accessories -- but the Moto Z's elegant execution gives those two phones a clear edge. Just look at LG's setup: modules connect to the bottom of the G5, requiring you to remove the phone's battery, attach it to the new module, stick that whole thing back into the phone and power it up. At best, it's an annoyance. On the plus side, though, you'll be able to swap batteries willy-nilly, and you have a really neat dual-camera setup to play with.
I have to give Motorola credit for doing what LG couldn't: building modular smartphones that are convenient, cool and worth using. It doesn't hurt, either, that the Moto Z and Z Force are two of the best-made devices in Motorola's history, and that they can go toe-to-toe with any other flagship Android phone out there. These devices represent Motorola at the top of its phone-making game.
It's a shame, then, that some curious decisions have kept me from loving the Z and Z Force more fully. Part of it is the lack of a headphone jack. Maybe I'm old-school, but I can't be the only one who misses it. Part of it, too, is that some of the Mods are of dubious value. Worse, only a certain chunk of people -- Verizon customers -- can buy these phones. Ultimately, though, the strength of the Moto Z line and the potential of Moto Mods outweigh the few cons. If you're a Verizon customer on the hunt for a powerful smartphone, pay attention to these two. (And if you're a klutz, pay closer attention to the Z Force.) The rest of us will just have to hang in there -- Motorola can't let phones this good stay exclusive for too long.