The Moto Z and latest iPhones tackle the smartphone from opposite directions. Motorola's new handset may be the simplest and most logical take on the modular smartphone to date, adding new looks or features just by snapping on a back plate. The most recent iPhones, meanwhile, have shied away from such bold changes – instead conservatively evolving the world-changing formula from Apple's 2007 original. Can Motorola's flagship shake up smartphone industry stagnation? Let's start by seeing how the Moto Z compares to the iPhone 6s Plus.
Though we're looking at same-sized screens, the iPhone's bigger forehead makes it the larger phone.
The Moto Z is incredibly thin – 29 percent thinner than the iPhone – but keep in mind that this measurement is with none of the modular back plates attached. They're the main reason to consider the Moto Z, and all of them add at least a little junk in the trunk (some a lot).
The Moto Z is also 29 percent lighter than the iPhone 6s Plus. Just remember that, like thickness, the optional mods will add anything from a smidge to an abundance of weight.
The base smartphone part of the Moto Z is made of aluminum and steel, while Apple's aluminum unibody design has been standard on iPhones (and most other Apple products) since 2012.
As we mentioned, the Moto Z's modularity is its killer feature. We also saw LG swing for the fence this year with a modular flagship, but so far we prefer Motorola's approach: snap magnetic plate onto back, enjoy upgraded phone. The LG G5 requires you to rip the phone's entire bottom section off.
Though we're looking at four factory color options for each phone, the Moto Z will have many more back color options once you factor in the mods – some of which are purely stylistic ("Style Shells").
You get the same spacious 5.5 inches on both screens.
Based on pixel density, the Moto Z's display is 33 percent sharper.
Apple is known, though, for scoring high marks in other aspects of its displays, like white balance, color and brightness. So overall screen quality is still a highlight of the iPhone 6s Plus, despite the lack of QHD resolution (and we think it looks better than the smaller iPhone 6s, which has a lower pixel density).
It's AMOLED vs. IPS display panels.
Apple's pressure-sensitive 3D Touch display tech, which gives you a series of shortcuts by hard-pressing on the screen, still hasn't spawned any copycats among first-tier Android flagships.
Like most modern high-end smartphones, the Moto Z has a fingerprint sensor, but it works a little differently than Apple's. Instead of doubling as a home button, the Z's also serves as a power/sleep button (its home button is onscreen/virtual).
One of the quirkier Moto Z mods is the optional Moto InstaShare Projector. The bulky accessory lets you beam the phone's screen onto a 70-inch wall projection. This could have its niche uses, but just remember that what the huge image or video gains in size, it loses in (semi-transparent) quality.
The Moto Z's internal battery capacity comes out a little behind, but one of its most exciting mods is a battery pack that adds an extra 2,220 mAh – which, in total, would give it 75 percent more juice than the iPhone.
The nice thing about the Moto Z's modularity, as opposed to LG's, is that its battery module complements, rather than replaces, the internal battery. You need to reboot the LG G5 when you swap out its battery modules; no such need on the Moto Z.
It will be interesting to see if Apple adds some sort of fast charging to its 2016 flagship. Quick-charging tech has been a huge advantage for Android phones since late 2014.
There's no built-in wireless charging on either phone, but one of the Moto Z's battery packs adds it.
We weren't able to gather much about the Moto Z's camera quality from our event hands-on, so it's best to wait for our full review to see how its results compares to the iPhone's.
Camera aperture (rear)
The Moto's rear shooter does have significantly wider aperture, though, which could bode well for its low-lit results.
Both phones can help you shoot clearer shots, even with shakey hands, with built-in Optical Image Stabilization.
Camera quick-launch shortcut
The handy old twist to launch shortcut for the Moto's camera, first seen in the company's 2013 flagship, is back in the Z.
On paper this looks like a blowout, but the real-world performance of Apple's mobile chips always seem to transcend what you'd expect from specs alone. Expect crisp performance and plenty of power from both handsets.
The Moto doubles the iPhone's 2 GB RAM, but this is another area where the same company making both hardware and software allows Apple to outdo on-paper expectations.
Apple is behind the times in its entry-level tier, forcing an uncomfortably tight (for today's app and photo/video file sizes) 16 GB internal storage on its base-price customers.
That's made worse by the fact that iPhones have no expandable storage support. The Moto Z lets you add up to an extra 2 TB.
Apple had a big head start on reversible charging and transfer cables: it introduced its Lightning cable back in 2012, while Android OEMs just started switching to the reversible USB-C standard late last year.
We've been hearing about a future of headphone jack-less phones for much of this year – sparked by the emergence of USB-C, as well as leaks and speculation about the next iPhone). But Motorola is the first major manufacturer to put its name to this shift. That means if you own a pair of wired cans and are thinking about buying the Moto Z, you'll want to factor in the cost of switching to a pair of wireless or USB-C headphones.
The Moto Z launches this (Northern hemisphere) summer, but that's a Droid-branded Verizon variant, launching as a timed exclusive. Other carriers, along with the rest of the world, will have to wait for September – at which point there should also be a new iPhone.
Starting price (full retail)
We still don't know what the Moto Z will cost, but we think Lenovo/Motorola would be wise to keep the base phone's price down as much as possible. Though half the fun will be in buying modular back plates, there won't be much point if it all adds up to hundreds of dollars more expensive than rivals like the iPhone 6s Plus. The Moto Z looks like an innovative phone with a chance to shake up the industry, but only if it's priced aggressively. Stay tuned.